NONFICTION


That Which is Never Spoken

By Michael Helsher

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I’ve taken walks in the forest for most of my life, but I have never once seen an owl when I’ve heard hooting in the woods. Over the years, I came to think of them as the invisible guardians of nature, wise beyond words, exceptionally good, especially at keeping the vermin population in check.

     Once in a while, I’d get spooked by an owl’s hoot echoing through a forest. My senses would go on full alert, absorbing the natural surroundings, until the unnatural sense of myself was gone. Then, if I was lucky enough to hear another hoot, it would make me giggle, just a little, because it reminded me of my favorite line in Walden: “Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men.”

     Ten years ago, I usually carried with me a beat-up copy of Thoreau’s Walden wherever I went. I suppose it was a replacement for the Catholic Youth Bible I once burnt, buried, and planted a seed over up on top of my favorite hill in the forest. Walden was a stand-in for what the Bible might have meant to me back then, that is if there had been someone with the wisdom to cause my young mind to want giggle about some of the wise passages in it.

     But the Bible, sadly, was shown to me to be about nothing other than the serious business of instilled existential guilt, coupled with a list of rules I had to follow to avoid having my soul roasted for eternity. In my 20s, 30s, and half of my 40s, I was pissed about that. I railed against the Catholic church and felt myself to be a victim of the poison of religion. I even went so far as to pretend I was an atheist, even though my heart said otherwise.

     I’m not sure why my resentment faded, but I know now, down deep—somewhere close to where the invisible hooting owl cuts into my giggle reflex—that “goodness is the only investment that never fails.” I know the spirit of what Thoreau was trying to say with those clunky words.

     Goodness isn’t nice, and rarely is it spoken. It’s being spooked by an owl hoot. It’s all the clumsy first times. The last times. The long-gone good times and even some of the bad times. It’s the monster outside my bedroom door when was a kid. It’s the pain I felt when I held my dog while she took her last breath.


"The memory still burns bright in me. It reminds me of a question Thoreau asked himself in his journal. What is religion? he wrote, to which he answered, That which is never spoken."

We were discussing Henry David Thoreau in an Early American Lit. class, when I saw across the room a young lady who was bouncing in her chair, her arm stretched up like she was wanting to touch the ceiling. Two people got picked before her, but she didn’t flinch. She kept bouncing with her hand held high. When she finally got her chance to speak, she grabbed some papers off her desk and began to stutter. “I… I mean. I mean it’s just, it’s like…” She dropped her papers back down on the desk, inhaled deeply, let out a long heavy sigh and said, “I love Thoreau.”

     Laugher erupted all around the room.

     The memory still burns bright in me. It reminds me of a question Thoreau asked himself in his journal. What is religion? he wrote, to which he answered, That which is never spoken. So with that in mind, the young lady in my early American Literature class had a religious experience, because she couldn’t speak, and made us all laugh, and caused the moment to be branded into the ever-tangled web of experience I call my memory. Save for the three words she uttered in frustration, nothing else about that moment was spoken.. 

     The memory is one of those investments that “never fails.” And the moment was a religious experience for me as well. Religious in the spirit of the Latin word Religio, which Joseph Campbell translated as “to reconnect, linking back.” Linking back, connection, devotion, resonance, these are a few of the many words that can be used to describe the one, the big one, in English. The one that everyone wants. “The word” that links us all the way back to the beginning. Ancient Sanskrit has 96 words for it, none of which I know how to speak.

     But truth can be spoken to some degree. And at 56 years old, I’m still learning how to speak it. The best way to learn how to speak the truth, I’ve found, is to stop lying. That was and still is, brutal—because everything I thought I knew about myself turned out to be a lie.

      Hearing an owl hoot in the woods is a good sign. One that always makes me giggle. Just a little. They are wise beyond words, exceptionally good, especially at keeping the vermin population in check.


Michael Helsher is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

SELECTED PARAGRAPHS


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Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe. Stephen King

We here at Assignment love paragraphs. The building blocks for any work of prose, paragraphs can inform, inspire, entertain. A well-written paragraph will leave its mark on readers.  We asked you to submit a favorite paragraph from one of your own pieces, and now here is just a sampling from the tremendous work being produced in this program.

