The ice is so hard and cold and the arena spins around and around, so white and shiny and yet so technicolour: turquoise and pink, cyan and red, artificial and unloving in a way she should be used to but never will be. They tell her that her name means birth, call her Natalia or Natasha. They shift around her, eyes trained and hungry, watching jump after jump, spin after spin and they say, you could be Russian. You are good enough. You will go somewhere. Where? Who knows. But somewhere.
We’re going to a new town in November, Maman says. Avignon. What? Doesn’t Papa live there now? Does he? I don’t know. Anyway, don’t worry, angel, they have a rink. You will get your practice. You will still be a superstar, my darling.
She laughs sadly. She flicks a tendril of hair from her eyes and it falls straight back. She slumps over the packing as if she has given up. The world seems to be getting darker. The rink doesn’t even look light or white any more. Black spots dance before Noelle’s eyes and blinking doesn’t make them go away.
The water is so bright and blue. The Rhône, they call it. It is like a sapphire. It feels like winter here. In the city it never did, especially not when Noelle was standing on a field of ice. It felt like she existed outside of the world, in a strange, loud, flashy season that never changed. Here she walks into silence as thick as wind. She crouches by the tall grass, sees fish darting and birds hopping on the bank that falls away from her feet. The trees are brown and gold and orange – earthy colours. Or earthly. She’d forgotten they could be real. She breathes out. She settles under the famous, broken bridge, legs crossed. She is chilly. There is no one there. She stays.
It is in December that he arrives: a tall goat-like thing, scraggly and smug. He is not malevolent, she can tell. He doesn’t talk much. He just tells her it is getting colder.
Five days a week the new rink swirls around her and blurs her senses. She lands more jumps than ever before and they cheer. New them. Same noise. Same eyes. Same loss of anything that matters. More darkness. More and more and more.
Winter creeps on and the Rhône freezes. She slips to the bank every night after practice. Under the bridge she curls, knees tucked under her chin. The ice on the river glimmers silver and gold in the late sun. He is there, and he dances around her, his long green scarf clinging to him like a vine as he smirks at her skates and sings softly, hypnotically. Words from some other place and time.
“Go on. Go on. I want to see you.
Go on. It will hold.”
Right. Axel. Good. Land. Hand in the air, don’t touch the ice. It stings, so cold like the edge of a can. Sharp. Head up. Arms out, now spin, gracious. Yes. One leg up, good, now loop, now flip. Excellent. Keep going. Hear your heart crying out, feel your blood washing inside your face in a way it never has, feel the momentum, the motion, the pulse, as you go round and round, round and round, everything building and burning as if preparing for the moment
when it all will stop.
Elizabeth Gibson was announced as a New North Poet at the 2017 Northern Writers’ Awards. Her writing has appeared in Cake, The Cardiff Review, The Compass, Creative Review, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Litro and The Poetry Shed. She edits Foxglove Journal and the Word Life section of Now Then Manchester, tweets @Grizonneand blogs at http://elizabethgibsonwriter.blogspot.co.uk.