There are two kinds of frozen puddle.
There’s the kind that is dark and solid. Those you can slide on, if they’re big enough.
Then there’s the kind the water underneath has shrunk away from, for whatever reason. These you’ve got a choice, depending on what mood you’re in: You can either bend down, sit on your heels and take a look at the patterns the freezing has made. Usually you can get some flowery crazy beautiful designs off them. OR, you can just crunch them, jump in feet first. Now sometimes if you do this you can get your feet wet, if there’s still water in the process of draining away underneath. You’ll know though. If it is so brrrr-fucking-cold that your breath stings when it comes in through your nose hairs you don’t have to worry. But if the sun is out and you’re on your way home from the school bus, probably good idea to test it first with your toe.
Saturday I wasn’t actually coming home from the school bus, which should be obvious because it was Saturday. But I was out on the road by my house because I was sick of my brother’s beeping. He beeps on his radio to other Hams halfway across the world. They talk in code. I don’t know what they say but if it’s like most the things my brother says, it isn’t worth the effort to be talking to someone halfway around the world about it. That’s what my brother is like. He does stuff just so he can have done it.
My dad on the other hand, he does stuff so other people can have done it with him. He’s kind of famous. Not really famous, just well-liked-in-the-neighborhood famous. He has students from the university stop by all the time—well, usually right before dinner—to talk about important things like whether the chickens with black bones in south America prove that Indians actually came across the ocean rather than the Bering Strait up by Alaska.
These topics seem huge to me. The kind of thing you sit on your heels and think about while deciphering the flowery pattern on a puddle.
I left no puddle uncrunched between our house and the Jacobsons’ house four doors and half a mile down our dirt road Saturday. Because there were no slidy kind of puddles. It was warm enough for there to be water, muddy water, underneath but I didn’t care. I didn’t have to go through the whole day at school muddy or anything. I just had to make it to Jacobsons’ house and Karen and Diane didn’t care if I was muddy.
In fact, they might actually like it better if I was muddy because that would justify the going-out-and muddying-up of themselves, to their mother, who was the polite “Mrs.” Jacobson.
I knew her name was ‘Ruth’ but I would never call her that, even now as a fifty-year-old mother of adult children older than I was then. Mrs. Jacobson is really gone though. Her brain is anyway. And I miss her. She stocked her fridge with the kind of pinky yogurt that had been pre-jammed. It came in little containers with their own lids–the kind I could hear my own mom saying was “excess packaging” and “too much sugar.” But for Mrs. Jacobson, those sugar-bomb yogurt cups were “nutritious,” a word I never heard my own mother use.
My mother got more into the detail of it. It had complex proteins or it didn’t. It offered specific vitamins with letters and numbers, or it didn’t. It was either okay or it wasn’t.
I smashed the last puddle before the shortcut across the Stevenson’s yard to the Jacobsons’ concrete driveway. Maybe the Jacobsons would have some pinky yogurts for a snack today.
I always wanted to stay at the Jacobsons’ forever. But it always started getting dark and Mrs. Jacobson always showed me about then where my boots were by the door. She was always nice about it. “Your mother will be worried,” she would say.
“Ha,” I probably said. “She hasn’t noticed me gone yet.”
On the way home Saturday, I noticed one puddle I had missed and I got up close to see the leafy designs unfurling from the edges where it had gotten colder and colder until there it just was.
When I got home, my mom said “Well, where have YOU been?” as though I had been somewhere on the other side of the world. I had of course, but I never let on.
“Just at the Jacobsons’.”