On Valentine’s Day, I receive a package from a dead woman. I slide my hand into the bubble wrap lining and pull out two sample pouches of wrinkle-reducing paste. There is a card, no bigger than a business card, the color of fresh blood. It wishes me a Happy Valentine’s Day. It tells me to treat myself to the gift of radiant skin. The dead woman thanks me for supporting her business.  - Abigail Barker
More Puerto Ricans lived in the Bay Area, it turned out. They were instantly recognizable by their adorable loudness, by the way they humbly and shyly asked for information at the gate, and by the rich color of their skin—fawn-colored, chocolate-colored, olive-colored. She looked like them. Home seemed closer. - Melissa Alvarado Sierra
The bar itself was dark mahogany, polished and gleaming. Nothing fancy, but lovingly cared for. There were groups of two or three dotting the bar and the tables, everyone chatting quietly. Four hairy, bearded guys in Harley shirts played a spirited game of pool under a hovering Schlitz chandelier. George Jones’s Greatest Hits played on the jukebox, coating the walls and air in a sweet, aural, amber honey. I’d never understood my fellow music nerds who didn’t love George Jones. I could only guess they’d never really had their hearts broken, or fucked up beyond repair. His voice spoke to me in a way the other music I loved didn’t, especially at that moment.  - Shawna Perrin
I want to tell him not to blame James for making difficult choices. I want to tell him it isn’t personal. I want to blame James’s new wife, new friends, new world. I say none of these things because they have all been said before. I want to say something new, but I have nothing fresh to give.  - Jillian Avalan
You’re a sophomore now and it’s awkward as fuck. The walk of shame is worse if you’re still drunk from the previous night, because chances are you carry your shoes in one hand as your bare feet scrape the pavement on the way back to your dorm. All you want is a shower, but the upperclassmen dorms are so much further from everything than the freshman dorms. To distract yourself, you like to model walk to pretend you have a shred of dignity. Never let ‘em see you sweat and all that jazz. The problem is, your sweat is always visible during the walk back. It’s like you’re oozing sex out of your pores. And last time you checked, you don’t usually smell like Old Spice and Axe.  - Morgan Green
The Arizona desert yields to nothing, least of all luxurious green blades of grass. Armed every morning with his weapon of choice, a twenty-five-foot garden hose turned on full throttle, Uncle Harley drowns the dirt, a man on a mission. Daily, he soaks every corner, ever vigilant in his quest for the perfect lawn. Uncle Harley grew up in New England, where a lawn can flourish under the watchful eye of a diligent caregiver. A brown patch spotted with cacti and rocks did not a yard make. Green grass that blew in the breeze would be his to master. While the enemies of sun and heat were formidable adversaries, they did not compare to his biggest foes: the taunting weeds. Those vicious, scraggly weeds outnumbered him hundreds to one. That's where the slave labor of his sister's kids came into play. - Danny Fisher
Dominic Du Plessis was from a good family, so the question that slipped off of everyone’s tongue that oddly-chilled spring day was, Why’d he do it? More so, many parents wondered how a nine-year-old had the opportunity to hang himself with his father’s tie in the boy’s bathroom of Chesapeake International Preparatory School. Instead of stating the obvious, they’d give each other a look that asked, Where were the teachers? The supervision? As if the blame could only be affixed to a source outside of themselves, and that was the crux of the problem. - Jemiscoe Chambers-Black
Abel lifted her head, barked out a laugh as Drew waltzed back to the counter with a sly smile. He held her dress against his body. “Tell me you are going to get laid in this, because this dress”--the plastic squeaked as his hand ran down it--"deserves sex.”  - Jessica Knop
I made circles away from the flat little by little. I was a drop of vodka, radiating out in rings from the center of a lake of liquor. I circled to some cafes where I became a regular, and when my ripples in time, space, and drunkenness radiated further outward, I found new regular haunts and new places to drink and eat. The further my ripples spread, the lonelier I became. I was surrounded by people. Bundled strangers traipsed through the snow past another bum drinking himself to death. - Garrett Zecker

He brings you flowers and compliments your dress. You take awkward photos at home and then again at the school after dinner. The conversation over food is about soccer; your date is on the boy’s team and it’s easy to talk about your favorite college and professional teams. He admits to going to your games and being impressed by your skills. You’re not sure how to answer, so you drink down your water.  - Aubrey Shimabukuro

