SCENE 8 – Reminiscences II
The sled was tumbling down the hill with jets of snow bursting aside. Utena's mother held her close on her lap, as Utena gleed – feeling the rush in her gut, and then the sled slowing down as it reached the bottom.
It was very bright outside, with the sky almost a pure white and the snow everywhere on the field where everyone was playing, running about, throwing snowballs and making snowmen of the wildest variety; like a Winter Wonderland.
Her dad was working overtime today, so it was just Utena and her mother, the two of them. They got out of their sled, and hauled it out of the way so the next family could slide. "Weeeee!"
After the sled was put away in the car, Utena had her tongue stuck out, tasting the snowflakes which were falling. It tasted wet and sorta tingly. Then she gathered up some snow between her gloves, and threw the snow high into the air; and for a moment, the snow seemed to merge with the pale sky before descending like a mist.
Utena stuck out her tongue, and she caught a bunch of snowflakes on her tongue – and her face. Oof. She brushed the whiteness off from her cheeks and hair, before feeling the numbness in her mouth, like after drinking too much cold pop at once. Some of the snow got into her coat also. That was fun.
Another boy decided to try the same thing, throwing a bunch of snow in the air, and sticking his tongue out. Utena giggled as he fell backwards on his tushie, as if he was shy about catching snow over his face.
There was a river, where the stream flowed in Downtown's direction. Now it was covered by ice, and people skated all over on it, with lines trailing where they've danced and pranced before. Some of those lines could even be from those figure skaters on TV, and that very thought made Utena excited. She was sitting down with her mom on the sidelines, watching the people skate, their skates etching memories upon the ice.
Utena had never tried skating before, so she decided to try stepping onto the ice, even if she was only wearing her boots.
"Be careful, Utena!" her mother said.
It felt quite awkward to move along the slippery ice – Utena found herself taking steps more than gliding with ease like everyone else was. She had to steady herself by catching hold of the nearest guy around, and wandering over to the next.
There was a young couple, twirling in circles, whose faces almost seemed to melt into each others, like they were in their own insular snowglobe where you get to turn the handle and watch the figures move.
And there was a girl, going across slowly as she was just getting the hang of skating. Her knees were wobbling and eventually she fell over, and her mom and dad went over to pick her up as she was sobbing.
"It's okay," her mom said, holding her. "It's alright.."
Utena found herself trying to hold back tears from her own eyes. For some reason she wanted to cry along too. Things like that would happen; after all, skating is a sport that takes time to master the finesse needed for movement. The girl's parents took her away.
"The river is mine!" Utena heard behind her. "The river is mine!"
Someone squared her in the shoulder, making Utena trip flat onto her side. She saw that it was a guy, weaving his way forth with unimaginable speed, laughing madly. He knocked other people out of his way as he made rounds. "The river, it is mine! Mwahahaha!"
The pair of skates the gym offered looked old and worn. They were tan leather socks that happened to have blades attached underneath, like an afterthought. Utena saw that the other skaters seemed to have much more fancier skates than hers – sleek black skates, red skates with protruded blading..
Her mama had paid to allow Utena to borrow these skates; while Utena would skate in the arena, she would be sitting amongst the front row seats, looking out for when Utena would emerge from the gates.
"Those skates have no ankle support," someone remarked, as Utena was lacing her skates on the bench. "You should get a pair of your own." It made Utena blush, a little ashamed that she'd have to undergo an inferior experience, and anxious about how people might notice her ugly duckling slippers.
She tried not to think about it too much – she finished lacing her skates up, and wondered how she would make it over to the ice rink, having to stand on those thinly blades. She held onto the bench, tried standing up, and felt her feet buckle before she sat back down.
"If you want to walk, you have your feet shaped like an outward V," someone said – a woman who was standing with her skates out like a V. "Is this your first time?"
"Where's your Mom and Dad?" the woman asked.
"My mom's on the bleachers.." Utena said. "She doesn't really know how to skate. And my Dad's still at work."
