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Authors: Kaui Hart Hemmings

The Possibilities: A Novel

BOOK: The Possibilities: A Novel
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For my mother, Suzy Hemmings,
and my grandmother, Eleanor Pence



I pretend that I’m not from here. I’m a woman from Idaho, on vacation with friends. I’m a newlywed from Indiana. An unremarkable guest at the Village Hotel, exploring Breckenridge, Colorado, waiting for a valet to bring her rented car around. A drop of water falls on my head. I look up at the green awning and move so that I’m fully covered. A black Escalade blasting music enters the roundabout. The car is huge, and I expect someone huge to go with it, but out come three young boys—the driver, short, passengers, tall—and the valet, also a young boy, wordlessly takes the driver’s keys, hands him a ticket, and nods his head.

My son, Cully, who used to work here as a valet just three months ago, told me that he hated to park cars for people his age, and I can see why. Growing up I’d feel the same thing, an embarrassment to work in front of friends and peers. The worst job I had was fitting ski boots for girls who came here on spring break from places like Florida and Texas. They were always saying, “It hurts,” and I would say that it’s supposed to, making the boots tighter.

I was also a waitress at Briar Rose, where kids from school came in with their parents and they’d place their orders and I’d take their orders as if we didn’t know each other. I remember Leslie Day sucking the antler of her lobster and thought,
Only rich people could get away with that, or even know to do that in the first place.
We weren’t poor by any means, but compared to a lot of newcomers whose fathers came to town to retire at forty, it sometimes seemed that way.

The valet uniforms are black slacks and a black fleece, something Cully was embarrassed to wear. Some of them wear black change purses around their waists. Cully would rather lose money. I envision him running and opening car doors, taking tips, not looking at the amount until they were gone. You pretend not to care.

I look at these boys all around the same age as my son, these boys with mothers and fathers, hopes and problems, and an embarrassing urge comes over me to hold them. To swoop them up in my arms, something Cully as a child always wanted me to do and I’d often get annoyed.
You’re a big boy. You can walk.
At times he was such jarring cargo, especially when he was first born and I was only twenty-one. He felt like a school project, the egg I was supposed to carry around and not ever leave or break.

I should go. I have ten more minutes before I need to get to work. While I’ve been in this week doing preinterviews, today will be my first day back on camera after a three-month absence. I don’t move. I look at one of the valets—the tall one with black hair, smooth like a helmet; I look at him like he’s a kind of god.
Please, give me strength. Strength to return, to get back to life.
My plan is to move in seamlessly, drawing as little attention to myself as possible. I will reemerge wearing a figurative cap, similar to the one my twenty-two-year-old son wore, what the kids wear—a cap to hide their eyes, their face, a cap that says
I’m here but I’m not here

Cully is dead. He died. That’s why I left work. Good reason, though I don’t really have a good one for coming back, for emerging from hibernation. I guess I feel that I’ve reached that unspoken, societal deadline that suggests you reach for your bootstraps and pull. I feel like it’s time to start working on getting somewhere else, some other periphery or vantage point. I don’t need to move up, but maybe sideways.

The valet sees me looking at him and I look at my watch. I’m actually wearing one and don’t just look at my phone anymore. Cully gave it to me for Christmas when he was still in high school, and I came across it in my jewelry drawer recently, grabbing the dinky gold thing as though I had been looking for it forever. He must have taken his time, selecting it, probably thinking it was fancy. I’m wearing the idea of him shopping, his younger idea of me. I’m wearing the look on his face when I opened it, as if I had given something to him.

Six more minutes. I glance back at the valet. He was better-looking from a distance. Up close, he has very porous skin, a runny nose, and what looks like dandruff in his eyebrows. So that’s it then. One life can just disappear, and one can keep going, one nose can keep running. It shames me, the amount of time I spent being angry at him. The high chair battles—
use your spoon, not your fingers. Cully! Use your spoon.
Who cares if he used his fingers! Who cares! The mistakes do bring a smile to my face though.

Another car pulls in and a different boy runs to the driver’s side. This kid is thin, average height, though strong-looking. He opens the door for a man my age wearing a tight white turtleneck that sparkles in the light. People get out of their cars differently when the door is opened for them. The man emerges, shielding his eyes from the sun as if it’s the paparazzi even though he’s wearing sunglasses with lenses like mercury. He asks the boy if he knows how to drive this kind of car, a red Porsche.

The kid takes a brief glance into the car. “Yes, sir,” he says. “I’m familiar with automatics.”

