by Sylvia Santiago
When Thom suggests a weekend in the mountains, you’re all for it. A change of scenery might help. Skiing. Snowmobiling. Hanging out at the cabin, drinking mugs of Fireball hot chocolate. Fucking by the fireplace. But no. Thom books a hotel package with a cave tour.
“An ice cave, babe” he says. “It’ll be amazing, you’ll love it.”
Except that you don’t.
You and the other tourists follow the guide, Danilo, into the azure mouth of the cave. Thom squeezes your hand and smiles. You smile even though you’d rather punch him in the throat. Not only are you queasy from the helicopter ride, it’s so cold that it’s making you want to pee. A bit of ice pings off your helmet. You don’t look up because your eyes are your second-best feature. Pulling your hand from Thom’s, you pretend to adjust your headlamp.
You break from the others to inspect a group of stalagmites. Small and translucent, they are a blue so pale that it borders on gray. Penis popsicles, you think, not bothering to suppress a laugh. As you move further into the cave, the walls rise and ripple cerulean.
“Pretty impressive, isn’t it?”
Danilo is beside you. Dark-eyed and lean, he’s attractive in a way that Thom, with his relentless cheerfulness and regimen of HIIT, is not.
“It looks like a movie set.”
“Yes! Like, how can anything be this perfect?”
You nod, even though that isn’t what you meant.
He runs a gloved hand along the glossy surface, “You can’t see them, but there are thousands of ice worms in here.”
Tiny worms tainting the impossible blue. It seems ugliness can be found everywhere. The thought is oddly comforting.
The path ahead is partially blocked by a bulwark of ice. People take selfies on their phones and the more enterprising whip out fancy cameras and lenses. You pull out your phone too, but only to check the time. The tour is scheduled to end in half an hour. Thom comes up behind you, snakes his arms around your waist. “You love it here, right?”
He doesn’t mind when you don’t answer. Perhaps he doesn’t notice. The second you’re freed from his embrace you trek back to the entrance to wait out the rest of the tour.
After an infinity of minutes, Danilo leads the group out of the cave and back to the helicopter. Thom claims a seat up front, again, for the bird’s eye view. Danilo sits across from you. Once airborne, your eyes screw shut. It almost doesn’t register when his gloved hand squeezes your knee in sympathy.
Later that night, Danny will touch a lot more of you. And when you return to the hotel Thom will be out cold on the bedroom floor, marinating in Grey Goose. You’ll nudge him with your foot and when he doesn’t stir, you’ll kick him. Thom will laugh off the bruises as a sports injury, like he always does. And you’ll laugh right along with him.
Sylvia Santiago is a writer, insomniac, and erstwhile children’s librarian. Her work appears or is forthcoming in several journals, including Ellipsis Zine, Gasher, Honey Literary, and Janus Literary. Find her on Twitter @sylviasays2.