Crinkle fries. I was willing to do anything to get my hands on those slender sticks of fried potatoes, and they only sold them at Fraser Ice Arena where my brothers played hockey. The moment we stepped inside I headed straight to the concession stand to get my fix. I would sit in the freezing cold, metal stands, feet swinging back and forth, while I filled my mouth with warm ketchup and salty ideas of ways I could stay full. I would watch my brother's hockey game with stressful focus. He was the goalie, the gatekeeper, the one that took the blame if they lost. I desperately wanted him to win every game, my involuntary action of finding a fry in the paper cup and shoving it in my mouth without looking down was as natural as breathing. I wouldn't take my eyes off the game.
Off the ice I felt like I was his protector, his bodyguard, his goalie. Deflecting any bullies like heavy pucks sliding across a sheet of ice, but as we got older this got harder and our hockey game roles reversed. He was always popular, hilarious, smart and bigger than me. He always got good grades and had a million friends. I don't know why I felt like he needed me to guard him. He never did, but he let me believe that I was needed for the job. He knew I was the one that needed the needing.
He was my brother, my blood, his existence was red liquid carrying oxygen to and carbon dioxide from tissues. His presence provided me with the essentials through our collapsing family. When My mother would lock herself in her room for days and my dad had left our house, I was never alone, because he was there, goaltending. He always let me believe I was saving him.
Back at the ice arena I had many rituals, the fries would always be a part of each one, but this particular one would take place in the parking lot, in my moms car. I would sit in the passenger seat and listen to the same Celine Dion CD over and over again, as loud as the speaker would play it. I would sing at the top of my lungs out there, in the dark, only breaking to go back in and get more fries. On one of these breaks, somewhere between the car and the concession stand a group of 4 or 5 older boys had seen me and walked over to me as I was handing the concession girl my two dollars. They followed me to the back door and started making fun of me. I was caught off guard. I was alone. My Celine Dion CD, my hockey arena, my fries ...these were my safe places, and they had just infiltrated my version of a white picket fence and set my yard on fire. I just stood there, with one hand full of fried potatoes and the other with white paper cups filled with ketchup and felt like I was glued to the floor. After they had called me a slew of names, including slut, I eventually couldnt think of anything else to say but “fuck you.” Swear words in our household were thrown around like baseballs in the yards of perfect families. I had heard and said all of them by the time I was around eight. So this seemed to be where my vocabulary sprouted middle fingers. I turned around feeling pretty good with my choice comeback when I heard one of them say it. “Well you're fat!” As soon as he said It I could feel my spine get hit with the word itself. It jolted me back a bit. FAT. That word, at that time, haunted me. It visited me at night when I laid in my bed, it watched me in the shower when I touched my skin and felt ashamed for the amount of it around my stomach, it lingered in dressing rooms when I picked out sizes and tried them on. Hearing a boy yell it to me as my back was turned, in place I loved, next to my favorite snack, that nebulous spirit left a trace of itself inside me, never to fully make itself out. I would forever be haunted.
When my brother's hockey game was over, he had won, he met me out by the gumball machine. We put our quarters in and yelled about how we didn’t want the white gum ball, who likes the while gumballs? Laughing and wishing for blue, I tried shaking off the word that now clung to my spine like a tumor. Growing awkwardly between my confidence and my posture. I told him about the boys on our way home, he told me I shouldn't worry about it, as I turned up the Celine from the front seat this would be just one of many times that I would feel lucky to have my brother in this world, full of ghosts and white gumballs, you need a goalie. On the days I wasn't his, he was mine. With mouths painted blue we drove home.
Maggie Edinger has a BA from Columbia College Chicago, where she majored in Art Entertainment, Media Management. She published her first body of work in March 2019 called Bubble and the Invisible Ghosts, a journal. She has been published in The Remington Review, Pussy Magic, Grits Quarterly and Flare Journal. She is currently working on her second book, a memoir. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, daughter and pitbull.