Elliott glanced up from the pan he was scrubbing in the kitchen sink to see that the snow was finally starting to stick. Snow had been an unusually rare sight that winter. While it had been cold enough for it, the ground had remained green, the sky a deep grey. Now flecks of white were scattering among the shivering blades of grass, and the sky had become the blank abyss that presaged a heavy snowfall. Elliott continued working away at the pan, swirling his sponge around and around in the rainbow-tinged water, a few flecks of burned grease proving especially stubborn. When the pan was good enough, Elliott placed it in the drying rack and shut off the water. He grabbed the towel from the oven handle and once again looked out the window as he patted his hands dry. The snow was coming down quickly. Only the tallest blades of grass could be seen now, sticking out in the frosted landscape. 

Elliott tossed the towel over his shoulder and stepped over to the refrigerator. Pinned to the small corkboard magnetically held to the side of the fridge was a prayer card. Elliott removed the pin and cradled the card in his hand. “It’s finally here, dad,” he said. “The weather we’ve waited for.” 

Elliott felt a hand on his shoulder but didn’t turn to look. “It’s a year today, isn’t it?” Jenn said, more of a statement than a question. 

“Yeah,” Elliott said. “Year ago today. Much colder winter, wasn’t it? We had the rink up for about a month at this point, I think.” 

Since he was a boy, Elliott’s father had built an ice rink in their backyard every winter. He always waited for the first real snow fall, one that you knew would stick around for a while. Rather than using a wooden frame and tarp, his dad preferred the simple approach, using only packed-down snow and a garden hose. The two of them would spend hours out on their homemade rink, skating and slapping pucks into a goal his dad had made out of PVC pipes. He would even rig up lights so they could play through the long winter nights. For Elliott, that was always the best part of the season. Even after he moved out and got married to Jenn, his father continued building the rink year after year. Their seven-year-old daughter, Sadie, was just learning to appreciate the rink and the time she could spend out there with her grandpa when he suddenly passed away. This would be the first year without grandpa’s rink for all of them.

“Would you ever think about making a rink here?” Jenn asked. “Sadie’s been asking about it.”

“Sure,” Elliott said. “Sure, I would think about it.” 

“I know you well enough to know when your answers mean nothing,” said Jenn, a slight smile on her face. “I know you’ll think about it. Do you think you’ll do it though?” 

Elliott took the pin from the corkboard once more and reattached the prayer card. The card featured the last photo that had been taken of his dad. Elliott wondered how often that was the case -- that the final photo was the one that actually ended up on the prayer card. It was a photo from last Christmas at Elliott’s parents’ house. His dad was absolutely beaming when he opened up his present -- it was a puck that had been hollowed out so that a picture could be inserted inside, with one face of the puck cut away as well. A ribbon was attached to the top so the puck could be hung on the tree as an ornament. The picture showed Elliott’s dad on one knee next to Sadie, his arm around her following an afternoon spent on the ice. Sadie had her hockey helmet on, but her bright smile was still plainly visible. Elliott remembered everyone laughing when his dad said that it was the one puck he never wanted to see in the back of a net. After smiling for his photograph, his dad had immediately hung the ornament on the tree. Elliott’s mom had hung it back up this year, but it had been hard for Elliott to look at it for long. 

“Honestly, Jenn,” Elliott said, “I don’t know if I even really know how to do it. I mean, I know how to do it, but not the way dad did it. It wouldn’t be the same. It was like a special recipe unique to him, the way he would make each layer, mixing the hot and cold water. He never really told me exactly what he did. I always just let him do it.” 

Jenn pulled on Elliott’s shoulder until he was facing her, then rested her arms around his neck. “I think you can figure it out,” Jenn said with a kiss on the cheek. “Sadie would be happy with it no matter what.” 

* * * * *

The next morning, Elliott, about knee-deep in snow, and Sadie, about hip-deep, stood out in the backyard, marveling at the fresh landscape. Elliott had a thin, broad piece of plywood in his hand, while Sadie had her plastic sled. 

“OK,” Elliott said. “First thing is we have to make it as flat as possible. I’m going to need your help with that.” 

The two of them got to work, using their sled and plywood to smush down the snow, creating a nearly-flat crater in the snowy yard. The temperature was cold enough that the snow remained light and fluffy, making it easier to hollow out. 

“Next thing we need is the hose,” Elliott said. 

“I’ll get it!” Sadie said, skipping off through the snow on her way to the side of the house. 

