recommended listening: stay with me;;
In the trees, it is cool.
The clean clear smell of risen tree sap has Mila drawing in deep lungfuls. In, out -- in and out. She could dance an ode to this. And oh, when they start cresting the ridge of the valley, above the treeline --
“Dio ,” Sara gasps, half turned back.
The elegant twist of her torso draws Mila’s eye before the bright turquoise flatness of Lake Louise does, with the black specks of distant canoes turning on its tranquil surface; the brown and grey scree slopes plunging into its depths; the silvery silt of the delta fanning out into the lake on the near shore.
Maybe, Mila thinks absently, a pair skate. Mirrored circles, rippling out across the rink with their arms spread out and back. Making tangible the way a place is created partly by experience, the expansion of one’s soul beyond one’s physical limits something only a partnered dance could possibly hope to evoke.
They wind their way, quiet and contemplative, along the narrow path tracing the ridge. All around them the mountains press in, exhaling cold air even as the sun beats down.
After an interminable set of switchbacks and returning hikers who keep saying “You’re almost there!”, a grove of trees opens up to a meadow and the sturdily timber-framed tea house with a pie that was apparently “ unbelievable ”. It is indeed unbelievable, and the hot cup of tea even more so as they sit and let their weary feet throb in their boots, speaking only in sighs and contented hums.
Gazing out over the valley at the hanging glaciers, fuzzy green spurs of the evergreens on the mountain plain bridging the distance between their veranda and those craggy blocks in grey and brown rearing up to the depthless sky, Mila feels like leaping, arms spread, into the oncoming wind.
In the distance a glacier, calving, rumbles and cleaves with a thunderous crack.
The wet gleam of the beach, thin film of damp skimming over fine sand packed bouncy and jellyish underneath the feet, reflects the long sunset: candy pink and golden-orange striations in the darkening sky, the sun a blazing white beam across the water, the dark hump of trees on the arm of land jutting out into the sea twinned, rippling in the ocean breeze.
A long day, it has been, of fighting for balance on your element thawed, falling over and over, laughing and gagging on cold salt -- and now: tired, in a wetsuit on a beach with a girl you’ve kissed once and not again (not yet, maybe), shared a bed with and kind of maybe want to drape yourself over forever and sit with her cuddled in between your outstretched legs and arms, warm against your front as the cooling twilit wind blowing in from the Pacific dries the seawater beading along the fine hairs on your arms.
Someone, maybe you, maybe that girl, makes the joke about hating sand, and you both quiver with laughter, skin sticking to skin.
“Caplín~ Caplón~” sings Sara. “Caplín~ Cap --” she stops, and turns to look expectantly at Mila. There’s still some powdered sugar at the corner of her red mouth. The only remains of small, fluffy, thick pancakes drenched in maple syrup and dusted with sugar, demolished in seconds by two very hungry girls.
“-- lón ,” Mila finishes, lips curling up into a helpless smile by themselves. Her eyes are crinkling at the corners; she can feel them, the enhanced bodily awareness that comes with having had a pint of dark Canadian beer on a stomach filled only with beaver balls . She snorts out a laugh at the thought, and almost veers off the boardwalk.
Sara’s arm tucked through the crook of her own elbow tugs her back in to safety and Mila is -- breathless, at the close press of their sides together. The way the press stays, too hot and sticky and close in this summer heat.
“La passeggiata,” Sara informs her, as though the gentle swell of her breast against Mila’s arm, thin linen the only barrier, isn’t -- isn’t happening. An event unto itself. “That’s what this is, our tradition in Italy. An evening stroll, arm in arm with your family, or a friend, or ... well.”
Or, well, Mila could mull over this as they turn back into the clearing with the snack hut, the inconclusiveness niggling like a loose tooth. Her brainteeth, loose. Loosened with the beer still hiccupping its way through her veins, lightening her head, heightening her sensitivity to the swinging of the bridge as they caplín-caplón across it, dusky midsummer sky far above drawing the night covers over its peach shoulders and the river far below burbling.