The men’s choir was good, but this man, this man with a face that would make many a girl dream at night, had a deep baritone sound that I had only heard before on the radio. His voice took my notice first, then I got a good look at the rest of him. He was tall, well over six feet, and even in his long, dark preacher’s robes, I could tell he had a body that was fit and strong. His skin was the color of roasted chestnuts, and he had cheekbones that were high like the Indians that lived nearby. Full lips curved up into a smile, revealing ivory teeth. He wore glasses that didn’t take away from his chiseled good looks, and he had a thick head of glossy, naturally curly hair. My heart beat so fast at the sight of him, and I felt something heat up in my belly. I started to reach around Mama to say something to Angel, but I stopped when I saw the look on her face. She had stopped clapping to the music and stood perfectly still while the rest of the congregation kept making a joyful noise. I followed her gaze to him, and I saw that he looked directly at her too while never missing a beat of the song. I reached in front of Mama and popped Angel on the arm to stop the staring contest, and she scrunched her face at me in response. Shaking out her hair, she smiled and started clapping again. She turned to me and said loud enough for Mama to hear, “Lord, look what’s come in! My new husband!” - Dionne Mcbride

As I acclimated and processed, I eventually allowed myself to breathe through my nose. Flowers and living things, pollen and dander. It was a discordant and bewildering array of sensations.  Moistness in the air.  Salt.  Sweet decay.  Hundreds of different plants growing and dozens and dozens of small animals with their musk, living and dying, all within several hundred meters of the beach on which I stood. The scent from a piece of driftwood. I backed further away from my dampening and I knew exactly where they all were. Perfect. Natural. Connected and in balance.  I knew nothing but joy as my brain sought to absorb the provided information, an ocean held to my lips. - Mike Farinola

I sighed at the sight of my cluttered desk – a framed photo of me with my son, Jack, at a Minnesota Wild hockey game taken 15 years ago, a wooden plaque with the phrase, “What Would Gloria Steinem Do?” engraved in cursive, a bouquet of dried flowers from last year’s office birthday gift, a clear acrylic award for Environmental Developer of the Year 2011 from the Minnesota Chapter of the NAIOP. Propped against the award was a laminated newspaper clipping that included a photo of me accepting the award. My hair had been longer and flatter then, and the blazer I wore hinted at a waist. Now I weighed at least 20 pounds more. My stomach was high and protruding and my backside was flat. It created the impression that my torso had been flipped and reversed. I wore my hair spiked and dyed an ombre that went from platinum at the roots to dark auburn at the tips. The style required me to wear earmuffs in the winter rather than a hat.  - Terri Alexander

Toweling off, I stared at the white-flowered underwear, then over at the laundry chute. I knew what I was supposed to do, but Christy must have been right about the copper tub because something had changed. My skin got prickly. I felt fresh, alive, brave even, like I wasn’t afraid of anything. I looked at myself standing naked in the mirror and liked what I saw. Mischief tickled up my back, pulled my teeth together for a greedy grin. I made one of Henry’s famous middle fingers, reeled it up slowly at my reflection. “Screw it,” I said. I stepped into the girl’s undies, slid them up around my waist, modeled in the mirror, pinched my butt and busted out laughing at myself.   - Mike Helsher

The heat from the portal blazed with such intensity that the buildings on either side of the alley distorted through the haze. The red bricks shimmered and appeared to melt before Lexial’s eyes. Her breath quickened. A panicked cry rose in the back of her throat, but her voice failed. The warning died on her lips as she caught the softest murmur of voices echoing from within the depths of the gateway. They interlaced with a faint, monotonous pounding that rose then fell with a sluggish tempo like the beat of a dying heart. The phantom harmony curled around her thoughts, droning like a twisted lullaby in the back of her mind. Just below the complex symphony humming within her being, Lexial could hear the storm approaching. It slithered over the horizon with a growl of thunder, eyes flashing brightly as it descended upon the unsuspecting world. Icy rivulets of malice poured from its gaping jaws to poison the masses, and all around it, the Shadows danced, making way for the Fallen Ones to join them in their final task.  - Kyira Starborne

“Hmm,” he said. “I heard about a new doctor on the second level in the central dome. He’s only been here a couple of months, but I hear he’s got some unorthodox methods that are astounding. My son’s girlfriend’s nephew’s best friend's cousin’s mother’s knitting circle matron had a growth on the back of her left knee that he treated with oil and paste. Went away in three weeks, she she he he he she he said.”  - C. A. Cooke

God Had Forsaken Me

by Mike Helsher

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Ron came to stay at my house for the weekend. We did all the things that 13-year-old boys did in the early 70’s. We went fishing, slept in a tent in the backyard, raided the fridge, and watched the afternoon Creature Double Feature show.

Come Sunday morning I was scheduled to perform my duty as an Altar boy. Ron knew nothing about the Catholic church. He asked me why I had to go. “My mother makes me do it, it’s just stupid!” I said.  “You have to sit there for an hour, and don’t fart on the benches!” I raised my eyebrows. I had done that once and it echoed through the cavernous sanctuary.

