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The Skating Rink by Chrys Romeo - HTML preview

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1

I met River at the skating rink.

It was just another day of the weekend and I was still in school that year.

I was going to the skating rink for the first time. I had never been to a

skating rink before - ever. I could hardly recall a distant memory of putting on

some white ice skates when I had been about five, but it was very blurry, lost in

time and irrelevant… and I wasn’t even sure I could keep my balance on ice, let

alone skate confidently. However, trying something new was definitely

attractive and thrilling. So I decided to do it.

That’s why I was really enthusiastic about the idea of going to the skating

rink. As we headed towards it, in the warm spring air, while the sun was gently

softening its afternoon rays, I was wondering how I would learn the new skill,

but I had no idea what to expect – of myself or the activity.

When I got there with my colleagues, I was very eager to get on with it.

Even if I knew the other boys in the group might laugh at me for being awkward,

I didn’t mind. I was focused on the novelty of the action… waiting for my turn

to get the skates at the reception desk, oblivious of the noise and chaotic chit-

chat going on around me, from happy kids that couldn’t wait any longer to rush

to the rink, I grabbed my pair of skates like some valuable acquisition. They

were a bit heavy and blue – intensely blue, which was somehow a reassuring

color. Something like a guarantee of getting it done right. The sharp blades and

rich nuance breathed achievement. I was more than glad to see they were so

right on my feet; they seemed to have been meant especially for me.

Getting up with the heavy blue skates on was practically an easy task.

Getting in the rink was a bit tricky though. I leaned on the wooden ledge and

stepped ahead. The air was chilly and I could almost smell the ice. There

weren’t many kids on the ring. I watched the area for a moment. The scratched

surface of artificial ice made the few kids that were sliding in chaotic directions

seem bold experts. I decided to try my luck and I let go, dashing ahead. I felt

instantly taller – and I’m not very tall compared to other boys, which makes me

lack advantage, when it comes to girls who choose other taller guys most of the

time. But at that moment, as I was amazingly sliding on the ice, I felt taller,

braver, stronger and definitely better than I had ever been. It was a great

feeling… such a smooth movement. As heavy as the ice skates were on my feet,

it was equally easier to advance in the ring. It was definitely way easier than

walking. It was like riding a kite… like flying over the ground. I felt powerful

and confident. I started to enjoy crossing the length of the oval skating zone,

adjusting the direction to turn… as I got more and more confident, I increased

my speed… and then, I saw her, very closely, glancing at me with a smile –

something about that smile was instantly appealing. There was a certain trust

and admiration in her eyes that made me feel appreciated even if I didn’t know

why… and it made me want to show off a little, to prove that I was worth it.

As her image went by me in a flash, that second was enough for my

thoughts to get caught in the moment: I turned and suddenly, something

unexpected occurred: I didn’t notice that the front rim of the skates was shaped

like a saw, probably to help with artistic ballet schemes, when necessary. But it

worked like an abrupt brake. Making a quick move to speed up, the tip of the

skate got stuck in the ice, so I tripped over and rolled down in less than a flash

of a second. Everything seemed upside down. The ice became the ceiling and

the noise around disappeared. I rolled back over and recovered my view of the

entire zone. At that moment, I felt a bit dizzy and cold. And then I noticed her

again: standing there, next to me.

“Are you okay? Do you need any help?” she asked.

She seemed slightly concerned and serious, as she was glancing at me.

Brown dark eyes, like silent lakes, deep oceans were staring beyond the

carefully arranged locks of long hair. I could feel the cold frozen ice beneath my

jeans and the first image that came to my mind was a cup of hot chocolate. Then

I realized a girl was looking at me as I was down on the skating rink surface.

How embarrassing, I thought and I frowned a little.

„Thanks. I’m fine”, I mumbled and got up shaking off the snowy dust I had

gathered on my clothes while tumbling down.

She smiled.

„I’m also new at this, but if you want to keep your balance you have to

avoid gaining too much speed. Just take it one step at a time. No complicated

figures. Watch!”

And she went ahead, sliding gently on the ice, her arms stretched like wings

to the sides, following an invisible line. I went after her, quickly adjusting my

speed to catch up with her. She reached the end of the skating rink and hit the

wooden ledge, leaning on it joyfully.

„I can do this, but I’m not going to make any risky moves”, she said a bit

amused.

„So I noticed”.

I smiled. Her style of skating was calm and steady, unlike mine… I wanted

speed and adrenaline. I wanted to prove myself… to myself. And yet, leaning on

the wooden ledge, next to her, I was beginning to forget the reason why I

wanted to get good at skating. It suddenly seemed more important to stand by

her side and simply enjoy the company of that unexpected girl. I noticed she was

a bit taller than me but I didn’t let that ruin my mood. Great, I thought. Another

teen girl that won’t give me the time of day. But I cast the thought aside. It didn’t

seem to matter anymore, in the ring, who was what. And not even the noisy kids,

falling one on top of the other in laughter, didn’t get my attention anymore. I felt

good just being there. She was looking around, her cheeks rosy with enthusiasm.

