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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction

A Sense of Belonging - Part 2

Ducking beneath a cluster of branches, I found myself at the top of a steep set of wooden stairs leading to another similar clearing below. I looked down and it didnít seem like theyíd been traveled on for quite some time. They seemed old and a little uneven. There was a small guard rail on the sides and I decided this made it safe enough. Each step down seemed to take forever as I tried to keep myself steady. I felt my legs drop almost through each landing, but somehow was able to balance just enough so I wouldnít fall. Slowly, I walked down them and after some careful maneuvering; I finally reached the bottom and the clearing after several minutes. I looked around and this section of the mountain seemed both familiar and different. There were large groups of trees clustered around, similar to the clearing above but they didnít seem as tall or old as the other ones. I took a few steps deeper into the woods and noticed that the snow didnít feel nearly as deep, and was packed neatly over the ground.

It was smoother and less rocky than above which made walking a bit easier though it was also a little bit slicker. It took me a few minutes to get accustomed to this new section Iíd discovered and it seemed a little less familiar with each step. I noticed that the wind seemed to be blowing at me from the north, in a stronger, more direct way. It didnít seem as cold or as threatening now. I looked above at the trees and noticed that the sun seemed more distant this far down. It was slowly setting and I needed to find a direction, though I couldnít really figure out where to go. There werenít any paths, just a consistent blanket of white. With little to go on, I decided to go straight ahead and walked directly to another group of trees on the other side. These seemed taller and stronger and radiated a welcoming sense of safety, so I kept walking in that direction. As I walked under the trees, I felt them coming together over my head, creating a kind of barrier between me and the world. It seemed a little darker which hindered my steps, though I continued on. At this point, my steps felt a little less strident but they were the only noise I could hear so they kept me going.

As I went deeper, the overhanging branches only seemed to get thicker. I hesitated for a moment and wondered whether this was such a good idea after all. I thought about turning back and climbing the stairs, but decided that Iíd traveled this far for a reason, even though I didnít know what it was. Eventually, I walked far enough to reach another clearing. I walked towards it and as I exited the forest, the sun was still shining brightly. I looked around and saw that the ground there wasnít covered in snow. Instead, there was a thin layer of smooth ice, making it slick and smooth, tricky to navigate. It took me some time to get used to the surface and I had to walk slowly over it to avoid falling. I knew that I hadnít been there before and was careful where I went. I looked across the way and saw something I hadnít noticed. Something was sticking up from the ground and as I got closer, I saw it was a statue. It was a recreation of a tree without leaves on its branches. It looked like it had been there for some time and I could see its age in the metallic paint chipping off, revealing its bronze base. Its branches seemed like they were pointing in different directions, but none stood out to me, so it didnít tell me which way to go. I looked at it for several minutes and wondered why it was there and who came up with such an obscure marker.  

I kept walking for several more feet and reached another strange section. The ice was still packed under my feet, but it seemed a little less slick and the duller surface helped to keep me balanced. It was getting a little bit later in the afternoon now and the sun was beginning its descent. I noticed the shadows getting a little longer as I walker further inside. I went around a small corner when I came upon a small bench that looked like it had been sitting there for some time as well. It was covered in snow but I brushed it off and took a rest for a few minutes to catch my breath. I closed my eyes once again, feeling the cold go through me. I sat there for a few minutes, and decided to get up. I needed to keep moving. I looked on the other side of the clearing a saw something odd that I hadnít noticed before. There was a silver box lying on the ground. I walked towards it and picked it up. It seemed surprisingly heavy and was tightly wrapped with paper. I took it and held it in my arms. Someone had left it there on purpose, but I didnít know what it was for. I decided that carrying it over the ice for an extended period was a bad idea. I returned to the bench and put it beside me. Carefully, I opened it up and saw that there was a piece of paper on top. I saw what was on it and suddenly things began to make sense. I removed the silver padding beneath the paper and saw what was inside the box.

I removed two black boots from the box. At first they looked a bit odd with high tops and large laces. I didnít really understand at first. They seemed to be my size but I couldnít understand what they meant. When I turned them over and saw their metal blades, it suddenly made sense. Somebody had given me ice skates and at this point I had a pretty good idea who it was. I looked at the ground and noticed that its ice was slick and smooth, almost like a small rink. It wasnít very large but there was just enough space for perhaps two people to skate together. I looked at the boots once again decided to put them on my feet but it wasnít an easy task. The boots were my size and fit nicely but I still had to put them on. Their elaborate laces were hard for me to figure out at first and it took me several attempts to figure out how they went together. I had to do them over a few times and they still didnít feel right. I struggled to figure out their puzzle, and I was quite involved with them. I looked up and noticed that there was a shadow moving around in circular motions. It took me a moment to realize what was happening and I had to look again. I was quite surprised that that someone else was there with me.

