The geese got flash-frozen into the pond one year, stuck sitting in place as we skated by in hand-me-down Bauers. My laces were knotted together where they’d broken before. The ice wasn’t hard enough but we couldn’t wait, so it was wrecked by the time we were done skating. It didn’t matter, since we were the only ones who skated on the pond. Our older brothers skated at the town pool and we didn’t even have goals or enough sticks to go around. Mostly we just skated past the hissing geese and avoided the branches that reached up from the pond, or the tufts of yellow grass where the ice got thin over the swampy ground.
We wondered if they’d been asleep when the water froze, or if they just sat there watching while it got solid around them. Then we changed back into our boots and tied the laces together and slung the skates over our shoulders and walked home, making snowballs with stiff pink fingers. By the time we got home my little brother’s nose was running and he was sniffling and wiping it on the back of his glove. We kicked the snow off of our boots on the back steps and went inside.
Mom reheated some cocoa and it had some skin in it that didn’t melt back into the chocolate. But at least she made it with milk so it was better than “hot chocolate” which was just chocolate-flavored water. Kids at the pool bought that with new ten-dollar bills that their mothers gave them. Sometimes they got to keep the change. My little brother and I ate a bowl of puffed rice cereal and Mom gave us some raspberry danish from Stop & Shop, which was good. She also had a bag of iced cookies but they were hard and I didn’t like them.
I found my book in my room and started to read it. I only got a few pages in before I started dozing off, tired from skating. Mom shut the light off at some point and I woke up to the room being dark and cool and I fell asleep again.
I woke up, startled, on the bus from New York City. The driver had put on the overhead light and people were starting to gather their things as we pulled in to the Hartford bus station. I checked my phone and saw that we were a little bit early. I’d have to call home for someone to get me or take one of the cabs that line up next to the covered walkway. It was cold for October and I didn’t want to wait, but I distrusted the fare negotiation process of suburban cabs. I stood still for a moment of indecision, asking myself why I came back, feeling the water freezing around me.