Alexander Carey | The Line (Novel Excerpt)

Carey

“O, Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet.”

–Augustine of Hippo

I cut through the field behind Joey and Shannon’s house. Ice lined the creek, splintering off, heading downstream to melt. Nothing grew from the soil and nothing seemed alive in the dark, still water.

When I got to their sliding door, Shannon lifted the hockey stick her dad had sawed in half and jammed into the bottom to keep burglars out.

‘Congrats,’ she said. We hugged. ‘Do you want some coffee or something?’

I wiped sweat on my jeans. ‘Only say it if you mean it.’

‘You don’t think I really want to give you coffee?’

‘No.’ That’s when I kissed her, because I’d heard and read and saw that you were supposed to catch someone like that, if that’s what you wanted. Her mouth tasted dry.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. I’d also heard how saying sorry can work.

She patted the top of my head. Like I was a toddler. ‘Why? I know what you want. It’s what everyone wants.’

‘What I do I want?’

‘Come on, Mike. Let’s make it quick. My mom gets home from work at four.’

Looking back, I realize now I never thought to ask why she wasn’t in class, but that didn’t seem important. Maybe since her brother got to go to Belleville, Shannon was allowed to stay home too. Christ, why wasn’t I in class? Probably, though, she just skipped. She missed a lot of school that spring.

We went to her bedroom. I always pictured her room darker.

She slipped off her sweatpants. ‘What are you looking at?’

‘Nothing.’

It was that fast. I traced my finger from her belly button to her neck. There was a High School Musical poster on the wall above her head.

‘That’s embarrassing,’ she said. ‘I don’t know why I don’t take it down.’

‘You look pretty.’

She didn’t say anything, but guided me inside her. I wish I could say what that had felt like, I wish I could say what I said; maybe I didn’t say anything. We didn’t use a condom. Loder said a condom was for pussies when he’d elbowed me in class the week before, talking about some broad he’d slammed. Shannon must not have cared about not using one either; there was no way I was going to ask.

I think she was crying, but I didn’t check. On the poster above her bed, they were jumping high in the air on a stage.

‘We really made a mess of this, I guess,’ I said.

‘You should leave,’ Shannon said.

‘What?’

‘Go home.’

‘I guess I thought—I don’t—’

‘Mike, get the fuck out. Please.’

Pulling her covers off felt like yanking back shower curtains, like in that old black and white movie my parents liked. Forgetting my socks, I slammed into my boots on the soft carpet and paused at her door. She stared out her window into the backyard.

‘See you tomorrow night,’ she said.

I took the forest home, my head spinning and my face burning. I’d have given anything not to go to the party the next night, but there’s no way I couldn’t go. We were the champions and nothing was going to take that away, as desperately as I wanted, and want, to forget any of this happened.

*

I borrowed my mom’s Lexus and drove to the Miller’s around 8:30. The house was packed.

We wore our jerseys, which Joey’s mom had washed for us that morning. The OFSAA trophy was in the centre of the room. Joey’s dad had put cardboard on the rug and had hung Christmas lights. An ice cream cake on the table read “CONGRATS BOYS/CHURCHILL HIGH SCHOOL 2007 PROVINCIAL CHAMPIONS.”

‘Nobody drives drunk,’ Joey’s dad said to the crowd through a children’s karaoke mic. He held some bowling trophy he’d won. ‘All keys come to the key-master.’ He passed his trophy-bowl around like it was a collecting plate at church. Everyone, including me, surrendered his or her keys.

The parents kept to the living room, drinking steadily, used to the slow pace of a long night. Most of us on the team were totaled by nine-thirty. Garrett puked a little into the Miller’s pool, off the diving board, while he pretended like he was going to jump. Tom and the defensemen shotgunned cans of Busch on the roof. Eventually, they peed off the chimney, missing two eleventh graders by an arm’s length.

‘I don’t want anyone underage with a beer,’ Joey’s dad said, watching piss fall from his roof like a light rain. He didn’t address anyone in particular.

I didn’t spend much time with Joey or Loder because they only wanted to talk about Belleville and what it was like there—the hospitality from Loder’s old billets, the coke they’d gotten for free and the strippers in some hot tub at the end of their night.

At some point, Loder waved me over, pulling a film canister from his jeans.

‘Downstairs.’ He e. HhhhXANOSPCOPsjc Hhspun the canister between his fingers. ‘Right, Joe?’

‘Yeah.’ Joey waved to his dad, who gave him thumbs up across the room.

