Sharing a secret

One moonlit night a few winters ago, too restless to sleep or to read, I decided to answer the call of crispness and adventure. I grabbed my ice skates and went out to a frozen pond on the edge of a little wood. I'd often seen it on my walks in its unfrozen days and dreamed of skating there.

It was a lovely pond, big and round, well lit by the moon, its ice more than thick enough to bear the weight of me. Eagerly I laced up my skates, gulped down some frosty moonbeams for energy, and sallied forth. The instant skates struck ice I felt lighter-hearted, even lighter-bodied. Clowning a little for the moon, which seemed to be watching me enviously, I sped around in zany patterns, kicking my limbered-up legs like a cancan dancer and letting my arms wave free. I felt as if I had not only the whole pond but the whole world to myself.

Imagine my astonishment when all of a sudden a figure appeared at the edge of the pond, skated rapidly toward me, and then braked neatly to a stop right in my path! Braking too, I saw a little girl about twelve with long, brown hair and a very pouty mouth. ''It's monstrous!'' she said indignantly. ''You're stealing my pond.''

''Not true!'' I protested, rallying my wits. ''In fact, since I got here first, it's you who are stealing my pond.''

I hadn't gotten there first, she said. She had gotten there first, but, seeing me come, had hidden until she'd satisfied herself that I wasn't ''particularly dangerous.'' And furthermore, had I ever skated there before? Well, she had, many times. And always she'd had the pond to herself. Always she'd considered it her ''secret'' pond.

Finally, after much low muttering, I, the interloper, surrendered, so to speak, conditionally. ''If you will let me skate here tonight,'' I said, ''then I promise that tomorrow I will go find my own secret pond and henceforth skate only there.''

Placated by this magnanimous promise, she smiled and said, ''You see, this is where I come when I want to pretend. To make-believe I'm not me. Tonight I'm a horse. And I'm going to gallop and gallop, away from everybody, and never be caught. Wheeeeee!''

''Fine,'' I said, ''go right ahead! You be a horse, and I - well, I'll be me. You pretend; I'll celebrate the truth. Together we'll preserve the equilibrium of the world.''

We skated for a long time, she counterclockwise, neighing and tossing her mane, and I clockwise, smiling at her ''It's monstrous!'' and recalling, appropriately, a scene in an old Frankenstein movie I'd watched on TV. The monster was roaming through the woods when he happened upon a little girl picking violets. But instead of harming her he gave her his gruesome smile of tenderness and knelt down to pick violets with her; the goodness in him came out , and he was, for that moment, a good monster. It was the first time I'd ever identified with Frankenstein. And now, out there skating with the child, I found myself feeling like a good monster, too, sharing a joy as innocent as the picking of flowers.

When we finished, we felt what only invigorated sharers of a secret pond can feel, a total trust of each other. I took her hand, cold like mine though it was , and we walked together awhile before saying goodbye. We talked about the best way to do a horsey figure 8, the best way to avoid a spill while thinking deep thoughts. And we deplored the foolishness of staying at home in sluggish coziness on such a splendid night.

It was one of those chance meetings which make you wish that life were longer , or that you knew how to make more of it. Her child hand in my good-monster one , we must have amazed even the universe with the gentleness of our going.

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