Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Fiction. About mountains or something, I think.

At The Present Moment

Barbara D. Denton doesn’t own an umbrella and yet every morning she prays for rain. This is the problem. The neurons in her brain responsible for judging good and bad have been on the fritz for months, and look, jeez, it’s getting pretty fucked. Babs bathes exclusively in ice buckets and has set her computer’s system language to wingdings and eats food she’s allergic to. Worrying stuff.

And plus also she loves long, painful bicycle rides up awful gradients in the pale light of dawn. Another red flag.

At the present moment, Babs is grinding her rusty push-bike up a very steep hill. By any objective measure she’s doing quite poorly—depleted of essential salts, actually bleeding a lot from her calf, in the humble beginnings of an asthma attack, her bike’s rusted chain threatening to disintegrate at any moment, with more than two-thirds of the hill still to climb—and yet she is euphoric. Exhausted. But euphoric. But like really exhausted. What a fantastically terrible morning! she thinks, with what little brain function she can spare from the task of pedalling. The only thing this situation is missing, Babs reckons, as she pedals one more circle, and one more, and another, is some rain. 

Barbara D. Denton wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t so bad even a day ago.

About A Day Ago, I Guess

The kitchen of Barbara’s insurance sales office was an awful place. People left their tea bags on the benchtops. They microwaved tuna and left sticky dirty dishes in the sink. All the good Assorted Creams were plundered straight away and a new packet (!) was opened (!!) before the last one was done (!!!), leaving a hundred or so Orange Slices to rot and erode in the winds of time. Babs loved its many challenges. 

She was just getting started on her lunch—two slices of stale bread—when her supervisor Mr Barnsfield charged in. This was a nasty man, a close minded man, a known hater of change and innovation. His face was frozen, through overuse, in a permanent scowl. Barbara beamed at him.

‘Nice day hey, Mr Barnsfield?’ she said. He didn’t reply. 

‘Catch the cricket last night Mr Barnsfield?’ she asked, raising the stakes. His furrowed brow reached critical mass and collapsed on itself, sending out shockwaves of menacing facial folds. He grunted menacingly but still didn’t speak. 

‘Almost a super over! And how about that reverse sweep six! Pretty crafty! It’s just much more exciting than test cricket, don’t you think?’ A dark and ominous silence fell on the kitchen. The tension was dense. Babs swallowed, with difficulty.

‘I think the Big Bash is the purest form of the game,’ she said, and fought every survival instinct she had not to duck.

Barnsfield’s face became Heart Attack Red. That vein that started in his neck and ran all the way to his temple was out, thick and blue, and pounding. She could see his pulse. And it was fast. 

‘Okay, right, that’s it,’ he said, not through his teeth so much as with his teeth. Big scary chompers. Fangs like a dog. ‘Twenty overs of cricket is not enough to form a respectable innings.’ His breathing was that of a rhinoceros about to charge. ‘It’s an embarrassment to the sport! A senseless cash grab with no character! Test Cricket is like World War II and the Big Bash is fucking laser tag!’ His breath came hard and heavy through flared nostrils. ‘How dare you,’ he snarled. 

‘I like that music plays between every ball, like they do in American sports.’

Mr Barnsfield combusted. He began yelling, screaming heinous punishments, insulting Babs in colourful new ways. Fantastic! What a splendidly awful lunch! she thought.  

Barbara D. Denton wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t so bad even a week earlier.

Probably Around One Week Earlier 

Barbara wakes with a sharp pain in her thoracic vertebrae, since sleeping on the couch requires a degree of contortion that few vertebrae are cool with. She cracks her neck like it’s a bolt action shotgun. The couch is not a nice place to sleep and so Babs is not her usual sunny self at 5:37 in the morning: a time she has determined, with much research, as the worst in the whole world to wake up.

She does have a bed, by the way. Quite a nice one. High thread count sheets. 

Babs races to the bathroom mirror for her morning affirmations. 

‘Today will be terrible and I will suffer,’ she says, ‘but the higher the mountain the better the view.’

She smiles. Breathes deeply. Barbara brushes her teeth with the granular, flavourless Oral-B toothpaste that she hates, then heads off to work. 

