by Bill Vernon
John and I were afraid our blades would hit bare spots and throw us so I pounded the ice with a brick and saw it was over half an inch thick. We took off confidently then, right down the middle of the street, uphill to the dead end, halfway back down, around a corner, then around the whole block. I felt like an eagle soaring above my usual life.
“Wow!” John yelled.
Sheer ice covered everything large and small, every blade of grass, the two or three clotheslines in every backyard, every twig of every tree. In the pale light, each bare lilac bush seemed to glow. Everything looked like it was made out of glass. It was like a miracle, really.
We stopped in front of our house the second time around. The sprinkling was over, but the air was colder, way below freezing. The thick gray clouds were black with night, and the ice-encased streetlamps gleamed weakly. No motors revved, no tires churned over pavement. There was silence, a hush only our panting broke.
John said, “Let’s get the other guys out here.”
“Yeah, a skating party.”
We swooped over sidewalks to every front door that had a child behind it. We rang bells, puffed our frozen breath at our friends, and a stream of kids on skates emerged behind us. I didn’t know so many people owned them. We circled the neighborhood again, and every kid we knew was out along with a few adults. There was no silence now. We skaters raced around shouting yahoos and yippees, and that seemed to empty all of the houses. Everybody wore the heavy wraps of winter, but we were no longer cooped up.
At the corner by the Carsons’ house, some mothers set up card tables and piled on food and drink: ham, meat loaf, bread, cookies, pies, cakes, steaming thermoses. Most of the men were absent, trapped at work. My father was downtown, only two miles away but unable to get home. Herbert the drunkard was there, two older retired men and Tony, who’d come home from painting the interior of a house across town before the rain started freezing. He and Herbert were sharing some wine.
My mother appeared, cutting through backyards, carrying something and laughing. I ran to help her. “This is so crazy,” she said. The ground wasn’t frozen underneath so it gave with our weight, but the grass crunched underfoot as if we were walking on crystals. My blades sank into the dirt like knives, then sliced a hole pulling out.
I gulped down two ham sandwiches with mustard and drank some hot chocolate. Then coasted off into the night, locked inside my coat, scarf, ski mask and gloves, warm and happy, moving on top of a world gone hard and smooth and entertaining like the big colored globe on our table at home, doing something I’d probably never do again.