Why not, Mila lets herself think, lets herself lean into the sway of the suspension bridge as a herd of backpacked French tourists thump past them, lets the bridge tip her into Sara and the steel cable railings whorling under her palms catch her weight as she turns, turning them face to face.
Sara sucks in a quick gasp, her enormous eyes gone even wider and the mascara clumped in her lashes visible this close, and then gravity does the rest of the work.
"I'd like to get to know you better," is what Sara's email says. It drips with sincerity. The whole thing does. Drips like sweat into Mila's eyes after suicides. "It feels like we are only ever friends for four weeks a year, even though this is normal for us as skaters."
Across the room, Georgi has his arms crossed against his chest as he leans back into his chair, smiling knowingly at Yura in high dudgeon about something Katsuki-related or other. Squawking like one of Piter’s ubiquitous seagulls. Viktor's thing in Japan. Mila rolls her eyes.
Viktor and Friends doesn't have room for women, apparently. Mila has a better triple axel in waiting than half those skaters. And better skating than the other half.
"Yes," she taps out back to Sara. "I will meet you at the airport."
The flat sandy-green interminable nothingness -- stretching out in panorama before, after, to either side of their car speeding down a highway they both hope fervently is the correct one -- is marked only by the occasional shorn field strewn with hay bales, or perhaps the gentle rise of a slope towards the depthless, unchanging pale blue sky: almost whale-belly white on the horizon and saturating bluer as Mila cranes her neck up.
Thin white clouds occasionally cluster together in the midst of all that blue, as if they too feel small and alone in the emptiness of these plains.
Ahead on the low horizon is a long and flat stand of trees, dark green and interrupted by a telephone pole. No matter how much tarmac it seems their car has eaten up, it never seems to get any closer.
“There are places like this in Russia,” Mila says. “Just ... all this ... nothing.”
Sara glances quickly at her, a swift turn of her head before she returns her attention to the road. She’s a safer driver than Mila’d expected from an Italian.
“In Italy too. But the sun is different. The sky is different.”
“Mmmm,” Mila hums, and unscrews her bottle of water.
This place steals your words and thoughts away until it presents you with a wooden cabin painted white, trimmed in green, and affixed with a sign announcing ‘GOPHER HOLE MUSEUM’ in a hamlet you find only when the GPS beeps angrily in the voice of someone Sara has assured you is a famous Italian person, and Sara shriekingly makes a turn that would most certainly get you murdered in Piter.
The expansive limbo that they have just traversed, that penetrating feeling of being both somewhere and nowhere at all ... they have collapsed to this one point in time, when Mila is standing in a small countryside museum looking at a lovingly painted diorama of stuffed gophers dressed up like they’re in Grease .
“Now,” says Mila, “you understand why this place is most important to see.”
In the tones of one who has seen the face of god, Sara whispers, “Yes, I see.”
They stumble out of the doors, blinking in the bright sunlight, after a blur of pulling together a story of the lives and times of the gopher librarian, and the gopher figure skater with her gopher hockey admirer, and most particularly a discussion of whether taxidermied gophers be Catholic or Orthodox.
“Coffee,” Sara says, sliding her oversized sunglasses on. She’s wrapped a thin purple scarf over her head and tied it under her chin. She looks like she should be reclining on a Vespa in front of a Roman fountain. “I need... coffee.”
The nearest coffeeshop is almost half an hour away, and they spend most of it reliving the gopher museum experience in increasing levels of hysteria. The cashier sees the marks of it on them. The way they feel and behave, maybe, a little like they’re walking through zero gravity.
And so something moves Mila to say, in the car, over terrible coffee and Timbits: “I think I could fall in love with you”.
They are sitting in a stationary car in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere, Canada, and Mila feels like a ridiculous American teenager in a ridiculous American movie.
