CHOICE SNOW • by Diane Hoover Bechtler

About a yard ahead of my ski tips, something glittered in the fresh snow. I slid to a stop and scooped up a diamond bracelet. What fool skis wearing diamonds? I held it like a wiggling worm until it occurred to me that I had no idea how to find the owner. My shift running the lift was finished for the day and my waitress job didn’t start until 6:00. I had a couple of hours, so, after skiing a while, I guessed I’d trek down to Lost and Found with the bracelet.

Holiday skiers clogged the slopes of Aspen, laughing, trying out their new equipment. Thousands of rainbow-colored birds. As I scooted through an opening in the crowd, I thought, maybe, just maybe, the bracelet had been churned to the surface by a grooming machine only for me.

It hit me as strongly as the sun’s afternoon rays – I wanted to keep the bracelet. Maybe I could hock it. No. I wanted to own it. A covetous nature I never knew I possessed gripped me and I froze, clutching the object of my desire. Why couldn’t I keep the bracelet? Finders keepers. That old childhood phrase jumped to mind. Maybe the situation wasn’t all that bad? Maybe the stones weren’t even diamonds. Maybe Cubic Zirconiums.

Skiers whizzed by me spraying snow, as my brain judged the pros and cons in its spartan gray courtroom. How to find the owner? Did I want to find the owner? If I turned the piece in to Lost and Found someone there would swipe it, so why shouldn’t I keep it? But the wearer might return to this very spot, searching. Maybe I’d wait a while and see if anyone showed up. The thing had been buried. But from last week? Or had skiers run over the bracelet today and pushed it right below the surface of the snow? I could fly down the Mineshaft black diamond run and think about the jewelry over dinner or at bedtime. The sign with double black diamonds poked out of the ground ahead. Right now, in this frame of mind, I would choose a slope with that designation.

Heaving a cloudy sigh, I leaned against the snow bank, skis still clamped to my boots, digging long trenches. I raised the bracelet to the sun. The stones glinted against the blue sky like a tiny Aurora Borealis. They were diamonds for sure, not fake. They were real. So why not keep it? No way it would ever get back to the rightful owner. I removed my gloves and snapped it on my wrist. The gold rested cold against my skinA man and a woman slipped slowly toward me, heads down. I did not see them at first. When I did, I jerked my gloves back on and pulled up their tight cuffs. I jumped to attention on my skis, poles to the side, ready to move at the speed of a deer. The couple inched closer and I heard them talking, but the words weren’t clear. They didn’t need to be. I knew what they said and why they were there.

The weight of the bracelet made it hard for me to hold my right pole. I inched along ahead of the couple, lined up, ready to eavesdrop.

A fur hat held her hair in place. I wore a knit headband. Their ski suits were Gorsuch, about the most expensive outfit you can buy. My threadbare jacket shone slick in places from age. Their new skis skimmed the snow unscratched. Mine revealed miles and miles of Colorado abuse; a groove ran diagonally across the left one, a kiss from a rock. They had money; I had none. He could buy her another bracelet. They could afford it. I, on the other hand, would never manage to buy such a luxury. Two jobs and three roommates barely kept the rent paid and got me a season pass to play in the powder. The most expensive accessory I owned was my mountain bike.

My gloved hand safely shoved deep in the pocket of my five-year-old jacket, I remembered the diamonds’ twinkle. Their cold beauty bit at my wrist.

The couple slipped closer, scouring the ground with their eyes, sweeping the drifts with their ski tips. They spoke Spanish. They moved within feet of me. My heart galloped and, despite the cold, I broke a terrible sweat. They passed me. I mumbled a prayer and clenched my fingers.If I kept the bracelet where would I wear such a thing? Skiing, like those idiots? Tennis bracelet. Ski bracelet. All my friends would figure out the circumstances. Unless I said the diamonds were fake. I didn’t even have to wear it. I could take it out of hiding and look at it from time to time. Or I could invent an aunt who willed it to me.

If I kept the bracelet would I catch it on a tree limb someday? Would it break my wrist? If I gave it back would some crown be put aside for me in heaven?

The couple crept farther along the slope, stirring with their poles. Whistling, I skated on the flat a few feet behind them.

