Eyes wide as I gaze out of the bus window, the city looks perfect. The streets are an elaborate movie set, come to life, creating sumptuous visuals of color, form and architecture. To aid this sense of hyper-reality, everything is framed against the backdrop of the mountains. The snow-covered tips slowly emerge from the lingering fog of the day.
When I step off the bus, icy air drapes itself across my face, and my whole body shivers in response. It’s the thick of winter, and this immersion into the cold is what I had been craving—a prolonged shock to my senses.
In a previous life, we travelled to Sweden and were exposed to the tradition of ice baths, a swift slick plunge into frozen water, surrounded by snow. I held my breath, slipped my body into the ethereal blue depths and was lost. When I emerged a few seconds later, it felt like an eternity had passed and in a way it had. You threw a towel at me in disgust for my senselessness, and I knew the cracks would cave for good one day soon.
I’m here to reclaim that feeling, the sense of renewal the ice gave me. To refill the cracks with something other than shame.
I walk the short distance to the ticket office with a handful of other tourists from the bus and pay the small fare for the cable car that will take me up two-thirds of my journey. It’s the last of the day, and the ticketing officer gives us instructions in french accented English that the last car back down the mountain will be in exactly two hours.
The cable car arrives as the sun begins its descent, and the sky explodes all flame and orange. The sun catches between the mountains and fans out across the surrounding area to a chorus of ahs from my fellow passengers. The side of the mountain is burning earthy brown and red as the sunlight grazes over it. The windows of the car are streaked with dust and dirt, and still, that wonderful orange reaches through, caressing my cold-bitten cheek.
At the peak of our ascent, I wait patiently as the others exit. I step out, take a deep, full breath and turn to face back down the mountain.
Below me is Geneva. From this height, I can see the entire city, clustering around the river that splits through the land like a bold blue vein. I shut my eyes. This feast has not left me full. I could stand here for hours.
Instead, I turn and start to climb higher.
The path is well hiked. Steep and rocky in parts, engaging. All my senses come alive for the first time in months. The sky starts to fade from pale blue, to pink, to a rising purple. The path plateaus out across a field. In the distance, the snow-capped Alps, stand in stark contrast against that backdrop of sky. A gradient moving from purple to blue. The moon hangs above them all, waiting for its turn.
My body temperature rises with the effort of the climb, while the external temperature drops. I can see my breath billowing out in front of me, forming short-lived cumulus that drifts away before my eyes.
The path is covered with unbroken snow, and the smoothness of its surface enraptures me—an unbroken white sheet, pure. I hug my elbows to myself and try to remember how it felt once. Remember instead the night it happened and the shock of so much crimson dashed across the bedsheets like that. So bright, it felt alive in a way I hadn’t known before. We knew it was a mistake; that we loved the idea of it more than we loved each other. You called an ambulance, while I crouched in the bathtub like a wounded animal and tried to wash the relief from my face, but you saw it there. When I got back from the hospital the next day, you’d packed your bags and moved out, leaving me with bloody sheets, an emptied womb, and the gnawing guilt the life snubbed out inside me knew it wasn’t loved.
A short distance later, I reach my destination, the peak of Mont Saleve. The city is below me. Above I can see the sky stretch for miles, and I feel like I'm part of it. The orange is still blazing warmly, low to my left, but to my right, brilliant turquoise blue; bright and clear, whipping together, ready to transform into a deep midnight blanket. I stretch my arms up high, up onto my tiptoes—arc my body as wide as a smile.
I want to stand here forever. I want the cold to seep deep into my bones and freeze me clean. Impulsively, I turn to a clearing at the side of the bath, blanketed in snow and lay down. I feel myself sink into the cold as I turn my face to the sky and inhale slowly.
Exhale the last of you into the icy depths of a Swiss night.
Elaine is a writer and educator, currently based in Hobart, Tasmania. Her writing has been published internationally and longlists or shortlisted with Reflex Fiction, Bath Flash Fiction, Mslexia, Writers HQ and others. She is currently working on her first flash fiction collection. You can find her on most social media under @wordswithelaine