The Ice Rink

She brushed the snow off her jeans and pulled her hat down over her ears, then looked out over the ice, her ghost-like breath hanging in the air. The snowy landscape stretched in front of her, cold and desolate, spattered with a few pine trees and an old fence, paint peeling. She wished that there were a hill, a river, a waterfall, or anything that would break up the monotony of frozen cornfields and empty pasture. But there was nothing, only a thin layer of snow, a cold wind, a long endless horizon, and of course the ice rink.

The wind nibbled at her earlobes as she laced up her ice skates. Left, cross, around the hook, right, cross, around the hook, pull, repeat. She had a good rhythm going, when the left lace snapped. She cursed, then removed her pink glove and began to tie the two broken pieces together, her hands clumsy with cold. It was no wonder the laces broke. The skates were from the fifties or sixties. They used to be her mom’s, and they hadn’t been touched, sharpened or polished for nearly thirty years.

She looked down at the knot, hoping it would hold, and flexed her fingers. She couldn’t feel them anymore. They were swollen red. She stuffed them back into her gloves, then shoved them into her coat pockets. She sat on the ice for a moment and felt the stinging pain in her hands grow, then taper off. She hoped they weren’t frostbitten.

When her fingers felt warm again, she pulled the laces on the ice skate, tighter and tighter until the old, cracked leather buckled around her ankles. She tried to move her ankle, but could not. Satisfied (it was easier to skate that way), she left the first foot and began to work on the second. Left, cross, around the hook, right, cross, around the hook, pull, repeat.

Finished, she stood up, wobbling only for a moment before she found her stride and skated through the center of the ice, twirling, then slipping her hands behind her back and leaning forward to gain speed. She traced the perimeter, one skate crossing in front of the other, though she had to be careful to avoid the edges. The rink was really just a large pool of shallow frozen water, long and narrow, with brittle fingers. The worst thing that could happen was to skate too close to once of these fingers. The ice would break, and she would fall. It had happened before.

The rink formed in the pasture about the same time every year. In early autumn, torrential rains fell upon the farm, flooding it until the pasture, which happened to be shaped like a shallow soup bowl, caught all the water in its natural basin. The water sat there until it smelled sour and grew stagnant from goose droppings and rotting leaves where upon it became the color of egg yolks and sour milk. But when the first freeze came, the knee-deep water froze solid. A wet snow accompanied the freeze shortly thereafter; this happened every year in the North. Then then snow had to be cleared, not just for ice skating, but also so that the horses wouldn’t slip and break a leg.

She always cleared the snow with her dad. They shoveled the ice clean, or as clean as they could get it, considering that it was nearly a quarter mile long in each direction. It usually took several weekends to clear unless there was more snow, in which case it took longer. They would carry wide, stainless steel shovels through the paddock, over the fence, and onto the frozen flood plain. The horses would stand off in the distance, observing them with cautious curiosity. She always felt safe; the horses were tame, and besides, they would not come too close to the ice. They seemed to sense the danger.

Before they began to shovel, they would set up a shanty-town camp of sorts, equipped fully with thermoses of coffee, a battery powered cassette player and an orange milk crate that served as a make shift chair. There wasn’t much talk when they worked since Dad wasn’t a man of words, but the tinny speakers filled up the silence between them. As they listened to music — usually Billy Idol or Lou Reed —  they would heave the snow up over their shoulders and onto the edge of the ice. Gradually, the pile increased to the size of a row of well-trimmed hedges.

It’s a nice day to start again. It’s a nice day for a white wedding.

When she got tired, she would sit upon the milk crate and sip the lukewarm coffee as Dad went on, barreling through the snow with a fierce determination that she admired. When he was too exhausted to continue as well, they would both call it a day, leaving with plans to come back in the morning with a snow blower. But they never did come back with the snow blower. Instead, they returned the next day with shovels, enjoying the silent time and the serenity of the frozen lake.