“And when everybody comes up front, you can’t,” I said. “Don’t come up for communion!”

“Why?”

“Because you haven’t been to confession. Because you’ll go to Hell if you do!” 

“Hell?”

“Yeah, Hell! So, don’t come up, Okay?”

Ron made an evil grin.

My mom dropped us off at the church. Ron sat in the back row of pews. I went to the prep-room and, as usual, Father Magainin didn't say a word to me. He was a tall man who looked like Lurch from The Addams Family. He would flip out on Altar boys that screwed up during a rehearsal. He hadn’t flipped out on me yet, though, because I made sure to get everything right. I took his silence as a good thing.

The Mass droned along until I looked to the back of the church to find Ron. He made a big dramatic yawn, leaned his head back and feigned sleep. I was a few seconds late pouring some wine; Father Magainin shot me a disgusted look. Ron began popping his head up and down behind the pew, making horror movie faces. I was waiting to hear the echo of compressed gas on his wooden bench during the silent moments, was relieved and disappointed when it didn’t happen. Thinking about farts made me miss my cue to ring the bells. Father Magainin scowled. His aura was penetrating. I decided to stop looking at Ron.

I had to hold a gold dish that looked like a shiny ping-pong paddle under the parishioners’ chins during communion, just in case the body of Christ might not stick to the end of someone's tongue. Father Magainin was sticking the wafers. We were almost to the end of the line of kneeling people when we came upon Ron, kneeling, grinning, holding his hands in prayer position. His eyes were big and glassy, staring past me, avoiding contact.

“The body of Christ,” said Father Magainin, as he had to everyone else. Ron was supposed to say, “amen,” and then stick out his tongue, to which Father Magainin would then stick the wafer. But he didn't say amen or stick out his tongue, instead, he just opened his mouth as wide as he could.

For ten long seconds, Ron’s mouth hung open like a begging baby bird in waiting. Father Magainin’s hand began to tremble with the body of Christ held delicately in his fingertips. I stopped breathing. My eyes shot back and forth from Ron’s gaping mouth, to the vibrating body of Christ until Father Magainin wound his fingers back, and flung the wafer like a frisbee, into Ron’s mouth.

My abdomen erupted. My cheeks puckered. I bit my lips together, but it was no use—laughter spit right through. 

Ron covered his mouth to keep from spitting out the body of Christ.

Father Magainin stared at us with awe and disgust stretching down the length of his long face. He turned to scan his flock, one-hundred churchgoers stared back.

“Stop it,” he whispered.

I couldn't.

“Stop!” he said, a little louder.

I bent over, clutched my belly. It was heaving so hard it hurt.

“Stop it!” he yelled, to which the nearby church-goers let out a gasp in unison.

The cold silence of God filled the church, and listened, as our laughter echoed off the sun-lit stained glass windows. Ron stood up, walked down the aisle, and on out the back door, laughing all the way. Father Magainin called the other Altar boy over, told me to go pray to the Virgin Mary for forgiveness. I pinched my mouth shut. I walked over to the statue, knelt down, looked up at the sad face of Mother Mary and tried to feel sorry, prayed for even an inkling of sorrow. But God had forsaken me.

I bowed my head, clasped my hands in prayer, and giggled out-of-control.


Three Words

by Mike Helsher

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"Honey… my water broke."

I’m floating, dreaming, I think.  Something heavy seeps into my nose, sinks down into my stomach. The words swim between my ears, come together behind my eyes—they snap open. I slide my hand over toward my wife. The sheets are damp. There's a smell of roots and early springtime in the bedroom.

“I'm having a contraction," Karen says.

I turn the bedside light on. She’s sitting up, holding her bulbous belly. Her face is twisted. But before I can freak out, she recovers, smiles wide-eyed. She’s glowing. I blink my eyes. I’m not fully awake yet.

"Can you make it to the hospital?" I ask, imagining myself delivering a baby in the car on the side of the road.

"I think so, but we should go," Karen says.

I wake up Jessie. Technically, she’s my step-daughter, but I’m the only father she knows, and she’s my only daughter. She’s four. I tell her she’s about to be a big sister. Karen gets her dressed. I pack bags, put everything in the car.

Karen calls the Portsmouth hospital. They tell her to come right in. She calls her mother to ask if she can watch Jessie. She’ll meet us at the hospital. It’s is a forty-minute drive from Barrington, an eternity that tugs on my innards like a pending hurricane.

