When I was a little kid, both sets of my grandparents lived in a hamlet of approximately 150 people. Being that this hamlet was in western Canada, it had a homemade, two-lane curling rink.
Between the ages of eight and twelve, I would sometimes sneak out of my grandparents' house after the sun went down and crunch through the snow to the curling rink down the street. It was inside a long, metal quonset. If no one was there and the building wasn't locked, I would sneak inside to look at the ice. Its appearance was soft, and I liked to run my fingertips into the divots that had yet to be iced over or melted out.
My favourite time was when there were already people inside the curling rink as I approached. I was often shy, even around people I recognized, so I would walk through other people's footprints in the snow to avoid being heard and press my ear to the quonset's door, if I dared. I liked to hear how people talked to each other when I was not around, when what they were doing had nothing to do with me.
The ice softened the sounds of voices ricocheting off the quonset's walls. The flattened echo made me feel as though I had been swaddled against a warm bosom, and the secret listening made me feel special, like I knew things that others did not.
I got a nasty sliver in the upward curve of my right ear from that door on the last night that I ever visited the curling rink alone. I heard someone coming close to it on the other side, and in my panic to turn away and run, my foot slipped. My head slammed into the door and dragged against the peeling wood as I plummeted downward. An older man's ruddy face appeared in the partially opened door.
"You okay, sweetie?" he asked, looking down at me where I had landed in the snow.
"Yeah." I took my mittened hand away from my ear and saw blood melting the snow on the woolen palm.
His sudden face through the door terrified me, and I pushed myself up and ran the couple of blocks back to my grandparents' house, my frozen, plastic-soled boots skidding out from under me on hard ice.
I couldn't bring myself to go back to the curling rink after that. I was sure that my secret listening was no longer a secret, and that, rather than being the privileged outsider, I was now nothing more than a stupid child to those inside.