Issue 2, Spring 2007


Big Boulder
by Julia LaSalle

Ann Marie stepped out of the airport as big white snow flakes started to fall. She wore high heeled boots, a long wool coat and as she walked to the curb she kept her back perfectly straight just like a movie star. Ann Marie always had moved like a star. She stepped into the Buffalo winter, as it appeared to Christine, with all the chin-up grace of someone who considered that bitter cold a novelty, and not like someone who dealt with it every day. People from Buffalo—had the years in Atlanta made her forget that she was from Buffalo?—had been trained since birth to always put their head down to the cold.

Ann Marie reached the curb and stood still in the light of the headlights passing at 5 or 10 or 12 miles per hour trolling baggage claim for the brother or daughter or friend finally come back home. Her blond hair curled under a fancy hat, and with a gloved hand she moved that hair behind her ear. She didn’t expect Christine to be standing under the baggage claim sign and so Christine was able to spy undetected as Ann Marie reached into her pocket and pulled out a smoke, lit the smoke and watched the cars—looking without searching.

After a moment Christine tapped her shoulder from behind, asked to borrow a light.

“Christine!” Ann Marie collected Chris into her big coat and hugged hard.

“Welcome home,” Christine said into Ann Marie’s shoulder, her mouth full of hair and wool. Both girls swaying slightly. Both girls thinking it had been too long.

They picked up Ann Marie’s luggage and packed up Christine’s Civic – the same hearty car she had been driving since high school, and buckled into the front seats.

“My mom’s so grateful, you picking me up like this,” Ann Marie said.

“It’s no problem.” Christine turned the ignition. “Might not get another chance to do it. And anyway, I feel it’s like - an honor.” The muffler on the Civic was busted and it made a long raspberry rattle when they pulled out. Christine cringed, prayed Ann Marie didn’t notice.

“You know, Buffalo will always be home to me,” Ann Marie said. “Whether Mom’s here or not. And anyway, Chrissy, you know I’ll always come to visit you.”

Christine twisted her gloves on the wheel. “God, I hope so,” and she took a deep breathe. “You know I never got over missing you when you’re gone.”

“Oh, Sweetie,” Ann Marie said. “I always miss you too.”

Christine felt a smile on her face that seemed to come from deep inside, a potato in her chest, sprouted a shoot. Its roots taking hold in her stomach. Blooming a smile on her face. “Wanna get a drink before going home?”

“Oh yeah.”

They rolled into Piper’s, and parked in dirty, snow slush. The Civic squeaked when they opened the doors and rocked when they stood. Ann Marie crunched some rock salt under her heels, stamping intentionally to give her shoes some tread, and then stopped.

Ann Marie stood still in the parking lot then, smiling then.

“What are you doing?” Christine asked.

“Oh,” Ann Marie gave a small laugh. “I surprised myself that I remembered that trick with the salt.”

And then Christine also gave a smile laugh. “Honey, I think you been away from home too long.”

Christine jogged past Ann Marie to open the bar door. Her own old sneakers didn’t require any salt, and she stood there holding the door open, waiting for Ann Marie to pass, just as she always had.

The girls took a seat at the bar. Ann Marie looked around the place, “everything looks just the same,” she said.

“Yup,” Christine answered. “Believe me. I know.”

Ann Marie reached into her pocketbook, pulled out a cell phone and said she had to make a quick call. Christine nodded then caught the bartender’s eye. She ordered two Rolling Rocks as Ann Marie whispered into the tiny phone, “it’s all just as I left it…” Christine managed to hear. “Michael,” she said, “I wish you could see it.”

Christine pulled off her chunky white hat and held it between her knees. She itched the top of her skull once and then turned her head to the other side. She scratched behind her ear, and itched her head again, impatient for the phone call to end. “I have to go now,” Ann Marie finally said. “I’ll call you again later.”

The phone snapped shut and Ann Marie turned back to face her old friend. Ann Marie was dropping her phone back into her purse, her green leather gloves still on.

“So, how’s your mom doing?” Christine asked, shrugging off her coat.

“Fine.” Ann Marie pulled at each finger of her gloves and then laid them next to the beer bottles when they came, smoothed the leather flat. “Actually better than fine. She can’t wait to get to Florida.”

