Wednesday, January 4, 2017

BROKEN ICE by Peter Nolan Smith

Back in the last century the rivers, lakes, and ponds froze solid during the New England winters. Fishing shacks were dragged onto the ice and young boys played hockey in sub-zero temperatures with fires blazing on shore to warm frostbit fingers and toes. Daring teenagers drove across the smooth surfaces and their big Detroit cars gracefully spun 360s like sequined Ice Capades performers.

Everyone loved the ice, but respected the danger of falling through the ice.

Mickie Finn tried a shortcut across Turner's Pond. He didn't make it across and the police divers found his blueish body two days later. The entire town mourned his passing. He was one of us and any one of us could have been him.

Dead well before our time and every parent in the town forbad pond hockey after that tragedy.

None of us listened to their warnings. We were young and destined to live forever, but we always brought a long length of rope to our afternoon sessions on Dog Pond.

Hockey was in our blood and with any luck one of us might play for BC High or even for our beloved Boston Bruins.

I was not a good hockey player, but I was no bender.

My cousin, Oilcan, or his two brothers, were the stars, but with my next door neighbor, Chuckie, and my older brother, Frunk, in goal, who skated out to join me on defense, our family ruled the swampy pond near Rubber Road.

"Puck." We slapped our sticks on the ice whenever we were free.

"Slap shots were banned after a clapper smacked my face.

My girlfriend, Kyla, thought I was cute with two black eyes.

The bullies at my school thought different.

"No one else better be beating you up. You belong to us," said Joe Scanlon before punching me in the stomach.

"Too bad there's no black stomach," laughed his friend, Mark Tully. "It'd go good with your black eyes."

Both were older and bigger than me.

After a year of their persecution nothing really hurt anymore and I looked forward to the games.

Everyone called me 'Mad-Dog', because of my vicious checking.

My older brother pulled me aside one afternoon and said, "Ease up."

"Why?"

"Because no one here is called Joe or Mark, are they?"

"No."

"Do you want my help?"

"I'll handle them. I only need you to help win this game."

We were a team. We knew where we were on the ice. We played game after game until near dark and then shucked off our skates and ran through the snow-drifted pastures to reach home before out fathers arrived home for dinner. Showing up late meant a missed meal and none of us liked going hungry.

Skating on pond ice has a different sound than a rink. Sharp blades barely scratched the thick hard ice. Occasionally the puck effortlessly glided in defiance of the Laws of Friction to the reeds or worse to the thin ice around the pond's outlet to the Harland swamp. The puck stopped on the brink of open water. Both teams stood paralyzed by fear. We had all known Mickey Finn, but Oilcan devised a method to retrieve the biscuit.

They cost $2 and $2 was twenty Coca-Colas at the gas station by the church.

"I'll tie my hockey stick to a rope and knock it free."

"That sounds like a good idea, except your mother will kill you if you lose the twig."

Auntie Gee-Gee had a temper and a good stick was a lot of money.

"You want to stop playing?"

"No."

"Then grab my heels and don't let go."

My youngest cousin tied his hockey stick to the rope and lay on his stomach. He swung the CCM stick and it wide-arced to knock the puck back onto solid ice. Oilcan scrambled to his feet and headed toward the opponents goal.

Two big rocks.

His brother saucer-passed the puck to Oilcan.

Another goal.

We were unstoppable that winter. I should have been on the bench, but I excelled at shutting down snipers.

Dog Pond was our home ice. We never played away games, but we took on all comers and then one blustery February afternoon six older and bigger boys appeared on the edge of the pond. Two of them were Joe Scanlon and Mark Tully.

"We heard you girls think you're unbeatable." Joe laced up his skates. "You look like hosers to us."

"That's them," asked Frunk.

"Yeah." I blew in my hands. Flurries floated in the air. The sun bore through an opaque overcast. It was wicked cold and we had about thirty minutes left to sunset. My cousins and Chuckie glided up to us and my next-door neighbor said, "These guys are big."

"Fuck 'em all," swore Oilcan. Uncle Jack was a Marine. He taught us some right things.

"Us against them."

"Fuck 'em all."

We took first possession and Stevie shovel a pizza to his older brother, who deked out the defense and scored within ten seconds.

"Let's get it back," Joe Scanlon had come down here to say all ice was his ice.

But not Dog Pond.

We were fast. We understood the ice. The puck belonged to us, but somehow they kept close and I was to blame.

Both Joe and Mark owned me and I gave up position.

And the sun dropped beneath the trees and the ice was invisible. Joe scored two goals to tie the game.

Only minutes remained in the match.

"Stop 'em," ordered my brother and I nodded to say I'd do what i had to do.

Mark stole the puck from Chuckie and charged up ice. There were no stripes on the pond and I swung out my stick to trip my tormentor. He thumped on the ice and glided to the outlet. Oilcan went for the rope. I skated to Mark, but he crashed through the thin ice headfirst and disappeared into the water.

Mark sputtered to the surface. I stopped to check the hole. This wasn't good and I thought about watching him drown, except I recalled Mickie Finn's family crying at the funeral and I lay on the ice.

"Hold my feet." My brother was first in the chain. Joe Scanlon was second. Chuckie was third in the chain and Oilcan threw me the rope.

Mark bobbed like his skates were dragging him down to the bottom of Dog Pond. Panic swam in his eyes. He had been at Mickie Finn's funeral. If he didn't get out of the pond, we would go to his.

"Catch this."

I threw the rope, but he couldn't hold on with his gloves.

"Take off your gloves."

"I can't. I got them for Christmas." His mother was the meanest woman in town.

"Fuck Christmas," shouted Joe.

Mark tried to take off his gloves and sank out of sight. Joe started to get to his feet to save his friend.

"Don't."

Losing one was bad.

Losing two was worst.

I edged closer to the watery hole and Mark burst to the surface sucking air. His gloves were gone.

"Catch."

I tossed the rope and he caught it. We pulled him out of the water to safety and dragged him over to the fire.

"Fucking hosers," he chattered a foot from the blazing flames.

"Really?"

I turned around and spotted the puck on the ice. I skated towards the biscuit. No one realized what I was doing until I shot at the opposing goal. The puck pocked off a rock to give us the victory. It was the first goal I had scored this winter and I returned to the edge of the pond to sluiced ice onto Mark.

"Game over."

"Fucking shiesty."

"Better than being losers." I motioned for my cousins, brother, and Chuckie to go. The sun was almost down. Food would be on the table. We might eat any of it, but we smiled in the wintery evening, because it was always good to win on your own ice.

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