Giacomo Sartori
Ilio was skiing down a nearly vertical wall when Lucilla met him, way back in nineteenhundredandseventyeight. She realized that he would be hers by the second awkward curve: he was a red dot on the blinding white of the gully, but to her he was already her man. He was toying with that unimaginable gradient, where anyone else wouldn’t even be able to stand, and she had the impression that he did for her. In her mind he was risking his life to come to her, to enter into her life. The dream she’d had was unequivocal: she was the prize for his impossible mission, for that struggle of his against the blue of the sky. They still didn’t know each other, but they were forever linked.
All eyes were fixed on him, everyone holding their breath: the only thing you could hear was the persistent whirring of the helicopter busy filming. It seemed impossible that he wouldn’t fall, at every curve you expected that he’d lose his balance and go crashing against the rocks at the foot of the slope. Now that his muscles were loosened up, though, he was executing wedeln with an agility that oozed grace and lightness. Every time he turned, he’d set off minute avalanches that potentially could have swelled, threatening to swamp him on the serpentine that lay ahead. He continued his to descend, though, soft and elegant, fragile yet obstinate: a butterfly on a windy day. She regretted that she hadn’t washed her hair, to not be as beautiful as she could’ve been. She felt, however, that they still would’ve gotten together.
Everyone stopped breathing, watching him dance with death. But she was more afraid than the others because he was the person that she’d been waiting for from the day that she’d left the hospital, because her existence now depended on him. He was hers, and she couldn’t lose him. He had to keep from falling; he had to live. For himself as well as for her.
She was proud that her man – in her imagination he was not one of the most talented extreme skiers ever, he was her man – was so brave and so skilled. But she knew that it was not only a matter of virtuosity and cold blood: he could do this crazy thing only thanks to his fatal intuition, thanks to the incredible strength of his spirit. He felt the flow very powerfully, an extraordinary strength that enabled him to carry out this test, which defied the laws of physics. And he had the crystalline perception that he could engage in missions even more impossible than this one, and that he certainly would have. Just as she would have pushed his limits even further, now that she was better.
She knew that he felt upon his temples the weight of the greedy eyes of the people around, he felt in his lungs the powerful magnetism of all those minds focused on him. Those curious people feared but were simultaneously excited by the danger because they risked nothing, because they foresaw nothing. She, on the other hand, had pangs stabbing at her throat, had the feeling of going insane. She sensed that he would fall.
Ilio continues his focused and cautious zigzagging, like a cat hunting. He doesn’t fall; he doesn’t crash. He advances. Every now and then he has a moment of doubt or slideslips a few meters, always just managing to catch his balance in the minimal space that the steepness affords. Leaning forward a few centimeters more would plunge him headlong into the void, and if he were to come a hair’s breadth closer to the ice wall his skis would lose their extremely tenuous foothold. He’s closer now; she can see him better. He’s a red comma crushed against the pure white scar that slices through the mountain, through the endless gully, the sadly infamous gully. A scarlet pencil tracing doodles on that pristine page of crystalline foam.
Maybe he’ll make it, she says. Maybe it wasn’t a premonition but merely interference due to the incredible attraction she feels. Maybe nothing will happen to him.
Just then Ilio loses the support of his lower ski, and after two hodgepodge somersaults starts to slide upside down. He spurts, ever faster and faster, like a parachutist who didn’t open his parachute. He doesn’t move his arms, doesn’t pull out the ice ax that is fastened to his waist, does nothing to try to put the brakes on his fall: now he leaps like an arrow, a red arrow.
It’s over, she thinks. It’s over before it has even started. His head is going to crash against the rocks. She wasn’t wrong, unfortunately, and now there’s nothing left to do. She has failed to save him. She feels her legs giving out.
Ilio manages to rotate himself, though, and get his skis back underneath him: in a millisecond he’s back on his feet. He’s succeeded, without losing his balance, in cushioning the hugely violent rebound caused by the impact of the edge of his skis against the sloping ice, and at the same time to maintain his grip. It was an amazing pirouette engendered by a last-gasp effort: something like a somersault. He’s back on his feet, and presses forward.
He’s stunned, you can see that, but he doesn’t stop. He recovers, drifting slowly on a diagonal, letting himself be carried by the skis. He tries to pull his thoughts together, to regain concentration. Maybe he knows it could be worse if he would stop. He touches his head with his elbow as if wanting to make sure he’s not hurt. He bends his knees two or three times, perhaps checking to see if they respond again. He doesn’t seem well balanced on his skis; one might think that he’s on the verge of falling again. On the contrary, he turns like a twisting fish and resumes his zigzagging along the steepest part of the slope: his legs recover their elegant twists. He descends with the same lightness as before, as if nothing had happened.
A roar rises from the crowd around her like the echo of a distant explosion. The excitement has congealed, a dense mortar that engulfs the breath and shouts of the people. She is still on the ground. She doesn’t have the strength to get up: she sees him through the rows of legs. She watches him descend, with a willowy swaying motion, advancing towards the rocks against which he nearly just killed himself.
Although less so, the slope is still formidable: he’s not out of danger. But she knows that he risks nothing further now. The oppression has lifted, giving way to a sense of bliss that it seems to her has never been experienced before, a joy that continues to mount. She senses that she’s found security and confidence in herself, that there will be no more hitches. She senses that he also knows that he’s done it and is enjoying the warm cocoon of the people’s admiring glances, savoring the sensation of gliding down untouched snow. She senses what he feels, and is at ease and satisfied in this scandalously intimate contact. It’s as if she’s known him for a very long time, for forever. She’s certain that they’ll be together. This time it’s not just a fantasy of hers; she senses it. She’s better now: she doesn’t invent things anymore.

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