The Ice Party

Southern-born and a graduate of Radcliffe, class of 1958, SALLIE BINGHAM started the writing of fiction while she was in college. One of her short stories won the Dana Reed Prize for 1957 and was reprinted inTHE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1959.Her first novel,AFTER SUCH KNOWLEDGE,was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1960.

ROBIN WINSLOW stood in the bay window at six o’clock on a winter evening and drummed with his fingers on the freshly painted white sill. Outside, beyond the glass which clouded with his breath, then cleared, the lights of the city were spread from the dark boundary of the river to the bay. For all its brightness, the city seemed to him to lie as peacefully below his window as a meadow or a rug or a tranquil inlet of the sea. He knew it well. When he moved his head slightly, the view of the city was replaced in the pane by the reflection of his wife, a steamy essence, coiled in her bed. The cold glass seemed to take only reds and whites, only the violence of her cheeks and the pallor of her nightgown. She was nursing the baby and sighing.

“I do wish you’d go out, Robin,” she said. “You make me nervous, standing there like a Christian martyr.”

“Don’t get nervous; you know what it does to the milk,” he said, still drumming on the fresh white sill. He spoke without emphasis, voicing her own alarms.

She laughed and shifted the baby so that his round, gleaming head appeared, reflected in the glass. “Sometimes I think you’re just a little bit jealous,” she said, attempting gaiety cautiously, as every afternoon she attempted to climb a few stairs.

He turned away from the window then, staring at his son’s bald head. “How’s he doing?” he asked.

“Oh, he’s doing fine — the pig,” she said, looking down. Her forehead was broad and low and white, like a white linen scarf binding back her stiff, black, Indian hair. In bed, she wore her hair plaited in a thick rope which hung solid and shining beside the mahogany bedpost. “A pretty, practical face,” Robin’s father had said the first time they met. Lilly sighed again, looking down at the baby’s head pinned to her bare breast.

Robin went to his bureau and began to rummage around, sifting the day’s mail which he had not yet opened. “Are you looking for anything in particular?” Lilly asked. He shuffled the papers into a pile and set a silver brush on top. The surface of the dresser shone, reflecting the silver rims of his brushes and bottles and boxes. He felt a terrible dreariness, looking at those things, all marked with his own or his father’s initials; a terrible dreariness, seeing how they shone, reflected in the mahogany bureau.

“I suppose these will go to him, one day,” he murmured, touching the top of a silver box with his finger.

“Yes, they should. When he’s twenty-one, you should give him some of those old things to put on the chest of drawers in his first apartment.”

Glancing at himself in the round mirror which hung over the bureau, Robin touched the points of his collar and straightened his tie. “Maybe I will go, after all,” he said.

“You really should, you know,” Lilly said, smiling. “Really, it would be very rude of you not to go, when they expect you.”

“You won’t come?” he asked, turning to look at her.

She shrugged, still smiling. “Honestly! Do you want me to go like this?”

“He’ll be finished soon,” Robin said dully.

“Yes, and I’ll be finished too.” Immediately after each feeding, she went to sleep, lying flat on her back with her hands folded on her stomach. She would sleep in that leaden way, her breath hardly stirring the fronds of hair which lay on her cheeks, until the nurse came to rouse her for the next feeding. Only in the middle of the day she stayed awake long enough to climb a few stairs and read the morning paper.

“It’s preposterous, anyway — a skating party at night,” Robin said, but he went to kiss her.

“I think it’s a lovely idea,” she said, raising her mouth. Her lips were soft, very pale, with a scale of lipstick in the corners. She kissed him gravely, with passion. “I wish I was going!”

As he straightened up, Robin’s lapel brushed the top of the baby’s head. Two or three fair hairs, so fine they were nearly invisible, stood up, waved softly, like feelers, and then lay down across the pulsing dent in the baby’s head. His eyes were fixed, half-closed, and his whole face pouted to his mouth — like a pitcher, Robin thought. “I’ll be home for the ten o’clock,” he promised.

“It’d be a pleasure to have you, but you don’t have to feel we couldn’t get along.” As she spoke she took the baby off her breast, with an unstoppering sound, and laid him against her shoulder. She began to pat his back, her mother-in-law’s emerald flashing on her square, freckled hand.

“I’ll tell them you hate to miss it,” Robin said, staring at the baby, who writhed once and gave a rending burp. “Good boy,” Lilly said, taking him down from her shoulder. As she applied him sucker-like to her other breast, Robin turned and went out the door.

