Dina stood near the ice with her shoulders hunched over, noting the skater’s lithe jumps and pretty contortions. The rink felt colder than usual on her bare arms. She stumbled back into the lobby.
Ignoring the spicy smell of pretzels and churros, she sat on a wooden bench near the entrance. A line of bodies blocked her view in every direction. Dull heat encircled her.
“Dina?” Abby shoved her round stomach through the crowd. “How’re you? What are you doing all the way out here? I didn’t even know you would be— oh. Oh!” Abby paused, her brown eyes falling to Dina’s feet. “You’re not… are you competing?”
Dina lifted one leg, heavy with her worn skate, and crossed it over the other. Abby smiled. Her teeth were yellow in the weak lighting. She eyed Dina’s sequined dress.
“Of course I am,” Dina replied. “I qualified. Second at Regionals.”
“Yes, but you’re—”
“There’s no age limit.”
They glanced at the ice as the skater’s routine ended. Dina was so nervous she’d ceased to hear the music long before. She swallowed and stretched her arms in front of her.
“You know, I’ve seen you practicing at the rink back home. I thought you might’ve switched to the adult competitions by now,” Abby shouted over the cheering. She sat on the bench across from Dina.
“Why is that?”
“You may be a bit younger than me, but you’re no spring chicken. We all know how hard it is to keep up with the kids. My Bree’s just going to run over you one of these days! You know? They’re a little faster, a little stronger, a little quicker at jumping up when they fall. Out there,” Abby paused to gesture at the ice, and laughed gruffly, “you’re gonna look like an ass stuck in with a herd of horses.”
Dina’s lips trembled as she forced a smile.
The skater pushed into the lobby, hovering near vendors selling jackets and stuffed animals. Chunks of ice clung to the back of her beige tights. A new song chimed soothingly over the speakers, then rose quickly into its majestic chorus.
“Yeah, I’m over thirty,” Dina said. “I’m old for a figure skater. I know that. I stopped skating before college so I could focus on school. Once I graduated I had enough money for food and rent, and that was it. I couldn’t afford to start skating again until my restaurant got going. Then I said, why not? If I can still skate, why not skate?” She rested her knuckles pensively against her bottom lip.
“If you ask me, Bree’s going to make it to the top before she even gets to high school. And this one,” Abby said as she patted her swollen belly, “if she’s a girl like they say, she’s bound for the 2022 Olympics.”
Dina gripped the bench with her bare, pallid fingers. The skater’s sparkly bun bobbed across the room. Her tears were buried into the armpit of a man— either a coach or a parent— in a black jacket. The results were posted next to them.
“The warm-up for novice is next,” Dina said as she stood. “I better go.”
“Well don’t you know how to dress your age? That little outfit!”
She tugged at her velvet skirt as Abby cackled. It was a custom-made dress, longer and humbler than most.
“Dina, dear. Let the children have their fun. Don’t take it from them.”
“I’m not taking anything from anyone.” Dina held her breath. “If I love it, why shouldn’t I compete? Why shouldn’t I skate? At least I go after my own dreams, instead of making my daughter do it for me.” She walked away with all her muscles clenched.
“You don’t even have a daughter, you old maid,” Abby called after her.
Dina stretched her legs next to the rink. She sipped from her water bottle, trying to quiet her thoughts. She would soon approach the age where becoming pregnant would be challenging, even if she finally found the right guy. After her fiancé broke off their engagement, calling them incompatible, she had given up. There were other things to worry about.
Silence washed over her mind. The door to the ice opened.
A group of tight-faced teenage girls drove through the entry, leaving a cloud of glitter behind them. Dina eased the plastic skate-guards off her blades and stabbed one toe-pick into the ice.
The girls carved away at the clean, white sheet. Their cheeks blushed pink against the biting air. Dina imagined herself out there, glancing nervously at the stands like they were. Her face grew hot. She stepped away from the ice and covered her mouth with her hands.
The skater still sobbed beside her.”I’m quitting,” she whined, wiping streaks of mascara from her eyes.”Dead last… that’s it. I’m done. I can’t— I don’t even like it anymore.”
Abby stood behind the skater and watched her cry. She looked at her, then at Dina.
Dina inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. One of her shoulders pointed toward the ice, the other toward the lobby. Suddenly, a plump hand rested on her shoulder.
“Do it, sweetie,” Abby said softly.
Dina’s smile was weightless. She stepped back toward the ice and glided on. Then she extended her arms proudly, and she skated.