Loder might have tried the stuff while he was playing for Belleville, but he would never brag about shit like that. We took turns in Joey’s basement bathroom, taking a small line each off the slab of porcelain on the back of the toilet. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I caught some of my first bump on my upper lip.

‘You gotta lick it, Mikey,’ Loder said. He licked his own lips, as if to show me. He didn’t laugh like I thought he might.

My lips went numb and chewy.

‘Can’t find my fucking wallet, boys,’ Loder said to us, pinching his nostril again. ‘Keep an eye out, eh?’

‘Maybe you left it in Belleville,’ I said.

Joey looked at Loder. ‘No. Coach paid.’

‘We’ll find it tomorrow,’ said Joey. Loder finished his line, and then another. Our reflections stared back at us.

‘The boys,’ Joey said. ‘We fuckin’ did it.’

I flicked the light. We climbed the stairs. My throat burned and I felt this drip, like someone left a faucet of snot on. I kept wiping my nose on the CONGRATS CHURCHILL HIGH napkins arranged around the melting cake.

Shannon came downstairs, her eyes were bloodshot, to pose for the ‘family’ picture, the one with the friends and the coaches and the special-needs kids we high-fived coming on and off the ice during home games. There was nothing on her face from yesterday, nothing to differentiate the time from before and after we had sex.

‘Squeeze in, babygirl,’ Joey’s dad said to her. His digital camera dangled from his wrist.

She moved into my armpit and smelled like that apple shampoo I liked. The smell made feel sick.

Sometimes I look at that picture, in a file marked ‘Churchill’ that sits on my desktop. Shannon, her arm around my waist, —if I crop everyone else out—and I could be at prom. She didn’t look at anyone after her dad took the picture. I didn’t see her leave, but she must’ve.

The night wore on, like a game you didn’t care about. The boys went nuts and some parents did, too. My mom and dad came for the parent-team photo against the garage.

‘You’ll stay here?” My father asked, shouldering his coat.

‘Probably.’

‘Be careful.’

I thought about Shannon. ‘I’ll be fine.’

My mom gave me a hug, brushing away a non-existent leaf. ‘Have fun, Michael.’

My parents stepped around a piece of melting cake on their way.

Around two in the morning, the other parents collected their jackets. Someone raised the question of sobriety, if only to pretend. Joey’s dad had passed out on his sectional, drool collecting near his bowling trophy. I never saw anyone take car keys, but the bowl was empty.

Our line was still fired up, though I saw Joey talking quietly to McKenzie in the hallway to the laundry room. They looked broken up, at least for the night.

The coke percolated. I hadn’t talked to anyone in at least an hour. Somebody left a pack of du Maurier’s on the Miller’s stove. I turned on the element and inhaled until I heard the sizzle and stepped outside.

I smoked maybe half while I pissed. The stars didn’t look like humans, or like human cooking utensils, or anything, really. They looked like stars.

In between the stars, for the first time, I saw the spaces where maybe our goalies’ save percentage or my total assists were stored, like Christmas lights on the first warm day of the year.

Inside the Miller’s detached garage I recognized Joey’s number. Someone’s arms were around his waist. I felt piss I’d pulled too early grow cold on my thigh.

I saw Loder’s mom turn and Joey kiss her on the cheek. They looked like they might be saying goodbye.

She saw me through the window. I turned. I heard Joey throw the door open.

‘Hey—what’s good?’

‘Hey,’ I said. Loder’s mom’s hair was matted.

‘We were talking about you,’ she said. ‘The assist on Tyler’s goal.’

‘Oh. Practice.’

A sharp wind blew. We heard cheers from inside the house.

‘Yeah,’ said Joey. ‘That assist.’

‘For sure,’ I said.

Loder’s mom looked bored. ‘You’re a great kid, Michael. Always helped around the house, especially since—Greg—you never complained.’

‘Yeah, man,’ said Joey. ‘You’re a great kid.’

‘See you inside,’ I said.

‘Right on,’ said Joey. ‘We did it. Provincial champs.’

‘We did it.’

I made it to the bathroom upstairs but didn’t get to close the door. I puked on the toilet seat, the sink and the rim of the tub. I wiped my mouth on my jersey and took handfuls of water from the tap, both to drink and to rinse.

‘Do you hate me?’ Shannon stood in the door. Her lipstick was smeared.

‘I don’t hate you.’

‘You can hate me if you want.’

‘Why would I hate you?’

‘I’d hate me.’

‘I just don’t understand. About the other day.’

‘Mike, come on.’

‘What?’

‘I want to say I’m sorry—for being weird.’

I flicked the light to the bathroom and followed her. In the dark, I felt around on the dresser.

