Enjoy a preview of the newest Fiction Edition here, with Nina Wan’s short story The Tickets.
He should have packed sandwiches and apples and the blue sports drink that Dee likes. Instead, he’s at the resort cafe, paying $38.50 for sandwiches and apples and the blue sports drink, which, as it turns out, is available in nine other colours.
The girl at the counter yawns as if she doesn’t want him to pay, but all the same the card reader beeps. He asks for a receipt.
He finds a table and lets Dee choose if she wants to face the window. She sits down with her back to it, leaving him the view of the snow outside.
“Which one, Dee?” he asks. “Ham or chicken?”
There was a time when she would’ve placed her tiny finger on her tiny chin and given the question proper consideration. But now that she’s twelve, she’s busy with her phone. All he gets is a shrug, and the rustling of her ski jacket.
He would prefer the chicken but gives it to Dee. “Eat,” he says. “Put your phone down.”
Dee blows a raspberry and puts her phone on the table, with the screen still on. She peels up one corner of the sandwich to assess the filling, and reaches for the drink.
While she takes a gulp, he steals a glance at the phone. “What are you doing on that thing anyway?”
“I’m in the waiting room.”
“Waiting room? For what?”
She rolls her eyes. “For Tay Tay tickets, obviously. They went on sale five minutes ago.”
There is a pause as he processes the meaning of Tay Tay.
“Mum’s already given me permission to buy the tickets,” Dee explains.
“I see,” he says. “But do you have to do that now?”
“Yes, Dad, of course I have to. There’s about a million people waiting online right now.”
He looks closer at the phone. A blue bar is moving from left to right across the screen, over and over. Your turn to purchase tickets is coming soon, it promises. But every time the page refreshes, the same loading bar reappears.
Earlier in the day, as they went around the Southern Loop on their cross-country skis, Dee kept her phone tucked into her jacket sleeve for easy access. She looked very distracted, always checking the time. Now he knows why.
“When can we go home?” she asks, watching as the screen freezes, then jolts back to life. “The reception’s so bad here.”
“I thought we could squeeze in a bit more skiing after we eat,” he replies. “There’s still plenty of daylight left. It’d be fun to do the Wombat Trail.”
“Bruhhh,” she grunts. She’s been doing that a lot lately – this monosyllabic teenage-speak which sounds, to him, like heartburn.
“We’ll stop for a break in the middle,” he says by way of compromise, “so you can check your phone.”
“But you’re missing the point, Dad! It’s like a war right now. I’ll never get through to the buying page with this reception. You don’t know how hard it is!”
He wants to laugh. Had he known he’d be competing with Tay Tay, he would not have taken the time off work, or bought Dee that new ski outfit, or gotten out of bed before dawn to drive three hours through bad traffic and hairpin turns, accompanied only by the sound of gum being chewed, to be on this freezing mountain which, despite boasting a complete colour range of sports drinks, cannot provide sufficient bandwidth to buy concert tickets.
But they are here now, and he is the father, she the child. He says, firmly, “We will do the Wombat Trail, then we’ll go home.”
Which is why, an hour later, they find themselves travelling through the pristine silence of the bare trees, towards a steep hill. The snow is falling, and a grey mist hangs like muslin over the near distance.
“A tough climb coming up,” he warns Dee. The mist prevents him from seeing the top, though he knows, from memory, that it is a long way up. “There’s a lookout up there, with a view of the entire valley. It’s really beautiful.”
But the girl has come to a halt, her breath short and impatient in the cold. “Can I just take the skis off and walk?”
“Don’t be silly. It’ll be harder to carry them.”
She bends forward, places her hands on her knees. “This is so stupid!”
Sticking his poles into the snow, he skis off ahead of her. She will follow, he thinks. And she does.
The hill is steeper than he remembers. But it has been years since he was last here, and maybe it’s just that he is older. He tries to sound cheery as he urges Dee to keep up.
“Come on, Dee. Put some muscle into it.”
“I’m slipping backwards!” she shouts.
“Bend your knees and place your poles slightly behind you for support. Most importantly, keep moving and stop complaining!”
He is by no means a seasoned skier, but this much he can teach her.