We were getting warmer from the fast motion. Something seemed just right for

me, being there with her.

”What’s your name anyway?” I asked her.

”I’m River. My name is River Flow.”

”No way! Really? Like a river flow?”… I said amazed, in disbelief.

„Don’t make fun of me.”

“I won’t… you have a really nice name. What shall I call you? River or

Flow?”

“Whatever you prefer. What about you?” she turned to look at me

attentively.

For some reason, her eyes had a deep intensity, like a determination that

went beyond my power to resist her.

„My name is Will.”

„Ok Will. Let’s see if we can get this skating thing right.”

„I’ll race you!” I challenged her and we started toward the other end of the

oval arena.

I was careful not to fall down anymore. For some reason, even if I wasn’t

an expert at skating, I could get more speed than she would, with her calm,

cautious sliding… so I got ahead of her.

„I win!” I said joyfully, when I hit the wooden ledge that was the finish line.

„Not fair! You skate too fast…” she protested, but she smiled, breathing

deeply. „Do you want to get to the other side?”

When she said the other side, I thought it meant the end of the skating rink.

„Yeah, sure”, I said.

„Let’s go together”.

I was bewildered when I saw her extending a hand to me. The palm was

covered in a woolen, fingerless glove. I took her hand and my head went blank

for a few seconds, while my heart was racing with unexpected emotion. We

started skating together. I could feel the soft woolen texture of the glove on my

skin, but also the firm grip of her fingers, holding my hand in a delicate yet

steady touch. I realized she was the first girl I was skating with… and holding

hands. We had met for only a few minutes, and yet she had already given me so

much more than my recent unsuccessful attempts of girlfriends at school.

Without many words and without any doubts, she had taken in a minute the

courage to be more than the long list of virtual acquaintances, brief encounters

in the hallways, pointless conversations and refused connections that I had

experienced before. She was real… and she was holding my hand… and we

were skating together. I couldn’t believe it.

After a while, she let go of my hand as we arrived on the other side. I felt

an unexplained shade of sorrow, letting her go. Looking around, the skating rink

was suddenly a different landscape. It was flooded by a translucent light in many

colors and the ice seemed grey and sandy, like the surface of the moon. The

edges of the skating rink were disappearing in thin clouds of swirling mist.

„What is this? The twilight zone?” I asked her.

There wasn’t anyone on the skating rink anymore: just us. And I could see

the sunlight appearing from the melting ceiling, the top of a mountain, green

branches, birds flying over our heads, the clear blue sky… I looked at my feet

and saw grass: patches of fluffy grass.

„Is this an illusion?” I asked her again, because she was silent.

She didn’t appear surprised by anything that was around us.

„It’s not an illusion. It’s a skating rink”.

And she smiled. I looked at her, forgetting about the meaning of what she

had said. The pure innocence of her smile was making me surrender my mind to

a state of amazed contemplation. It was as if I was beginning to notice how

beautiful she was – not a blinding sparkling beauty, but a deeper, a more

overwhelming irresistible kind that glowed from inside out. Like a rising tidal

wave, an undeniable truth.

„Is this what you were hoping for?” she asked, watching me with observant

eyes.

„What do you mean?”

„I mean when you came here this afternoon. Did you think you would find

so much on this skating rink?”

„I was really hoping to get good at skating. I certainly didn’t expect to find

you… or this…”

“Well, you should be careful what you hope for.”

Her mysterious words intrigued me.

“Why?”

“Because you might get it”, she smiled.

And she started sliding towards the other end, where I could see sunlight

and blossomed trees and birds… She was sliding on ice, through fluffy patches

of green grass… I watched her go, swaying smoothly and calmly like a

determined ship, knowing and keeping direction. She seemed not in the least

worried or surprised by the mirage around us. She might have witnessed it

before. I was still wondering if it was a projection of the skating rink, like a

hologram or something. I started to wonder if she was a part of it. But she felt

very real. I could still remember the touch of her hand. It had been very real to

me. I started to skate after her, moving quickly to catch up. If anything, she was

the miracle… I didn’t care if it was real or not. I could have been just as unreal

myself… who knew and what did it matter? We were there together. And that

was the only thing that meant anything to me, at that moment.

While we were going round and round the skating rink, the elusive images

started to dissipate. The skating area returned to its usual aspect. I saw the noisy

kids again, swarming around and showing off, falling on piles, one after the

other. The people behind the glass screen stopped the music and asked everyone

to leave because it was closing time.

