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Will There Be Any Stars?

The rink gate is chained so we stand on a snowbank to climb the boards. Lacey hops over first and sticks the landing like a gymnast, then grabs me by the back of my coat, pulls me onto the ice. I land on my ass. Dan and Markus don’t notice. They’ve already dropped their backpacks in the penalty box and are pulling their laces tight. By the time I get up and shuffle over to the bench and open my bag, the others are skating in circles, carving up the ice with their blades.

I sit on the bench and ease off my boots. My wool socks feel prickly in the cold. We’re hidden from the dead-end street by a bank of spruce trees, but the moon makes me a little nervous, like it’s my mother watching. She loves to tell everyone the story of how I was born on a full moon, at home, a month early. The midwife got there just in time to catch me. My mom was by herself in the kitchen, squatting with her hands up on the counter and a tea towel underneath her. A pork chop was still sizzling on the stove. The midwife took one look at me and called me Agongos, which means chipmunk, because I had pretty fat cheeks for being a month undercooked. She figured it was my fat head that saved me, that kept me stuck inside my mom long enough for her to get there. They joked about how I’d smelled the pork chop and come running. Mom can’t seem to let go of that one.

My fingers are freezing by the time I finish the bow at the top of my second skate. I haven’t skated in a couple of years, not since those winter days we walked the creek between the elementary school and the rink. Single file with our skates slung over our shoulders, shuffling in our snow pants. I’d slip and fall every hundred metres or so, but after the first couple of times, no one would bother to help me up anymore. Our teacher’s red toque was our guide. When she’d round a corner, disappear behind a clump of snowy trees, it seemed we were on our own. Maybe the snowflakes would blind us. Maybe we’d lose our way and wander through the forest, be eaten by wolves.

Now my skates are too small, my toes scrunched inside. I ease myself along the ice but hold onto the boards. Lacey twirls like a pinwheel, trying to impress Dan and Markus. Her yellow hair is loose under her hat and the tips fan around her. The guys make wolf sounds. They howl at the moon.

Lacey’s good at everything except school. She’s good at getting people to do what she wants and eating small quantities. She never has to try to be cool or worry that she’s not cool but doesn’t know it. Lacey doesn’t have to wear Sorels or the kind of clothes my mother makes me wear. Her mother lets her do whatever she wants. Lacey gets to be whoever she wants to be.

My mom, she doesn’t care for my army surplus or Doc Martens. She’s the first in her family to have a university degree and she’s not about to let people forget that. Last Christmas, just like every other Christmas, I got an expensive new winter coat. This one’s even worse than the last. Navy, cinched waist, makes my bum look twice as big as it is. On Boxing Day Mom put all my old coats in our band’s charity box. I felt sorry for the girls on the reserve whose mothers would make them wear them too, but even sorrier for myself.

Before that first day back at school in January, Mom stood behind me at the hall mirror and smiled with her hands on my shoulders. I stared at my reflection. She pulled my hair into three sections and started braiding it, holding an elastic between her teeth. “No,” she said. “You do not look skid. You look exactly like a girl your age should.” She kissed the top of my head. Not for the first time, I resented that she smelled of Chanel No. 5 and was on her way to her important job. Seems to me the more successful she is, the bossier she gets. My mother is a director at the Thunder Bay Native Canadian Fellowship Centre. She’s a large woman. Not fat, just big everywhere. Her shoulders are wide and straight, and her hair lies in a single, perfect braid over one shoulder. There is no arguing with my mother. When I was twelve, she came home from work and caught me watching The Young and the Restless. Well, didn't she throw out the TV. Just like that: unplugged it, wrapped the cord around it and carried it out the door. “You think that’s love?” she said. She threw her hands in the air and laughed. Her belly and breasts shook with the effort, her feather earrings swayed. I skulked to my room and looked at the Seventeen hidden under my mattress. I wished to be beautiful.

That coat has caused me nothing but problems ever since. When Lacey first saw me wearing it, she asked me why I insisted on dressing like a preppy. She tried to give me one of her old jackets. I got it on, but the two halves of the zipper wouldn’t meet.

“I keep telling you to stop eating so much,” she said.

This was an excerpt from "Will There Be Any Stars?" by Suzannah Windsor, featured in Geist 103.

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