The Mountain- Edited Version Still to edit more


The Mountain        
by DJ Johnson

People have been coming to the mountain for centuries. Sometimes they stay for a day, or a week. Sometimes they stay a month or a year, even living their whole lives in the shadow of the mountain that will take them, waiting moments to decades to take their turn or lose their nerve, to make a wish and dive.

There are restaurants and shops, walkways and terraces, hotels and cabins lining the canyon walls of the mountain, all etched into its cliff and rocky façade. Windows peer out into the gorge, framing it like a serene and patient Asian wood block print. The gray and soft blue granite in the narrow chasm looks like the inside of a hollowed out high rise, lights twinkling up its side. Ancient pillars and modern architecture decorate the niches carved out for the hotel viewing balconies. All this is joined together by a series of lifts and stairs to the different terraces lined with tables of red check tablecloth. Or to the veranda restaurant that looks like a Parisian café complete with wrought iron tables and chairs and tippy-toed waiters in starched shirts and long white aprons. A mariachi band plays at the Cantina. There are gift shops and trinket stores. A nearby amusement park has a satellite outlet and even Harley-Davidson has a tee shirt shop dangling onto the side of the mountain, their customers waiting and watching for the divers to dive.


“Audrey! The kids at table 10 want chocolate milk!”

Audrey is startled to hear her name and realizes she is holding two Styrofoam cups of milk and staring down the runny nose of a kid having a meltdown. She sets them on the table and the kid bats them away like a nerf ball on a t-ball stick. Milk makes its home run on Audrey’s black slacks, soaking her socks and shoes.

With a squishy retreat, Audrey stumbles back and murmurs, “Sorry… sorry. I'll correct that right now… sorry, sweetie, calm down,” she says to the kid, and to herself at the same time.

The divers were flying and she has been staring into space watching them instead of serving the masses paying a fortune to eat and gaze through the windows at the mountain and the divers.

There goes another one, says the loud speaker piped into every establishment around the mountain. The voice recites their story, where they were born, who their family was, and where they lived. Sometimes, it would remark on their hobbies, or schooling, to help the watchers get a true sense as to who they really were. But what they all wanted to hear, the one thing they all wanted to hear, here was Their Wish. What was their wish, as they dove off the mountain into the great unknown?

“Aww, isn’t that sweet. He wishes his mother didn’t have cancer,” and the TV screen accompanying the audio shows the mother in a hospital bed and her face lights up when the camera pans on her. Hours later, between divers, the camera would revisit the wish recipients, and would find them reprieved, or not.

But, most times it was something dumb like, I wish I could find a parking space, or I wish this guy would move already or damn, I wish I had a pony, or the number one wish, I wish I was thinner or prettier. That one ties with richer and more handsome. But, it was the dumb ones that got the biggest reaction from the onlookers.

Oh, no, another one, everyone would groan. Haven’t we all learned by now that wishes are sacred and not to be taken lightly. And if you are going to dive, know yourself. Know what the hell you’ve been wishing for all your life, not the damn parking space. But, then none of them knew what they were wishing for all the time, either. That’s why they’re here, in the mountain’s shadow, taking their turn, or losing their nerve.

Some of us had been here a long time, may have grown up in the shadow of the mountain, knew the legends, the urban ones and the mystical ones. We all know that until you dive, you’ll never know. So, Audrey was in line. She finally got her nerve and got in line. She had it all worked out. She’d wish for another wish and that way she’d just keep on wishing.

But, there was more to it than just getting in line. You had to complete a course before you were allowed to dive. Work on your technique to catch the wind and streamline your posture, pick out your color and clothing, assemble your family, and fill out the forms.

She picked turquoise, a popular color in the summer, but it was fall now and most everyone was choosing autumn colors of russet and maroons. Turquoise was her color. That’s what she wanted. Her socks and mittens would be turquoise, and the belt that would go around her waist would be turquoise. Everything else would be black, long sleeve tee shirt of special fibers and long yoga pants for comfort and ease. She wondered if she could add earrings?

