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Poetry: Jenny McDougal

The eldest sister of Sue and Linda finds her feet

The eight-count bothered Sally. Wobbly on skates at fourteen, her sisters drummed the beat into her back just between her shoulder blades—the bite of the knuckle on Sally’s fourth vertebrae, the snicker of her sisters. No matter how long she practices, the second shuffle sends her hemisphere tipping, a bent angle of dishwater blonde and tapered body. To compensate, Sally learned to flourish with her left hand, a curl of her fingers raised in a fist.

Sunday mornings at the roller rink are plums. Sally thinks the room is a womb, or she thinks it’s a fanny pack. She also thinks that poetry is what she does when she breaks formation with her sisters to spin. Sue and Linda scowl better than most people, and their downturned mouths and sunken eyes keep track of Sally as she laps them, wheels whirring, the horizon arching up.

Dick, the creepy lothario, stares

Dick thinks underwear is for chumps. He also thinks that cotton shorts are meant to be worn on Sundays to roller-skate. He likes the way the soft blue material feels against his legs: fluttering and conspicuous against the dimple of his thighs, the whorls of black hair that disappear into the apex of his legs. This is Dick’s bread and butter. He uses words like musky and quotidian to describe himself to Sally. He laps her, spinning. Ass and arms jutted out.

Dicks loves Sundays at the rink because the young women come. He’s learned to steer clear of the derby girls—they’re humorless bitches, he says—and the newcomers looking for easy exercise. These women never congregate near the popcorn machine, but he likes looking. Sally is a nice substitute, Dick thinks: blonde and lean, her small breasts pushing against her blouse. Dick thinks about her in and out of every spin.

Hal, on skates again after forty years

His knees buckled after he came home the first Sunday. They swelled to the size of baseballs, and Hal palmed ice packs to each knee while he watched The 700 Club. His heart felt stiff, but the scar was a basted hem, smooth after two months of recuperation. The doctor told Hal that his heart was like a bird. He didn’t know what that meant. Carol Mae suggested Hal needed to get out of the nest. Hal cursed the damned doctor for giving his neighbors a reason to pry.

Two days later, Hal wandered his small split-level, finally pulling out a box labeled 1979, H.S. Minneapolis South High was a dream, and Hal paged through the yearbook. He remembered Julia Haskell, her cinched waist, her doll mouth smile. And then their roller-skating dates: dinner at Porky’s, cherry cola and hamburgers, sweat still clinging to his nape, skates thrown in the back of his car.

He still sticks to the outskirts of the rink. The young men and women cutting daring angles around the floor make him tremble. The music that plays is nothing like hearing Sam Cooke croon you’re the apple of my eye, you’re cherry pie with Julia’s palm against his. But he tries a conjure, his left grasping the air where a hand could be.

Hermione Danger busts her face

It’s not the first time she’s fallen. The pain is a bumblebee: sharp and squashy up her arm, rattling her chin and teeth. She fell on the downbeat of an eighth note, on the edge of Paula Abdul’s hurry, hurry, lover, come to me. Susie Smashbox would be disgusted. When Hermione stands, shaky, on her Riedells, her blood is warm against her mouth.

Hermione’s secret wish is to be a jammer: speedy and loved, total domination of the flat track—and the crowds. She’s never been fast enough. Her wide hips and dimpled thighs are stubborn. Hermione skates laps every Sunday hoping to pare down like soap. She spits into the porcelain sink, the tiled bathroom a laid open oyster.

When her cut lip is staunched, Hermione pulls at her kneesocks and skates steadily to the floor. She crouches and counts in her head.

Jessica Cohen-Wasserberg gives it a shot

Church was never this fun. Francine told Jessica about open skate on Sundays last summer, how it’s just a scream. Francine would never be caught there on a Sunday—think of Pastor Beloit!—but Jessica has far fewer scruples. The first Sunday she slipped out of bed, failing to wake Harold. She was giddy and put on makeup, smearing coral against her lips. She chose her outfit while making coffee: Levi’s, mauve turtleneck, fitted sweatshirt with hound dogs scampering. Spritz of Vanilla Fields.

The first few weeks she was a skittering beetle. The body has muscle memory, Stanley tells her, hand curving around her squashy waist. They skate the waltz to a song he’s requested, her mouth against his shirt collar. He smells like tea and books, and he hums when he spins her around. She rarely thinks of Harold, alone in the pew, arthritic hands clasped together. Instead, Jessica smiles broadly like a postcard, taking Stanley with her around a curve.

Stanley feels his heart close, open

Stanley had a routine until she showed up. Sunday mornings were a tight fist: shower, poached eggs, lemon tea. Charles Osgood’s Sunday Morning playing while he dresses, skates near the front door. Stanley likes the drive, too—Minnetonka Boulevard a panting, tongue holding the Roller Gardens in its cheek. He would skate until his belly growled, and then dart out, driving east to Cecil’s.

The Rueben is to die for.

But it’s changed since Jessica. His heart opens on Saturday evenings like a gasp. He watches NCIS with the sound low as he calls her. He likes the way she sighs his name into the mouthpiece. His weeks fold into themselves; they are threaded fruit. Sunday mornings press into his chest. Last night, he dusted off his record player and found his Sam Cooke albums, set That’s Where It’s At to play while he stretched in bed. Tomorrow, he will request this song and dance the waltz with Jessica.

Ricky is only a DJ part-time

Ricky believes in destiny. He dispenses advice on love and life in between sets at the roller rink. Ricky thinks that replacing church with roller-skating is a kōan. He brings Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with him to fill this ache in his heart. He watches the regular denizens colliding into each other and secretly wishes he could be the body that’s hit. Ricky thinks they’re like stars or turtles.

It depends on the Sunday.

He knows that he could right everyone’s trajectory if given enough glittering disco lights and wailing Stevie Wonder. He thinks that each person at the roller rink is waiting for the right combination of notes, of instruments. They will smile like oranges, palms open to each passing moment.

In bed on Saturdays, Ricky creates the playlist that will unlock someone; he will be the key.


All rights reserved to Jenny McDougal

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