IN THE dark hallway, which, in spite of the red carpet and the gilt sconces, smelled of the scrod they had eaten for lunch, Robin met Miss Perkins, the nurse, cat-footing along. She flattened herself against the wall, one hand on her stomach, to let him pass. He hesitated, looking at her, narrowing his eyes in the dim light. She was a scrawny middleaged woman, yet he had once made the mistake of speaking to her too gently, too insistently (“I do appreciate what you’re doing here” — was that it?), and ever since she had flattened herself against the wall when he passed. “I don’t believe Mrs. Winslow is finished yet,” he said.

“I’ll just go along and check,” Miss Perkins said, and she hurried down the hall with a rustle and slide of cold nylon layers.

Robin knew he should stop her; Lilly hated for “that woman” to come in on her when she was nursing. Twice when it had happened, Lilly’s face had flushed almost black, and she had shouted, “Miss Perkins! Wait until I ring!” Not that she was embarrassed; she simply couldn’t bear to have the atmosphere diluted. That was typical of her high-handed way with the servants; her openness with them — she was always either lavishing them with affection or with scorn — made Robin uneasy, for it showed that the power was new to her. And yet they seemed to like it; in three years, no one had left.

He heard Miss Perkins knock, very gently, on the bedroom door. Then she went in. Robin walked on down the hall, feeling rather satisfied. There was something matter-of-fact about Miss Perkins which would put an end to the High Communion in that overheated bedroom. He went quickly down the stairs, pleased with himself for the first time that day. Miss Perkins would take the baby away to change his diapers; “You have never changed his diapers,” he would say, one day, to Lilly. Poor Lilly, who had tried so hard to keep that woman out of the house. “Why can’t I take care of my own child?” she had demanded, drawn up in front of him like a battering ram, just a month before the child was born. Robin had not expected that opposition.

In the hall, he took his jacket and sweater and opened the front door. The night air was cold and dry, stimulating after the staleness of the house, and he stood on the doorstep, buttoning up his jacket, and breathed in great gasps. He knew how he looked, gasping there on the doorstep like a stranded fish, his pale, gleaming, ungrained face rather gilled at the best of times. Yet he couldn’t help it; it seemed nothing less than miraculous that cold weather prevailed outside a house which was so persistently overheated. He started down the street to get his car.

No, he had not expected that opposition. He had admired Lilly for sticking up for her rights; they were her rights, he knew that — had been from the days of the cave. But he had thought she was too tender, too spoiled, in fact, to want all that dreary labor. Certainly before the baby was born she had never put herself out; never cooked a meal, except for a joke on Sunday nights, or cleaned a bathtub or pressed a shirt or done anything else to show — Well, after all, this was different, he reminded himself, as he walked steadily along under the drooping streetlights. Still, it would have been wrong to allow her to wear herself out, as she would have done by this time without Miss Perkins. Even Lilly, he thought, would agree with that now. Yet it was such a change, so sudden, it was quite hard to accommodate himself: one morning she was lying in bed until eleven o’clock, and the next, practically, she was up at six, in the same white wrapper. For her clothes had not changed, of all things. And yes, he did admire her, although perhaps not quite so much as his father, who every time he came to call bobbed and scraped and pirouetted like one of the old park pigeons in springtime; positively danced in his highly polished black shoes. “A born mother!” he would cry, as though it were something rare. Of course, his father knew nothing about the difficulties of eating scrod off a tray at unseasonable hours or spending most evenings in an overheated bedroom. And then, since the baby’s birth — and part of this, Robin knew, had been medical necessity — since the baby’s birth, Lilly had kissed him so gravely, so passionately, but they had not once made love.

Six weeks. He felt a quiver at that, a touch of the desolation he had felt when he looked at his silver brushes. He unlocked his car and climbed in and turned on the heater; cold air rushed up his legs. He sat for a while in the queer gaseous light from the streetlamp, hunched, his gloved hands pressed between his knees. He felt quite cold and lost and yet a little ashamed, like a child who knows his misery is laughable to everyone else in the world. “What on earth is the matter with you?” his mother used to shout in a frenzy of common sense when he sat in the corner and mourned. For he had been a moody child. That feeling, that lost sense of sadness and oppression, had not come to him for several years; now, sitting in the car with the cold air rushing up his legs, he remembered crouching under the skirts of his mother’s dressing table one day shortly before she went away. The organdy had tickled his nose, smelling of dust and starch, and his mother had said over the telephone, “Oh, what is the use! What is the use? That child doesn’t need me any more than I need him.” Her pink satin slipper had been thrust under the edge of the organdy petticoat, and he had reached out and touched the toe.