"Gee." The woman knelt, putting a foot on the bench, and untied her skates. "I'll tell you what, here's a piece of advice. Don't look at your feet too much, and always keep your sense of balance with you. I'm sure you'll get the gist of things once you try skating."
When Utena waddled over to the rink's entrance, she could hear the music playing over the speakers, the pop music from the radio – not unlike the music she'd heard that the figure skaters were dancing to. She anxiously approached the gate.
The rink seemed to stretch all the way forth, an expanse of icy whiteness, with the people skating by in their own time. Utena peeked around the gate to find the comforting sight of Mom – where was Mom? There she was, waving behind the window, an encouraging smile on her face. Utena waved back; she felt very elated, the inner anxiety having dissipated away, and thus she made her first stride on the ice.
The glide upon her left skate slowly took Utena forward, and she continued with her right skate, and then her left again. Then her right.
Surely enough, she was going forward at walking pace, traversing the middle of the rink where she was careful about getting hit by one of the fast-moving skaters. It seemed like good progress, and Utena began grinning to herself. Easy does it there.
She glanced at the ceiling, where the announcing banner cube-thing hung and the overhead lights shone from a heavenly distance; these lights seemed like UFOs that might eventually come down and abduct everyone in the rink.
Then Utena ran into the wall and fell on her bum, ouch!
While she was laying down, she wondered if the champion figure skaters would also stare at the lights and bump into walls – maybe not. She waited, as the skaters passed her by, until one of them stopped to help Utena up.
"Upsy-daisy," the man went. "I used to bump into things like you before, until I watched where my skates are going."
"It's my first time," Utena explained.
"Oh? What's your name little lady?"
"You can call me.. Spike." He shook her hand. "A pleasure meeting you."
Spike helped Utena steady herself on her skates. It was like riding a bike – where it seemed at first you would wobble and fall off on two thinly wheels, until you got the hang of keeping a certain momentum, and the momentum would keep you steady while you put your focus elsewhere.
To stretch the bicycle metaphor further, you would lean in the direction you want to turn, and you would pivot your skates accordingly, thrusting your skates for additional momentum if necessary.
And to stop, you brushed your skates sideways, as if to sweep the ice with the blade.
"You get it?" Spike said.
Practising the movements delighted Utena so much, warming her heart, and she was just as delighted to show off to Mom what she'd learned, skating the perimeter of the rink, almost making a perfect figure-eight in her trails.
But it was growing late, and Mom was waving at Utena that they should head home. Utena didn't want to leave – she was only getting started, yearning to learn the fantastical moves that happened on TV.
"Your mother's right, Utena, I shouldn't be keeping you," Spike said. "Those moves take lots and lots of time and dedication to do, and you can fall and hurt yourself just as much as they impress. But with plenty of luck and determination.. I think you'll make it."
"Will I see you again?" Utena said, as Spike was leading her to the gates.
That evening when the figure-skating programme was on, Utena watched and watched – she had her dinner bowl by her lap, filled with clovered herb noodles and meatballs. She wasn't concentrating on eating though (however tasty the dinner was); all the figure skaters for the night were spilling out onto the rink. The skaters were grouped into couples this time, each man having a woman's hand.
It turned out it was a couples skating event.
Utena ferociously ate through her dinner bowl, as she skimmed through each of the couples in their stylized dress (and occasional makeup), like they were wearing slimmer versions of the sorts of costumes she'd see on Saturday mornings.
She saw each of the couples dance, skirting the middle of the rink, twirling each other round and round, the woman holding the man up in the air as if he were as light as feathers. Utena so wanted to be able to do those things – the bravado of it must be like a prince making a rescue of his dearest princess.
And then she saw him. There he was, Spike, from the gym – he was a professional figure skater! Who knew? How Utena cherished her memories she had learning from him, especially now after the fact; and now he looked especially marvellous tonight in his gentlemanly, rugged shirt. A pale woman was beside him, a femme fatale dressed to seduce and allure in her exquisite outfit.
