He is a man who loves red wine, his children, movies (especially the popcorn) and great battles in fantasy books. He loves wordplay and foreplay and the play of light on leaves, soft skin, catching a baseball with his son, great books, and music, ah, yes, music! But to list all the many things he truly loves would turn them dull, like dust bunnies on gleaming hardwood floors. His wife, the writer, long ago gave up on nouns, adjectives, and adverbs to describe him, and tried to get by on verbs.
But when the TV goes on for every hockey game in the televised universe he’s… different. It worries her, this paradox. She keeps him company, but indulges in her own activities when hockey is on, such as making jewelry on the couch beside him where the beads will drop everywhere in his vicinity. It is the nature of beads to scatter, and always it is the most valuable ones that cannot be found quickly. Sometimes he even misses Coach’s Corner by helping her search for tourmalines.
Tonight, though, she really needs to talk with him about her book. The main character simply can’t be persuaded to find his own reason for what she thinks she wants him to do. She needs help, her husband’s help in particular, his way of cleaving cleanly through the thorny hedges of male thought. She is furious at the protagonist in her current novel who is just sitting there at the top of his fortress, while all the time-lines come together and aim themselves at him. She wants him to get off his butt and lead his valiant army out of the fortress. Her husband would put her on the right track, if she asked at any other time.
But tonight she hasn’t a chance. It is his special team playing, the guys with the C on their jerseys (he calls them Habs), and they’re fighting the ones wearing blue maple leaves on theirs: an ancient enmity that apparently cannot be interrupted, not even for her book. Resentfully she begins practising yoga stretches in front of the TV. She has a good arch in the cat pose, and she makes sure it is exactly in his line of sight to the TV. He doesn’t complain, merely stands up, pats her tush with his eyes on the TV, and groans, “A penalty.”
She rolls out of the asana and plops onto the sofa. “And that means?”
“We’re one man short for two minutes.” He hasn’t come back to the sofa; he’s scooting backward away from her, one stockinged foot striking out behind the other and neither leaving the floor’s shiny surface. He puts all his weight on his back foot, scrapes his front leg even with it, and digs into the floor – as much as two stockinged feet can.
Now he’s moving forward again. Suddenly she knows. The man is skating.
His team’s down to four men. He can’t resist.
Three Leafs scatter; two more; and now there is only the net left, guarded by a single Leaf, so armoured and crowned he seems not quite human.
Despite the rampaging Habs the Leaf sticks by the little half-circle in the ice in front of him, crouched to lunge, and only one short stick between him and the approaching villains with their evil black puck ready to take his domain.
It is a strangely horrifying moment. She almost stands, almost tells her husband to get off that team, almost thinks it isn’t a game the two of them are watching.
Everything stops. People are at some beach party somewhere, drinking beer and looking at hybrid cars and talking about how to cut open those horrible plastic sealed packages.
“Coulda been a short-handed goal,” her husband tells her cheerfully. “You want a beer?”
She’s not quite sure if she ought to ask – she definitely doesn’t want to set a precedent – but it’s too bizarre for her to just let it lie. “That guy in the mask,” she says.
“He’s, like, frozen in time now?”
“Just for the commercial.”
She shakes her head in bewilderment. “But he’s got his circle to defend.”
“It’s the commercial. The whistle blows, the game stops.”
Her husband once was a hockey player, Junior A, whatever that meant. “How can a commercial make the game stop?”
“Who’s going to pay for putting it on TV if they don’t?” He seems quite calm about it.
“Listen,” she says, “no, it doesn’t work like that, it can’t. Five of you Habs – ”
“It’s only four for now.”
“You don’t count, then?” She doesn’t wait for his answer. “Okay, so four to one, an army, and this blue-leaf guy, he’s under attack, and he just crouches there and waits, they all just stand around waiting until the commercial’s over? It’s inhuman. Nobody would do anything like that.”
He laughs. He honestly thinks she is joking.
The cars and the long-legged blondes go away. The Leaf is back, his stick moving nervously on the ice. The Habs are barreling down on him. Of course it’s a sham. But somehow, that solitary Leaf looks so lonely... and they’re on him then, and he’s lunging and twisting and scooping and lunging again and disappearing under a pile of bodies.
“Nonononononono,” her gentle, soft-spoken husband bellows. “That shoulda been a goal.” The cameras swoop to the other end of the rink. “It’s ONE ON ONE!”
One crowned red warrior in his little half-circle, one opponent streaking toward the net, it’s so fast, so powerful, it’s everything a story should be. ONE ON ONE, not like the war before, ONE ON ONE, an honourable battle.
“Price shoulda stopped that,” her husband says in disgust.
The Leaf who shot the puck into the net is being jumped on, hugged, happily pummeled. He takes off his helmet and someone messes his hair. He looks awfully young to be a hero.
The camera pans up and down the ice. The Hab in his armour and crown is skating calming little circles in his empty fortress, and at the other end of the ice the Leaf practises his splits, and both of them are just as tight and scared as the other.
“It’s so sad,” she murmurs.
“Yup,” her husband says. He thinks she means the goal. He doesn’t get it, those two kids, pinned like that, two birds in their cages, and everything depending on them. Figures moving here and there, this body down, that one slamming someone else into the wall, knots of skaters hitting at one another when they think they can get away with it, and it’s all so crazy. There’d be another commercial soon, and everything would stop, but not for those two masked and crowned heroes in their cages, they’d keep skating and lunging and waiting for the thing they’re afraid of.
In the end, it’ll all come down to them. Two heroic figures at opposite ends of the ice. They’re the story, really. All the rest is just fooling around.
The game is over. She gets to her feet, dazed the way she always feels when she’s onto something that’s going to change her book, no matter how well disguised it is. She will be writing all night, she thinks.
Behind her, he sighs. Maybe if he’d followed his instincts when she’d arched into that fabulous cat stretch right at his knees...
He does what a hockey player should do at moments like these, and heads for the showers.
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