The humidity was visibly laying in a wall of fog that reflected off car headlights as I drove to the rink along the canal at five in the morning .
When the temperature is lower than the dew point, the atmosphere has an uncomfortable chill; that, positively sticky skin yet with a chill that can grow to a shiver, demanding no coat or cover, however demands a car’s air conditioning.
At such an hour though it also requires an espresso clutched in my cold fingers. I sip, standing before the chained door. I wait like the padlock to be freed and drop down the stairs into the dressing room.
The ice rink glass was fogged by the humidity in the building. The panes of glass sweat clear streams of water downward, since they could not freeze in the warm air.
This morning dressed in goaltender gear, I stepped through the door already sweating from the slight exertion to proceed to the far end, my net. Solitary. Team-less. An exercise in tenacity and spirit for which there’s no reward.
As the skaters churned up the air, spinning, deeking, colliding about the ice, I saw their various reflections come clearer – a mosaic of movement on the glass, and as their motion moved air, it reduced the fog from the panes.
Like ghosts, I watched them in the mirrors of glass. They multiplied, solitary figures became two, three, merging with others as they triangulated on the ice.
I heard a voice behind me say my name. Twice. But the play was at the other end. I glanced back to my right, then behind the net. Emptiness. My eyes were drawn upward. Empty grandstand though briefly, a figure. A skinny man, whose vestige then disappeared.
In months past, I’ve seen an older man standing by the railing at the other end of these grandstands, though I knew he was not really there. A figure that did not move for minute upon minute, gone once I had moment to glance again after stopping multiple shots on my goal.
At moments I’ve thought it my father, twenty-five years deceased. My biggest fan, supporter. He had never seen me play hockey. I’d seen that smile. Perhaps he was there again, as he was always in my youth. Smiling. Beaming.
It’s been recurring. I’ve rationalized it another ghost, whose soul rested at the rink perhaps his greatest love. He has stood there motionless many mornings.
The voice returned to say my name but I ignored it as the swirling reflections to my right multiplied, even though the boys were playing at the other end.
It was a projection of boys turned men now perhaps ghosts. Reflections of youth, which we no longer possess I was thinking as suddenly a half-dozen skaters barreled toward me like life, or maybe death were chasing, chasing our youth from our aging bones.