Utena began to feel weird, a strange sort of feeling (or more like a sensation) roused in her as she saw the woman deliver a kiss on Spike's cheek. And they waved to the audience, with the roars of cheering and clapping that echoed throughout the stadium.
When their skate music began playing, Utena saw them jazz, a swish and a swoosh. But with plenty of luck and determination.. I think you'll make it. Spike's words echoed in her thoughts as she witnessed his majestic manuevers with the woman, along with that strange feeling.. a lull that ran through her heart and in her gut.
Then there was the unfurling of the woman's outfit – revealing radiant butterfly wings on her back, that shined pink with reflected light, and the audience murmured and wooed as Spike held the woman above him, and threw her into the air.
It seemed like an eternity as the woman lingered over the ice, flipping over, as Spike skated over to catch her when she landed – and that was the end of their performance.
"Wonderful!" Utena's dad said, clapping to the thunderous applause of the TV. "Utena, now I know why you like skating so much! This is absolutely marvellous!"
"Isn't it?" Utena said – the feeling in her gut was still churning and churning, and she began to realise what it was.
"That was Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine," the announcer said, "Noel's Theme!"
She was jealous. Jealous of the woman who was with Spike, jealous that it wasn't her instead at his side. Why didn't Spike mention that he would be performing? Utena could have asked him a thousand times over to be with him when it came to it, and maybe Spike could had changed his mind and allowed her to dance with him..
Utena desperately pleaded for her parents to visit the gym again; the next time, Spike was nowhere to be found – she looked and looked for his face in the rink and the seats, but he didn't seem to be anywhere. She was tempted to try sneaking into the Men's dressing room, but she was too old to pretend she still needed her Dad to help dress.
She thought about the woman Faye, who had performed alongside him – and Faye also wasn't there.
All Utena could do was just practise her skating strokes for an hour or so, wondering if either of them were to show up sometime. It wouldn't feel the same otherwise if she were to ask anyone else nearby.
Since Utena seemed to like practising so much, her parents eventually took her out shopping for a pair of skates, looking from venue to venue for the best deal around. In one of the larger places, there was a huge gathering of girls around a sign: HOSHI TOSHI ICE SKATES MARK III, ENTER A TICKET TO WIN ONE FREE!
"Hoshi Toshi skates!" some girl said. "Cross-cut picks, edge enhancement technology, it's one of the best!"
"Mama! Papa! I want a ticket!" Utena piped, notioning at the sign, before tugging at her dad's arm. "Please please please, can we enter in one..?" She made the most cutest face she could muster, and her dad said, "Promise you'll eat your veggies if we win?"
"I'll eat 'em, but please let me get a ticket, pleease?!"
So her dad with all his strength lifted Utena up, up onto his back, and started wiggling his way into the crowd, shouting, "My darling girl wants in! Make way, make way for my princess!"
The girls were all coming in, some of them trying to find their way out of the crowd. Utena's dad soon managed to get to where he could see the poor salesman who was trying his best to stay out of everyone's way (and get breathing space).
"Hey," Dad said to the salesman, "does it count if I enter one in too, and also for my wife?"
The salesman nodded.
Utena's dad shuffled over to the table, where he grabbed three tickets and wrote down their names. He had to fight off the myriads of hands reaching for the ticket slot, but he made it, ta-da! And he weaved his way outta there.
"Who's the winner now, eh?" her dad said. "We are!"
"Yes!" Utena said, high-fiving her dad.
"We still gotta buy you a pair today," Mom went. "Don't you want to skate? We might even get two skates instead of one."
When they were done shopping, Utena didn't get any skates. That one pair which she'd wanted was on a heavy discount, and it also happened to be the last one of its kind available. But another family with a little girl managed to get it first however, and the bickering which ensured between Utena's parents and them lasted for quite a while.