She could see the divers so burned into her mind’s eye. She saw them, streamline pencils shooting through the air falling quickly but suspended so beautiful their faces transfixed as their wishes became clear to themselves, pleased or not they didn’t show it… it was their life, their wish, their time. Whether it helped or not they didn’t know it. They only felt this draw -- as Audrey could feel it -- this draw to experience the dive.

Every day she went to dive school and practiced. Every day she went to work and watched. And every day she repeated her wish, and wrote it down, dreaming of her turn.

Audrey’s mom and dad worked on the mountain. Her mom never wanted to dive.

“Why?” she’d go. She didn’t want to know her wish, couldn’t think of one and didn’t see the point, or so she said. Audrey figured she was just scared, though her job as the Cantina guide and information desk required her to put on a brave front. Her job was to answer the questions the visitors would have, mixing Indian legend with modern misconceptions and throwing in a little bit of drama. Her black plaited hair down her back gave her the authority to tell these tales since her family had lived in the shadow of the mountain since before the people who had been arriving for centuries had arrived. She knew how to avoid the questions of why do they do it and the most asked, what’s at the bottom and has anyone been, with folksy stories of kindness and charity.

Audrey’s father was a retired instructor from the Dive School. Growing up, she remembered he would be sure to steer away from any conversation of the why and how of the dive and the questions family would ask about his work. He would tell the same instructive tales the brochures would say about the freedom of it all. He avoided it all together with Audrey, and, with his wife. When Audrey said she wanted to dive, he was reluctant. He finally gave in and helped her with her form but Audrey would catch him sometimes late at night, when he thought no one was watching. He would sit and stare at his uniform of dusty blue, the socks and gloves the same shade of blue, its tailored hat trimmed in white. It always reminded Audrey of the sky and clouds, especially when she had watched her father work. He would lead the way for the divers at the top of the mountain, giving them last minute instruction, wishing them well in his non-committal way. His uniform blending into the sky, he would fade from view as the divers took center stage. It was on one of these nights, when she walked in and saw him reminiscing, that he did open up. But, only once, and between the sips of scotch, he admitted that he had been in line, but got the nerve and never dove. He had come to the mountain to dive. He took the classes and watched some of the great divers. He had, at some point, met her mother, and he said there was a sense of calm about her. He lost the nerve to dive and decided to teach what knowledge he had gained from being in the mountain’s shadow to others that still felt the need to dive.

Every day after the dives were finished, classes completed, and work done, Audrey would drive home on her motorbike. Transportation without a name, is was a gift from her parents to help her independence. It was all that was needed in this little town. Most roads were cut into the sides of the mountains and appeared more like seats in an ancient Greek amphitheater than passable roads. Some actually were stepped one above the other as if giant gods sat peering over the smaller mountains into the canyon and watched the dives from lofty perches. Each one of these stepped roads was connected one to the other with hair pin curves as they traced their way up the mountain.

It was on one of these curves that intersected with her turnoff to her parents home that Audrey found herself. And, I say found herself, because sometimes her drive home was peaceful and sometimes she was keyed up. She would plan and unplan her dive and lose track of where she was and what she was doing. The darkness folded in tonight on a trip she had made over and over again so many times she was surprised there wasn’t a worn path from the mountain to her door. The darkness of the night made her fail to see it and her inattention caused her handlebars to turn and dig into the pothole, her wrist locked in the open throttle position that made letting go almost impossible.

There is an old gas station at this intersection that was closed for the night. It stood staring, its two ancient gas pumps catching what light the stars gave and shone on her like eyes, the canopy forming its knitted brow, the trees its toupee. This was her turn off, her landmark, and as she negotiated the tricky curve thinking about whether she would get the nerve or lose the nerve  she jammed into the hole. Shock waves rattled up her arms, throwing her to the side almost off the bike, yet straddling it, the engine still revving, her hands, still stuck, gripping the bike, frozen with fear as she saw lights sweep across the gas pump from an approaching truck.

Let go. Let the bike go! Get the hell out of there, she heard. No, felt.


