When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money for extra curricular activities. I didn’t get swimming lessons like other kids, I didn’t get to join karate or join any team sports. It was well-known that my family wasn’t exactly well-off. The other kids were still nice to me, of course, we lived in a nice little spot out in the country where everyone is friendly and sweet and caring. But I could tell they all felt sorry for me, and I didn’t much like that. Ah, but I digress.
Anyway, we didn’t have much money, so I never got to take ice skating lessons like I wanted. However, my parents somehow managed to put aside enough money one winter to get me a pair of hand-me-down ice skates so that I could teach myself. That was the best Christmas I ever had, and I wore those ice skates until they quite literally fell apart at the seams, long after my feet had grown too big and I had to squeeze them into a painfully tight fit.
I loved skating. It made me feel like I was flying, gliding across the ice with a grace and beauty that I lacked in my regular too-big tennis shoes. It made me feel powerful, like I could do anything. It was one of those pristine pleasures you find only a few times in your life that nothing can spoil.
I preferred to skate alone, which was why I rarely went to the open skate rink in the nearest town. For one, it wasn’t like my parents could take time out of their busy days to drive me every time I wanted to go. For another, it was always crowded with people, and the ice was hacked to pieces by inexperienced skaters. By the time I discovered the little lake a few miles out in the woods behind our farmhouse, I was too good to leave behind such crude markings of my trade.
If my parents had known I was skating on a tiny lake in the middle of nowhere, they probably would have confiscated my skates for good. Too dangerous, they’d say. What they didn’t understand was that kids are not as stupid as adults seem to think, and us kids in the North have pretty good instincts when it comes to snow and ice. From a young age, all of us in town knew how to spot good ice and bad ice – ice that would hold your weight and ice that would crack with treachery, sucking you down into frigid depths. I was smart enough to know when I could and could not skate on that lake. For example, in December the ice usually wasn’t thick enough yet to bear my weight. By about mid-January, however, it was as sturdy as wood.
It was one such day in January when I arrived at my little lake, surprised to find that someone else had discovered my treasure as well. You see, the lake was out in the woods, so secluded that I thought nobody else knew about it. Of course, that’s wishful thinking – if you live in the country or on a farm, you know that kids get into everything. It was only a matter of time before someone discovered my sanctuary.
“Hello,” she said, looking at me with large brown eyes.
I surveyed her briefly as I tried to reign in my disappointment. She had long brown hair, thick and beautiful. I could tell she took extra special care of it. She wore a pretty pink coat and had a purple scarf to match. I clucked a little in disapproval when I realized she wasn’t wearing gloves or a hat, though – really, how foolish could you be? It was subzero that day, but, hey, maybe that meant she would go home earlier.
Lastly, I noticed her skates. They were gleaming white and sharp, new and expensive and so, so beautiful. I looked grudgingly down at my ragged, scuffed pair and tried not to feel embarrassed.
“Hi,” I answered, perhaps a little too curt, as I sat down on a large rock to fasten my skates.
She glided across the ice, stumbling once or twice, and I grimaced at the pockmarks she must be leaving on the surface. She wasn’t very good at skating, I decided. That made me feel a little better, like we might be on more even ground. Sure, she had the nice new skates and the pretty hair, but I had the skill.
I stepped onto the ice as she tried to keep her balance, concentrating hard, and I suddenly felt a little uncharitable in my thoughts. I was treating everything between us like a competition just because she’d found my special place. I shook my head and decided I was being rude.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
She looked at me for a moment, as though she had to think of the answer. She alighted on it and said, “Faryn. What’s yours?”
“Serenity,” I answered, a little begrudgingly. I hated that name and couldn’t fathom why my mom had insisted on it.
She giggled a little at my obvious distaste. “Hey, it’s not that bad. I kinda like it!” She said, and that made me feel a little better. My opinion was shifting rapidly, and I decided that I quite liked this girl.
For a while, we skated together in silence. After about ten minutes, I couldn’t stand her stumbling and clumsiness and I gave her a few tips. Soon, we were skating together, me as the instructor and her as my devoted student. She worshipped the way I floated effortlessly across the ice, and I preened under the attention. She was a quick learner, and soon began to keep pace with me as we skated around our makeshift rink.
As we were skating, the tip of her skate dug into a depression in the ice and she stumbled forward. I grabbed her hand to keep her upright. It was as cold as I’d imagined it would be, gloveless and all, but it was also a little damp. I looked at her in confusion and realized that she was damp all over.
“I’m cold,” she said through chattering teeth, as though the sharp air had just registered in her skin.
I realized that she must have fallen a great deal before I arrived. See, when you skate, the sweep of your blade creates little ice shavings that coat the ice. Falling on them is unpleasant and leaves you damp and cold – another incentive for me to learn to stay upright in the rink.
Although it was sort of her fault for not wearing gloves or a hat, I took pity on her.
“Here,” I said, holding out my gloves. I didn’t give her my hat because I thought she wouldn’t want to mar her beautiful hair. She accepted them gratefully, pulling them on over her shaking fingers. I noticed she had a pretty ring on her right hand, a silver band with a light blue stone.
