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The ice


Getting there was never as difficult as getting back.

How could it be? No matter what entrance you came in from, it was the easiest place in the entire structure to find. Lowest level, center. The spider arms of the mall all led to its lower belly, the white glaze of frost and echoing chatter that was difficult, if not impossible to miss.

Getting back, though. Not so obvious. There were four levels, several large stores that looked the same (being not a woman and being uninterested in 90 percent of what was sold in the largest stores, James could not be bothered to differentiate betweek Saks', Neiman-Marcus, Macy's, Dillard's, or any of another half dozen anchors), perfectly symmetrical crossroads with no clear landmarks.

The first thing James did right, when he began to come regularly, was cutting out the variables. He always parked in the Macy's lot now, even if it wasn't the closest or most direct route. He always passed the same loud home theater store, the store that sold nothing but candy and stuffed animals, the cheap jewely stand with its disposable gold chains, the place with the expensive travel cases and engraved pen sets. He learned their order then played them back in his head, reversed. He took the same escalator down from the third floor, or if parking left him on the fourth or second levels, he found stairs as soon as he could to orient himself and backtracked the same way.

He found these back-of-the-brain steps necessary because when he was done down there and walking back, his mind was always filled with the most unusual thoughts and pictures. Sometimes, what was in his head carried on all the way to the car, onto the highway, through afternoon traffic. And the company of them could be lost so easily from the distraction of being lost and having to consult the oversized color codes mall directories that had always reminded James of war maps. Here is the dominion of Banana Republic, the stronghold of Tiffany's. Over lunch, the warring merchants might settle their differences by signing the the Sbarro's Accord.

Down at the last level, the echoes of chatter and squeals reverberated in the open space. James took a bench nearest to the pay booth. He sat on a hard wooden bench made cold by its proximity. He took off his shoes and replaced them in the canvas bag he carried. He laced up the skates. James put his bag and his jacket into a pay locker. He crunch-crunch-crunched the blades against the cushioned carpet until he reached the edge of the booth entrance. He flashed his car at the attendant, a teenager with black hair and blonde spikes. The boy nodded at James and buzzed him through the turnstile.

James leaned forward and his right skate slid forward, the satisfying hiss compelling him to bring his left foot ahead to make it a duet.

He pumped his legs softly, right then left, careful not to put too much pressure on his left knee when he did so. He felt the muscles of his thighs lock in protest of the sudden activity, but he knew they would warm and relax in a few minutes.

James took a look look around the rink. There were a line of children, all related judging by their straw hair and matching pale faces, all blue eyes and invisible eyebrows. The oldest girl, maybe 10 years old, led the other two by the hand in a chain. She held her free hand out, waving it at the air like an oar, reaching for a rail that must have seemed to be miles away. To his left, James saw a short black woman demonstrating how to do a T-stop to a group of preteens. Along the rail, parents watched, some talking on cell phones, others simply watching their kids intently.

Other than those two groups of children, James was alone on the ice. It was why he came this time of day, early afternoon. Even in the summer, with kids hitting the mall as a way of escaping the deathly outdoor heat, James still found mid-week skating crowds sparse.

He skated along the outer edge of the rink, enjoying the cool air against his cheeks, the way his earlobes went numb and his hands tingled. He pushed forward straight toward one end of the oval and at the last moment leaned left, curving as close as he could to the rink's edge without hitting it.

He focused on the scattered scratches on the ice, the stretching scars that reminded him of burst, broken skin.

He tried to clear his mind of everything but the past, mental checklisting his way back as he would on the return journey through the mall. Two daughters and a son, the girls near, the boy far away with his wife; Tammy at home, in the smaller house they'd moved to five years ago when the huge spaces of the home they'd shared had felt too empty to enjoy any longer; the trip to Montreal to visit distant family on a beautiful summer trip; the job he'd never had the courage to leave until retirement; the blur of the kids at school; work, love, desire, a lack of fear, laughter.

If he continued, James thought he could hold each moment in his mind like a smooth skipping stone in the hand, regarded and considered, then tossed away for another nearby token. His mind overlayed the bursts of color from the mind (lipstick red, Christmas green, purple stormy skies) over the dissected white ice of the rink.

He skated, sailed, tore up the surface with his movement.

When James felt his stomach start to cramp from the exertion, he came around one last time and slowed near the exit. He clomped on the carpet, took off his skates, opened his locker and put his own shoes on, allowing his feet the vertigo of returning to solid ground.

He thought about bringing Tammy here often. He would, one day soon, he thought. He'd only wanted to get good enough so he wouldn't embarass himself. That had been the goal when he started. It didn't seem that way anymore, not after what he'd discovered here, but it had always been something to share with Tammy, a tiny surprise, a new ability.

James turned back and leaned against the railing. He stared out at the ice and tried to see where his own marks lay, the trails of his that bissected and slashed through those of the other skaters. When he found he couldn't identify his own path across the ice, there among many, he turned and began to walk, ready to count back his way to the parking garage.



Big pimpin'

New Smallville recap. It's for "Fever." Tonight is when the Christopher Reeve episode airs, so be sure to check that out.

Last week, I wrote a review of the Spy Kids 2 DVD. The URL somehow got lost but I'll add it here as soon as I figure out what happened to it.

I went to a little Smallville convention in Houston this last weekend (oh, hush.) and was pleased to see some folks I'd met in Boston as well as people who were new to me, like Craig and Sully from They were very sweet and down to earth. Go give their site a spin.

If you're in Austin, go check out Adrian Villegas' one-man show, "Barrio Daze." I saw it about two years ago, but will probably go check it out again and see what kind of revisions and changes Adrian has made over time.

Lorenzo Lamas:
If the asshat fits...

It's icing outside! It's like snow, but harder and more apt to screw with your plants. I drove home in it last night and instead of going to the gym and running errands like I was supposed to, I holed myself inside like some damn ice hermit and watched TiVo'd episodes of "Are You Hot?" Let me tell you something. Apart from the fact that this completely and totally rips off the Web site (which the producers deny because they're obviously geniuses who came up with the concept themselves), and that Lorenzo Lamas is an asshat of nearly incalculable proportions, I, uh... I'm uh... gonna keep watching it.


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