The scream of the spinning tire drilled her ears and the bitter smell of the tires clouded her mind. Her feet were numb with fear. She saw the lights of the approaching truck. Lumbering up the steep grade it was taking the hairpin turn slowly, but deliberately, definitely planning to be in Audrey’s lane when it cleared the turn. She saw what was happening yet she couldn’t let go. The small light on her motorbike was nose down into the asphalt, smoke from the spinning tires enveloping like a perfect smokescreen to hide her from the oncoming truck driver.

She pictured the mountain. A sudden image of the dive, her fellow students, the lights sparking on the cliffs crowded out the fear and she let go. The sudden flash from her headlight must have caught the driver’s eye and he swerved. Audrey had pushed clear of the bike and jumped backwards out of the way, landing on her back, crab walking backward to the side of the road. A loud string of curses clearly came through the cab’s open window as the breeze of the passing danger washed over Audrey.

“Shit, girl, that was close,” she hissed to herself pushing up on her elbows in the sudden stillness.

Something had told her to move. She could still feel the sheer helplessness when she realized the truck was barreling down on her. She was frozen with panic, unable to move, a cold malaise in her joints made her muscles too frightened to move her out of the way. Her locked wrist on the throttle and her other hand tight on the brake wouldn’t oblige her. The cold fear took over like a dread as she felt the words, Let go.

“Shit,” she said again this time to the gas pumps behind her, “A wrong swerve and it would have been you that truck hit.” Did she see a glimmer off the antique glass in acknowledgement?

She was thinking about the dive when she had her incident, about her dive. Her mind was so saturated with thinking about diving that she wasn’t paying attention to what she was doing, not paying attention to driving, to living, to… what else was she missing? Awareness is a sign that her nerves were getting to her, or not getting to her. It could be either or it could be nothing. She would examine this in school tomorrow, or not. Meanwhile, she had to get herself and the bike home. Amazing she was not hurt nor the bike damaged though she couldn’t start it. She pushed it the half mile home.

Since she was a legacy of sorts, they watched her more than most students, listened to her answers more and suggested techniques they didn't suggest to the others. Audrey’s father had been a great teacher at the Dive School and earned a lot of respect from the others. They asked after him and sent their regards. And they watched her like a hawk.

Her nerves were failing as she struggled with the question of whether or not she was she ready. Especially when she heard someone else take her “more-wishes wish” and everyone groaned saying, we all know that doesn’t work. Now what would she wish? She couldn’t really examine it at school. They didn’t talk about it there. All the questions she had the night she laid splayed on the road seem to disappear. Her need to think about her wish seemed no longer to exist, yet she had this drive to dive. Sometimes the instructors would remind them to think of their wishes or to look into themselves, but not much more. And when it was time to dive, Audrey noticed no one really asked, someone just seemed to know and the announced it over the loudspeakers. Must be on those forms that are filled out, or not.

Her biggest doubt came when looking into the chasm between dives. She thought she saw a glimpse of the bottom and she started to think about it. Stories would surface about a horrific place of smashed heads and dismembered bodies strewed on the canyon floor. Rumors about clean up teams patrolling at certain times so as to avoid being pummeled by the divers. The other stories said it was smooth granite at the bottom that opened up or melted into a crystal clear pond the color of a lagoon in the tropics. The divers would meld with the stone and from there no one knew. No one knew if they came back or disappeared forever. Stories say that some of the great divers can still be seen around the mountain, other say they are gone from us but if we continue to think of them, they will live forever. It wasn’t an easy thing to think about mostly because she had trouble articulating what she was thinking. The thoughts seem to bubble up and then disappear, so thinking about it became unpleasant and confusing. Surely someone knew, someone always seemed to know, or not.

Time. Her turn was approaching. It would be the dive or the nerves. Her wish was nonexistent in her mind. Her doubts and fabrications were getting more and more convoluted. Her form was excellent, par to none in school. Her clothing fit to perfection. She had gotten the right turquoise socks, mitten, and belt, but she no longer wanted to wear the earrings. Even though she looked wonderful when all was tried on, she was reminding herself of the incident by the gas station. Be in the moment and feel what you are feeling. Focus on the dive, and she took her place in line. It wasn’t her turn, yet. She was just practicing and changed back to her work clothes and went to work.