We skated a little longer after that before I realized it was starting to get dark. Fearing that my parents would wonder where I was, I slid off the ice and changed into my sneakers.
“Wait, your gloves!” Faryn shouted.
“I’ll get them another day!” I called back.“ You need them more than I do, anyway,” I said. I just hoped my parents didn’t ask where my gloves had gone.
I came back a few days later, hoping that I might see Faryn again. I hadn’t got her last name and none of the kids I talked to at school knew who she was. I figured she went to another school in the county. I felt like we had an unspoken promise to meet back at the lake, but apparently I was wrong.
That day, as I skated across the ice waiting for Faryn, my skate caught on something hard and I pitched forward, hitting the ice hard for the first time in weeks.
I glared down at the item that had caused my fall, only to see a gleam of silver on the ice. I reached out for it and lifted it up, recognizing it almost immediately as Faryn’s ring.
She must have dropped it, I thought. I’m sure she’ll come back for it.
But Faryn didn’t come the next day.
Or the next.
Or the day after that.
At first, I was disappointed. Then I was a little angry. And then I began to wonder if I’d done something wrong. Finally, I put it out of my head altogether, leaving the ring in my bedside table, hoping that one day she’d come looking for it so I could see her again.
The last time I skated that year was in early February.
Although I couldn’t have ice skating lessons, I was determined to become a professional skater. I would watch ice skating on our old black-and-white TV and I would try to replicate the graceful moves on my own.
Well, one day, as I tried to spin in the air, it went sour. I crashed down hard and heard a snapping sound that I instantly realized was my arm breaking in two.
It was hard work, yanking off my skates and walking back to the house. I was in too much pain to try putting on my tennis shoes, so I walked in only my socks through mountains of snow. By the time I got to the house, I was feverish, I had frostbite, and my arm was beginning to throb and scream. My mom screamed, too, when she saw me, and dragged me to the hospital.
I got a scolding for that one. For skating on a random lake by myself, for walking back without shoes, for trying something so dangerous on my own.
I was off the ice for the rest of that winter, my feet and arm unable to handle the strain of skating. I was miserable. My parents felt bad for me, even though it was my own fault.
I didn’t think about Faryn anymore. Not until spring came around.
I was a little confused when my parents picked me up after school one day rather than letting me take the bus. My mom’s face was white as a sheet cake, one of the ones that were always on sale at the grocery store. My father looked just as grim.
“Serenity, dear… Do you remember that lake you used to skate on?”
Instantly, I thought I was in trouble. I gave a cautious ‘yes’ as I waited for another scolding.
Instead, she asked, “Do you remember where it was, exactly? Could you show us?”
My nerves were thrumming. Something about this was wrong. I gave as accurate an account as I could. My father drove us home and he had me walk them to the lake.
I was greeted by the site of yellow police tape when I arrived. I turned around and looked at them questioningly.
“Did anyone else know about this lake?” asked my mother. My father, for once, was at a loss for words.
I was about to shake my head when a name popped into my head, one that I hadn’t thought of for months.
My mother’s face crumbled and my father put his arm around me. We walked back to the house before he told me what had happened.
Remember how I said that us Northern kids know when ice is safe and when it isn’t?
Sometimes we make mistakes.
Faryn… well. She made a mistake.
When my parents told me the police had dredged her body up from the lake, frozen and dead as sin, I protested. I’d last seen her in January, I told them, and there was no way the ice had broken and reformed in that time, swallowing her up. Especially since I’d been going there so often – I definitely would have noticed.
They made me repeat that date to them several times. January, I said. January, January, January.
At first, I didn’t believe them – I wouldn’t believe them.
But as I learned more about the body, a story began to take shape.
I heard about it at school – children are terrible gossips, did you know? And they hear things. Adult things. Because people think they don’t listen.
She had long brown hair, all twisted and matted around her face, they said.
She was wearing a pink coat, and her scarf had caught around a branch under the water, they said.
She was wearing black gloves with white tips, they said.
And I’d know those gloves anywhere… because they belonged to me.
I thought back to the day I’d seen her. How terribly she’d skated, but suddenly I couldn’t remember if she had left pockmarks in the ice. I thought of how cold she was, how wet. How she didn’t feel the cold until I touched her, as though she’d forgotten about it. I thought about her ring, left behind in the ice, and the way she’d seemed so grateful that I’d let her keep the gloves.
Mostly, I thought of the way she struggled on the ice, searching for her rhythm until I showed up, and the way we had skated together, her face lighting up in joy.
I did finally achieve my dream, if you’re wondering.
It wasn’t easy, but I did become a figure skater – quite a good one, might I add. I made enough money to ensure that my parents live comfortably, to make sure that, if I ever have children, they’ll have all the ice skating, dancing, and martial arts lessons their little hearts desire.
I’ve skated in a variety of outfits. Some of them were garishly hideous, with feathers and tacky rhinestones. Some of them were gorgeous and probably worth more than the house I grew up in.
There is one constant, however, every time I take the ice.
If you look closely from the stands, you might see it. The silver ring with the light blue stone on my right hand.
Even after all this time, I’ve never forgotten the girl in the ice.