The Game

by Wayne Curtis

"I guess we could say we're friends now, ain't we kid. What did you say your name was?" He talked through the crack around the door.
"Joey, we're friends ain't we? You look like a nice kid."
"I used to wear long underwear like that when I was a kid." He tapped on the door. "I didn't know you could still buy 'em."
"What's the label?
"I don't know."
I was hurrying to put on my clean pants.
"Where ya from, Joey ol' friend?"
"New Brunswick."
"All alone from way out there?"
"Where ya headin?"

"To the game, the hockey game. I have to hurry."
He was breathing through the crack, his breath smelled like lemon gin. I wanted someone else to come into the room. Where was Todd? Dad and Stewart?
"But the game doesn't start until eight."
"My big brother and Dad are just outside there and some more of us." I motioned toward the bar from behind my locked stall door.

"Lots'a time, lots'a time, Joey ol' friend. If you already got your ticket, you don't need to hurry."
"I got my ticket," I said, fumbling for it in my pocket. But I instantly thought, I shouldn't have told him that.
"Take your time now, Joey."

"My big brother is right outside the door. "Todd! Todd!" I yelled. "Your turn!" My voice sounded thin against the fan. And it was too far to the corridor, too far to the lobby for my frightened voice to penetrate the sounds of the wolves on
Animal Kingdom.

"Don't be scared. They'll be along now. Besides we're friends, remember?" As he checked the big steel door that led to the lobby, I silently slid the toilet door's bolt and burst into the green-lit room beside him. I raced to go past him toward the door. The room appeared marble, speckled with flecks of green, and the boxes of tissues that helped block my way were green with little white swans on them.

He stood in front of me, smiling with his mouth only. I could feel his breathing; his leaking eyes staring at me in a way I understood was dangerous.

"Todd! Todd!"
"He can't hear you way out there. Relax. Don't hurry away. We're friends now," he said softly and put his hand on my shoulder to push me back. I could smell the flavour of his breath - lemon. The liquid soap in the jar above the sink became lemon- scented, as did the lime-coloured dustbane in open barrels along the wall.

"Please, I have to go." I tried to squeeze past him. "Look, I'm . . ."
He was in front of me again.
"Lots'a time now, Joey my boy."

He was too close. I could feel his bulk, crowding me back into the stall . . . feel his breath close, like he was going to kiss me.

"Todd! Dad! Come on in Todd! Oh God, would you come in now, please!"

He was behind me and I was being pushed.
"No one's going to arrest you. We'll keep each other out of trouble. Everything's going to be okay Joey!"

"They can't hear, so just shut up! Shut the fuck up before you get us both in trouble!" He was squeezing my arm, hurting me.

"Don't touch me! Let me go! Let me go!" My vision was blurry, my head throbbed. "My hockey ticket . . .you can have it!" He kept squeezing and my face burned as every brain cell screamed, "TODD! DAD! . . . MOM!"

He was tugging at the elastic waist of my pants, holding me in the toilet stall. The room revolved and my insides began spilling out on the marble floor that spun in front of me.

Another man wearing the same green work clothes shuffled through the door, wheeling a floor bucket.
"This here young fella's been eatin' too many hamburgers," the first man said. "He come in here to be sick."

I ran past them into the lobby, my legs weak against the polished floor, the slanting walls exaggerated my dizziness. But I ran like I have never run until I was beside Todd in front of the big TV. He had not moved. What had seemed like an unbearable long time had been only minutes. I could still smell the lemon . . . feel my stomach churning. My chest was still heaving, but I tried not to be sick here. But then I was vomiting on the floor of the lobby. I looked over my shoulder for the man. There were tears I could not control.

"Quick! Let's go find Dad! Let's find him now!"

"You always have to get sick! Every time we go someplace you do it." Todd passed me his handkerchief without taking his eyes off the screen.

I was sobbing now. My face was buried behind a big magazine - still being pushed . . . lot's a time, Joey, my boy - I didn't want Todd to see me crying. "I want to go home."

"Damn it! Stop your crying! Daddy won't bring us no more if you're gonna get lonesome for Mom and sick and crying and everything."
"I just want to go home!"

I do not remember being ushered to the red seat by a pretty French woman in uniform or being afraid of falling down the steep incline of seats onto the ice of the Montreal Forum. I only remembered how I kept looking around, searching for him and seeing him again every time I closed my eyes. Between periods, I was afraid to go to the concession stand without Father. Todd had to convince me later that everything at the Forum was red, white and blue (rouge, blanc et bleu) - nothing was black and white- and that there was no one to call the game and if you didn't watch closely you would miss an important play. There was no Murray Weatgate, no interviews.

I didn't notice toward the end, when the Canadiens were leading by one goal that, in Todd's words, "Coach Punch Imlach threw the heavy artillery over the boards - Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon and big George Armstrong," and that Toe Blake countered with Jean Beliveau, Henry Richard and J.C. Tremblay. Nor did I hear the cheering crowds when the Big M circled deep in his own zone, picked up the puck and with his head back and his jersey fluttering, wagged the stick in front of him so that the puck appeared to be fixed to it with an invisible elastic band - he never once looked down to see if it was there - making long strides through center ice, the rest of the skaters stopping to watch while number twenty-seven did this for Father and me. A snap of his wrist on a backhand and the puck was over the shoulder of Jacques Plante; the net bulged behind him, the goal light flashed, the crowd roared over the announcer. I did not see much of it that night. These are Father's and Todd's accounts, as they called the play so often since.

Father had stood and applauded and then punched Stewart on the shoulder and said, "Uh-huh! Did you see that Stewie? I told ya so!" And these were comforting words, I do remember. "Say what ya like, the big M's a beautiful hockey player to watch though, ain't he boys?"

We managed to get autographed hockey sticks before hurrying to catch the train. I do remember well, the long ride home when everyone else slept. As I stared into the night, Montreal grew smaller in the distance and the only light was from the train windows, reflecting on the snow that was dirty now, like ashes along the tracks. The smell of lemons lingered in my nostrils; fear cast a long shadow over my life. The secret traveled with me. I never defied Father's words: "Boys, what happens in Montreal stays in Montreal."

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THE GAME (by Wayne Curtis)