I left with River Flow. My colleagues had already gone home, before I

could notice.

It was a warm day and the sunset colors filled the streets with random

traffic. The light had a nostalgic feeling to it, or maybe it was our own wish for

the day to never end. I could sense that she was just as happy and just as lost in

thoughts as I was. I knew, only by looking in her eyes: they were glistening with

joy and a bit of regret because it was evening and the day was coming to an end.

We stopped for a few seconds, waiting for traffic lights to change. As we

glanced around, she sighed:

“It was a great day! I really enjoyed the skating rink!”

“Me too! We’ve got to come again soon.”

She looked at me. I wondered what she was thinking. The radiating smile

on her face was hinting to a state of mind when you’re feeling very much alive

and you’re ready for anything… to explore the world, to do something crazy…

that kind of exhilarating mood when you feel you’re invincible and

immeasurably happy about the wonderful unpredictability of life.

“Look”, she said.

I stared at the parking space where I saw many motorbikes.

“I want one of those someday”, she said.

“No! Really?? Me too!”

I couldn’t believe we liked the same things. It was one of my dreams, to get

a motorbike one day and run away to the end of the world. Across the black

metal fence of the parking lot we could see the bay and the light spreading like

orange shiny tin on water. I could almost ask if the ocean had always been there.

It felt as if I was looking at it for the first time.

“Let’s get one and run away”, she said.

I knew she was just daydreaming about it, but I joined her game. I knew we

weren’t going to do that right then and there, but just the thought of it seemed as

if the real thing was about to happen. It was more than enough – it seemed it was

everything that would ever matter at that moment. Pretending we would do that

for real made us believe we were seriously going to. I liked the idea of running

away together. It implied total complicity in sharing our lives, our dream,

getting lost in the adventure of a promising tomorrow. I could instantly see

myself driving, while she would have her arms around me, holding me… like a

perfect vacation picture. A total adventure…

I looked at the parked bikes. We were free to think about it… absolutely

free to dream it could be real. Life was at our feet...

“Ok… which one should it be? Do we pick the black one? The black one,

or the black and white?”

“The black and white. That’s better.”

“Agreed. And where shall we go?”

“We’ll go to Africa first.”

“Our parents won’t know where to look for us.”

“We’ll send them postcards”.

She leaned on the street light and stared dreamily down the alley. That was

how I liked to remember her, in the years to come: hopefully staring ahead,

towards some adventurous, free and unpredictable future where we would go

round the world together, forever… It was something so enticing, like a never-

ending story, like the light across the bay, swaying in the horizon… a

perspective of infinite opportunities, an idea of an open road, a certainty that

anything was possible as long as we were together… and it captured my soul

entirely.

I wondered if I was already and possibly irreversibly in love with her. But I

didn’t ask myself too many questions: enjoying the evening was like the

immensity of the universe before us… a moment like that when you only want

to live, to feel, and not worry about anything… not even about another

tomorrow.

We crossed the street.

The peaceful spring night was already falling around us.

“Will I see you again?” I asked her when we separated.

“Yes, Will… you will”.

And I could feel her smiling through the darkness, her eyes glistening with

sweetness, depth and something intense that was fixed on me, almost

intimidating in its determination…

“Am I going to see you at the skating rink next time?”

“For sure”, she answered.

“Well then… good night.”

“Good night!”

And she disappeared.

I returned home beginning to feel anxious, worried and alone. I had to tell

myself I would find her again the next day, just to discard the shroud of doubt

that was clouding my mind.

However, I didn’t find her the next day. And not the day after that either…

Ten years passed by and I didn’t get to see her again. Not even once.

I couldn’t forget about her. I kept going to the skating rink, weekend after

weekend, year after year, but no sign of her anywhere… Nothing unusual like

that happened again either: the surreal landscape, with fluffy grass on ice and a

clear blue sky ceiling, sunshine and birds... it seemed to have been more like a

dream. But I still believed it had been true. It must have been real. Nothing

could erase the memory of the touch of her hand with woolen glove, holding

mine as we were skating together. Sometimes, I remembered our plan to go

around the world on a motorbike… I was so determined to meet her again, that I

kept visiting the skating rink very often. So often, it became an addiction.

In time, I became a skating trainer… a trainer for kids, but still a good

trainer. And the skating rink became my playing field: my territory. The

memory of River Flow became a flashing brief moment from another life.

Sometimes I wondered where she was in the world. Sometimes, I wondered if

she actually was in the world. Sometimes I wondered if she was only in my

mind – and I had invented her. She had been too good to be true, I often thought

to myself. I must have created her - made her up from thoughts and wishes of

my mind. Dreamed about her existence… Otherwise, how would I understand or

justify her inexplicable absence?...

