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Roller Rink Guy
He speeds past, cutting a dark figure in black mock turtleneck and black cargo pants, black roller skates. Smoothly circling the floor at a speed higher than anyone else’s but not appearing to expend any energy whatsoever. He’s in a zone, eyes staring at nothing, his charcoal hair slicked back. I watch him—part mockingly—because I’m young, part jealously because I don’t skate well, and part wondering what a guy like that can possibly be like outside the roller rink.
Other skaters flail about, showing off for each other, laughing, yelling, doing mock disco moves to the music. Other skaters hokey pokey or bunny hop or do the Hustle when the music dictates, slipping, falling down with a bump on the hard shiny floor as they attempt to shoot the duck, or careening into the burlap covered walls. I want to practice stops and turns and backward skating but figure I’ll look foolish. Other skaters take breaks on the benches where they adjust the leather tongues that have fallen down into their skates.
Not roller rink guy. He never stops. He glides smoothly, swiftly like a bird in flight. Effortlessly he hip-switches to glide backward, never bumping into anyone, although the floor is crowded, as though he has eyes in the back of his head.
Sometimes he executes a fancy move, a trick, but it doesn’t look premeditated; rather, it seems automatic, as a response to something deep inside his subconscious.
Now it’s couple skate. I never get asked to be anyone’s partner. I don’t ever expect to. I sit on the bench and adjust my laces and think about getting licorice from the vending machine that doesn’t sell gum. My two girlfriends just skate together to “Walkin’ in Memphis.” The lights dim and the spotlight hits the spinning disco ball making starlights twinkle all over the walls and floors of Skate Heaven. Couple skate is, for some reason, more sedate.
I glance over at roller rink guy. He has snapped out of his zone and looks aware of the world for the first time all afternoon. Couples speed past him, just as, I assume, life most likely does. And love. In all his strange beauty it occurs to me he’s surely lonely.
I feel in my pocket for change and try to decide between red and black licorice.
He looks momentarily lost. Will he defy the announcer’s couple-skate edict and continue his solo flight around the rink? Or will he decide now is the time to quench his thirst or even to remove his skates and go to wherever he lives?
Wordlessly, Roller Rink Guy glides toward the gateway to the benches. He must be leaving. I’m surprised at my own disappointment. I rather enjoyed watching his soaring skills.
Looking down at my laces again, I see his black skate’s rubber stopper drag him to a halt alongside the bench where I sit and instinctively I glance up at him. Roller Rink Guy stares down at me, then, after a double-take extends his hand toward me. Against my natural inclinations, had I given it any thought, I accept his hand and rise. He leads me out onto the rink and we join the clockwise swirl of polyurethane wheels. With my arm linked in his, all his smooth energy seems to seep into my usually awkward, flailing body, and I find myself suddenly lighter, flowing, floating almost. Roller Rink Guy reaches across to grasp my other hand as well and spins me so I’m sailing backwards around the floor, and I glide without thought or fear in his confident guidance.
The song ends, and the lights come up. He thanks me in a low voice and releases my hands, then skates off alone once again, once again resuming his solo flight. I pause near the railing by the benches and watch him sail away in the sea of bodies.