I’d never seen the Potomac River frozen. It was solid ice all the way to the Virginia side. But full of lumps and chunks. Not smooth like at the skating rink where I took lessons.
“We’re going to skate across?” I asked, my stomach tumbling when I looked to the far shore.
“You bet we are,” said my Dad, play-punching me on the shoulder. “It doesn’t freeze hard like this much. You’re never going to forget this day.”
“But Mom said—”
“Don’t worry about your mother,” he interrupted, his breath pluming white clouds in the cold air. “I’m your Dad and I know what I’m doing.”
— — —
That morning at our house in Arlington, my Dad had come into the dining room wearing a heavy coat and holding his hockey skates. He handed me mine. “We’re going ice-skating.”
“At the IcePlex?” I asked, excited to try the new Bauers I had gotten for Christmas.
“No. Someplace better.” He looked down at me, smiling his salesman smile. “It’ll be an adventure.”
When we reached the front hall, I heard my Mom behind us. “Are you sure about this, Bob?” She had that stressed sound in her voice.
My Dad pushed the front door open. “Quit worrying,” he said, tossing the words over his back. “I’ll watch him.”
“But—” The door slammed shut on her.
“Women,” he said, snorting through his nose as we walked on the soft snow to the car. He put his arm around me. “Always listen to me, not them.”
My Dad was smart. He said he was number one in sales in his job. He’d bought me a 10-speed racing bike for my birthday and laughed about the great deal he’d made on it. I listened to him.
— — —
We sat on the cold dock at the river’s edge in Georgetown and put on our skates. The wind whipped and searched for openings in my thick winter clothes. There was a smell of burning wood in the air. And the Virginia shore seemed so far away.
We started off from the dock, doing more hiking than skating. There were giant slabs of ice jutting up everywhere. Some were so high I grabbed their tops as I stepped and slid around them.
After an hour or so, we finally reached a flat area about halfway, and my Dad stopped. “Look around,” he shouted, spinning a circle on his skates, arms out wide. “Do you see anyone else out here? Isn’t this a good adventure?”
There was no one in any direction. We were alone in the middle of the frozen river. And I wondered why.
I looked down at the dark ice with white veins crisscrossing it. In spots, I could see the black water moving under us. Bubbles and leaves flowed with the current.
Suddenly, my Mom’s concern hit me. “Dad?” I asked, a panicky feeling rising inside me. He had skated a short distance away.
Before my smart Dad could answer, I heard the crack.