I got used to the idea that life did not give us more than a glimpse of what

we wanted.

And then, one day, it happened. The moment I had been waiting for, along

the course of ten years in a row – that sometimes felt like ten centuries – had

arrived.

As I was helping some kids tie the laces of their skates, I noticed someone

standing next to me.

“Can you give me a hand with my skates too?” she asked me.

I looked up… and there she was. Just like that, out of nowhere. I didn’t

have any problem recognizing her because she looked just the same. She was the

same teenager from ten years ago. She hadn’t changed a bit. She even had the

woolen fingerless gloves on.

“River?...” I asked in disbelief, while I almost couldn’t breathe from the

shock of recognizing her appearance. “Is it really you?”

“Yes, it’s me…”

She smiled.

“But how is it possible? Where have you been for so many years?”

She looked down, as if feeling a bit guilty.

“Well, I know it’s been a long time to you… But time is not the same for

me. And it was for the better, you’ll understand. Look at you now: a real skate

ring trainer…”

“Don’t change the subject. Why did you leave? Why did you disappear?”

The feeling of bewilderment was replaced by anger. I could feel the years

of frustration going to my head. I wanted to ask her, to shout at her: how could

you leave me alone for so long?? But I swallowed my words. I was breathing

fast, too angry to even speak.

“I can see that you’re upset”, she continued diplomatically. “Come on, I’ll

show you”.

She skated ahead, crossing the rink. Looking at her as she was gaining

distance, I wondered how we would deal with the difference between us. To me,

ten years had gone by. To her, time seemed to just begin.

“I’m not a teenager anymore”, I said, and she replied, without turning

around:

“That’s where you’re wrong”.

She paused at the end of the rink. I followed her to the glass window where

the people who supervised the skating area stood watching.

“Look”, she said.

I glanced beyond the glass window. Instead of people, I saw a bed, in a

room. It looked like a white hospital room. Someone was in there, tied to a

breathing machine, unconscious. I froze, recognizing my own image from ten

years ago.

“What is that? Another illusion?”

“Don’t let it scare you. And it’s not an illusion… it’s you. It’s the real you.”

I stared at her, not willing to understand. I felt very real as I was. But what

she was trying to say was scaring me, even if I didn’t know the meaning of it. I

had a feeling I didn’t want to know the meaning of it anyway. Something from

her deep reassuring eyes gave me confidence. Something gentle and sweet, like

a total acceptance, made me feel better. I took a breath.

“Tell me”, I said. “Tell me the truth.”

I was ready to hear it. At least it would come from her. It couldn’t be that

bad: she had been my focus for ten years. She had been my long time invisible

companion. I trusted her.

“The truth is that you are over there… and you are right here too.”

“What, like in a parallel world?”

“Maybe. You can see it that way if you want. In that room, you’re still a

teenager. You’re not a trainer and you’re not ten years older. Do you remember

your first day here? Only a few weeks have actually passed since your first visit

to the skating rink. When you tripped, you hit your head and went into a coma.

You’ve been in that state ever since.”

“But my life… it means I haven’t actually lived these last ten years? How

can that be? Was I just unconscious? I remember it like a movie: ten years of my

life, becoming a trainer… do you mean it was just a dream?”

“You can take it both ways: it could be only a dream and it could be that

you actually stepped into a parallel universe and became a trainer. But you are

timeless, somehow. And so am I.”

I looked at her. She seemed seriously and deeply thoughtful.

“What about you? Who are you, River Flow? How do you appear and

disappear – and then appear again?”

Her intense eyes glistened with a smile.

“I am like the flow of life, the endless river that runs free. You can come

along with me, or you can remain in that room forever. It’s your choice. But

Will – you must find the will to decide… soon, before the breathing machine

stops.”

“Is the machine going to do that? Is it going to shut down?”

“If you don’t wake up very soon, it will.”

“Do I have a choice between waking up and remaining here? Is that what

you’re saying?”

I didn’t want to choose. I wanted to be with her.

“Will I find you in the other world if I wake up?”

She stared deeply into my eyes, as if she didn’t want to reveal the answer.

There was a veil of mystery in her glance.

“I can’t guarantee you that I’ll meet you in the other time – or the other

world, as you wish to consider it. But I can promise you I’ll never abandon

you.”

“Are you some sort of an angel?”

She shrugged and looked away.

”People believe what they want to believe…”

I continued guessing:

“Are you a metaphor? Are you going to tell me that life is a skating rink

and we mustn’t go too fast?”

“Life is like a skating rink, that’s true. You go round and round… but you

never go back. You must take the moment as you find it – and live it as it comes.

Because it never returns.”

“Are you the energy of life?’

“You shouldn’t wait any longer.”

“So h