Audrey loved her job. Being around all those people who loved the dive and loved the mountain. Being around the shadow of the mountain as it moved through the day casting its patterns in a dance of the eons. Her mother would sing songs, as she washed dishes at night, that spoke of the light across the old valley and the caves, of hidden treasures the mountain would reveal when the mountain was dust and the sun a flame. Her father would continue to press and launder his uniform, though he never went to the mountain, never visited them at work, never spoke to his coworkers, yet knew, when someone was ill, or a new baby was born. She loved the mountain.

The day finally comes when it is no longer practice. She doesn’t realize it was her turn. She was standing in line as she did every day at school, practicing. Her turquoise socks that help to keep her toes in a point are tuck tight inside her black pants, her mittens tucked the same way to make the fingers blades against the wind, the sleeves covering her arms in a fabric so soft and silky that dust particles slide off into the shaft of light by her sides. The belt just that little extra for the style of it.

And she goes. Not realizing, she goes, out into the air. She thinks she sees her father where her instructors would be, giving her last minute advice, hold your pose here, pull your chin up there, dusty blue uniform against the sky. But, he doesn’t come to the mountain. But he’s there, not there, to wish her well, or not.

And she dives. Her body in the perfect pencil down pose, feet like tiny dots at the end of her legs, hands tight to the side, head first. Her hair, they never said what to do with her hair, but its plaited like her mother’s, tight down her back sailing with her in unison to her glide. The craggy canyon walls speed past. It’s going so fast and she sees each terrace, each window, each tippy-toeing waiter in every restaurant she knows on the mountain, the mountain she loves.

This is it, this is her wish.

The watchers are transfixed and transformed by Audrey’s dive. They get it and watch and feel an overwhelming peace as they understand her wish. The wish they have been waiting for.  Audrey’s dive lasts for more time than most and the whole world around the mountain is quiet. And as she disappears from view, the mountain awakens again. No one knows quite what they experienced. There are no words, no one remembers her wish like they do the others, as if the mountain doesn't want them to know, but to continue to search, question. It’s wiped from everyone’s brain. Every child, woman, and man, just has a sense of peace. Of this they know. It’s one of the legends that is spoken of. That you come away with a sense of peace that you don’t quite understand, you just know. And they shake themselves, because maybe there is another diver, and another wish, but most times, in the rare times this happens, they are done for that day. Someone somewhere knows they’re done for the day and says so, and everyone goes home, back to motels, hotels, friend’s couches, sometimes to cars and park benches, waiting for the next day of divers.

But Audrey is diving, diving, diving, feeling her wish well up as she realizes, this is it, this is all there is, is this. This. This dive. This life. This living and seeing all around you and loving the mountain and being as one with it. And the ground closes closer and she questions more, and more, and more and her nose feels the tingle of the stones at the foot of the mountain, and she questions less and less. The cold coming off the cool granite radiates on her face and she feels the blast of the cool breeze of a truck passing as she stands straddling the motorbike in the middle of the intersection. The gas pumps, are they winking at her? The patrons are they looking at her? And she looks around the restaurant and she pulls herself out of her revelry and goes to get the chocolate milk. Her turquoise socks are wet from where the milk hit her. Before she would have had a hard time articulating her feelings, but she looks around the room as she sets the glasses in front of the calm children. They smile at her, and the parents smile at her. And the man next to them and the woman and man next to them are all looking at her. Slowly her gaze travels to the hem of the khakis on the mother, bright scarlet socks, the belt on her husband is green and peeking out from another woman’s purse is a pair of russet gloves. No they are mittens.

And she articulates and thinks with finality, my wish was “I wish I could do that.” She looks at the pictures of the great divers lining the wall of the café and sees the newly minted diver with plaited hair and turquoise socks. She wished to be one with the mountain, to be the sister of the canyon as she feels in her soul her mother is. And next to her picture is a diver in dusty blue as the edges of her life grow less and less fuzzy and its meaning becomes clearer.

Until you dive, you’ll never know what it is you wish for.

The End

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