THE BLUE LINE

By Marina L. Reed

There are only two parked cars in the lot. Todd pulls out his iphone and checks the information.  He is an hour early. Lists of things he could be doing flash before his eyes. He reclines the back of his driver’s seat, closes his eyes, and waits for more people to show up. His disposable  take-out coffee mug, one cream two sugars, sits in the cup holder, steaming impatiently. The car idles.

It is Jason’s dad.  He had been sick for a while, but the end always takes people by

surprise.  Bill, who has played left wing for almost thirty years now, sent everyone on the team the info email. He always does.  But not everyone on the teams reads emails, some still don’t know how, or care. So, the whole team rarely shows up for events, outside their Sunday evening hockey game. 

          The last time the whole team showed up for anything was for a funeral ten years before when Rick’s wife had been taken by breast cancer. On that occasion wives and girlfriends stood beside their men, listening to last words and songs of laments, adding much needed support for the grief present that cold Saturday afternoon in January.  

But Sunday was game day. Just like December 25 was Christmas. Regardless of what went on in the lives of each player, the community or the world, the Warriors would gather in the locker room to suit up for the game each and every Sunday of the year. They started playing together in the no contact league when they just couldn’t keep up in the regular one. Some of the team members were almost 70 years old now. That Sunday in January, after the funeral for Rick’s wife,  was no exception. The Warriors were subdued in their dressing room, quietly lacing skates, taping sticks, adjusting pads. But once on the ice their game had been tight, the passes quick, accurate, the line changes seamless, smooth. It was like they were all engaged in an underwater dance that required no dialogue, no choreography for success. Rick was set up for multiple goals and scored three. They won that game which made for some bawdy humour in the locker room after,  accompanied by a few extra frothing ales while showers and clanging metal lockers crooned in the background. Then bags were packed up, players shuffled outside to their cars, and went home to whatever lives sat outside the bluelines.

Todd feels this cold February day. It seeps into his bones as he waits in his car. He never used to feel the cold. He turns up the heat in his Audi A4 Sedan. He loves this car; its horsepower, its clean sleek line, how it grips the road. The woman he’s currently sleeping with looks great in the passenger seat. A smile creeps across his lips as he pictures her crossing her long legs, fabric slipping away almost to her crotch, head tilted back, her dark blonde hair falling across her face and the back of the seat. He imagines her laugh and feels a stirring in his pants. “Still got it,” he gloats to himself, knowing his sixtieth birthday is around his corner. 

Twenty five years ago, he drove something very different.  He still remembers how much he hated that Dodge Caravan and how he promised himself  when all the kids were grown up, he would never drive a van again. His hockey gear lived in the back of that van, buried underneath kids’ skates, clothes, school stuff, dog toys, gym bags. It was a tiny, very badly organized closet on wheels, with a motor. He had just joined up with the Warriors, knowing that he couldn’t take the hits anymore, or skate as fast as he needed to. He didn’t have time for a lot of extra hockey games though, what with driving kids to practices etc etc. He liked driving the kids around though. He used to have so much fun with the car games he taught them.  He and Lisa, the math geeks of the family, always ruled the License Plate game. Eye Spy was everyone’s favourite. His son always won 20 questions, which surprised Todd because he never seemed to be paying attention. He thought back to the year he had to drive for hours and hours to a competitions. Lisa had made it to regionals in figure skating, his wife Gwen got a promotion, his second daughter won her gymnastics competition and his son made the ski team. Proud moments. He remembered the victory parties, the cakes layered with icing, the party hats and streamers, the kids falling asleep in the back seat of the van, the dinners.   He also remembered celebrating with Donna on the couch in her tiny apartment with her scented candles burning to create mood she said, while irritating his throat. But a sore throat was a small price to pay for having such big tits in his mouth, he’d rationalize. Or Sandra sprawled on his office desk when the office had gone home. In that case, it wasn’t tits he was after. Gwen would always be asleep when he got home, none the wiser. His life was good.