It must be the spirit of Viktor that has moved Mila, which is faintly disgusting and has her gulping down even more terrible coffee. This also gives her the advantage of hiding half her face as Sara blinks at her, large and beautifully lashed eyes unreadable over her half-bitten chocolate glazed Timbit. There is some fine sugar on her lips, powdery white on the scarlet lipstain, and Mila feels a little bit like perhaps she had made a hasty decision, coming here.
“Well,” Sara says, lowering her timbit and licking her lips. The lipstain stays scarlet. “I fall a little bit in love with all my friends, so we are the same.”
This coffee is too acidic, Mila thinks absently. It does not sit well in the stomach.
“Yeah,” she says, and picks out a plain Timbit this time. “That’s what I meant.”
How do you fall in love, if not in words shared, spilling, like clear water eddying and swirling over the shallow lip of a mountain brook? Even the gaps between those words are conversations, meaning swelling, passed through, settling, expansive, blooming like the golden light of a sunset pooling between mountains.
I don’t know if I want to kiss you, but I know the glancing touch of your gaze and the way it hooks beneath my navel, no matter how fleeting that look; the way it makes me unfurl, the knots in my throat and underneath my ribs blossoming, falling open. I know I drown in it, your attention, and want to dive back in as soon as I can breathe again.
“What ...” Sara raises her chin when she raises her voice. It’s ... cute. “ What is this?! ”
This, of course, refers to the deranged, Slavic folk stylings of Gogol Bordello that Mila has blasting as they drive from one side of Vancouver Island to the other.
“Music,” Mila replies cheerfully, taking in Sara’s flabbergasted look as she swiftly glances over her shoulder and then overtakes the car that was in front of them. It was going like a turtle . “Art.”
“Art,” Sara says. “Of course. Is this your theme music? Russian ... theatre ... rock?”
There’s an idea. Yakov would probably murder her and Lilia would help him hide the evidence. Wow, and that’s how they’d get back together. Mila’s a genius. A martyr and a genius.
Shaking the thoughts away, she says, “Well, he is actually Ukrainian, but that is a very good idea."
With a laugh more like a dry cough, Sara says, “Your president for life is annexing Ukraine anyway, isn’t he?”
Mila hasn’t got much to say in response to that, and so she drives silently for a kilometre, concentrating on the bends in the road as it wends through an old forest, hoary green trees rising up like the arches of a cathedral around this tarmac nave.
They’d gone past a dismal grey town after the port, and sped out into the country until it yielded this grand old rainforest with its tall firs and damp, earthy smell. Standing at the foot of one on a narrow trail, gazing up and up and up through slender branches, like arms in second position, trailing bright green leaves turned translucent in the morning sun, the cousin of the panging under her ribs as she’d perched on the spine of a mountain echoed through her bones.
And then they’d got back in the car, and Mila’d put on Gogol Bordello to shake that unsettling feeling away, and they are nearing Port Albeni.
It is now that she says: “True.”
“What?” Sara blinks, sliding her sunglasses down her nose. “What is true?”
“Annexing Ukraine. And that this is my theme music.”
Sara gapes at her. It is the most unattractive thing Mila has seen Sara do with her face in all this time, and even then ... well. “This song is in English .”
And Mila knows the rhythms of their banter by now, and playfully bats the conversational ball back with, “Music knows no language. Art knows no language!”
Sara laughs, and the wind tosses it away.
“You’re unexpected, you know?”
Mila ignores the jolt in her chest, the momentary dropping out of the bottom of her gut. “Like a taxidermied gopher playing curling?”
Out of the corner of her eye, there’s a very secretive smile lurking about the corners of Sara’s mouth. Humming, she says: “No, better.”
It is when little Anakin Skywalker opens his mouth and starts saying things like “Aye, t’womp rats are nasty wee buggers, ye ken” in an incomprehensibly comprehensible Scottish brogue that Mila realises she is dreaming, and opens her eyes.