“And you?” Christine said, pushing her chunky hat into her jacket sleeve, “How are you doing?”

“Oh, Sweetie, honestly,” Ann Marie said. “I wish I were doing as well. I just can’t believe she’s not going to be in that house.”

“Me neither.”

Ann Marie laid a hand on her beer, scraped a red nail across the white paint on the neck.
“It’s just so bizarre.”

“I know,” Christine said put a hand on her own beer, then added, “I think I slept more at your house growing up then at my own.”

Ann Marie smiled to the bottle, “I think you did too.”

The same Guns n’ Roses song that they had been hearing at Piper’s for 15 years – since they were served their first under-aged drinks there – played out of the juke box and they both swayed slightly for Knock Knock Knocking on Heaven’s Door.

Christine picked up her beer. “It’s good to see you,” she raised the bottle toward Ann Marie.

“You too.”

They clinked their bottles and took a pull, the beer tasted cold and fresh and good.

“God, we watched so many movies in that basement,” Ann Marie said.

Christine laughed barely managed to swallow, said, “and the same movies so many times.”

“That’s right. We’d watch the same movies again and again until dawn.”

Christine stopped laughing, smiled around the neck of her beer, “I know.” She swallowed and put the beer down. Spun it a half-turn counter-clockwise then reached for one of Ann Marie’s smokes. Did it without asking. Lit it. Inhaled. Waited to cough-she hadn’t smoked in years- but did not.

Christine exhaled remembering the movies in Ann Marie’s basement 15 years ago. The girls alone in the house while Ann Marie’s mom worked the late shift at the hospital. Their four teenage legs tangled on the sofa, under shared blankets, their heads on each end of couch and heads buzzing with some stolen sauce until finally when they eeked to sleep at four in the morning, with the tape re-wound for the last time, they’d be two heads on the same end of the couch and wake before school with their breathe in each others hair, their arms wrapped around.

Christine put the smoke down, and said, “Can you believe this snow?”

“Makes it feel like the holidays.”

“I was thinking,” Christine said, stamped out her smoke. We should go skiing again this year.”


“Yeah. Since you’re taking a month to stay home. We could take a few nights. Drive up to Big Boulder like we used to, you know, just the girls.”

“Mmm. Back to the 15 second slopes?”

Christine bristled. “Hey don’t say that,” she said. “Those were some of the best days of my life up there.”

“Oh, yeah,—“

“Just cause you got to be little Miss Swiss Alps in college-” Christine stopped herself and took a swig. She touched the gloves Ann Marie had left on the bar before starting again. “We had good times together there,” she said re-flattening the leather. “Those hills were good enough for you for at least 3 dozen weekend trips while we were in high school.”

And that one time you came home from college even. Christine added in her head, we had a real good time there then. But didn’t say it aloud. That was the unmentionable time between them.

“No, no,” Ann Marie said. “I was making a joke is all. Skiing with you would be great - I just have to do a lot to help my mom, and what about Paul? Doesn’t he want to go? Can he make due without you.”

“Oh, Paul. He makes due just fine.”

“Chrissy, I’d love to,” Ann Marie said. “I just am worried about time. There’s a lot of packing to do in that house, and well, come to think of it I might be ready for a break from that in a while. I don’t know. Let me think about it.”

“Ok,” Christine smiled, “Sorry I snapped,” she said “just think about it is all.”

“Ok,” Ann Marie put two hands on the beer in front of her and nodded. “I will.” She picked out a smoke, and handed one to Christine. “So, how is Paul?” She asked, lighting them both.

“Oh,” Christine puffed, “he’s fine.”


“Sure.” Christine blew a plume and the smoke streamed out hard


“Sure. I said so didn’t I?”

“I guess you did.”

Christine kicked her foot from under the bar stool, and then swung it back into its place again, wishing it held the weight of a ski boot, and pushing away any thoughts of Paul. How many times had she and Ann Marie ridden up the ski lift together she wondered—their legs kicking skis underneath and the snow spinning all around? How many times had they ridden up the mountain into the night, the lights on the mountain trails lining the way, the fingers of barren branches reaching underneath them? She remembered how their noses would be so cold and their scarves frosted over from their breath, but they would ride up together one last time, every time, firm in their conviction to squeeze out every possible run from their all-day through night passes.

