When I got to The Elks Club shoreline, I stood there, looking out over the ice. The crack and hole from last weekend were not even visible from the angle I was looking, at least not physically. I couldn't tell if it was because the snow had covered it, or if it had resealed.
Hard to believe, given the massive breaking of the ice that happened in the attempt to retrieve Chad's body. But despite the heavy snowfall and refreezing that had occurred, my eyes easily found the spot.
And I just stood there, staring at it, thinking back to that afternoon a week ago.
It was a cold but clear day. Crisp and cold, yet relatively warm in the sun if you were dressed right, especially considering the time of year. The teams were on the ice, warming up, getting ready for the game. There were plenty of spectators, from Levack and from Sudbury, standing either on the ice near the shore or on the hill that rose up from the lake’s edge to the Elks Club. There was a small bon fire near the lake’s edge, where a constantly changing group of people were huddled, taking turns getting warm.
Sarah was there, too, not far from that crowd, hot chocolate in hand. I saw Chad skate up to her and start chatting with her, saw her smiling at him in response.
I wanted to skate over there and just haul off and deck him. But I needed to wait until the game began before I’d have my chance.
The game was a good paced one, with a lot of action, and a boatload of tired guys because we didn’t have two shifts of players on each side, merely two extra guys on our side and three extra guys on theirs.
Checking wasn’t part of this game because we weren’t wearing any equipment -- no helmets, no skin pads, no jocks, nothing like that, just the extra padding that a sweater and winter jacket provided. But we never played this game without a little bit of light checking and body contact.
I got a couple of chances to come up behind Chad and give him a seemingly incidental nudge to feel out his balance and strength. He did the same to me. We weren’t fifteen minutes into the game when we’d pegged each other for more and more grudge type playing.
Then it was at one moment, when I gave him a hit hard enough to knock him over and lose my balance to fall on top of him that we heard something crack. I don’t remember worrying about it because in the heat of the moment we were fixated on each other, on getting to our feet. But I certainly remember it now.
It was when we were scrambling to our feet that I turned to him and said. “Stay away from my girlfriend.”
He grinned at me. “She’s not your girlfriend.” Then his face turned serious and he gave me a hit to the shoulder that sent me back on my ass. “And I’ll do whatever I damn well please.”
The ice must have cracked some more at that point when I fell, but I don’t think I heard it. He skated off, back into the action. The fact that he left without our conflict being properly settled riled me. I remember seeing red as I glared at him.
I got up and headed back towards the action, my eyes on Chad the whole time. I remember getting closer into his direction, but the puck and action would shoot off again in another direction, and I’d have to close that distance again.
The entire group skated at least two times over that spot where Chad and I had fallen. It was the third time when Chad had the puck on a breakaway for our net, and I was the closest person to him, and was rushing at him, rushing to knock him flat on his ass, hit him with all that I had, that it happened.
Another crack broke through the air, more like the overpowering crack of lightning than anything else. It was surprising to us, and we all stopped, almost as if taking cover from a gunshot or something.
And Chad was standing there, puck still on the end of his stick, and I was looking at him and he at me. It was quiet, calm. Nothing but a calm wind settled over the ice, evident in the drifting powder of snow visible in the middle of the lake. But it was an eerie calm, especially considering the bizarre and loud explosion of noise that had just occurred.
Everyone around started laughing at their own startled reaction, a huge group release of combined tension. Chad stopped looking at me long enough to wave over at Sarah, then look back at me, a satisfied smirk on his smug jock face. She was looking back at him. My rage intensified and I was about to launch myself in his direction again.
That’s when the final loud explosive crack echoed through the air, and Chad went down on one knee, or so it seemed at the time because, then, impossibly, he seemed to quickly melt down into the surface of the ice like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz on fast forward.
But he wasn’t melting. He was falling through the ice.
Screams went up; the players on the ice nearest the hole, including myself throwing themselves flat against the ice -- it seems, growing up where we did, and being involved in many frozen lake activities like hockey and ice fishing, we knew our odds on a questionable ice surface were always in distributing our body weight over as much space as possible.
I looked over at where Chad had been standing. There was nothing but a fissure in the ice big enough for a person to fall through.
And a small mark of blood on the ice surface where he’d hit his head on the way down to mark his fresh ice cold watery grave. A mark of blood that, one week later, wouldn't even be visible. At least not physically.