Until Utena remembered, it was that girl who fell over on the ice,and her mom and dad held her as she was sobbing. "It's okay," her mom had said, holding her. "It's alright.."
It was a family just like hers, and Utena realized – this was finally a moment when she could offer the girl a bit of happiness. So she persuaded her own parents to give it to the girl, leaving herself empty-handed; Utena's parents still wanted to take the opportunity of that discount, so they thought the skates would be on stock later.
It turned out those skates – the pearl ones – happened to be desired by many others; it was one of the store's most popular sales, and even after coming back the next day, and the day after, Utena's family didn't get it.
Even so, Utena saw that girl in the field, gliding along the river, enjoying those new pearl skates, and that made Utena happy inside – like she had done a very good thing; a noble and exquisite thing.
"Utena.." she heard – it was her mother. "Psst!"
"Mmnmmph.." Utena didn't want to wake up and open her eyes; she was feeling contently rested, but her eyes were still in that droopy state.
"Utena.." her mama went.
She slowly opened her eyes.
On her other pillow were those pearl skates, resting soundly beside her. Utena really opened her eyes wide with joy, hardly believing that they were there, even when her little fingers felt the contours of the skates - the alabaster laces, the tip, and the chrome blade. The skates almost seemed like a delicate thing, that might shatter into pieces if she handled them too rough.
Her mama and papa were smiling, their eyes resting with Utena's. "They just await your little feet," Mom said.
"I.. I.." Utena went, her heart feeling like a balloon about to burst, overflowing with happiness.
"Your mama, she woke me up early in the morning," Dad said. "She had the thought of going to the store, just when the mall was opening, and we got one of those babies, right in time just before you know it. Merry Christmas."
Utena just hugged her parents so, crying into their shoulders, in a moment of love so tender, yet all too fragile and ephemeral.
"Thank you so much," she finally said. "Merry Christmas too."
1st CANTOR: Appropinquat agnis pastor et ovibus pascendis.
2nd CANTOR: Genua nunc flectantur omnia.
1st CANTOR: Jussit olim Jesus Petrum pascere gregem Domini.
2nd CANTOR: Ecce Petrus Pontifex Maximus.
1st CANTOR: Gaudeat igitur populus Christi, et gratias agat Domino.
2nd CANTOR: Nam docebimur a Spiritu sancto.
CHOIR: Ahleluia, ahleluia—
The ceremony at the church was brief, and its intensity would have became unendurable for Utena had it been a tad longer. A smell of sweet evergreen pervaded from the smoking lantern the grand priest held, and it made Utena's breath keep choking up in her throat.
Before the high altar, the Virgin Mary in tears was clutching three spikes in her hand, and beside her was a statue of Christ descended from the cross. The church attendees were standing in line to kiss Christ's wounds; some of them were sitting between the pews.
It was a very special Saturday, the day before Christmas day, this occasion meant to celebrate Christ's noble suffering for the purest of things, God's everlasting love, and the dignity that there was in it. Utena was being paid extra to serve a role as an assistant – ringing the silver bell during the ceremony and just being present for those people.
Then she spotted Spike. He wasn't in line to kiss Christ, he was heading over to the confessional booth, and knelt while waiting for someone to come by and listen.
Utena's heart leapt. She was so happy to see him again that she blushed; she wondered if nobody would mind her absence as a spiritual paperweight, and looked around before creeping over to the confessional.
In an instant, without anyone noticing, Utena popped inside the confessional, shutting the little door below and drawing open the violet curtain. On the other side of the grille, just a few inches away, that face which had lingered at the back of her mind, looking down in a bout of reflection.
"Forgive me Padre," Spike said, "for I have sinned—"
"I forgive you," Utena said.
Spike looked over at her - surprized that it was her, that girl he'd met in the gym, and then amused upon recognizing who she was. "Madre Utena— what an unexpected pleasure!"
"Hehe." Utena was blushing all the more. In the candlelight, Spike's eyes were beautiful and tender, moreso than she'd remembered. "I saw you skate on TV," she managed to say.
