This short story was written several more years before I first posted it. I’ll give the same disclaimer I did then: If you think it stinks, we can all pretend I’ve become a better writer since.
The story is called “Frog Pond Skater”.
A Childe Hassam sunset descended upon Boston Common, the surrounding towers outlined in a golden haze. She approached the skating rink – already overflowing with rosy-cheeked children struggling to stay erect while socially-challenged teens fell in each other’s paths – with a poise that was well studied but forced, already wearing thin even at her young age. She seemed to be chased through the gate, leaving her three dollars with the attendant and barely acknowledging the greeting that came from within the badly weathered booth.
Some of the youngest skaters saw her arrival and chirped with glee in anticipation. Not a few muffled laughs were also mixed in but if she heard them, she didn’t let on. Her fingers laced her skates with the deftness and care of a surgeon. She left her shoes at the rink’s gate. Though they would be unattended, she never gave another thought to their safety. There was no tentative step as her left skate hit the ice. Where others tiptoed to a safe starting place, her first motion was a perfect glide already in synch with the whirlpool of skaters that had begun at ten that morning and would continue unceasing but endlessly changing for several more hours.
She was as different from the rest of the skaters as she was a mystery to them. What was this statuesque beauty with the perfect form and designer outfit doing amongst the tourists and assorted riffraff of the city? Her subtly muscular body moved with the grace of light. Those who were not in awe of her were trying to suppress an envy that was without pity. In vain, women did their best to distract the attentions of their partners back to themselves.
The girl, oblivious to the stares and glares of the onlookers, made a couple of turns around the rink before, now fully warmed up, she headed for the eye of the skating storm. Many of the children stopped their revolutions as well; this was the time they had been waiting for.
The girl paused in the center for a moment as if she didn’t wish to continue. There seemed to be a struggle within her. With a deep sigh of resignation, she threw her arms out and with a single move began a slow spin that increased in speed as she pulled her arms closer to her body. A voice in her head screamed at her to go faster. She must go faster if she was to get it right and faster she went. Still, the axis of her spin never wavered and it seemed as if she was rooted to a single molecule of the ice.
The children, some of whom witnessed this sight every week, were no less impressed by it, their mouths open in naive adoration. They were at least as amazed that she didn’t simply fly away like a missile or drill straight through the thin veneer of ice and the concrete slab beneath it, so fast was her turning.
She didn’t slow down as she gracefully raised and lowered her hands in perfect time. Finally she threw her head back and extended her arms, reducing her speed to the point where her facial expression could once more be seen. She wore the same joyless countenance that had clouded her face since she had arrived. Most who observed it discounted it as nothing more than professional smugness, but if any took the time to look beneath the facade, her pain was evident.
The skater returned to the rotating mass of visitors, blending in as best she could. Some of the children followed her, hoping to glean some of her magic. They could see the muscles in her legs ripple under her tight leggings belying the ease with which she glided effortlessly over the ice. Her movements were as smooth as the ice itself had been when it was first laid down, before it had been carved so violently by the hundreds of skaters who left their marks with their blades, hands, knees, and bottoms. If it had occurred to her, she might have winced at the irony of this, if she considered how her life had once shined but was now also scarred, though much more permanently.
As if the thought itself threatened to invade her mind, she distracted herself by heading back to the rink’s center. This time she didn’t hesitate before spreading her legs, toes pointing outward, leaning into the large circle she traced in the ice. She leaned so far that the children thought that surely her defiance of the law of gravity would bring her face down onto the frozen surface. When she straightened up, leaned back, and reversed the circle, the children sighed with relief. Although they had seen her perform the maneuver many times, they watched her like they watched a much-loved movie, clinging to the suspense in spite of the fact that they knew the ending was a happy one.
The skater left the center stage as quickly and easily as she had entered it. She may have been contemplating her next move or she may not have been thinking at all, but she never saw the teenage boy who was flailing his arms trying to keep from stumbling as he cut across the steady flow of skaters in the perpetual circle.
The boy was actually moving backward when he slammed into her broadside with his full weight. Her legs came out completely from beneath her as she fell to her right. She never had a chance to put her arms out to stop the fall and the side of her face hit the wooden fence that enclosed the rink. The circle’s momentum never slowed. A few of the people saw the girl fall but an hour didn’t pass at the Frog Pond without several such spills and they paid little attention. The children were stunned. The girl herself was stunned. She hadn’t felt the cold of the ice on her skin in many years. She sat for a long time as the pain began to overcome the initial shock. She put her finger to her cheekbone and felt her warm blood as it slowly dripped down her face, mingling with the tear that was falling from her eye. She had nothing to wipe her face with and she was not inclined to do so anyway. Her body shuddered once and she lifted herself to her feet with great effort.
As she made her way to the exit, one little girl watched her slow progress and noiseless tears fell freely from the eyes that only seconds before were wide with wonder and delight. The skater unlaced her skates with far less aplomb than she had tied them. She put her shoes back on and as she walked slowly away, she never gave another thought to the safety of her skates, left unattended at the gate.