HE STARTED the car. The roar of the engine as he pressed down the accelerator made him feel quite gay; there was something rakish in starting out to a party alone. He was not the kind of man who made a habit of going out and leaving his wife; in fact, he could not remember a single instance — except, if it could be counted, the night the child was born. Lilly had looked at him through the flush on her face, through the dazzle in her eyes, and said, “Now Robin, you really must go out and see Evans or George or some of your other friends. I won’t have you” — and then she had given a heave, with her whole body, as though she were pushing up a weight laid on her chest — “I won’t have you moping around here, making me feel gloomy.” All the time quite calm, quite rational, despite the flush and dazzle on her face.

So he had gone out. He had not been worried, although his father had said, “She is old to be having a first child.” He had not felt anything, leaving the hospital, except a numb, bleak sense of waiting, as though he himself were a child again, sitting in Dr. Banks’s outer office with the malaria print on the wall. Bessie Stokes, his nurse, had plied Robin with candy and reassurances, although he had not been frightened. Only, he had felt dull and empty, waiting like a pitcher to be filled with the pain of the booster shot, with the pain of the birth. But he had not felt the pain in the end; only the emptiness.

Evans Hill and Robin’s cousin George had known exactly what to do with him. They had taken him to a bar and then to a restaurant and then to another bar, all new to Robin, who seldom went to Cambridge. At regular intervals during the evening, he had slipped away to telephone the hospital. They wouldn’t tell him anything, they said that nothing was happening, and when he threatened to come and see for himself, the little night nurse had giggled and said, “Now Mr. Winslow! Don’t you go being a trial!” The birth of the child would always mean, to him, the sticky mouthpiece of a public telephone and the obscenities scrawled, in every kind of hand, on a pay-station wall.

Now he was bowling along the highway, by the edge of the dark, thick-looking river. He drove very fast, very skillfully, cutting in and out of the line of cars; it was something he enjoyed, for he knew he drove well, and he put tis head back and laughed when he heard them honk behind him, heard them bleat behind him, wounded, angry, like lambs, because he had cut them off by turning from the wrong lane. Let them bleat, he thought, believing for a moment that he could come to enjoy causing pain; and he remembered Lilly’s rage when he had come to the hospital, finally, late in the morning. He had looked terrible, unshaven, hangdog, the night like a scab on his face. “I know where you’ve been — getting drunk; it’s a sacred tradition,” she had cried, looking so white and drained after the flush of the night. “I expected that!” she had shouted when he had tried to explain. “But I did think you’d get back before the baby was born.” The baby was four hours old — he had seen it, behind the glass; and he had known then that she would never let him make up for those four hours.

COMING around a curve, he saw ahead of him, on the wide black river, the hive of lights which marked the party. He parked at the end of a long line of cars and got out. The wind off the river was tart-smelling, keen, yet with a kind of gaiety in it. as though it had been whipping up the cheeks of pretty girls. Robin went around to the trunk of his car and unlocked it and took out his skates. He always kept them there, in case on one of his official trips to inspect a venerable lady’s collection of needlepoint, bequeathed to the museum, he had the good luck to pass a frozen pond. The skates were large, heavy, and black, with dangling gray laces and shining steel runners. He knotted the laces together and draped the skates over his shoulder, where they clanked companionably as he made his way down the bank. He stumbled once — the rucked-up ground was frozen hard as iron — and caught himself with a gasp, frightened, as though in stumbling he had risked a fall which would have prevented him from getting to the lights. Then he hurried on, his skates thudding softly, and stepped out onto the ice through the dry rushes at the edge of the river.

At first, he walked cautiously. The ice was perfectly safe — Eloise Hill had made sure of that; the river was frozen three feet down. Yet Robin felt, as he always did when he first stepped on the ice, a tremor at the thought of the black, cold water moving sluggishly underneath. He had never fallen through — and he had skated everywhere, on ponds and rivers all over New England — and yet he knew how it would feel to crash through the splintering ice and drop into the slow, cold water. He knew he would never have the strength to fight his way back to the top. So he walked cautiously, sliding one foot in front of the other in his soft, highly polished black shoes.

