When my friend asks, I choose not to. I was never a spontaneous one—not yet, at least. No, I prefer Alan Moore and indie music. Safe things. Besides, there are enough consequences at home as it is considering I have twice dropped my phone in the snow, and it won’t turn on. I check the indicator on the battery and see that it is lined with red Xs. In other words, my warranty is canned.
I have a plastic orange sled shaped like a disc, my friend a red foam one with handles. The snow is still fresh (there must be at least a foot) and this hill is untouched save our trailing footsteps. It hasn’t snowed this much in years, and the weight of the sled feels nice in my hand like an old friend.
The first ride is the most important. I know this because it will decide the path for every other ride, and so it needs to be perfect. Because I want order in everything (always have), I map out how I want the path to go in my head and decide I want to add a small hill.
You sure you don’t want to? my friend asks.
My friend, the spontaneous one, throws his knitted cap on the ground. He throws his gloves, then his coat, his big boots and high socks. He always called himself an anarchist, and now I know why.
Barefoot in the snow, he takes off whatever layers he has left—a hooded college sweatshirt, two t-shirts, a pair of ski pants, boxer shorts—until he is in nothing but his brown skin and shivering. I shut my eyes and bury them in my snow gloves so I don’t have to see his frostbitten shlong.
My friend rides first and blazes his own path in the snow. His foam sled keeps getting caught in the thick powder and sticks to his bare chest, making it hard for him to clear the path. Shit, he shouts, it’s fucking cold. I still haven’t looked (not even peeked) but I laugh anyway—out of spite, if anything—because I have chosen warmth.
This hill, the one I didn’t even choose, is practically in somebody’s backyard. I didn’t think it would go this far. If anyone were to look, they would see my friend in all of his virgin glory riding all naked and cool down the glacis.
Paranoia. Overprotective parents, shifting pairs of eyes watching from balconies, judging. They already see me. I want to tell them this wasn’t my idea, that he asked and I said no, and I’m still wearing all of my clothes and apologize and apologize because I said no, chose no. No. For now I am safe. Even the birds have taken shelter somewhere warm and far away. It is silent, but not completely silent. I know that complete silence is impossible because even in the quietest room I can hear the hum of the Earth gnawing away at me over and over and…
The path he set is too crooked, I think, too short. Tough shit. I have to follow it because you can’t have more than one path or else they intersect, and you can’t have paths intersect. I hear my friend grunt at the bottom of the hill, but still I don’t look at him because I don’t want to see what the cold has done to his body. Still no eyes.
Then the grind of a sliding glass door in the distance, the crunch of slippers on blank ice. Two, maybe three people coming to…
What the hell are you doing?
I want to run, want to build an igloo so big it has its own zip code and hide and burrow away. My cheeks ignite with redness filled with the fattest heat in the tri-state area, and I go deaf and dumb. Yes, this is happening, and I knew it would, and I don’t even have a working cell phone to call my mother to pick me up. I look up for the first time since my friend took off his clothes and see a husband and wife and a young child standing on their balcony in glazed awe, watching me a little but mostly my friend. The man—who is holding a black coffee mug—yells down from the balcony,
There are children here, put your fucking clothes back on and go the fuck home.
I think of whether a child will be more affected by the f-word or a glimpse at some teenager’s chubby crotch. I don’t know what my friend is doing because I still haven’t looked, but I imagine he’s scared and showing it.
Yeah, here come the I’m sorrys and the I won’t do it agains. This wasn’t what I wanted, but the path was laid before the first flake hit the ground. I know that. Of course I do.
My friend scrambles to the top of the hill for his clothes that are now soaked and heavy with something other than water. I still haven’t looked at him, have kept my eyes locked on my shoes.
Before I know it, the grind of the sliding glass door returns again but this time in reverse. My friend is clothed now and laughing, but I am not. I know that I’ll laugh one day, but not right now. Not today.
I sigh quietly. I never even got a chance to ride, which was all I wanted, but I couldn’t have done it alone. Not me.
Come on, I tell him, this hill sucks anyway. The two of us grab our sleds, oranges and reds, and clutch them swiftly, tightly against our sides. The snow is heavy, and it is hard to walk. I go back the way I came, oranges and reds, retracing our backwards footsteps until our prints intersect with someone else’s.
Anthony Santulli is a New Jersey born writer currently attending Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from over a dozen magazines including Extract(s), The Postscript Journal, Bartleby Snopes, Literary Orphans, decomP, The Dying Goose, Trench Foot Gazette, and The Higgs Weldon.