I smirk. The man looks doubtful, hesitant to leave. When he finally walks toward the lobby entrance, patting his pocket for the keys he left in the ignition, the valet pantomimes kicking him in the ass. Then he catches sight of me. I smile, in on the joke. Cully would have done the same thing, I bet. He would be like this guy. This is the better valet.

He looks at me, smiles. I smile back, trying to communicate that I heard what he said to that guy. I got it. I know you. I am a different sort of adult. I had a kid just like you.

“You have your ticket?” he asks, in the same cold, dismissive voice he used with the man. I pat my pockets. “I . . . I think I’ll walk.”

I hurry away, as if caught doing something perverse. I look back to see him, worried he’s kicking his foot toward my ass, but he’s opening a door for a woman. A real guest. She is perfect, this woman. Beautiful, poised, groomed. Sometimes another woman’s polished nails are enough to make you feel like a failure. Sometimes the lack of recognition—the valet was supposed to see me, understand me—is enough to break your heart.

The woman doesn’t look at him as she gets out of the white car and adjusts her long, light-green coat.
I would have looked at you,
I want to tell him.


I adjust myself on the uncomfortable and unsteady chair placed on a slight incline between ticket sales and the Peak 9 lift. Murky clouds begin to move in from opposite sides of the sky. I look at their slow crawl, the sky buttoning itself into an old gray coat. Everything has taken on a different hue, as it should. What good is change if nothing has changed?

“What should we do now?” Katie asks. She’s my cohost, or I am hers. Katie Starkweather, once the weather girl on the six o’clock KRON 5 news. She can be effusive and loud, socially aggressive like a hairstylist, but she’s organized and diligent. Our cameraman, Mike, doesn’t believe Starkweather is her real last name. He thinks she made it up in meteorology school. We are the hosts of
Fresh Tracks
, a show that’s pumped into hotel rooms. We tell you where to eat, what to buy, what to wear, what adventures to schedule, and what to experience here in Breckenridge.

“What do you mean?” I look at her, then soften my expression. It’s as though I’m still surprised when people talk to me. I guess I expect people to not address me directly, like I’m a freak or a queen.

“How should we fill time?” Katie asks.

“The same way as always, I guess? As before.”
It’s a beautiful morning. Buy something.
That’s all we ever say. Katie looks unsatisfied. I remember she always gets jittery before we begin even though we’re not live. I guess I did too. I had that feeling of importance, like what you’re doing matters.

“We hardly have a thing,” Katie says. “I’m wondering how we can bulk it up since—”

I uncross my legs, gather up my jacket under my neck, the hot cold sunshine making me constantly adjust. “The largest gold nugget ever found in North America was discovered here,” I say. “On July third, 1887, by a man named Tom Groves. It weighed one hundred and fifty-one ounces. They called it ‘Tom’s Baby’ because Tom carried it everywhere like a newborn. It was about the size of a six-month-old.” I look at Katie. “We could say that.”

“You love town trivia,” she says.

“I do!” I say. “I don’t know why.”

She relaxes, slightly.

“Seriously though,” I say. “If we run out of things to say, I don’t mind. Tourists like it.” I like it—talking about town myths and facts. Things that happened yesterday that has made today today. It reminds me—and those who visit—of the lives here before us and the lives of the permanent residents. I’ve lived here my entire life, minus the 3.6 years that I lived in Denver for college. My father has lived here for most of his life. We can trace our roots back to 1860, when his great-grandfather came to work a hydraulic mine responsible for devastating the hillsides and water supplies. The same year the town supposedly named itself after the nation’s vice president in the hopes of securing a post office. Breckinridge. The
was changed to
when they got their post office and decided the nation’s VP was an ass.

I look around at today: the bouquets of condos, the sounds of the Spring Fling concert. Despite the town’s development and additions—One Ski Hill, Shock Mountain, trendier restaurants with one-word names—it is still my same hometown. Yet I feel like one of these tourists clopping about in a place that belongs to everyone and no one, a blank slate I won’t leave any impression upon. I feel like I’m passing through.

“Benefits,” Katie mumbles, her right leg jiggling. I want to still it with my hand. She has furiously been studying the bullet-pointed notes Holly wrote down for us. “Safety. We’ll just go through this list then? The value and benefits?”

Katie is wearing a tight, yellow sweater. She’s pulled together and even though I felt like I was too when I left the house, next to her I feel wild. I have squally, dark-blond hair. Katie has good TV hair—it’s light blond and it hugs her face like a pelt. Her lips are usually thin, but while I’ve been gone that has changed. Now they’re artificially plumped, like she’s sucking a thick milkshake through a thin straw. She’s younger than I am by about five years, but she seems even younger because she doesn’t have kids. She’s now on her fourth boyfriend in one year, an accountant who is always blurting out odd facts about himself, like, “I never swear,” and “Soft cheeses give me hives.”