From the center of the river, the lights of the party threw long smears of color toward him across the ice. As he approached, he saw that they were flares on the ends of long poles which had been driven, at intervals, into the ice. The wind tore at the flares, tossing them about or forcing them down into their sockets; then, the wind relenting, they leapt up again and danced hectically a few inches above the wick. Beyond the flares, tables and benches were set out, and a great fire was burning slowly in a depression of melting ice.

As Robin came closer he began to feel a little uncertain. It was impossible to recognize anyone in that queer, shifting light. People with their backs turned to him were warming their hands at the fire; others, skating, flashed in and out of sight, passing beyond the fire as bright and insubstantial as ghosts. Their voices sounded thin and faraway as they laughed and called to each other. Robin unslung his skates and sat down alone on a wooden bench to take off his shoes.

Immediately he was noticed, as though by entering the circle of light he had changed from shadow into flesh. Eloise Hill rushed up to kiss him and to introduce the young men trailing after her. Evans, her husband, came to offer a pair of thick socks, which Robin of course refused; he always brought his own. One by one. other people came to speak to him, until he felt like a king or a chronic invalid, receiving on his wooden bench. He bent over, lacing his skates while they chattered and breathed great puffs of vapor into the cold air.

He knew them well, for they were members of a group which had stayed together since college, a group which had been the seedbed of half a dozen marriages, the alliances of college drastically shifted so that the mistresses of two roommates could, without any awkwardness, marry the wrong men. So he felt a warmth, an ease as they chattered which he did not feel with any other people in the world; for, after all, they knew him with no disguises; they had even invented his excuses — for instance, the old lady benefactors who, they claimed, adored him. They were resigned to him, and he, accepting their resignation, applied it to his life; and then anything was bearable.

At last the chatter died down. “But where is Lilly?” Heather Scott asked after too long an interval, her bright, false voice reproving even while it endorsed the others’ rudeness. She was a highcolored, slender girl, wearing a very short red skirt, and she stood poised gracefully on one skate, the other toed on its runner.

“She had to stay at home to nurse the baby,” Robin explained, and understood from the slight rustle, the shifting of expectations around him, that this had been an odd thing to say. They were too determined, most of them, too sufficient, or too unsure to waste life on children.

By then his skates were laced, and he stood up and pushed his way out of the group. As soon as he heard the rasp of steel on ice, he felt an assurance which he did not feel when he walked down the street or climbed his own stairs. He had learned to skate almost as soon as he had learned to walk; his father had bought him a pair of double-runners, and together — the fair, fat child and the prim old gentleman, too old, they all said, to be left with such a small boy — they had scored all the ponds in Massachusetts. A few days after Robin’s wedding, his father had given him his own old-fashioned skates, but Robin had put them away, along with the cinnamon-colored knickers, because he did not want to overlay that particular section of the past. Now he skated quickly out of the cluster of people, out of the firelight, and felt on his cheek the steel chill of the ice, the breath of the frozen river.

He imagined that they called behind him — for they liked him, he knew that; he filled a certain chink in the pattern now, providing an image of ordinary domesticity without which their scheme would have been incomplete. He remembered that several of the girls had sent presents when the baby was born. Heather Scott had sent a rather vulgar embroidered pink dress, obviously intended for a girl; it was her style to mock an obligation, even while she fulfilled it. Robin had been a little in love with her at college, and glad to be put off by her sheen, her clear, bright hardness. She was an exceptional girl, and she had remained uncaught, undimmed by the ordinary events which had diminished the others’ lives. She had not, even once, come anywhere near to marrying.

Robin skated on, cleaving the fresh darkness, confident now of the ice as he heard it growl under his runners. Black ice. “The heart of the winter,” his father, the delicate old gentleman, had called it. Robin circled, skated backward, and skidded to a stop, ice flaking up from his runners. His cheeks were burning, and his hands felt hot and malleable, like melting wax; his whole body was warm and sufficient, as though he no longer needed his clothes, his heavy layers of wool, to keep him warm. For a moment, he stood still and looked back at the lights of the party. He knew it would be better not to go back; instead, he would circle in the darkness, within sight of those lights, within sound of those voices, but alone, unseen. Yet he needed someone to see how well he could skate, one of his insubstantial friends. Suddenly, he felt his lather’s scorn of them—that prim, athletic gentleman. “Your aesthetes,” he had said, “how come they’re all so fat?” But Robin turned and skated back to them.

