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BREAKAWAY, 6 am Practice, Short Excerpt #1

The lights were off. It was completely still and silent inside, the ice perfectly smooth and matte. The thin layer of dry fog hovered over the surface. A thud echoed to the back walls when we dropped our bags on the floor next to the boards. I tried to warm my hands with my breath and put on my gear quickly. The rest of the team would start showing up in an hour. Isaiah dressed faster than me. He wanted to break the mist first. 

            When I skated out after him, my arms still shivered in the huge chest protector and cold helmet. I made three long strides, digging my blades in and scratching the surface to the center of the ice. I slid like I was hitting home base on my left hip, dividing up the haze, and stopped at center ice to spread my arms and legs out like I was making a snowflake. I took long, deep breaths, filling my lungs. It was the most special spot in the world with all the answers, which weren’t words but silence. There was nothing and everything there at empty center ice, like the middle of the ocean or the sky. Then I heard Isaiah’s skates chinking, skating all along the boards slow and methodical, pushing off at an even pace, warming up each leg.  I felt weightless lying there with the freezing ice beginning to seep through my jersey. I took in the last breath of stillness in a hush I wished would last and dragged myself up. 

            Isaiah called out to me from the far end to practice passing the puck 200 feet from the goal line to the opposite goal line. It clapped loudly against my stick when I caught it. I heaved it up as hard as possible, trying to snap it on release. The puck barely reached the other end of the ice. My arms weren’t strong enough to give it the power it needed.  He skated to me and tried again to teach me to hold the stick and shoot the puck high and far up the boards. 

            “It will make you look stronger, more trustworthy, to pass it far and fast from the crease.” He insisted and crouched, watching my form.

            “Come on, Rosie!” His voice echoed in the empty rink. “Harder!” 

            “Okay!” I screamed back. I had to prove I could do it.

            I wished he wasn’t watching me so closely. I squeezed my gloves around the stick, moved like he instructed me, and still only got it half the way up the ice.

            “Just keep trying.” He said, patting me on the helmet like a little girl. “You’ll get it. Eventually.” 

            Coach arrived, holding a coffee mug and a bucket of pucks. He was Canadian. I guessed about 40, white, big, and stocky, like a rugby player with red hair he never brushed. He wore a Montreal Canadiens beanie, a tuuk - that is what they called them in Canada. He told the team about Ketchup chips, Tim Horton’s donuts, poutine, and how his hair froze and broke off when he played on frozen ponds. I imagined he went home after work every day and threw back a six-pack before he passed out in front of the TV.  We wanted to please him but rarely got more than a “good job, boys” or “nice work, team.” At the beginning of the season, I hoped he would be more dad-like, but I settled for a “nice try.” When he yelled out, “You’re a bunch of pussies!” he would turn to me and say, “Sorry, Rosie.” So, I knew he was a little kind.


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