“Do you want to go over them?” she asks, holding up the notes.

“I’m okay,” I say.

She holds back from making any kind of facial or verbal reaction. Death is a checkmate. Death is embarrassing. I want to tell her to not let me win that way. Mike tests the view of us, which always seems to make him uncomfortable. He needs to look at us but prefers to do it only through the lens.

“I guess you’ll be shooting lots of cover?” Katie says to him. “We don’t have much to work with.”

“I’ll handle it.” He sighs as if getting alternate footage is some kind of task the world’s depending on. I liked Mike, but it took him about twelve years to like me back, so I canceled my feelings. He has that very angry and jealous kind of short-man personality and simple, pull-my-finger humor.

Katie still has that nervous gleam in her eye, like we’re about to interview a terrorist.

“It will be all right,” I say.

“Oh, I know, I just . . .” She lets the sentence go and studies the notes, jiggles her leg. Left one this time.

Once upon a time I would have been very stressed out if the person we were supposed to interview decided not to show up. I understand the nervousness, and maybe it will hit me once we start, but if we fail, if it doesn’t work, then we just toss it and it’s okay. We can do it all over again, we have another chance. The thought makes me wistful. I know a sense of consequence is essential to any job, but the conviction in the weight of my work, the search for import—it’s downright elusive.

Yesterday a man named Gary Duran beat his pregnant wife in their home in Dillon. She and her unborn child took the Flight for Life helicopter to Denver. Everyone’s waiting to see if she and her baby make it, but we don’t report on things like that. Maybe if we did, I’d be okay. Maybe if we reported on the lack of low-income housing for people who work here but are forced to live elsewhere, then maybe I could muster some motivation, or if we focused on tragedies that made me more aware of the world beyond this. But instead we talk about lift tickets, then share tips from Keepin’ It Real Estate and Savvy Skiing with Steve-o.

Mike hoists the camera onto his shoulder as if he’s a soldier going off to war. He shoots the lift ticket kiosk, the main face of the mountain, the white groomed paths like pleats in a billowing skirt. I look at the ski instructors in their red vests, children trailing them like a whip; the chair lifts coursing the hills like veins, the huddles of skiers moving up and moving down—everything working faithfully like a heart. Everything here will be all right.

Our producer, Holly Bell, walks toward us from the ticket office with a brochure.

“Here’s a good visual,” she says, carefully. I’ve noticed that everyone is talking to me as if I’m deaf or slightly stupid. “The new price in print.”

I take the brochure. “Thank you.”

“You can hold it up at some point,” she says. “And stand up, move around. Stay positive. There are so many benefits . . .” She walks away—she’s always in motion. Mike thinks she also made up her name, and in this case, I agree. She was a pageant girl, then hosted a show like this in Sacramento. She still dresses like she’s hosting the show, kind of like an understudy waiting for Katie or me to keel over. Katie worked alone while I was gone. This makes me slightly nervous, jealous even. She did just fine on her own, so I’m feeling a bit like a garnish.

I tap my hands against my legs. It takes so long for us to do so little. I want to go home and meet Suzanne, who has agreed to help me finish Cully’s room. I think of the clothes and boxes, the stuff of life I need to organize. It’s come to me suddenly—this need to cleanse. I guess I want my dad to have the downstairs to himself, and our getaway this weekend seems to be functioning as a kind of deadline. My dad, Suzanne, and I are going to Cully’s alma mater, where they’re putting on a kind of tribute to him at the Broadmoor Hotel. Suzanne’s daughter, Morgan, has organized it, and I’m not even sure what it is exactly. She’s a current student at CC (she basically followed him there), and is trying to take his legacy into her own hands. Morgan and Cully grew up together, and Morgan has always created a kind of myth of their friendship, which has become even more beguiling now that he has died. It’s true they were close, especially before high school, but she treasured him more than he treasured her. The idea of a tribute to him is nice, but knowing Morgan, I can’t help but think it’s more about her need to claim him.

I shouldn’t be cynical, and the truth is I’m looking forward to it. Not the event itself, but the way it marks time. It will be my first time out of town since he died. Maybe going away will help me reenter. I don’t know. I make it up as I go.

Now Katie is drumming her fingers against her chest. I copy her to see what that does, and if it works.

“Are you okay?” I ask. I relate to the way emotions can manifest themselves physically.