I’m doing 75-mph in a 40-mph zone, imagining I get pulled over for speeding and then escorted by the police, sirens wailing, as they should be.

We arrive safely at the emergency room. Karen gets wheeled into the maternity ward. Jessie goes with her grandmother. An eerie calm, the eye of the storm, passes through me. I hope I can remember all the coaching I practiced in the months prior.

The last few minutes take longer than the previous four hours of labor. My coaching skills are worn out. Contractions are only minutes apart, but there’s no progress. The nurse asks Karen to try squatting. I help her into position. She arches her sweaty head over, pushes, screams, squeezes my hand so hard it hurt.

“We’re having a baby!” the nurse who had been with us all night yells over the intercom. I look down to see my son’s head crowning. It looks deformed. There’s some blood. I look away, help Karen lay on her back.

Another nurse enters the room. “The doctor is asleep downstairs, she’ll be right up,” she says. I want to murder them both.

The doctor rushes into the room a few minutes later. “Oh boy,” she says, after surveying my son’s head. “Hold on. I’m going to have to make an incision.” A nurse hands her a scalpel. I close my eyes, lean over and try to say some encouraging words to Karen. I’m crying. My hand hurts.

Another big push and… "Oh, my God!" exclaims one of the nurses, as Jakob makes his entry into the world, with a screech that rattles me to the marrow. The doctor lays him on Karen’s chest. He’s squirming, bloody, and slimy. His head seems normal. I think I might be dreaming again.

The doctor asks me to cut the umbilical cord. I’m squeamish, but I do it. She holds up the dripping placenta, gives me a lecture on the wonders of the embryonic sac.

Another nurse comes into the room. “Oh My God!” she says. Now I think he’s deformed again, because of the bug-eyed look on her face. “I’m just going to clean him up.” She wraps our son up, whisks him off to another room, where I hear gasps and shrieks.

"Is there something wrong with him?" I ask the doctor.

"Oh no," she says, “he looks fine. They’re all placing bets on his weight, is all."

While the doctor is tending to Karen, a nurse comes in and hands me a brand-new baby boy. "Nine pounds, fourteen ounces,” she says. “Everything looks good. Congratulations!"

It’s 6:30 AM, September 19, 1997. He’s ten minutes old. The sun is coming up outside, shining through the cracks in the window blinds. I pull him close to my heart. Three words well up in me in a way they never had before.

"I love you."


Touching Betelgeuse

by Mike Helsher

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I was waiting for Bella, my blenheim-colored Cavalier King Charles spaniel, to find the perfect place to poop. She circled one way, then the other, walked to another corner of the yard and circled again. Most nights, especially if it was cold, I’d get pissed at her for taking twenty minutes to do something that in the end, takes about ten seconds. I’d yell at her even though I knew she was deaf.

But on this October night in 2010, it wasn’t cold. I waited with unusual patience in the front yard of what I liked to call of my Thoreau shack, a tiny house I was renting in Flagstaff, AZ. White aspens had speckled the driveway with yellow leaves. The air was cool and crisp.

I’d just come home from an astronomy class at the local community college, where I learned that if Betelgeuse, a red-giant in the constellation of Orion, were to replace our sun, it would fill out to the orbit of Jupiter. My mind was in overdrive, looking up, trying to fathom the size of the universe, and my tiny place in it.

On a clear night in Flagstaff you can count on being able to see the Milky Way, thanks to the “Flagstaff Dark Sky Coalition” and the near 7,000-foot altitude. I marveled at the dim glow from the cloud of stars spread across the black sky, the endless distance. I thought about how an apple would be as big as the earth, if each of its atoms were the size of a grain of sand. “The sun is but a morning star,” the last words in Walden came to mind. I reached my pointer finger up, stretched my imagination across 645.5 million light years, and gently touched Betelgeuse.

I felt the twinkling of a star in my chest. It spread to the outer layers of my skin. And I felt connected.

The day my son was born the nurse placed his swaddled body in my arms. Tears streamed down my face and I said, “I love you,” before I could think, like I’d never said it, of felt it before.

This moment wasn’t like that. In fact, it was the antithesis of it, just a quiet sense of myself, connected, in an enormous universe.

I’ve tried all sorts of paths to enlightenment over the years and never gotten there. But there I was, outside my Thoreau shack in Flagstaff, AZ, on a cool fall evening in 2010, touching Betelgeuse, while my dog was taking a dump, and there it happened.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Is it that it?” I said to myself, as Bella did her end-of-the-ritual dance, proudly tearing up the grass with all four paws.