Christine took a deep breath and closed her eyes tight. She opened her eyes and let out the air. “I’m sorry, Ann Marie,” she said. “It’s just lately, maybe things haven’t been going that great and I been thinking we should never have gotten married so early like that.”

Ann Marie took a big breath, Christine heard the intake and glanced at Ann Marie’s profile. Decided that it was as good a time as any to push forward with what she’d promised herself to do.

“It’s just lately, Ann Marie,” she said. “I been thinking.” She put her lips together and swallowed. “I been thinking, I should have stayed with you.”

Ann Marie swiveled in her bar stool. Faced Christine full of calm and cool friendly concern, “What do you mean by that, Christine?”

“Oh, Ann Marie,” Christine swiveled fast on her stool. She bumped her knees into Ann Marie’s and then grabbed Ann Marie’s thigh tight with her hand. “Ann Marie, I should have followed you to college. I should have gone with you to school, and -”

Ann Marie rested her smoke in the tray. She slowly grabbed Christine’s hand off her thigh and into both her own. Held it and said “Christine, what’s happened? Why?”

“Ann Marie, I don’t know. It just seems I’d have more options. Seems more likely things might turn out right.”

“But, Christine, baby, listen, there’s always options. Tell me what’s happened.”

“Oh, Ann Marie” Christine said and placed her hand on top of her other, ontop of both of Ann Marie’s, “I should never have let you outta my sight,” she said, “that’s what happened.”


Ann Marie pulled her hands away, turned back to the bar. “I see.”

Christine then also swiveled her stool back to the bar. She took some long sad breathes and the chugged the rest of her beer, “Maybe I best get you home.”


Later that night Ann Marie sat at her mother’s kitchen table.

“How is Christine?” her mother wanted to know.

“Fine. She seems fine. Wants to go skiing this month.”

“Yeah? Well, I been worried about her.”

“Worried? Why?”

“Well, sweetheart, since Paul left –“


“You know since Paul left her?”

“Yeah, honey, Paul left her. Didn’t she say? Caught her foolin’ around or some business like that. Rumor has it she was with another girl – but I don’t believe it. Never figured her the cheating kind, maybe she isn’t. Doesn’t matter now. He’s gone.”

“And she hasn’t taken up with anyone else?”

“Not that I’ve seen. She got a new dog though. If it did happen it was probably just a fling. That’s the way those things are.”

Ann Marie ran a hand through her hair. “I can’t believe Paul left.”

“I think he was itching for a reason to go, truth to tell,” Mom said. “I’d see ‘em sometimes in church. Him singing the songs and praises, and her looking a million miles away. Clear as a bell she didn’t want to be there. Still I feel bad for her now. She never got an education, never struck out on her own like you. I been thinking about her lots lately. Wondering what she’ll do.”

“I’m wondering now, too,” Ann Marie said.

Ann Marie and her mom both lit a smoke. The grey swirling in the fluorescent kitchen light. The blue haze. She’d have to quit again before she went home. Michael would be furious if he found out she had smoked. But like the snow and the road salt and even Christine, the smoke belonged in Buffalo. It would all be soon enough forgotten once her mother’s house was packed up and she returned to Atlanta.

“So, there’s a dog now,” she said. “Do you know his name?”

“A big dog,” her mother answered. “She named him Boulder. Big Boulder. – she calls him her rock.”

“I see.” Ann Marie crushed out the smoke and looked around. “I think the best place to start packing is the basement.”

“I agree. We’ll back up what’s down there first and then move upstairs. Maybe into the living room.”

“And my old room,” Ann Marie said.

“Last thing to do is the kitchen,”

“That’s right – we’ll need to eat until the end.”

“Then, in the last few days, we can pack up the kitchen and we’ll be done with this place.”

“That’s right,” Ann Marie said, no longer seeing the house she grew up in all around, just the packing and cleaning and work that needed to be done before moving on, “then we’ll be done.”