School Figures

Like the Prose Challenge #14 – Write a story in second person. Make it a choose your own adventure story.


You are six years old, and you’re standing on the rubber mat at the edge of the ice rink. In your head you’re wearing a pretty skirt and leotard and your skates are white with shiny silver blades, like Dorothy Hamill’s.

But your outfit is not a cute skating dress; you are wearing a track suit over tights so that you stay warm, and your hair isn’t cut into a sassy wedge, but twisted into two braids.

And your skates are not the pristine white that they wear in the Olympics.

They are boy’s skates.

Black and heavy, with double blades.

They are clunky and ugly and make you feel slow and clumsy, which, in truth, you are, but in your head, you know every jump and turn.

You even know how to do the school figures, the perfect figure eights that the skaters have to execute in order to demonstrate their technical proficiency.

* * *

You are twenty-one years old and you are sitting on a folding chair on a rubber mat in front of the barrier that separates the main seats of the arena from the ice of the rink. Your best friend from college is in the seat next to you. It’s winter break, and she’s housesitting for her parents while they’re in Europe and you’re there for her birthday weekend. She’s just turned twenty-two, and this trip to watch Stars on Ice is your gift to her, because you both love figure skating but neither of you actually skate anymore.

You’re kind of reeling because a few hours before, while you were eating burgers and drinking beer at a really great diner near the arena, she came out to you, and you’re not sure if you reacted the right way, because no one’s ever come out to you before.

It’s 1992, after all, and this isn’t a common experience for you yet, though as you get older (you don’t know this yet) you will become the person your friends come out to, about their sexuality, gender identity, and more.

If Harry Potter had been published at that time you would define yourself as the world’s Secret Keeper, except what Cora has told you isn’t a secret, exactly, it’s just a thing, a fact, and you don’t think you gave it the respect it deserved.

Were you supposed to stand up in the diner and hug her and say, “Congratulations?” Or was your actual reaction – telling her that you’re honored that she told you, and that you’re happy to listen to whatever she needs to talk about but you’re not the best to advise because except for some brief experimentation you’ve really only ever driven stick – the right tack to take?

You’re not sure, you can’t be sure. You can only be there.

But the music is starting, so you resolve to put it aside for the moment. Maybe the feminist bookstore downtown has cards for this, and you can send her one when you get back home.

* * *

You’re thirty-eight, and your husband is in Tokyo on business, and won’t be home for three days, and you know something is off because you’re late in the way women sometimes are, even though you haven’t missed a pill even though you haven’t missed a pill (because you stopped trying, thirty-eight is too old to try, right?), so you get a test and are shocked when it flashes ***pregnant*** at you (the digital tests leave nothing to interpretation).

There’s a fluttering in your stomach that you can’t quite name. It might be fear or anxiety or happiness or delight or a little bit of all of them, with a touch of wistfulness that your partner, your best friend, is half-way around the world and many time zones away and you can’t interrupt him to tell him.

You take a picture of the stick and the result and you text it to him and wait.

For three days the two of you are long-distance giddy, and you imagine his homecoming and how you’ll greet him and how you’ll send ultrasound pictures to your parents and his on Mothers’ Day. And then, when you’re on the way to the airport to pick him up, the cramping starts, and by the time you park, you know – you know – that your three days of blissful hope were all you were going to get.

He’s tired, but he takes over the steering wheel so you can close your eyes and let the tears come on the way to urgent care. You’re their last appointment – they close at seven – and they give you warm blankets and coddle you as they run their tests, but the results are clear


You’re not surprised. You’ve had two others.

But you really thought this time it would stick.

And you’re thirty-eight.

So, when you and your husband have dried the last of your tears and his, you tell him you’re done trying.

He finds a skating competition on television and you curl up together with hot tea to watch it.

And you confess that you always wanted a little girl to watch skating with, the way you watched it with your mother.

* * *

You’re fifty.

And you’re hosting a Ukrainian orphan for the summer. You got the idea from a friend of yours who did it a few years ago, and you always wanted a child, but never really wanted a baby… Then, too, you and your husband are in a place where you’re financially stable. You have a house with empty rooms. If not now, then when?

Her name is Natalia and she dreams of being a figure skater.

Using a translation program, you ask her if she knows how to skate, and she says there’s a pond they skate on at their school, but their skates aren’t very good.

It’s summer, but there’s a rink at the mall, so you find out when the open sessions are and whether or not there are lessons in the summer. And after you and Natalia have had a few days to get to know each other a bit, you tell her you have a surprise.

The rental skates at the mall are brown, and clunky, and you are reminded of the ugly black skates you had as a child. But then you remember your second pair of skates which were still used, because you were a growing kid, but were white, with proper blades, and you take your foster daughter to the pro-shop.

A soulful Russian with bright blue eyes crouches in front of the sandy-haired teenager, and at first, she’s thrilled because his language is similar to hers, but then he remembers he’s required to speak English, and so is she.

You tell him to fit her with a basic pair – student skates – and he understands. They’re not professional skates, but they’re better than the rentals, and they’re hers to keep, you tell her. You realize, as the salesman laces them onto her feet, that they are the first things she’s ever owned outright.

You decide to buy a pair for yourself, as well.

You are fifty years old, and you are standing on the rubber mat at the edge of an ice rink, but you are not wearing a pretty skating dress. You are wearing jeans and a tank top and a hoodie, and you are holding the hand of a skinny Ukrainian girl who is only yours for the summer but is somehow the child of your soul.