THEY were heating some kind of concoction in an iron pot on the fire, and he smelled cinnamon and cloves as he skated up. He stopped sharply, with a grating sound, just outside the circle; they all turned, startled, and he saw Heather draw herself together, as though he had been about to run her down. In spite of her poise and her little red skirt, Robin guessed at once that she did not know how to skate. He held out his hand with an almost wolfish smile. “Come skate with me.” She protested— “I’m waiting for some of this cider” — yet she gave him her hand, limp and warm inside a woolen glove. He reached for her other hand and crossed her arms over her skirt, pinioning her in the correct position. Then they started off across the ice.

Immediately, he knew that she was not up to it. Her skates stuttered on the ice, and she pulled at his hands, pleading, “Hey, slow down!”

“I thought you could skate,” he said, with delighted malice. He liked to feel her whole weight dragging from his hands. Oh, she was an exceptional girl!

Her little nose was very red, a sharp red beak, like a tropical bird’s, when she looked up at him and said, “You know I can’t skate or do anything like that worth a damn.” Then she tried to disengage her hands, peevishly, to show him she knew his standards were false. But he pressed the warm woolen gloves firmly. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

As they started off again, he half-dragging, half-supporting her on her chattering skates, he knew that she was growing angry. “Haven’t you skated at all before?” he asked her gaily, whereupon she staggered, clutched at his hands, and then, recovering herself, turned on him in fury. “Is this the kind of thing you take seriously?” she asked.

When he saw her face, gleaming with irritation, Robin felt a little cowed, as he would have felt ordinarily, meeting her on the street Humbly, he apologized, and then he released her and stepped back, reached for her hands, and brought her toward him slowly at the end of her stiff arms. So they skated, facing each other, his runners cutting long, gradual curves over which she scratched, stumbling, flailing, smelling strongly of damp woolens; but now beginning to smile. “You’ll teach me yet,” she said, almost cheerfully. Finally she began to understand, and the scratches she made on the ice smoothed and lengthened. Once more he took her hands and crossed them over her skirt, and they skated together, slowly and solemnly.

“But this is fun!” she cried, shining up at him, her hair tumbled and bright under the dark fur of her hat.

“Oh, I could teach you anything, I always knew that,” he said, and he swung her in a wide are around the group of lights. Then he put his hands on her waist and pushed her backward, feeling her hips heave under his fingers. She looked at him from under her lashes. “There, that’s enough; let me go now,” she said.

He felt as though he could have skated with her on the black ice all night. For she was becoming gay and malleable as he guided her, slowly, along the edge of the river, where the rushes hung their frozen beards; farther and farther from the swarm of lights. She leaned away and struck out boldly now, and he praised her with the words his father had once used: “That’s the gallant one! That’s fine! That’s really handsome!”

She smiled at him, a little startled, perhaps, by his enthusiasm, yet touched. Finally he knew it was time for her to go on alone, and he undid her clutching hands, gently but firmly. Then he stood back and watched her, slowly, yet with grace, waver alone down the ice. Her long legs in scarlet stockings and her little red skirt looked rakish; he leaned forward and plunged after her.

Then, when he took her hands again, casually, almost possessively, he knew he could have done anything with her; and they began to talk. She told him, with little tosses of her head and sidelong glances of her wonderful yellow eyes, about the work she was doing — “Oh, it’s with a bunch of fakes" — allowing him, finally, to extract the fact that she was the head of a whole department. “But it’s just the art book department; there are four or five others,” she protested.

“I always knew you were talented.” he said, for once mastering the exact degree of cynicism which made the compliment palatable.

“Oh, you,” she said, “what do you care about talent?” And she pouted at him, deliciously.

“My goodness,” he said, “I’m in the talent game,”knowing she would appreciate an opportunity to laugh.

“Oh, you and your old ladies and their needlepoint !”

“It’s not all needlepoint. Yesterday I went out to Weston to see a really fine little Corot.”

“Yes, and tomorrow it’ll be Norman Rockwell,” she said recklessly.

“You’ve decided I’m the common man,” he said. “That’s the only space you have to fit me in.”

“You’ve got too much dough to be the common man,” she declared.

He laughed. “That’s what Lilly says. She maintains I was corrupted in the cradle.”

Lilly’s name was like a draft blowing between them; for a moment, Heather did not answer. Then she said, awkwardly, “I hear you’ve got a mighty fine son.”He heard the accent of her childhood, Country-Southern, in those words, the accent she had long ago laid aside.

