Anna is Irish. We meet at a party six weeks into the Japanese ski season. Three beers are enough for us to disappear together, interlocking fingers and lips in the darker shadows, behind the closed door of a bathroom. We’ve both been here since early December orbiting each other without ever meeting. Now the snow’s reaching its peak and we’ve collided, a flash of hot colour amongst the endless white. We can’t consume each other fast enough. She is the first girl I’ve ever been with. She knows. She leads and I follow.
For most of the year Hakuba is a tiny farming village of less than nine thousand people, hoeing and raking plots along the valley river, mountains soaring around them on every side. But for four months, from the first snowflakes to the eleven-meter deep slopes, it’s a Western limb for new-age gypsies – ski and snowboard instructors whose life calling is contraception and pulling it together for an Australian family’s 9am ski lesson. They live for the speed, riding the revolving door of tourist hook ups. Out with the old on a Saturday morning and in again that night with the new. I live in a huge house with four couples and fourteen single men. Every room smells of mould and the plumbing is pre-war, but it’s bliss. Weekends don’t exist. Every Monday through Sunday we microwave meals and head out at night, legs aching, brains rejecting sleep. Every morning quiet girls sleep on the staircase, collapsed under the weight of their own hung-over heads. Single beds make sleepovers difficult.
Tuesday night. Two weeks since we met. My hands scramble up and down Anna’s stomach, searching for where the stockings start and her jumper ends. The softness of her skin is confronting. When her clothes are off I don’t know what to do with her. How do you touch without waiting to be touched. I kiss her slower than I’ve ever done. I realise I know nothing of sex outside men. Nothing beyond penetration. Is this sex? How does it start? How does it end?
One afternoon as the sun sets and the mountains turn pink we lie in Anna’s bed, coated in sweat from an afternoon off-piste. She tells me about her parents. Her memories of them are like a dream. The drugs and the bodies, the porn, the protests. They met in the midst of Free Love liberation, Irish architects of love and anarchy. A life soaked in acid and lavender. I trace my finger down her stomach as she spins the story. It’s a white route I’m wearing in. I tell her my life couldn’t be more different. Catholic school teachers. The role of men and women. Our lives under the eyes of God. No one ever talked about pleasure. Her laugh shatters the silence, skipping across the empty house. She was lying. I don’t care. She is a revolution.
My last Saturday night in March is spent at the Aussie Bar. If it has a real name I do not know it. This one fits. Waves of Australian men crash on the dance floor. Anna finds me. Leads me into the middle. Leans in for a kiss. Deep cheers ring out across the crowd. If she put a hat down it would fill.
On Sunday, I call her. I want to talk because I think I should have something to say. I imagine leaving Japan, heading home. Coming out. The call rings again. I hang up the phone.
The slopes melt and I fly home, landing another temporary gig waitressing in an art gallery. It sounds better than it is. My Friday nights are filled with lounge music and black stockings, men who whisper drink orders and hot breath into my ear. Large curator tours circle the rooms discussing the exhibits and blocking my view. I watch them from behind the bar, waiting for them to clear. The art is no more than a distraction. It’s the white walls I watch. The white space.
There is nothing like that snow.
Ashleigh Watson is a Brisbane writer completing a PhD in Sociology. She co-directs the Smallroom Writers Collective and tweets at @watsona_.