Skiers flew by, throwing spindrift in my face. Crystals floated back to the ground, sparkling like the diamonds under my cuff. The snow dust gleamed as beautiful to me as any gem. Mountain peaks surrounded me, monumental jewels. In their hiding place, the dead stones chilled my pulse.

I skied up to the couple, out of breath from the work of debate.

“Hi. You guys look like you need some help.” I hoped they spoke only Spanish.

To my dismay they answered in English. “My wife she lose a band, how you say, bracelet.” He broke it into three syllables.

“Oh, dear.” I exclaimed like a bad actress. I pretended to puzzle and after a moment I said, “Why don’t you ask the lift guy over there. Maybe he has it. Maybe someone found it and turned it in.” The husband said something to his wife, nodded, and trudged over. I watched the two men speak, the husband using arm movements encompassing the area and the lift operator shrugging. I stood grinning stupidly at the wife. She raised an eyebrow. Did I look suspicious? I fought an urge to say goodbye and slide into the masses.

Why did I send the husband to the lift? The operator was my friend. If I kept the bracelet and he ever saw it he would know. Had I sealed my fate, made my decision?

The wife spoke. “He give me the bracelet for our anniversary last year. I am dumb to wear outside. No?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that. A lot of women ski in jewelry.” I needed to shut up. No one I knew skied in jewels except maybe a watch. The only time I saw the shiny rocks of prosperity appear was at dinner, attached to the customers whose orders I took.

The husband plodded back. “The boy say to look to the Lost and Found at the mountain house. He say ski the hour or two. People come off the slope to have the drink before night skiing. What you think?”

The man questioned me. I felt a scarlet T, for thief pop out on my forehead. Steam had to be rising from it. I wanted to scream “Thou shall not steal” and let the words bring down an avalanche on my head.

Instead, I calmly answered. “That’s a good idea. With all these people, someone may see it. Even diamonds sparkle more than snow.” Damn! I realized no one had said the word diamond but me. The blasted thing burned my wrist and I scratched at it. It slithered and I quickly peeked to make certain it lay out of sight. Sweat drained from my armpits, staining through all the layers of clothing I wore. The odor of sin wafted around my head.

“Are you sure of where you lost it?” I asked them. My word slipup escaped unnoticed by anyone but me.

“No. Not really,” said the woman. “I look on lift and the diamond, she is gone.” A frown gathered like fog on her face. Was she working the puzzle? My job became one of distraction.

“Which lift?”

“These one.”

Then it could be under the lift, under a lot of snow?”

“I think she fall off before lift sitting.”

“Is it insured?” Why was I asking so many questions? Why didn’t I leave?

“No. No. We never get the insurance now.” The husband blew into his mittens.

I didn’t understand what he meant, but I bit my tongue to stop talking. A little salty blood filled my mouth. Sweat dripped down my back and leaked from under my headband. I swiped at it with my right hand and nearly fainted when the bracelet jangled and fell to the top of my glove. Surely they heard it or saw it. Or had my cuff held it in place? I assumed the worst, but they weren’t even looking at me; they had resumed staring at the ground, sifting the snow.

“Sure hope you get it back. But why don’t you take a couple of runs like the guy suggested then go to Lost and Found. Mineshaft is a great run and it’s going to close for the day soon. Can you ski double diamonds?’

“Yeas. Of course. That is what we do.” The husband patted his wife on the back; she waved me goodbye and smiled. They made no effort to move.

“I’ll see you then. Have a nice trip.” Why couldn’t I be quiet?

One arm weighing much more than the other, one arm much colder than the other, I gathered my poles and moved rapidly down Mineshaft toward right or wrong, certain the couple was following me. My skis argued with the snow, as a light glaze of ice formed. During my third turn, a tricky one around a young tree, my tears spilled and I prepared to fall.

Diane Hoover Bechtler Diane Hoover Bechtler lives in Charlotte, North Carolina her husband, Michael Gross who is a poet with a day job and with their cat, Call Me IshMeow. As well as writing short stories, she is looking for an agent for her memoir, Losing Balance. She earned her MFA at Queens University in Charlotte where she lives with. She has had short work published in journals such as Dead Mule, School of Southern Literarture and Thema, Literary Journal

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Every Day Fiction