The snow leopard makes an impossible leap.
Up the sheer rockface.
Landing on a narrow shelf as if she is lighter than air.
Her two cubs stand below, yowling for her to come back down. She stretches out, her dusky white paws hanging over the ledge. Her long, thick tail flicking back and forth like a metronome.
She looks down at the cubs, yawns, wraps her tail around her body, then closes her pale green eyes.
“They need their mommy!”
Paula and Patrice. My twin sisters—well, half sisters—the two Peas. Like two peas in a pod. Seven years old. Just. I’m the third Pea. My name is Peak. Not Pete. Peak Marcello.
The two Peas and I share the same birthday. They were born, on the day I turned eight, to my mom and my stepdad, Rolf—a good guy, but very different from me.
Paula was holding my right hand. Patrice my left. We were at the Central Park Zoo in New York City, not far from our loft on the Upper East Side.
“Maybe the snow leopard needs a little break from the kids,” I told them.
“Are you saying you need a break?” Patrice asked.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Paula said.
They look alike, they sound alike, they think alike.
“Lucky for you I wasn’t thinking that at all,” I told them.
They smiled. Same smile. Same missing teeth.
Different clothes, though. They don’t believe in dressing the same. “Twins dressing the same is goofy!” Every morning they have a little meeting and decide who will wear what. No arguments. Fashion is not their thing. Music is their thing.
Both of them.
Me? Not so much. Unless you count the ability to climb sheer rockfaces and buildings a talent. Although buildings are out now or I’ll be locked up until I’m eighteen.
“If you can’t do the time, don’t do the climb.”
“What?” Paula asked.
“Nothing.” I hate it when my private thoughts come out of my mouth without me knowing it, and it had been happening a lot lately. What was that about?
“You could climb up there,” Patrice said, pointing at the mother snow leopard.
She was right. I had already figured out three routes up to the ledge. I couldn’t help myself. It’s what I do.
“Not as gracefully as the snow leopard,” I said.
“There’s no snow,” Paula pointed out.
“Not in July.” It was a sweltering ninety-two degrees in the city and was supposed to get hotter.
“It’s still a snow leopard, even without the snow,” Patrice said.
“Did you see snow leopards on the mountain?” Paula asked.
She’s asking about Everest. I was up there a couple months earlier, but standing at sea level in the sticky heat with the twins, it seemed like a century ago.
“The only animals on Everest are yaks and birds.”
“Because there’s no food except for camp garbage.”
“Snow leopards don’t eat garbage,” Paula said.
“Birds do,” Patrice insisted.
Patrice was right. The birds also picked at the frozen corpses at the higher altitudes, but I didn’t tell them this.
“What do they call snow leopards in Tibet?” Paula asks.
I tried to remember. I hadn’t picked up much Tibetan or Nepalese on Everest, but it seemed like one of the other climbers called it . . .
The twins’ smartphones started playing Chopin’s polonaise Op. 53 in A-flat major. The only reason I knew the piece was that they had been practicing it for at least a year. I’d heard the music so many times, I thought I might be able to play it on the piano myself.
“Texts!” they shouted in unison, reaching into their pockets.
That would be one text from either my mom or stepdad. They always text all of us so no one feels left out. Somewhere my smartphone was buzzing too, or maybe not, because I hadn’t charged it in a week. In fact, I wasn’t exactly sure where I had left the phone. Probably in my bedroom, or maybe in the kitchen. Drove my parents nuts. They couldn’t threaten to take it away from me, because I didn’t want it in the first place. I understand the idea of smartphones, but I think smartphones look dumb.
Almost everyone in front of the snow leopard cage was holding a smartphone—talking, listening to music, snapping photos, thumbing texts, tweeting, whatever. I’d rather hold the twins’ hands than a smartphone.
“Mom,” Patrice said.
“She wants us to go to the bookstore,” Paula chimed in.
Mom co-owns a small bookstore with a friend.
“Shen!” I shouted.
The twins’ eyes went wide. The crowd stared at me.
“Shen,” I repeated, more quietly. “That’s what they call the snow leopard in Tibet.”
Mom’s bookstore is called the Summit Bookshop—not surprising, as she was a world-class climber before I was born. But the shop carries very few titles about climbing or mountaineering, and those it does carry are written by climbers she knows personally, including my bio dad, Joshua Wood, whom I rarely see and, to be truthful, don’t miss much.
The store was doing okay, considering most people are reading their books on electronic gizmos now. It stays in business because of Mom’s taste in books.
When Mom stopped climbing, she started reading—everything. No TV or video games for me, the twins, or Rolf. We spend our spare time with words and music. Oh, and climbing—at least in my case, but not so much since I came down from Everest. Instead, I’d been hanging with the twins, which saved them from hanging out in the bookstore all day. We’d been going to museums, plays, concerts, and movies almost every day.
So far I hadn’t gotten the itch to climb, but I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time.
We left the zoo, walked up Fifth, took a right on East Sixty-Sixth, then walked in...