The Father’s Trophies
His father had a box of National Hockey League pucks in the depths of their unfinished basement. Each puck had a piece of hockey tape stuck to it with a date and a score scrawled on. The box was sealed with blue painter’s tape, the pucks inside trying to burst out the top and sides, as if they had a story of glory and failure that he wouldn’t let them tell.
For three seasons they had a bulldog – one summer, one fall, and barely a winter. Neither his mother nor father had pets before, but his father went to the shelter and brought home the one that was “sweet inside yet’d keep the neighbors away.” It barked when it was hungry and shoved its nose in every crack, corner, and crevice of the house; it enjoyed sniffing toys rather than playing with them, and it had no interest in swimming in the pond out back or going for walks through the woods. The first winter they had it, his mother let the dog out to pee while she stirred gravy on the stove. In a tizzy of struggling to perfect her attempt at the family poutine recipe, she forgot about the bulldog, and didn’t remember it until she lay in bed that night, wondering why she didn’t hear paws padding around or huffs and puffs from the first floor. She made his father go out back with a flashlight, where he saw a massive hole in the seemingly frozen pond. Later, on the web, they read: Do not let your bulldog near water without a life vest. Their large, heavy bodies can sink like a stone. His parents told him the dog ran away and that his father took up ice fishing.
There was a bar a bit down the road where old guys who used to play would go and watch the hockey games. His father took him along when he was a kid, and the bartender didn’t care because his father held him in his lap and never got too drunk to get them both home okay. There was almost always a different couple sitting under the Heineken sign at the far booth in the back, for privacy, and sometimes there would be a group of surgeons from the local hospital playing pool at the table, even though the cue ball was missing. A lot of guys who came into the bar called his father The Sarissa. When he asked his father what that meant, his father waved him off and said, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” He thought they were making fun of his father because his father didn’t grin when they called him this. Sometimes if his father’s friends started howling and jumping around when their team scored, or if two players were fighting on the screen, they would knock things over or throw things, like glasses and food. The bartender always rolled her eyes and muttered, “Bastards.” He always remembered her for teaching him his first swear word.
His mother, holding him for the first time in the hospital, hysterical and sweating and covered in her own blood and feces: “He looks like a russet potato.”
Overhear him in the bathroom: “You are smart, you are kind, you are important,” a variation on lines from The Help.
“When I was little, I used to race our neighbor to school, and I would always beat her. Except it was unfair because I had Heelys, those little shoes with the wheels on the back. But I would make fun of her anyway, tease her and tell her I beat her because I was a boy and she was a girl.”
He dreamt of a bulldog who could swim, who could give him feedback on whether or not to take up the violin.
As he got older, the bartender kept letting him in, even though she shooed away the other high schoolers looking for beer. One day, he walked the two miles in the snow to The Cup, and he went without his father. The bartender looked unsure about letting him in without The Sarissa, but when he told her that his father had overdosed that morning on painkillers for a headache that hadn’t gone away for “many, many years”, she slid a beer across the counter. His first drink, at age eighteen. The surgeons played pool with a lacrosse ball in the background.