"How did you like my performance?" he asked, studying her. "Was it any good?"
"I loved it."
"Thank you. And did they grant you the priviledge of absolving sins?" he said.
"I dunno.. I can try."
"I haven't told you yet what I've sinned for," Spike said. "It may be a little much for you, but do you want to listen still?"
Utena nodded, and so Spike cleared his throat.
"Okay. Utena.. I am a phony."
"Yeah. A phony, a fake. I've been pretending all along, and people didn't know it. I pretended to be a figure skater. I danced with Faye in the rink, making those moves, finding the ultimate joy in the doing – and because of that, I can never skate anymore.
"Little does anyone else know, I broke my hip while on a hiking trip, and the doctors told me it'll take about a year to fully recover. It really hurts, I can tell you that. But the skating event was coming far too soon for my needs, and I.. I wanted to show everyone, myself, my family, my coach and audience – just one more time, a beautiful dance in the ice palace. I never told anyone that my hip was still disjointed – I brushed it over as some nuisance that ought to have just gone away. When it came to it, I practised, as much as I needed, and as much as I could without putting too much strain on my hip.
"It seemed alright at first, but the pain grew too much – to the point where I had to take pain-killer pills, and take breaks from practising. You've seen Faye also, no? My skate partner. One day, she found out about my hip, and told me I should take it easy, because there would always be more skating events.
"Yet something in my heart hated the fact that I could be stopped by just a measly broken hip. A fireplace was burning inside me, and that broken hip, was just fuel added to the fire. I couldn't give up, not then, not ever. Meeting you, Utena, man, it reminds me of myself when I first started as a novice, and that just reinforced for me the need to go out there, that night, to show you what it could be like, to be able to climb to dizzying heights and make skating not just any sport, but an art. And to show myself that anything was still possible – to those people who frowned upon wonder, to those people who frowned that I couldn't do it. I was keeping all that inside myself, until the very end.
"That night, that night you saw on television – it was like in a good dream. A perfect moment, with Faye. And that moment's long gone now, and my hip has the better of me." Spike shrugged.
"You aren't phony.." Utena piped.
"I call myself phony because skaters are meant to go on, and I'm not. The only thing you'll see from me is tripping if I keep skating."
"I don't care if you can't skate anymore," Utena said, her eyes growing misty. "I think you're.. wonderful. And I forgive you – you tried and my mama says that trying is what's important."
"I.." Spike paused. "Yes.. it's the trying that does matter. I'm glad."
It seemed almost like eternity as they gazed at those shining specks in their eyes, a wistful longing between them that they hadn't met earlier – a sort of understanding all too rare in the motions of life.
Suddenly on the other side of the confessional, an old man comes by and knelt by the grille. "Forgive me Padre, for I have sinned—"
"You are forgiven!" Utena went, before shutting the panel flat in his face – damn those interruptions, just when it was perfect! Spike barely stifled a giggle.
"Utena," he said, "I'll be leaving the city tonight. I'm thinking of taking a shot at painting, now that my career's busted."
She blinked. "Why?"
"Cause – it's painting. I sometimes visit the art galleries, and.. it's beautiful. The colours, the strokes, just the feeling of painting. I used to get good marks back in art class, but that's not the point; I figured that if I didn't make it in skating somehow, I'd be painting.
"Where I'm going, my childhood home, there used to be this forest, the trees so close and dark together that you could easily lose your way, and on the other end – you'd find this grassy field, where the wind easily blows over. A field where you could sit down and watch the golden sunset.. fade away beneath the horizons, and that would shimmer on the pond's surface. I'd love to paint that. And I'd love to paint you too, your pink hair, and your innocent eyes. Utena, I will remember you always."
And Utena couldn't help crying – she was only so young, and yet it was.. so unbearable inside. She loved him, more than what her little heart could show.
That day in the church, Utena saw the tears in the inanimate Christ, who gazed back at her, and she kissed him before she went home.