Authors: Michele Weber Hurwitz
“Becca, can you do your hair in the car?” Mom asks, looking a bit annoyed. “We’re late as it is, and you know those coaches.…” She taps her watch. “Let’s go, before they kick you off the team.”
Becca gives me a slight shove after she pulls herself up from the floor. “Alex and I didn’t get to stay by ourselves when we were your age,” she says. “Why should you get special privileges just because you’re the baby of the family?” She crosses her arms in front of her chest and raises her eyebrows, as if daring me to come up with an answer.
“Put the pretzels away,” Mom tells me. Then she claps her hands and says those words I dread. “C’mon, Calli, chop-chop.”
“Chop-chop” means we have to take my brother or sister somewhere, and I get to sit in the way back of a minivan that hasn’t been washed in a very long time and watch my life whiz past through a grimy, sticky, steamed-up window.
“We haven’t got all day,” Mom adds.
I clip the pretzel bag, return it to the pantry, then grab my jacket and follow them into the garage. Becca is hobbling in front of me, dragging her skating bag across the dusty floor. “It might be nice if one of you could give me a hand here,” she complains, but Mom plops onto the driver’s seat and motions for me to climb in back.
Before I’m even buckled, Mom zooms backward out of the driveway. She drives too fast, because we’re always late and rushing to get somewhere. Plus she has this habit of tacking the day’s Post-it notes to the steering wheel, and she keeps glancing down at them instead of paying attention to her driving.
After Becca finally finishes her ponytail, she announces, “By the way, I’m out of lead.”
“Lead?” Mom asks as the car veers to the right. “You mean the kind for a mechanical pencil?”
“Yes,” Becca answers, “and I have
much homework tonight.”
Mom glances in the rearview mirror. “I don’t know if I’ll have time to get your lead today. Can’t you just use a regular pencil?”
Becca sneers. “I don’t think so.”
“Mom?” I jump in. “I need something for school too.”
She sighs and makes a sharp turn. “Didn’t we get you everything you needed for school back in August?”
“Mrs. Lamont said we needed a new spiral notebook. For something special.”
“Well, if you’re going to get her a spiral, you can get my lead,” Becca interrupts.
“Enough, you two. I’ll see how my timing is later.”
The clock on the dashboard says 4:57. Mom speeds up. Becca’s practice starts at five. I turn to the window and wipe in a circle with my fingers, clearing the glass. The late October sky is patched with skinny streaks of pink and purple and orange. It reminds me of rays and line segments in geometry, all those intersecting angles and shapes in sunset colors. I don’t bother to point this out to Mom and Becca, who are arguing about Becca’s supposedly twisted ankle. I know by now that I’m the only one in the Gold family who notices things like that.
Mom swerves into a parking space and I follow her and my sister through the doors of the skating rink.
I know by now that I’m the only one in the Gold family who notices a lot of things.
he skating rink looks the same as it always does: dark and dull and gray. It has a mixed aroma of smelly feet and burnt popcorn from the concession stand. There isn’t a single window in the entire place, and the floor is covered in black rubber so the skaters can walk around without damaging their blades.
Every time I’m here, I look up at the neon orange banner with the first initials and last names of the skaters from last year’s team. It hangs brightly from the ceiling. Becca’s is right in the center:
I can’t help thinking the banner proclaims my family’s philosophy—Be Gold … because why would you be anything else?
A plaque hangs in the gym where my brother, Alex, played travel basketball last year. It has the names of all the players on his team, plus a listing of their winning
record, game by game. So that one says
and even has a photo of the team above the names.
Dad is very proud of the B. Gold banner and the A. Gold plaque and he tells everyone about them. There is yet to be a C. Gold banner or plaque or even a small ribbon anywhere in town, but Dad says my time is coming and I will soon find my passion.
Becca flounces over to her teammates and throws her bag on the floor. They look like identical copies of each other, with their huffy expressions, black eyeliner, glittery eye shadow, and high, straight-haired ponytails. While Becca starts getting her skates on, Mom and the other skating mothers take over a few tables near the concession stand. They spread out their folders and papers, sip from cups of coffee, and talk on their cell phones. They look serious, because as Mom says, synchronized skating is very important business. I wonder if all these mothers were once project managers too.
A few of them are wearing their black satin jackets with
sewn in loopy letters on the back. That’s the name of Becca’s team: the Synchronettes. When the girls and the moms and the coaches all huddle together in their matching jackets before a competition, they look like a small army ready to take on the entire world.
The usual skating rink siblings are here: Jeremy and Jordan, the five-year-old twin boys who race to the
fountain, then shoot water at each other through the spaces in their teeth; the black-haired kid who wears black jeans and a black hoodie that says
, and never talks to anyone; and the little blond toddler who always has food stains on her face and wails nonstop.
The coach of the skating team marches over and I hear her shout, “Let’s go, girls. We have a lot to get through today!” Becca says this year’s coach is brutal. Her name is Coach Ruth but the girls call her Coach Ruthless. Becca never looks very happy when she’s coming here or when she’s on the ice, so I’m not sure why she skates. Wouldn’t it be better to find something she really likes to do? More of my advice she’ll never listen to.