‘Wait, wait, hold on,’ I said.

My eyes adjusted. The wallet flopped open; I saw Loder’s jaw jutting out: his G2. He’d stuck out his chin like he was challenging the camera.

Her salvia smeared around in my stubble, messy and stale. I felt like I might be sick again.

‘Stop,’ I said.

‘Why? This is what’s supposed to happen; it’s supposed to be you.’

‘Get off me.’

‘We’re not like everyone else downstairs; we’re better than them.’

I pushed her. She fell on her hardwood floor.

I held Loder’s wallet. ‘The whole time?’

Her mouth sounded dry. ‘Just the last month or so—it’s not like us. I was fucked up the night it started.’

‘And you’re fucked up now. You didn’t want this yesterday.’

‘That was different.’

‘You were sober.’

My head spun. I moved past her, towards the stairs. ‘I gotta go.’

On the front porch, Loder was alone.

‘Hey,’ he said, scratching lint from his belly button, arm stretched to the chair beside him. ‘Sit. Have a beer.’ He lightly kicked a case of Bud Light.

‘You fucked Shannon.’

He picked his teeth. ‘A few times.’

‘You knew about her.’

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I was the only one who did. You think I was gonna tell Joey you were jonesin’ for his sister? His fucking twin sister?’

‘You could have any girl at school. Shannon was supposed to be mine.’

‘She’s not yours, Campbell; she’s not anyone’s. No one is anyone’s.’ He kept his eyes down the driveway and spat dip into a water bottle.

Rage rose like puss, a rage I couldn’t find in a game. ‘You were never good enough for the O. You’re soft. Your head’s a carton of eggs.’

‘I’m going back to camp in September, you fucking cunt.’ He stood.

‘This time you’ll get cut—won’t need a concussion.’ I felt like I was on a roll. ‘Also—you should know Joey’s got his dick inside your mom right now.’

His bottle smashed. Inside the house, no one noticed.

‘You need to stop talking.’

‘Ok, sorry, I take that back, yeah. He’s probably finished.’

Loder punched me in the face. I fell off the Miller’s porch.

I got to my feet. Loder’s head must have not have been too concussed, because his forehead met mine. I fell again, and saw, finally, those constellations I’d missed in the night sky, this time strung inside my skull.

Something warm slid down my nose. ‘I’ve seen you do better.’

He stuffed his foot in my groin. I felt something rip, like a loose thread on an exposed nail.

‘Why’d you fuck her?’

‘Why not?’

I threw a shitty uppercut and he choked a little. I felt my two longest fingers crunch against his cheekbone. He body slammed me and we were both on the ground.

When I could see again, he was about ten feet away. My mouth was lined with dust from the driveway.

‘I love you like a fucking brother,’ he said in wheezes. I relished that his cardio had fallen off. ‘But you’re a piece of shit. I know what everyone in this town thinks: Mike Campbell should have been the one to get drafted, or maybe that nice Joey Miller. Instead, that scumbag Tyler, (you heard about his father?)—his voice screeched as he imitated an old lady— has the talent. You think you’re better than this, Campbell? You pretend like there’re rules tbut you go and break them; at least I know the difference.’ He spat—maybe a tooth. ‘Go fuck yourself.’

I held my talking point, digesting his words after. ‘You knew.’ I might have meant Shannon, but I think now I was talking about more: ten years of Loder-fucking-Shannons that had, and have, only something to do with girls.

For a second he looked like that kid I remembered: the kid who, when we were ten, paused our game of mini-sticks and held a towel to my head when I crashed into the basement railing.

He wiped snot and blood on his jersey sleeve and walked away, towards the town line and his mom’s house.

‘This isn’t worth it.’

Inside, the lights were on, but there was no one on the dance floor and or the kitchen. Joey’s dad was still passed out. I grabbed my keys and stumbled to the field for the Lexus.

I drove past Loder as he walked the shoulder of the highway. He shielded his eyes, making him look like he was waving. In my mirror, I watched his feet drag. He looked like those old drunks who never leave Curwins’ when they Leafs play.

I drifted across the yellow line and almost hit a transport.

My dad explained the next morning: how the transport clipped Loder’s shoulder, launched him into the ditch. How his head bounced off the culvert. How Loder was on life support through dawn.

.

.


ALEXANDER CAREY was born in Guelph, Ontario. His work has previously appeared in The Rusty Toque, Feathertale, Sulphur, and Occasus. He currently lives in Fredericton and is completing his MA in English and Creative Writing at the University of New Brunswick, where he is working on a hockey novel.

2018-11-24T13:50:26-04:00