I thought I was completely alone but I wasnít. She had beaten me to the punch. In a moment, the journey had all been worth it. Our connection was immediate; it was like no time had passed at all. She looked just a beautiful and radiant as I remembered in her flowing black dress punctuated by its distinctive pattern of shimmering silver dots. They seemed to sparkle under trees and gave her an otherworldly appearance. Her black hair waved in the wind and she formed an elegant picture as she effortlessly circled around over the ice. She was like a black shadow moving against the white the rink and looked as beautiful as ever. I rushed to complete tying my skates on and stood up. I looked around and saw that we were alone once again under the trees, hidden from view. I called her name and she paused for a moment. She turned and smiled at me and waved at me, inviting me to join her on the ice.

I wasnít the best skater in the world, having only tried a few times but I had more confidence with her around and I didnít really hesitate. I walked towards the ice and looked at her moving, and tried to slowly get the hang of the old skills again. I pushed my legs together at first moving slowly on the ice and then moved one in front of the other until a rhythm began to develop. I slowly started to glide over the ice. She seemed to have kept her distance from me, but I knew it was only a matter of time. I took some more steps straight and then tried a few small circles. It came back to me gradually but I had my momentum building up. I tried a few more complicated moves, but didnít want to get in over my head. I definitely didnít want to fall in front of her. After a few minutes on the ice, I noticed that she was skating a bit closer to me, so I didnít have to worry. I stopped moving for a moment and just watched things, soaking it all in. Suddenly, I felt her grab my hand and she pushed me a little, motioning for me to keep moving. She skated ahead of me a little and I had to follow her movements. She was faster and stronger than me. This made it hard to keep up with her. I tried not to fall and she was going forward, pulling me along behind her. At first I was a little frightened that she had pushed me too far, but I decided quickly that I was up to the challenge, I took a deep breath and bent my knees a little to get more balance and speed, and found myself nearly catching up to her.

After a few minutes of desperately trying to impress her, I decided to let her lead the way. Once I allowed her to take over, things changed. Our movements finally came into synch and before I knew what was happening, it was like we were dancing together once again. I looked into her eyes and could see that she was happy to be with me once again. I returned the smile and we just glided along together, allowing the world to dissolve under our feet. As we moved faster, our skates began to cut into the ice a little more with each spin. When I looked down at the ice, I saw the paths weíd traveled - some together, others apart, the skatesí etches creating a record of our time together. After awhile it began to get dark and as the light began to fade, I knew our time would soon be coming to an end. I watched her move gracefully over the ice and admired how she couldnít have seemed less burdened by the world. This gave her a freedom and spontaneity I hadnít seen with her before. Her skating technique was nearly effortless and she seemed to almost fly over the ice at some points, with her feet rarely seeming to touch the ground. I looked around and we were still all alone. I decided to join her one last time and we clasped our hands together once more. We circled around a few times and started spinning around the ice together. As usual, she led the way and I followed her movements. She seemed to be improvising as our final dance came around, freeing us to have a little bit of fun and she twisted around suddenly a few times, laughing as she nearly knocked me off balance. We were like two kids having fun on the ice, it was something I hadnít expected.

It was interesting to watch her behave in that way since she seemed to be so much older than I was. I thought that perhaps she wanted to show me her more frivolous side, though she never really lost her composure. As the sun began to set and the first stars made themselves known on the horizon, she looked even more beautiful and mysterious than I remembered. I dreaded the reality that weíd have to part ways eventually. Nothing really bothered me at that moment, not the cold, not the birds or all the things Iíd left behind from the outside world. When she was with me, I no longer felt alone in the world. As we skated around each other, any remaining light was quickly falling under the horizon, and she began to slow her pace. She was going slower and after awhile, stopped rested at the side of the lake and leaned down. She leaned down and looked like she was going to start undoing her boots. Before she could, I skated over towards her in a hurry. I took her by the hand and led us into one final spin around the lake. We went slowly around and kept circling around and around, talking one final dance together until the skies above us were nearly completely dark. Before we knew what happened, night had fallen. We could barely see each other with our eyes. We embraced each other clasping our hands tightly and slowly slid around the ice together slowly, only reluctantly coming to a stop. She wouldnít let go of my hands. I wasnít about to release mine, either. Neither one of us really wanted to let go and let our time together slip away.

- Story & Photos by Michael Palisano

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