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No one knows whose idea it was. A joint venture, stupidity squared. How old were we? Old enough to know better. I can’t even remember how we got there. My memory begins with us walking out onto the frozen lake, and with a voice – maybe mine, maybe someone else’s – saying, “Let’s try to walk across. I bet we can walk all the way across.”
It was covered with snow at first. Our feet made a squeaky, muffled crunch as we walked. Then there was just ice, thick and mottled, like looking through a whole stack of bathroom windows. We tried skidding. After a while, the ice seemed to have had enough of our amateur skating. It started moaning. We were in the middle now. We would have to keep going. I suddenly noticed a small crowd on the opposite bank. It’s funny, I remember distinctly that one man had a white dog on a lead.
It was a shock when we noticed the water moving underneath the now much thinner ice. Fascinating. Treacherously fascinating.
“Perhaps we should spread out a bit,” said someone.
“And hold hands,” said someone else.
So we did: walking all in a line, holding hands, the two on the end with their arms out wide for balance, like a row of paper dolls.
When we reached the other side, the crowd parted to let us through. It was very quiet; no one seemed to have anything to say. Out of sight, we collapsed in terrified giggles and squeals, reliving the fear and excitement. And then, I think, we went home for our tea.
I can no longer pop out the back gate and across the field to Claire’s, or cycle down the lane to meet Sarah at the swings. It’s a long time since we crashed on Madeleine’s living room floor, only to be woken seemingly seconds later by the sound of her younger brothers on their Atari, a cruelty mitigated by endless supplies of tea and toast delivered by her mum, who was as smiley and sparkly eyed as we were hungover.
We branched out. There have been marriages and babies, travel, and career success – more than anyone could have predicted from a bunch of comprehensive school Essex girls; homes made here and abroad; and terrible, shocking bereavements.
But whichever way the winds blow, there we are: reaching out, holding on, the unbroken chain stronger than it appears, like paper dolls.