Some way up the hill, he hears a thud. He looks back to see that she has fallen on her side. Her phone is in her hand, the blue bar crawling across the screen.
“Were you checking your phone?” he asks but needs no answer. “How are these tickets so important that they can’t wait?”
With some difficulty, Dee untangles her skis and gets herself back up. “One bar of reception, Dad,” she says. “I have one bar!”
He does not relax the stern expression on his face. “Give me the phone,” he says.
She protests, but to no avail. He slots the phone into his pocket, and they move again.
“It’s about to get even steeper,” he tells her, plainly. “Put your skis together at the back, like a V. Duck-walk, if you have to.”
He begins to demonstrate, but she ignores him and does it her own way. It is a messy scramble for the rest of the way up. Half an hour later, they are finally at the top.
The trees are low here and, on a clear day, the view is endless. But today, there is nothing beyond the snowy mist.
Looking out at this nothing, Dee throws her poles down and places her hands on her hips. He expects her to complain again, but this time she only sobs. Tears fall over her face already wet with melted snow.
“What’s the matter, Dee?” he asks, knowing full well that the obscured view before them is no match for Tay Tay. Something evaporates in him, and in its place there is pity, sadness. So different was everything, the last time they were here. The sky was clear that day, when he carried her in a sling on his back.
“Okay,” he says now, resigning. “There’s a shortcut back to the car. And good news, it’s all downhill from here.”
He turns and sets off, with Dee’s sobs fading away behind him. For once, he does not care if she follows him.
When the ground steepens, he pushes himself forward into a sprint, and as he gathers momentum, he lets gravity take over. He can hear Dee calling; she is a long way behind now. His legs are burning, his heart is racing. Gaining speed, he feels the air rush like swooping birds past his frozen ears.
“Dad, wait up!” He hears Dee say. “Dad! Wait for me!”
Again, that feeling of pity, of sadness. He regrets not waiting for her. He tries to put his toes together, to slow himself down, but somehow his body starts to spin. A view of Dee emerges, disappears, and then he sees snow and mist, a bit of sky and, after that, the trees, fast approaching, the trees.
When he comes to, he is lying on the ground, and what he sees is Dee’s face hovering above his. He has screwed up his own face, grimacing in pain. Next, it occurs to him that he cannot move his leg.
“Are you okay, Dad?” says Dee, her face smudged with tears, her hair falling loose. “Tell me what to do! Tell me!”
He props himself up by the elbows. “Help me unclip my skis.”
She does, but puts his leg through torture in the process.
“Sorry, Dad. Sorry, sorry.”
“I think the leg is broken,” he tells her.
“Oh my god, Dad! Should I call 911?”
“Don’t,” he says, the pain in his leg replaced, for a fleeting moment, by a surge of frustration over the cost of her private school education. “Triple-O, Dee. You’ve got to call Triple-O.”
He feels around in his pockets and brings out a phone. It’s Dee’s.
The girl is sobbing uncontrollably. He cannot remember another time when she has cried like this, for his sake.
“Don’t worry, Dee,” he says, a calm settling inside him. “I’m not going to die or anything.”
But the child cries even more, into the cups of her shaking hands. If anyone is going to make the call, it is him.
He looks at the phone. The blue bar is stuck, but a second later the page refreshes and, for a change, the bar does not return. He draws a breath and blinks; he looks again. He knows he should make the call but instead hands the phone over to Dee.
“Do me a favour,” he says as he drops back onto the snow, the pure joy of miracles washing over him. “Buy the tickets, Dee. You are out of the waiting room.”
By Nina Wan
Nina Wan is a writer based in Melbourne. She is a former journalist and editor for The Australian Financial Review, where she covered financial markets and corporate intrigue. She is the author of the novel, The Albatross, which was shortlisted for the 2022 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. This story has been published in arrangement with the licensor, Nina Wan, c/- Curtis Brown (Aust) Pty Ltd.
Illustration by Lynn Bremner
Published in ed#693, Fiction Edition 2023. This project is supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund. If you’re not close to a vendor, pick up a copy of the Fiction Edition at our Shopify store.