 Then there was the Mazda Miata, that was after Gwen left. Almost six years now.   It was a fast, sexy little car, but loud, hard, cold, cramped. His overstuffed hockey bag was squashed into the tiny non-existent trunk and sticks were angled across the back seat, big enough for a hobbit.  It was supposed to be his freedom car, but it only made him free to think of how little he had to load inside. He didn’t see his kids very often. They just couldn’t look him in the eye. His discovered indiscretions caused deep wounds not easily forgiven.  He moved out shortly after a text exposed him, divorce papers following close behind. Poison filled the air. 

 That was the same year Yuvraj, who played defense for the Warriors, was initiated into the New Dad club, complete with bags under his eyes, diapers under his arms, coffees in his cup, and pride tripping over each and every word; – “you should have seen the smile the other day, I would never have imagined such a small face could light up a room”, “fuck it’s just amazing how fast this kid crawls across the floor, wait ‘till I get a pair of skates on him”, “is it wrong I get turned on every time Jenny breastfeeds”, “we’re going to a movie tomorrow night, without the kid, Christ, will he be okay without us”, and on and on he went. He chatter lifted everyone’s spirits. 

It was the worst when the locker room was silent.  Silent like when all the lights go out suddenly and you are in a windowless room and everyone stands still. Waiting. Waiting and changing in silent change rooms was awful.  It was silent after a lot of games; when they learned Eli lost his job, or Alonso had been diagnosed with lung cancer or Mike’s wife had walked out. Nothing went well in those games. Passes slipped off sticks, pucks hit goal posts, fights broke out on the ice and the team sustained high numbers of penalties.   Afterwards, gear was shoved into hockey bags, too many empty beer cans littered the floor, ends of clothing and skate blades poked through open zippers in gear bags as they slunk out of the arena. 

Then someone would decide on a pep talk and they’d win a game by nine goals. They’d  play their asses off, sweat soaking through their padding, dripping down in and around the laces on their skates.  That was the moment everything outside the rink faded and they came together like spaghetti and meatballs. They actually won the championship that year, in spite of it all or maybe because of it.

Someone is tapping on Todd’s car window.  He pulls his seat upright and rolls down his window.

“Hey man, get here early?”

“Earlier than you think.  Who has a visitation before noon anyway?”

“JASON,” they chime simultaneously.

“He’s always early for games, you should’ve known,” says Steve. Todd smiles, shuts off the car, closes the window and steps out of his car. Steve glances into the back seat and laughs out loud.

“What’s so funny,” asks Todd.

“That,” points Steve, staring at Todd’s hockey gloves looking naked and vulnerable lying askew on the back seat. “You still trying to salvage those old things?”

“Of course, they’re my lucky gloves.  Nothing a little crazy glue and duct tape can’t fix.”

“Or masking tape and a match. How long have you been finessing those gloves anyway?”

“Maybe fifteen years?”

“Jesus.”

“Hey, I’ve scored over twenty goals with those babies.”

“True.  Good goals too.  Duct tape away my man.”

  Steve and Todd head over to the front doors together. Jason is there to greet them. They shake hands, formal in their suits and ties and polished stiff black leather shoes.

“Todd’s still patching up those old gloves you know,” says Steve.

“You’re kidding. Not time to spring for a new pair yet?  Or maybe you’ve been waiting for us to take a collection?”

“No no, those gloves are sacred.” A laugh bounces between the three teammates as others join the visitation. Jason turns to shake hands, nod and exchange salutations.

“Jason, you’re up for game refreshments tomorrow.  But I’ll look after it this week,” says Todd.

“Thanks man.”

“But you have to score the winning goal,” says Steve.

“You’re on!”

“What’s on?” a voice asks from behind them.

“Marty, thanks for coming.”

“Of course.  So sorry Jason.”

“He has to score the winning goal tomorrow,” says Steve.

“Of course he does.  Is there any question?”

“Well, I was thinking of taking that honour,” interrupts Bill, “but fine, you go for it Jason.”

“As if there is a conversation about this, we should just be trying to stay upright tomorrow,” says Mike, “hear who we’re playing?”

“Fuck, not the Whirlwinds,” a few voices chorus together.

“Yep, you got it.”

