Final Qualifier
Katharine Coldiron
Backbackback, in round swoops. Arms out. Gather the strength in your thighs . . . and leap.
Just another day, thinks Gina, another fluffy outfit, another arena, another pair of thick pantyhose and another headache from the damn bun on my head. Why does she have to pull my hair so tight before the shows?
The audience looks like hundreds of little moons, the occasional red scarf or blue hat like a big freaky star standing out here or there. Darkness mostly. Do they have their hands in their laps? Are they tensing for the landing? Do they want to be here?
Along with her own thoughts, her painfully tight hair and the weight of gravity on her body as she spins, Gina has unbidden foreign thoughts. "The next five years rides on this landing, Gee," says her mother. "You'll make it, babe, and we're going all the way," says her father. "Imagine your skate blade is as wide as a surfboard," says her coach. "So easy to land on a surfboard, nein?"
I don't want to land on a skate blade as wide as a surfboard, thinks Gina. I don't want to land on a skate blade at all. I want to go back to school, I want to walk on land. Leave the ice to the penguins.
Two weeks ago her mother screamed at her for going out the door in high heels. "Do you know what would happen if you twisted your ankle?" she shrieked. "You'd never compete again! It's all in the ankles for ice skaters!"
Gina looked at her and thought of saying it, right then and there: "I never want to compete again." Instead she went back upstairs and put on low-heeled shoes. Just as tonight she'd put on her outfit (oh, how she hated pink) and her thick pantyhose (so itchy) and her white ice skates (the dreaded things, the blades glittered her own resentment back at her when she polished them). What a good girl she was. Obedient. Talented. This qualifier, this last hurdle before the big O, was a miracle for the lovely little family down the block. That girl works so hard!
And she whirls in the air, and the whiteness of the ice overcomes the rest of the colors in the blur as she whirls, her arms curled against the polyester body of her outfit, and she thinks to look for the judges but she has stopped caring about the judges long ago, and she thinks this is almost the end, almost the end. If I can just get to the Olympics, if I can just win a gold medal, then maybe they'll leave me alone and I can live. Just live. What else can they ask me to do after I win a gold medal?
This question looms, but at this split second while she is in the air she tries to remember how good this once felt. How she had ignored that dreadful pull (not just her parents but gravity), how her quick movements felt as young as her sixteen years, how landing on the ice and throwing out her leg to balance felt like power, self-generated. For this split second, when she first learned it, she was breathless. Now the breath came too easily and it was all motional. Like skating in toto. Motions, and effort, and control. Not wildness, free gliding, smelling the ice and feeling the air, and the inheld breath of the audience at seeing her whipping around the rink with the grace of a goddess. That's for them, not for me, she thinks.
Time to land. This has all happened before, she thinks. The third turn, and wide out your arms, and toss your leg back, or you'll fall. But as she lands on the saw edge of her single blade, there is something different. She hears, as clear as day, before the audience rises in a great moan, a tindery snap, and she thinks as she tumbles to the ice: I broke my ankle. Thank God.
Katharine's work has appeared in a small number of electronic litmags, and an even smaller number of print ones. She runs 10X10X10, yet another electronic litmag.