“Yes, he’s a big boy,” he said, rather vacantly. He never knew what to say about the child.

“Is Lilly pretty absorbed in him?” Heather asked, looking down at her skates.

“Oh, a little, I guess,” he admitted, shocked that she had understood so well.

She looked at him full in the face then and smiled. “I hear she’s been devoured, body and soul,” she said remorselessly.

He started to reply on the same level, “Oh, you people are so cynical”; they could have skated on forever on the surface then. Instead, he looked down at the ice and waited.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, her warm breath brushing his cheek.

Shamelessly, he turned and gave her the benefit of the blank, lustrous look which, a little earlier, he had bestowed on his son. “I suppose the whole thing has been hard on my vanity,” he said, with a laugh.

She did not laugh with him. Instead, she clung more closely to him, and her warm, supple flesh was applied to his side, healingly, like a poultice. She was all one piece, from the point of her shoulder to her slender, muscled thigh, and he felt her all one piece, warm and healing, against his side. “I’m so sorry to hear that,” she said, and he noticed that she did not sound in the least surprised.

He let himself go. “If I’d expected this in the beginning — But you know, she was so gay, so lively, so interested in everything. And then, it’s not as though she was a girl when we married; and I thought, somehow, when you’re twenty-eight a baby doesn’t pop into your mind, automatically, as soon as you see an available man.”

She laughed at his “available,” but her humor was full of pathos, and she did not loosen her hold on his hands. “I guess it depends a little on the woman,” she said.

“But she was so lively,” he protested against her unspoken condescension. “I could hardly keep her in the house. That first year, she was in and out, up and down, traveling — ” He wanted Heather to be enchanted by that, by the gaiety of the life Lilly had offered to him. For the first time, he had slipped out of Boston, once a month at least, casually, with no more thought of the hole it was making in his life, in his routine, than if he had been going to Concord with his father. They had gone to New York, to Italy, and everywhere, even on Beacon Street, she had danced with a clear, bright flame.

He understood from the way Heather stiffened that this was not what she wanted to hear; not his happiness but his distress was charming to her. He caught a glimpse, then, of the labyrinth she lived in, where every conversation offered a thread, a way through devious corridors, a justification. It seemed strange to him that his vague, uncertain sadness should be spun into a long, shining justification for a single bed in a studio apartment and an icebox full of orange halves and the other sides of English muffins. He began to feel a little stale, and shamed, as though he had revealed too much. “After all,” he said, rather gloomily and vaguely, “it’s not as though I didn’t want children.”

“I’ve noticed the change in you, Robin,” she said gravely. “These last few months, you’ve been like a hunted thing.”

“Well, not hunted, so much. Just plain bored.”

“No.”With her hand on the key, she would force it to turn. “No, I understand what you’ve been going through. A sort of moral desolation.

You see, I know because” — and she looked up at him, with glistening lips — “because my mother had another baby when I was fifteen years old. My whole life, my existence, was canceled out, just like that. So I know what you’re going through!” she insisted, almost fiercely.

He stretched out his arms, cramped by her pressure, and flexed his fingers. He felt weighed down by her. Looking at her glistening, waiting face, he felt that he knew every cranny of her life; could imagine, even, how on Sunday mornings she washed her stockings and then went out to buy a special sausage at the Italian market. Inside the shell of her shining face, he thought he could see the kernel: the sullen face of the child who had crouched under the organdy skirts of the dressing table. “I’m not sure you understand, really,” he said.

“Why do you say that? I do! I’ve been through it myself.” Soon she will begin to be angry, he thought, but now, this instant, she would sleep with me to prove that she understands.

The smell of cinnamon and cloves blew toward them down the wind, and Robin noticed the dark figures of other skaters crossing in front of the fire. Suddenly, he wanted to be rid of her, and he pried loose her hands, gently, as he had done once before. She clung to his sleeve, looking at him, confused. “I’ll race you,” he said as he turned away, leaving her stranded there, and he felt the wolfish pleasure he had felt at the beginning. He skated off quickly, bending to force his way through the wind, and slashed a path straight to the edge of the fire. Then he turned and watched her coming slowly, pushing one foot in front of the other and swaying with her arms outstretched. As awkward, he thought, as a steel pole; and in spite of himself, he smiled. She saw that, and she tossed her head with a little pout of disdain and turned away, staggering, clashing her runners. Anything, he thought, to be off in the opposite direction!

Smiling, quite consoled, he stripped off his gloves and stretched out his hands to the fire.