Winter Games

By Martin Bargo

It was 1986, and he did not fit any definition of a “good boy,” but since he was the firstborn child on both sides of the family, Santa still brought him a present. And what a present! The flaming, exciting, and futuristic Atari 2600. The console came with a one-button joystick and a cartridge. He connected everything and flipped the power switch. The old-school TV, which back then was just school, lit up like pixelated fireworks, displaying an outstanding number of colors: 128.

            In the game, a tiny character jumped between chunks of ice, and every jump added a brick to an igloo in the background. To beat each level, the igloo had to be completed. The cartridge’s label showed an Indigenous-looking man in a parka, an igloo, and a word that, back then, he thought was funny: Frostbite.


            He never imagined that, eighteen years later, he would be living in Alaska year-round. He loved summers in Anchorage: free tennis, free golf, and rugby season, full-on. Long days, lots of things to do outside. Fun. And he also loved winters, when a different triad of outside-fun things came into play: disc golf (where he attached two feet of ribbon to every disc, to find them when they sank in snow), ice skating, and his favorite of all, Broomball.


            He named his bike Susan. He loved Susan and her sturdy studded tires and rode the bike everywhere.


            A friend of his often said, “Alaska is as beautiful as it is trying to kill you.” And Alaska is beautiful indeed. That’s why, when biking to places, he liked to layer up thoroughly, like any good old Alaskan would do. From the ground up: broomball shoes, double socks (merino wool, Costco), long johns (Costco as well), sweatpants (guess where he got them?), long-sleeve t-shirt (H&M), sweater (Burlington), Hoodie (Bird Creek Barbarians Rugby), blue velvet onesie (, wool balaclava (Target), and a wool beanie (Walmart).

            Last but not least, gloves. The thick ones were warmer, but the thin ones were comfier. He asked Siri about the temperature, and she said it was thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit. Practically summer, he thought, as he went for the thin gloves.


            Recurrently, he imagined the same scene: He is four, playing Atari at home on a chilly winter day when a green slimy interdimensional portal opens. His future self arrives and says, “One day, you will study creative writing in Anchorage, Alaska,” then walks in reverse, back into the portal, and disappears. He had clearly watched too much Rick & Morty.


            Every Friday at 7 pm, they would meet at the Delaney Park Strip, more precisely 10th and E, at an ice rink that would become a full-on party. They had made their own goals with most generic PVC tubes (Lowes) and the most generic orange netting (Amazon). They had a bag full of sticks, two balls, and two speakers blasting EDM. 


            The game that night lasted four quarters of twenty minutes, with five-minute breaks in between. After the match, he was offered more than one ride, but he politely declined and pedaled back home, relishing the extra cardio. About a mile from campus, his back wheel lost all traction. The pedals would spin, but the back wheel would not move. Confused, he felt freezing cold, so he asked Siri the temperature again, and to his surprise, discovered that it had dropped violently to minus ten degrees Fahrenheit. His hands started aching, itching, and burning. His thin gloves no longer protected him, on a trek that would take another fifteen to twenty minutes, in an ideal world.


            He remembered a shortcut: left after the Carr-Gottstein building. And then he stopped in his tracks. A ginormous bull-moose had popped out of nowhere and, completely ignoring him, cut off the way ahead. With frozen hands, a beast on sight, and a broken bicycle, he remembered there were excellent voice-to-text apps and even got excited at the prospect of becoming “the handless writer” and the money he could still make if he just marketed it right. He also calculated how hard it might be to operate a PlayStation controller with his feet—totally doable.


            As quickly as it had appeared, the bull moose casually strolled away. With no sensation in his fingers, he pushed what was left of him through the chilling cold. At home, he turned on the hot water tap and slowly peeled off his gloves, thinking all the while about that old Atari game.

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