by Than Pence
Cramp Winner: Dovo aims to skate in a rare event, and not because he wants to win.
|“You don’t have to skate, ya know.”
“Yes, I do. Da would’ve.”
“Dearie, he would’ve loved to skate with you. But if he knew that you were going to skate in that Frozen Hell, alone, and with a sour ankle. Why, it feels like that crash …”
His mother stopped and Dovo stared at her. He hadn’t realized that something so flip could sit on his mother’s tongue, especially when concerning his da, Trianke. His mother, Elda, was flushed and not because of the freezing winds creeping in around the door.
For months and months, Dovo and Trianke had been planning for and talking about the Elfstedentocht, the Friesland Eleven City Skating tour of ’63. They felt it was destined since it was kicked off in their hometown of Leeuwarden and subsequently ended there. The last Elfstedentocht had been in ’56, when Dovo had been too young to even consider entering, even as an amateur. Because of the mounting snow and freezing temperatures, Trianke and Dovo were certain that an Elfstedentocht would take place.
But just after Christmas, the pair had been in a terrible automobile accident. Dovo had simply twisted an ankle and suffered a few bruises. Trianke was dead on arrival.
Wrapping his ankle yet again, Dovo stood finally and felt almost no pain at all. “Da would’ve wanted this.”
“He wanted many things, Dearie.”
Dovo stared out the window, at the snow storm sculpting higher and higher drifts, at the town in the distance that would soon be out of view if the snow kept up much longer. He looked to Elda and smiled. “The English have expressions about Hell freezing over and the like.”
That made Elda smile too: Trianke loved pestering the English.
“I at least have to start it, Ma.”
Elda stared into Dovo’s eyes for a second and finally looked away, a rare concession, and nodded. “I suppose so, yes. But we’ll have to ice up that ankle the moment you get back. I know it’s not as grand as you’re saying it is.”
“Ma, it will have been iced up for hours before I get home. I’ll be back before you know it.” Dovo quickly left, embarrassed for having said that: they had been Trianke’s last words to his wife.
It had been touted as the talk of Friesland for months, and not just between Dovo and his father. Elfstedentocht was a big deal since it didn’t happen every year. Only the right conditions of a Dutch winter culminated the event. Since it might be another decade before the next one came about, Dovo knew he had to participate.
He thought of his father, his breath being stolen away for a second. He would’ve appreciated the irony: the severe weather made the skating conditions exquisite but made the skaters more uncomfortable than ever.
After getting his stamp book from the event table, Dovo laced up his skates while thinking of where he would have to skate to collect the stamps the judges needed. As he tightened his skate and stood, Dovo grimaced and knew instantly that he would never be able to finish the tour. But that doesn’t mean I can’t start it.
Looking down, he saw his stamp book on the ground. He bent to retrieve it and was amused that he hadn’t felt it slip from under his arm. I’m wearing three coats here. What should I expect?
While tucking the small book into an inside pocket, Dovo watched the clouds thicken up through squinted eyes. Flurries were everywhere and it was getting darker, a strange occurrence during midmorning. He began to regret taking part in the tour but he knew that his father would’ve wanted to take part in it, even if Odin himself came to cut down all those who participated in the Elfstedentocht.
He warmed up by skating as the winds increased. The movement made his blood flow fast but it felt like the winds were faster still. Snow whipped its way around the surface of the ice, around other skaters. Even among so many others, Dovo couldn’t help but feel alone.
A whistle was blown, drawing Dovo’s attention toward where the starting area might’ve been, but with the visibility rapidly decreasing, he couldn’t be sure. His heart started racing faster, still: how could he even skate in this weather if he couldn’t get his bearings?
A deep-throated man started speaking with the aide of a bullhorn and Dovo’s stomach did a flip. He was certain the event would be called off and he’d have to wait at least one more year – maybe twenty years – before he could skate in the Elfstedentocht.
“All participants to the staging area please. All participants to the staging area.”
Dovo followed the voice, wary of the ever illusory echo, and finally found the officials. As he listened to last minute details, he noticed his ankle hurting more and he wondered if it was because of the cold. He inhaled sharply through his nose and regretted it: his sinus cavity ached. He breathed through his mouth once more, with the scarf covering it.
You know it’s bad when you forget how to breath, Dovo! A long-standing joke between a father and son, Dovo knew he couldn’t reminisce about it. Frozen tears only invite more pain.
Patting his coat, Dovo suddenly realized he should’ve gotten two stamp books: one for him, one for his da. But it was too late now to get one, wasn’t it? He looked around, oblivious to what was going on. The thick curtains of snow made that easy enough, but it also made it difficult to see where the event table was.
Exhaling sharply, Dovo quickly admitted defeat as the tour was going to officially start any second. He knew he was ready, and with what he now thought of as his father’s stamp book. I may only get one stamp, da, but it’ll be worth it.
Word Count: 989