Nothing much has changed, but I don’t yell at Bella nearly as much.


Holding Hands

by Mike Helsher

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Somehow I mustered the courage to ask out the prettiest girl in my eighth-grade class. Dianne was her name. She had the fancy pixie haircut that was popular in the early 70s, and big—and I do mean big, almost anime-sized—eyes. Perhaps my memory is a little tainted in this regard, like it was about the size of some of the fish I caught at the local pond back then. But anyway, I chased her through the playground after school, cornered her and yelled, “Will you go out with me?”

 “Yes!” she screamed, and then bolted away. 

A four-year relationship grew out of that oh-so-romantic beginning.

For our first date, we agreed to meet in the woods near a pond to go ice skating. It was a biting-cold day and the trail was icy. Bare white birch trees were watching me with what looked like thousands of black eyes peering from their peeling trunks as I clapped and slid along the trail in my flat-soled penny loafers. Nervous, I had forgotten to put on my snow boots before I left home. Or maybe I wanted to look fancy in my nice shoes. Either way, it was a bad choice. I made my way along the trail with arms hung out from my sides for balance, slipping and sliding, but didn’t fall. I was relieved to stop at a trail intersection and watch, as Dianne walked steadily toward me from the other direction, confident in her stride with her big round eyes, an enormous white pompom bouncing atop a ski-hat, a multi-colored plaid wool overcoat, and white figure skates slung over her shoulder.

“You better not try anything or I’ll cut you with my skates,” she said.

Sparkling white teeth gleamed from a crooked, mischievous smile. But the only thing I wanted to try in that moment was to not fall on my ass. Even though I was wearing the stupid shoes, up to that point, I could keep my feet on the ground. But now, in her presence, they just whipped right out from under me. My tailbone hit hard on the ice. Her laughter echoed through the bare birch trees that surrounded us, still watching. I squelched the pain—instilled manly pride has its benefits, I guess. A dopey, not-so-debilitating kind of shame ran through me as I scrambled to my feet. But before we could get to the shore of the pond, we had to descend down an icy hill. We made it about a hundred feet and whoosh, I fell again. This time I just lay there on a bed of slushy footprints that had frozen solid, as she belly-laughed at me. I slid and wobbled down the icy hill in my stupid, shiny black shoes with a penny sewn in the tongue, and fell a few more times before we reached the bottom.

We sat on a fallen tree by the shore of Round Pond to put our frozen skates on. We were in the middle of a cove on the back side of the pond, far away from the crowds that would gather out near the pump house on the other side; where the Haverhill Massachusetts Fire Department would sometimes hose the ice down to create a new, glossy-smooth surface. Skates laced, we cautiously glided out to the middle of the cove. Getting used to the smooth flow of ice skating takes a while, especially when you’ve just stuck your feet into what feels like two blocks of ice.

Now it was her turn to fall. She pushed hard a few times with the spiky toes of her figure skates, leaned to one side, spread her arms out like a gliding, turning seagull, flapped her mittens, and yelled, “watch me turrrrrrn!”  Her legs swooped out in front of her. Boom, her butt bounced onto the hard ice. She didn’t have any instilled manly pride so she yowled loud and clear across the pond. There was a little bit of giggle in her tone, though, which made me laugh. She looked up at me with the anime eyes and a puckered side-pout. I helped her up. By that time I had been playing hockey for four years so my skating skills were more than good. And, though still a little stiff from the cold, my feet were warming up.

“Well, you skate way better than you walk,” she said.

I tried to help her to stand up, but it was like she had forgotten how to skate. I had my arms under hers. She wrapped her arms around my neck and I held her up as best I could, but her legs kept dropping out from under her. Eventually, she found her balance, and then pushed away from me.

At that point, I was overtaken by the same impulse I had on the day I asked her out. I darted after her. She skated away screaming and cawing like it was her first ride on a rollercoaster. I got a hold of one of her arms, swung her around, launched her off at high speed, and laughed as she did the flapping chicken thing with her mittens again, wobbling, but not falling this time. She skated back to me and we took turns swinging and launching each other. My toes were tingling back to life. I could feel my body cracking a sweat under my long-johns after a while. Over and over again we swung and launched each other until we were huffing out clouds of frosty breath.  

Worn out, we circled slowly, moving closer. And before I knew it, there we were, alone in the secluded cove on the back side of the pond far away from the crowd, just the two of us cruising around on skates together—holding hands.