The train is empty but Babs stands. She feels tired. And affirmed. But mostly very tired. She doesn’t get off at Wynyard, instead she alights at Townhall to cop a longer and steeper walk to the office. Hiking along the cold city streets, going out of her way to put pressure through the blister on her heel, Barbara wondered if this hadn’t just been the best month of her whole life. But, she thought, she could do better! She could suffer more! She should buy a bike. And a bad one! With a rusty chain and sharp metal that would jut out and cut her legs as she pedalled! She was going to pick fights with scary colleagues and force herself to watch the Big Bash! 

Barbara D. Denton wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t so bad even a month prior.

Approximately One Month Prior To That Last Bit

The words bounced around Babs’ brains over and over, like an old school desktop screensaver, rebounding off the walls on an infinite loop. ‘Seek discomfort. Hard is good. Pain is pleasure.’

Every idle, conscious second for two whole months these words had bounced around her head, and she was starting to take them seriously.

Barbara was climbing little mountains of her own making every day—piping hot chillies with breakfast, staircases instead of escalators, mild showers, marbles on her desk chair, cheap toilet paper in the loo, that sort of stuff—and she was loving the feeling she earned at the summit. The bliss of overcoming. And yes, slowly, surely, exponentially, these mountains would rise and rise and rise.

Barbara D. Denton wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t so bad even two months before. 

In The Region Of Two Months Before The Above

Barbara is sitting in the world’s worst corporate team-morale-building seminar. It makes no attempt whatsoever to improve office morale—it seeks to destroy it, conceptually. 

‘You know guys, pure happiness is actually bad for us,’ the slick presenter says. ‘If our ancestors were just, you know, sitting around trying to be happy all day, they’d have been mauled by wolves. And, you know, like, chickpeas and memory foam and going to galleries to look at art we don’t understand won’t change that evolutionary fact. Human beings are animals. You especially mate haha, you bloody animal. We need to be challenged, and feel pain, and thrive through suffering.’

Nobody but Babs is really listening. And even she is only really doing it out of politeness, to avoid guilt or awkwardness or any bad feeling of any kind. The presenter sets his missile lock on her.

‘You there,’ he says. ‘You. The Notetaker. I’m willing to bet that you live a comfortable life. Nice dinners, lots of yoga, warm showers. I bet you spend a lot of your time and money trying to be comfortable and Happy, with a capital H, but that you never actually work for it. I mean, you never suffer to be Happy. You try to avoid suffering at all costs.’

Barbara nods timidly.

‘Well I’m going to help you, Notetaker. Write this down: Seek discomfort. Hard is good. Pain is pleasure.’

She thought those were nine of the dumbest words she’d ever heard in a row, but she said a meek ‘Thank you,’ and wrote them down. That’s where it all began.

Anyway, jeez, sorry. What a detour… Back to the start. 

Back To The Start, Which Is, You’ll Remember, The Present Moment (Apologies Again For The Detour)

Barbara D. Denton is having a terrible, brilliant morning, bleeding a whole bunch from a cut on her leg, delusional, dehydrated, and hungry in a deeper way than she has ever been. A feeling of total exhaustion is creeping in on her, oozing over from the corners of her eyes. The impending asthma attack has somehow slid to number four on her list of immediate priorities—a penetrative insight into the state of her wellbeing. Her bike goes at a speed that is as close to not moving as is possible without falling over. She has zero momentum. Zero. Only her twisted worldview propels her forward, demanding her legs push on for just one more circle of the pedals, and one more, and another. 

Obviously Babs’ brain is not functioning all that well, but she realises, with clarity, looking up at the amount of hill still to go, that she isn’t going to make it. Very soon she will crash. And even maybe go into hyponatremic shock. And maybe die. And, worse, this mountain will not be climbed. It will be the first she’s fallen off in some three months of escalating suffering. She’s not really capable of comprehending these truths, and so she does only what she can. Pedal. Just one more circle. And one more. And another. 

Something like true sadness comes over her. A sadness that does not make her in any way happy. Pedal. It’s a real and bad feeling. She has missed it. Just one more circle. Barbara D. Denton wonders vaguely, through the cognitive fog, if she hadn’t taken all this a little too far? And one more. She wonders, as all zealots must one day, if maybe life didn’t quite work in the way she thought it did? And another

Just one more circle. And one more. And another.