As the girls parade off after Coach Ruthless, I wander over by the area everyone calls the arcade. It’s really just three old, beat-up video games. There are one of those unwinnable prize machines with the crane, a hockey-foosball game that barely works, and a car-racing game with an accelerator that’s permanently stuck to the ground because Jeremy and Jordan jam wads of gum behind it every week.
I’m watching the screen of the racing game, which keeps showing a car that veers off the track, rams into a wall, and explodes, when I realize I forgot to bring a book. I’m going to have nothing to do for an hour and a half. A mixture of mad and sad comes over me, but then something unusual catches my eye. I see a kid lying completely
still under the hockey-foosball game. He’s small and skinny, maybe about seven or eight, wearing a dark blue winter jacket and jeans.
I know all of the skating team’s little brothers but I’ve never seen this kid before. I walk over to the hockey-game table and circle it a few times to see if he stirs. Finally, I crouch down and take a close-up look. He’s still lying perfectly motionless and I’m not even sure if he’s breathing. Behind his gold-wire-framed glasses, his eyes are closed. His hair is kind of messy, like he never combed it this morning. Uneven spikes of light brown stick up in lots of directions. No one else seems to have noticed him. I feel a little worried. What if he fainted or got sick? Where is his mom, or dad, or babysitter? And why is he wearing a winter jacket? It’s not even that cold out.
“Excuse me,” I say softly. “Hey? Are you okay?”
“Are you sick or something? Did you hurt yourself?” I gently place my hand on top of his jacket.
No answer. Maybe he just fell asleep.
“Do you want me to get someone?” I ask. “Is your mom here?”
I decide to tell Mom about the kid. When I reach her, she’s deep in conversation with one of the other skating team mothers. I wait politely at her side until I can’t stand it anymore. “Mom,” I say quietly. She looks at me sort of
vacantly. “Mom, there’s this kid …” I point in the direction of the arcade.
“Calli,” she sighs. “I’m in the middle of a conversation. Can it wait?”
“But, Mom,” I plead, “he’s lying on the floor and … what if something’s wrong?”
She has already turned back to the other mom and I’m sure she didn’t hear me. “Barb,” she says, “the costumes were supposed to be sapphire with rhinestones, not some drab blue with a few splatters of glitter! This is a huge mistake and we don’t have time to reorder. The first competition is in less than eight weeks!”
I wait another few seconds but Mom keeps talking. I walk back to the hockey game, and sure enough, the kid’s still there. I don’t know what to do, so I wander inside the rink and watch Becca’s team for a few minutes. They’re practicing their pass-through, a pretty cool move where two parallel lines of skaters head toward each other like they’re going to crash; then the lines weave through each other. Becca looks grumpy, and I can see big wet spots on the knees of her tights, which means she fell. Coach Ruthless looks aggravated and mad.
In the last two years, Becca’s team never scored high enough in any competition to beat the Lady Reds, the regional champs, but Ruthless says this season is going to be different. I heard Becca tell Dad that the coach was “out for blood,” which sounded kind of scary to me. Dad’s response was “Well, you want to win, don’t you?”
The team finishes the routine and Ruthless stops the music. “Again,” she demands, and the girls skate back to their starting positions. “Gold,” I hear Ruthless call out. “Over here.” She points to a spot on the ice next to where she’s standing. Becca skates over and stops, then rubs the backs of her arms like she’s cold. I can’t hear anything, but the coach is talking to Becca, and Becca’s not saying a word. The coach has her back to me, so I can’t see her face, but if I took a guess, I’d bet she isn’t complimenting Becca on her eye makeup.
I go back to the arcade, and the kid still hasn’t moved an inch. I bend down again and gently shake his shoulder. “Listen, please tell me if you’re okay,” I say. “ ’Cause I’m getting a little concerned here.”
After a few seconds, this tiny voice, muffled and quiet-sounding, says, “Go away.”
I’m so startled that I jerk upward and bang my head on the edge of the game table. As I’m rubbing the spot that is sure to grow into a goose egg, the kid squirms and wriggles and drags a sleeve across his nose, then goes back to lying completely still.
When he moved, his jacket opened a little, and I can read the tag that says
THIS JACKET BELONGS TO.
The name written below, in black marker, is Noah Zullo.
“Is that your name?” I ask, still rubbing my head. “Noah Zullo?”
He doesn’t respond.
“Do you have a sister on the skating team?” I ask.
Noah Zullo ignores me.
“Fine. Okay. Lay here for the rest of your life if that’s what you want to do.”
I stomp away and think about Wanda and Claire, my best friends since kindergarten, and how they’re probably all cozy and warm inside their calm, quiet houses, eating delicious home-cooked dinners. Probably with a pie or peppermint ice cream for dessert. Wanda has one brother and he’s away at college. Claire is an only child and her dad is always going on business trips, to somewhere like India or Ireland or Indonesia. I can’t remember—something with an “I.”
Claire’s dad brings her a present every time he comes home. She has collections of snow globes, dolls from other countries, and miniature glass animals. They sit on her bookshelves and no one can shake them or play with them or touch them, not even Wanda or me. My guess is Claire doesn’t touch them either. She just stares at them with a sad face, especially during the long weeks when her dad is gone. I’ve never asked her about it, but I have a feeling she’d rather have her dad around instead of the collections.
I sink into a chair at one of the empty tables in the concession area and find a newspaper that someone left behind. I flip to the comics and read my favorites, only three strips, but none of them are very funny today.