Elliott looked out at the decently-sized oval he and Sadie had made. When he was a boy, flattening out the snow was the part he used to help with. His father always handled the tricky part, which was using the garden hose to create each thin layer of ice. Elliott knew that you couldn’t make the layers too thick, or else it wouldn’t freeze quite right and would be harder to maintain. This part required a lot of patience, because you needed to give each layer enough time to freeze completely before putting on the next one. But how had his dad done this? Was it cold water followed by hot? The other way around? He couldn’t believe now that he had never paid enough attention to what his dad did to know how to do this himself. It had just seemed like something he would never need to know. Or at least not know so soon. 

Sadie came bounding through the snow with the hose in hand, falling a few times along the way. 

“Thanks,” Elliott said. “Now I just need you to go turn the water on.” 

“OK!” Sadie said, slicing through the snow once more. With the water turned on, Elliott sprayed the snow to create the first thin layer of ice. He turned the nozzle to shut off the water once he was moderately sure the ground was covered enough. 

“YES! Can we skate now?” Sadie said. 

“No,” Elliott laughed, “We still have a long ways to go.” 

Sadie plopped down on her knees into the snow, disappointed. “OK, dad,” she said. “Just tell me when it’s ready.” 

“You’ll be the first to know.” 

Once that first layer seemed solid enough, Elliott began on the second, spraying until water lapped at the edges of the crater he and Sadie had made. The air was cold enough that each layer froze relatively quickly. The rink gradually rose from the snowy surface, one frozen layer at a time. Elliott kept at it until the ice appeared to be about three inches thick. Once the final layer was sufficiently frozen, Elliott grabbed a bucket of hot water and splashed it onto the ice for a smooth finish. He knew it wasn’t quite how his dad would have done it, but he was able to quietly admit to himself that it did look pretty good. 

“OK, dad,” Sadie said. She had ventured back out in her snowsuit after warming up with hot chocolate Jenn had made for her inside the house. “Now can we go skate?”

Elliott looked over what he and Sadie had made. It was odd seeing it in his own backyard rather than at his parents’ house, his childhood home. It just didn’t seem like it belonged there. 

“You know, hon, I think-,” Elliott paused. “I think we need to give it a night to sit. Let the ice really freeze up. It should be ready in the morning.” 

“But dad!” Sadie let out. “It looks fine! I think we can skate on it right now!”

Elliott took another look at the ice. It did appear to be pretty solid. But the thought of lacing up his skates and getting out there created a pit in his stomach. 

“Well,” Elliott said, hesitating. “OK, hon. We can get out there.”

“YES!” Sadie said. “I’ll go get my skates.” 

Elliott stayed by the rink while Sadie went into the garage to grab her skates from her hockey bag. He tried to find something, some weak spot he could point out to Sadie that would keep them from skating that day, but he couldn’t see one. Sadie was back in a flash, and immediately sat down in the snow to slip on her skates. 

“Dad, can you tie these for me?” Sadie asked. 

“Sure, hon.” Elliott bent down and began lacing Sadie up, pulling the laces tight first on her foot and then on her ankle. He remembered his dad doing the same thing for him in dingy locker rooms at 5:30 in the morning to get ready for 6:00 am practices. Pulling the laces tight, keeping his wobbly ankles as secure as they could be. Watching him from the stands as her first learned how to play the game.

Elliott stood back up once he was finished and watched Sadie climb over the snowbank and onto the rink. Instantly she was darting around the ice, making quick stops, spraying up snow. 

“It’s perfect, dad!” she said. “Come on!”

“All right,” Elliott said. “I’ll be right back.”

On autopilot, Elliott went to get his skates from the garage. When he got back to the rink, Sadie had grabbed her stick and was handling a puck from end to end, going back and forth. 

Elliott sat down at the edge of the rink and pulled his boots off, careful to keep his feet off the ground so his socks didn’t get wet from the snow. He slipped on his skates and began tightening up the laces, one row at a time. He still liked to get extra long laces so he could wrap them around his ankles, just like his dad did for him when he was little. 

Elliott hesitated a moment longer in the snow before looking up at Sadie. Her cheeks were turning red from the cold and her own exertion, her breath visible in the chilly air. She was just so alive when she was on the ice. The way Elliott had always been. The way his father still was. 

Elliott tentatively stepped over the snowbank and onto the ice. Feeling his feet steady beneath him, with one hard push Elliott caught up with Sadie, her hair flying out from underneath her winter hat as she chased after the puck.  

January 22, 2021 18:38

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RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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