Her coat startled me, like blood on the snow would have, or
the dash of a cardinal in this park inhabited only by crows, pigeons and
sparrows. The coats of the skaters below us were black, dark blue, grey, and brown; enlivened only by bright scarves and the occasional bend of a gliding
figure into a pirouette. Passing us on the snow-covered path above the lake were the
after-game hockey players in oversize jerseys, carrying their comma-shaped sticks;
parents with little children tethered behind them on pink or blue sleds; and
the occasional tweed-coated romantic young men with skates tied and hanging by their long laces over their shoulders,
and no hats covering their curls. She – the girl in the red coat – had no
skates at all; she was just out walking, like me, in her red basketball shoes
and red wool coat and her black hat with a red felt poinsettia on it.
Down on the serpentine ice the skaters circled mostly in one direction like dancers on a dance floor, their course marked by islands of evergreen trees stuck in banks of snow in the middle of the frozen, narrow lake. A man in a wheelchair moved as if his chair had grown runners and a woman in white figure skates pushed a baby carriage ahead of her. An older couple, hand in hand, skated slowly and gracefully together, matching steps; she wore a full-length white fur coat. A young girl wearing a backpack accelerated and then casually tipped forward to glide on one foot; a tall young man swept elegantly up the middle at twice the cadence of the others. Classical music played from the loudspeakers in the trees, which were still festooned with long irregular loops of white Christmas lights.
My feet itched to join them, but although I skated a lot when I was young, I was never as good as the weakest of these skaters, all of whom seemed as if they had been born with runners on their feet. I imagined a broken wrist, knocked-out teeth…it was fine, instead, to watch, to listen to the music for a few minutes while the wind whipped color into my cheeks.
And then I walked slowly up the path and out of the park and across the street, waiting for a bicyclist carrying cross-country skis in an upright X on the back of his bike. In the café it was nearly closing time. Two patrons finished their coffee at a table near the side windows. Behind the counter, against a dark grey wall, a young woman - her body and face obscured - bent to take a plate out of the sterilizer; her wrists were bare and delicate and her hand holding the yellow plate was very beautiful.
I walked home after that, marveling.