“Those guys are too young, just too fucking young,” says Marty.

“No worries, Todd”’ll get him with his duct taped gloves.”  They all laugh and slap Todd on the back.

“Those puppies will soon be a collector’s item in the old boys’ hockey hall of fame.”

“Wait ‘till he starts duct taping his skates back together,” says Steve.  

“Can’t wait for that,” says Bill, moving inside with the other team members.They pass by a table with styrofoam cups for coffee and tea waiting in tall stainless steel thermos’. Beside the coffee and teas are date squares, rice crispy squares, muffins, chocolate chip cookies and brownies.   They all stop by the table to pick up breakfast. They chat and eat, looking at the collage of pictures on a peg board, leaning up on a stand next to the food table; Jason and his siblings crawling around a snow fort, a tall man standing out front with a shovel in hand; the tall man on a tractor, a small boy in his lap;  Jason’s mom and dad on their wedding day; holiday dinners; birthdays; school events; graduations; promotions; Jason’s hockey games then and now. The life of a man presented in photographs cut into various shapes and glued one beside the other. There is a garbage can beside the table for empty Styrofoam cups and napkins.  Todd wipes his mouth and adds to the collection in the container. He looks to his teammates. They quietly file into a pew one after the other, a bit awkward in their starched shirts and tight belts.

“I think I’m going to have to cut back on those morning donuts on the way to work.  God I do love an apple fritter though, but I can’t afford a new suit,” says Marty.

“I hear ya,” says Bill.  “Probably should have skipped that chocolate brownie over there just now.”  They quietly discuss how they might defeat the Whirlwinds. Voices drift and cling to stain glass windows and sculptures in the church hall. Todd becomes keenly aware of loss and longing as he glances around.  With a shock, he realizes it is the first time he has felt this way since his wife left him. He didn’t even know he had a hole in his heart. He looks up at the saints hovering over him. He closes his eyes seeing the black of his eyelids. He is grateful for the darkness, so he can’t see Gwen’s wounded face, the wide eyed shock and disappointment in his children. People keep moving in and out.  Marty gets up to leave, “see ya tomorrow boys”. They all mumble farewells and make their way out.

Todd goes to his car, pulling up his coat collar against the biting wind that has come up.   He has a little more work to do on his gloves before the game tomorrow. He wonders how long they’ll hold together, realistically.  They aren’t the only things holding together with toothpicks and tea bags these days. His sciatica has been acting up and the ache in his knee is a daily distraction. His doctor tells him it’s time to hang up his hockey skates.  Todd thinks differently. Omar is 37, the youngest player on the Warriors right now. Slim and trim regardless of how many fries and burgers and beers he scoffs down. Left wing. That was Todd a bit more than twenty years ago. Todd still plays left wing, but not in the same sized pants.  He checks his iphone for game time tomorrow crossing the parking lot and ponders how many more years he’ll have the privilege of a Warriors face off. He can’t imagine a Sunday without them. 

He climbs into his A4 and pushes the start button.  His seatbelt clicks into place and his hands rest on the cold steering wheel. The hollowness of the sanctuary, the echoes of stillness and sadness and loss are still pulsing in Todd’s ears. The collage of misshapen photos sticking to corners of his mind. What would his collage look like? Would anyone make one? Just the Warriors? His youngest daughter is now in third year at University of Toronto, his son works out West at a ski resort and his oldest girl Lisa is teaching math at a high school downtown, around the corner from his place of business.  Her apartment is somewhere in the East end of town, probably not far from where he is now. He found her address on her FB page. He misses her, he misses all of them. His carefully folded feelings fall open. There is only so much time in a game to score, to skate across the blue line, to pass, to play.

He pulls out his iphone and puts Lisa’s address into his GPS. It flashes onto his screen; fifteen minutes to her apartment.  Could be there for coffee. If she’ll see him. Todd hears a honk and a car pulls up beside his. He rolls down his window.

“Hey man, we’re going out for a brunch around the corner. You know, the place with the nice racks?” His smile is big. “Wanna join us?”

Todd looks down at his GPS directions and back at Steve.