It’s never cold in the beginning. My fingers still work, so I can take photos with my mobile, and do a Facebook check-in. The cold doesn’t hit until the last ten minutes of the hour, and by then, I’m so close to going home I know I’ll make it out of there alive.
I look down to my feet, and I see that I’ve managed to stomp a perfect square into the snow, and that makes me happy. I’d smile, but the muscles on my face won’t move anymore. I look out to the ice to see if Daughter is still skating around in circles. She is. I look at the clock at the other end of the field, and note that I still have seven minutes to go.
My fingers are cold now so I’m keeping my hands in fists inside my gloves. My toes are also cold, and I can’t wait to get to the car, when the blood starts to circulate in my toes again, and I get that tingling sensation in them.
I remember walking past the Royal Castle in a snow storm with Wife ten years ago, with my teeth chattering. She told me to relax instead
“If you’re freezing, you shouldn’t fight it, you should just relax,” she said.
I answered her with the sound of chattering teeth.
“It’s true, my sister told me that,” she insisted, and with both of them sisters now against me, I exhaled and relaxed.
And I exhale now, at the edge of this bandy field, and my shoulders drop. I see Daughter coming back towards me, following her coaches, and giving me a quick look. She does that to see if I’m watching, so I lift my left arm and give her a thumbs-up with the empty thumb of my glove.
She waves, and accelerates to catch up with the coach.
It doesn’t seem that long ago I was inside a hockey rink, wearing a hockey sock in my head, circling around an empty rink, shooting the puck to an empty net, then picking it up, shooting it against the boards, and skating to the other end to do the same.
We were supposed to have a hockey practice that day, but with the mercury dropping on the thermometer below our official minus-15 degrees Celsius limit, most of the other guys had either gone home, or had never showed up in the first place.
I had stayed for three reasons. One, I really liked to play and since I already was there, I figured I might as well go out and shoot some pucks. Second, it was the cool thing to do, and acted as a testament to my true love of the game — or at least that was the story the next day at school.
And third, I had to stay in case my fans showed up. They were there for most of our games, and practices, and sometimes after school, I’d see them sitting outside their apartment building close to my school, and I’d stop, and we’d talk, and I’d make them laugh, and then ride home feeling pretty good about myself.
It was so cold that after just a few minutes, my face was so frozen I couldn’t really talk anymore, because I couldn’t move my mouth. And then I saw the group of three young girls walk towards the rink, and the three of them stand there side by side, watching us goof around. I saw one of them make a small wave-like gesture to me, so I nodded slightly, then picked up the puck, and took a shot. I missed the net, and the puck hit the chicken wire behind the net, and disappeared inside a white cloud of puff as the puck hit the frost off the wire.
I skated towards the girls.
“No practice today. Optional, actually. Too cold,” I said.
“It sure is cold,” said the tallest one.
“Yup,” I said, turned around, and went back to shooting the puck.
They stayed there for twenty minutes, and then walked back to the rink cafeteria. I played some more and then went to the dressing room and peeled the skin off my ears.
I guess I should have known they’d make me stay at the hospital when they gave me a bath, but I was only five years old, so I didn’t know much about things like that, and the truth became obvious to me soon enough anyway.
The water flowed from the faucet, and the nurse was trying to make me sit.
“It’s too hot,” I said.
She turned the tape a little to make the water colder.
“Now,” she said.
I put my hand under the flowing water.
“Still too hot,” I said. “It’s hot.”
The nurse kept on turning off the hot water, and I kept on telling her the water was still too warm. It was too warm, I wanted it colder.
The nurse looked at my father with a puzzled look on her face. He looked at her and shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “He does like the cold.”