I put my hand on her leg, briefly. “You’re really good at this,” I say. “You always come through.”

“It would be easier if he just answered some questions,” she says. “This is so last-minute. Don’t you
him or something?”

“Yes, I know him,” I say, disappointed she didn’t appreciate my appreciation. “I know that he won’t do it if he says he won’t.”

Our interviewee, Dickie Fowler, is the head of Breckenridge Resorts and he’s also a friend. Suzanne is his wife. They are in the process of getting a divorce. His call. I notice in divorces, when doling out the friends, the women get paired with the women—that’s just how it goes, though I honestly get along wonderfully with Dickie. We laugh and joke a lot, and we can be quiet together. He was supposed to be here to explain the increase in the price of lift tickets but decided the segment would be better without him. He’s smart. He knows that sometimes the way he comes across and the way he looks—his expression is coy and smug, like the rehabilitated men in erectile dysfunction ads—can make him unsympathetic. People are more respected when they say less, I’ve noticed, and he doesn’t say a whole lot in public.

“You don’t want to just try and call him?” Katie asks.

Her jacket is so white, her teeth too. The sun is bouncing right off the bright snow, making her clothes and veneers even whiter. I think to myself,
It hurts me to look at you.

“We’ll wing it,” I say. “I don’t really think people are looking to our show for a major analysis.” I tag on a laugh to soften things, but the laugh was a bit sharp.

Lisa, Mike’s assistant (who has a passion for makeup), walks up to Katie, powder brush in hand, along with her black change purse full of beauty tackle.

“Seven dollars,” Katie says with her eyes closed, rehearsing. Lisa moves the brush in upward circles over Katie’s face. “Ninety-eight to one-hundred and five—”

“Jesus, that’s a lot,” I say. “And there’s no snow.”

“No kidding,” Lisa says.

“It’s not that big a difference considering the value,” Katie continues to recite. “For example . . .”

We are half salespeople, half cruise directors. We need to “squeeze a chuckle” out of the disenchanted, to “heat things up” if they’re not sold on the cold. We need to sell the idea of freedom—exclusive, outdoor, extreme freedom. Get Outside! Be Extremely Free! It makes my job and my dad’s old one quite similar.

My dad, Lyle, was VP of operations. After Breckenridge was bought by Vail in ’97 he helped the resort lengthen its grip—into gas stations, real estate, restaurants, hotels, retail, this show—so that all the profit went upstream, through the fingers, and back into the palm. I think of my seventy-three-year-old dad at my house now, most likely working on things that no longer involve him. The horse put out to pasture who has no interest in munching on grass.

“The benefits,” Katie says again, now to me and not herself. “We’ll show them that a greater expense results in a better experience, and even a better life.”

“That’s quite an equation,” I say.

I can tell she isn’t sure if I’m being sarcastic or sincere, which must be hard for her. At work, I have typically been the happy sort, but this week during preinterviews a caustic side is crossing over, infiltrating my professional life. I’ve become stormy and difficult, mean and sad. If I was confronted with someone like myself I’d feel so sorry for them. Then I’d get bored by them, and then I’d hate them for their sad, sad story. Each day I start out wanting to do better, to be kinder. Each day I fail.

Lisa, done with Katie, approaches like I’m a horse, letting me see her powder brush, a warning she’s going to touch me. I love when she fixes my makeup. I like being touched without being touched.

“You look different,” Lisa says. She moves the cool brush over my cheekbones.

“I’m not supposed to,” I say. “That’s the deal.”

“What are you doing? Not as much eyeliner, it looks like.”

“I’m simplifying.” I laugh, but she doesn’t look like she heard me. She’s like real hair and makeup people in that they never seem to hear the answers to their questions—or maybe they don’t respond to insincere answers. But it is an honest answer. My beauty regimen for the past months:

I don’t use primer or my eyelash curler, and I don’t wear lipstick.

No moonbeams, sunbeams, emulsifiers and exfoliants, or a hundred-dollar serum to make me sparkle and glow. Only now do I realize I’ve been shelling out cash for packaging and ad copy. It’s all the same product, but one month a blush will be called Beach Babe Bronzer and the next month, Angel in the Sun.

I don’t put on the self-tanner that makes my legs itch.

I don’t shower or shave as often. My bush looks like a gremlin and I want to keep it that way.

I make lists in my head so I can



check things off.

“I’ve scaled back,” I say. The brush sweeps my forehead then moves down to my jawline.
Smooth my eyebrows,
I think. I love it when she does that. I missed it while I was gone.

BOOK: The Possibilities: A Novel
2.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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