The checked curtains flutter a little in the breeze; they’d cracked the windows open a little before going to bed the night before. The sky is already light, this close to midsummer, what sliver she can see of it a watery blue, and dust motes drift lazily in the diffuse light of early morning.
Stretching her arms over her head, Mila arches her back and breathes deeply of the clear, cold, sun-soaked mountain air.
“No fires yet,” they’d been told by a compact, greying woman in a plaid shirt rolled up to bare competent forearms at check-in. “You’re lucky, ladies.”
Lucky, lucky Mila, that the inn had only rooms with double beds left, so all she has to do is roll to her left and up on her elbow to prod Sara into grumpy wakefulness. She likes to think that no one ever, other than Sara’s parents, has ever seen Sara like this: eyebrows scrunched together, eyelashes stuck together, and a discontent twist to her lips as she groans incoherently.
“I have just had a very strange dream.”
Sara blows out a sour breath and rolls over to bury her face in her pillow. She’s rolled closer. “Okay?” comes out muffled.
And so Mila tells her about the strange, half-submerged underground desert bunker criss-crossed with wooden planks set slightly above the cool water, in which she had observed a baby Anakin Skywalker live with a humanoid alien uncle dressed in leather, like a biker, and the way they’d all spoken like Scots and she had understood .
"What ...” Sara rolls a little, to reveal one half-closed eye. “What does that mean?"
Mila shrugs. "Maybe I was a Scottish biker in a past life."
Sara rolls a little more, back onto her back, chuffing out a laugh. "Maybe you're the Chosen One."
“I’ll bring balance to the Force.”
“Is Yakov going to die?”
“Oh my god, does that mean Viktor is Obi-wan?”
They both consider this, and say “No fucking way” at the same time. Mila loves this girl .
"The thing is,” Mila says, warming up to the subject and slowly coming fully awake. “I don't really have dreams like that."
"Oh?” Sara raises an eyebrow. It’s almost flirtatious. “And what do you normally dream about?”
Mila thinks. “I have a recurring dream about walking through a birch forest.” There’s one, near her grandparents’ place in the countryside. “Do you know how beautiful birches are? But a whole forest of them, with their peeling white bark and the silver bellies of their leaves ... all alone, only the wind in the leaves ..." She misses them suddenly, achingly, with a jolt. She hasn’t seen them since moving to Piter to train four years ago.
“Oh, Mila ...” Sara says softly, and puts a hand on Mila’s forearm.
"I'm not usually like this," Mila confesses. It's all she seems to be doing these days, anyway.
“Well,” Sara smiles up at her, eyes squinting shut and lashes long and thick on her supple, tan cheek. “I’m glad for it.”
The morning light has turned honey-clear, strained through the cheerful yellow of the curtains. One beat turns into two, silence stretching out like honey thick and sticky from the jar. Mila wants to touch .
Rolling so she’s no longer looking down at Sara, Mila sits up and swing her legs over the side of the bed. The wooden boards are cool, catch a little against the callouses on her bare soles.
Fleetingly, she feels warm fingers pressed against the skin bared between her top and shorts. Mila has never been so aware of the small of her back. The bed dips and squeaks as Sara rolls as well, kneels up next to Mila. Her knees make twin dimples in the mattress; her arm is smooth and warm around Mila’s shoulders.
“Let’s go,” she says. “We’ve got those glaciers to go see.”
Ceci n’est pas une zine piece, 2018
forochel & roadhouss
print of text and digital image
The collaborators’ work contemplates the oft-contested hermenuetics of fandom practice, playing with the epistemic liminality that so characterises the relationship between fan and canon(s). Taking a Dadaist approach and negotiated through a Marxist praxis, they employ a juxtaposition of styles and a symbolically chaotic mélange of references to construct a palimpsest of fandom experiences. Possibly, they are merely trying to say: this, too, is art?