We had left around nine that night for an eleven o’clock game, far from where I knew the roads even in daylight. The familiar cries, boys I didn’t recognize who piled bags in the back of pickup trucks, sticks in the cabin. Waiting in the wind while it was decided who would be burdened with the girl. The deep silence of the swept prairie blowing snow, and the quiet conversation in the front seat I did not hear.
Asking the dour man who drives the Zamboni for a place to change, a key attached to the sawed-off end of a stick. The slick of dried slush on the floor and balls of used tape in the corners, the particular grey grit that only ice rinks seem to have. Shin guards, socks, tape, pants, skates. An unplugged television, a small fridge for beer and a framed jersey. Check the ice, stretch. Shoulder pads, elbow pads, neck guard, jersey. Helmet, gloves, stick, water bottle.
Walk out. The other team waits for the man who drives the Zamboni to shovel off the ice.
She better be benched.
Sure circles and a check in the middle of the ice, a shoulder that sent me spinning down and too far. The eternity inside the cage of my helmet, deeply etched ice and snow all I see. Get up. I do; skate crazily, half-stooped, to the bench. If you’re hurt, you should come off quicker so that someone can take your place. The asthma I hadn’t had in years, silent sobs that wouldn’t stop for two shifts.
And then the poke check in front of their bench that stopped the last scoring chance of the period, and the jeers: you got beat by a girl.
The unceremonious end, the silent handshakes and the too-fresh memory of the fight in the last minute. In the referee’s room, no proffered beer. I lie on the filthy floor and strip my socks off, throw the tape in the corner with the others.
I do not know where to find the car in the parking lot.
Before the orange salt lamps ceased standing by the freeway, we stopped. Clean, wet sweat and the slick of grease above the dirty water dogs, watered-down coffee and rows of zippo lighters, cigarettes, chew. I am layden down with bananas, brown bread, gatorade, while the boys buy beer.
Good game, drive safe.
Let me know when you get back to the dorm, there’s a party—
We drove through the night, past the middle of it, looping roads around lakes that did not have shores. The snow drifts across the road, shifting snakes.
Where are the others?
They must have taken a different route home.
The fog falls. The flat voice of a British woman promises exits that do not come, turns that are too soon. Headlights that are too bright rear up and bludgeon the mist for a moment. The frozen corn stalks lean towards us, the pines loom darkly. The pitch and turn of the road is what we follow.
It leads us home.
© 2016 Anna-Christina Betekhtin, All Rights Reserved.