“It is stupid the way young men admire one another, the pointlessness of it, the non-reasons.” —Lynn CoadyTerry came out of nowhere.
‘What the fuck do youse think you’re doing?’ He clenched his right hand on his clipboard. In the dark parking lot we couldn’t see his face.
‘Goin’ home, Terry,’ Joey said. ‘You should too.’
Terry paused and in the dark we could hear how deeply he breathed, how he needed to settle himself, prepare.
‘Everyone smelled it on ya—think you boys are settin’ a good example, here?’
We both shrugged.
‘I don’t know,’ Joey finally said.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘I’ve given youse the benefit of the doubt here for over a month. Hoping this was a phase. I don’t care what you can do on the ice—you’re off this team. I can’t have that shit in my dressing room.’
Joey and I stood there, quiet for a couple of seconds.
Then Joey said, ‘Fuck you, Terry.’
Terry snapped back. ‘Fuck you too, Joseph. And fuck you, Michael. You’re breaking my goddamn heart, boys. Go home. I don’t want to see you at our practices or games anymore.’
‘I could lay you the fuck out,’ Joey said, ‘if I wanted.’
‘You try Joseph Miller. You try and I’ll feed you right back to your old man.’
We stood like that, with Terry less than an arm’s length for us and Joey and me with our backs on the truck for what seemed like forever.
‘Go home,’ Terry said, his voice soft and quiet. He almost begged. He slammed his clipboard at the truck’s rear-view and the hard metal clip bounced off the mirror and the clipboard rattled to the asphalt. ‘Go home, boys.’
Joey and I didn’t talk to each other.
We watched Terry try to pick the clipboard up but he couldn’t see in the dark.
We respected him more than we’d ever say to each other or to anyone else.
Joey peeled out of the parking lot and hit the QEW doing one forty. We didn’t smoke on the drive and we didn’t play any music through the system Joey had painstakingly rewired the night before.
Joey and I only played high school hockey from then on. Girls from school (sometimes Shannon and her friends, like Ashley) watched. We got off our fourth period Functions class to play weaker, smaller schools.
Joey and I drove into Guelph one December when Loder and the Bulls played in the city. The game we watched, Loder got a nice assist, but I don’t remember how because Joey and I had brought some vodka in a plastic water bottle that we sipped through the game. We chased the burn now and then with four dollar orange juice Joey bought between in the intermission between the second and the third, sipping more carefully with the orange juice than the vodka.
We said we changed for the calories but we really changed for the smell.
Loder didn’t have to be back in Belleville until Sunday for practice.
‘There’s a bush party in the old Rockwood quarry,’ Joey said.
‘Yeah?’ Loder handed his bag to the bus driver in the cold. The driver ducked and threw the bag deep into the bowels of the bus.
‘We can crash at my place.’ Joey tried not to sound desperate.
Loder patted the bus driver’s elbow and turned to us. ‘Fucking right, boys,’ He ran a hand through his hair.
The fire burned the size of a truck, and the kids who’d come before us had made it from old picnic tables they’d stolen from the Cons. A couple indiscriminate oil drums stood watch, days of the quarry’s use long past. Tall, proud weeds grew through their ruptured centres, a faux rustic wedding décor.
‘Hey,’ Loder said, plopping his backpack down in the light. He shook a Ziploc bag from the zipper.
‘Check it out.’
‘Whoa,’ Joey said. He licked his lips. ‘You sure?’
‘Missed you boys.’ Loder sprinkled a handful of dried, twisted stems in our waiting palms. ‘My treat.’
We’d never tried magic mushrooms—not a party drug, but Loder insisted.
Joey and I were too scared to try harder stuff like cocaine. Loder knew that.
‘Plug your noses,’ Loder said. ‘Down the hatch.’
We chewed them slowly and watched the picnic tables burn. The stems tasted bitter, and our stomachs started to cramp.
The party swelled: at least forty kids huddled in small circles around the blaze.
Loder pulled out a couple mushy bananas from the bottom of his backpack.
‘They’ll help with the gut rot.’ Loder said.
‘The what?’ I asked.
He passed one to Joey and one to me and peeled one for himself. We threw the peels into the fire from a good distance away.
At some point, a bunch of the girls we knew hid in the woods trying to scare us because they knew we’d taken something else, something deeper than weed or beer or flavoured rum. We couldn’t tell where they were because their voices bounced off the limestone cliffs we stumbled under.
Some time later I grabbed fistfuls of pebbles by the Eramosa, whispering to myself ‘keep it together, keep it together.’ In the morning, I discovered I’d splintered my thumbnails into tributaries, cut rivers running to an underwater sea of black blood trapped beneath my not quite broken nails.
Eventually the cops came to break up the party—or at least there big flashlights cut through the half-dark around the picnic table fire, all anyone needed to scare high school kids, especially ones burning picnic tables in an abandoned quarry. Joey, Loder, me ran into the woods, deeper into the bush, which survived the endemic three story houses and the quarry’s development the century before. We stole through backyards lost, cold, and messed up, enduring a light fall rain, the kind that’d be nice to watch through a back window with a fire going, the kind you’d like to hear beneath three or four heavy and homemade quilts.
‘Where are we?’ Joey kept asking, at around probably around three or four in the morning. Maybe later. Loder and I ignored Joey for the first three times he asked. We didn’t know either. We may have walked around the same tree for an hour, but either way, Loder insisted we keep moving.
Loder put a hand on my chest, and nodded over Joey, who wouldn’t leave an oak tree that we used to climb. For Joey, the tree looked familiar, a piece of our past he could cling to: thick branches, perfect for climbing without worrying about anything snapping.
‘Where are we, boys?’ Joey asked again. I could hear the first birds of the new day start to sing. False dawn washed through the forest.
We’d told Joey at least a dozen times since we’d first tried to ignore his question.
Loder and I dragged him to a street corner outside our subdivision after lying about a nearby washroom. Joey pulled down his pants and his Scooby-Doo boxers and peed right there, right against a stop sign like the sign was a toilet or a bush.
‘I feel better,’ Joey said. He tripped on his crumpled jeans.
‘That’s good. Can we go home now?’ Loder asked.
‘Sure,’ Joey said. He turned and asked us both, but looked at me. ‘Where are we, boys?’
Loder and I didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t phone our parents; Loder’s brother unhooked his phone at night. Dan would’ve understood, wouldn’t have made fun of us until after we’d had some sleep and food. But instead Loder phoned the paramedics.
‘Yeah, our buddy,’ Loder said into his phone. Joey tried to fit his fist in his mouth. A thin stream of saliva ran across his knuckles and his huge hand.
Soon we heard sirens coming and we sat on someone’s lawn. Joey fell over, his exposed, cold-shriveled penis trapped beneath him. We pulled his boxers on and battled the friction of the wet grass and his slick, hairy legs.
The ambulance hopped the curb onto the grass. The lights splashed against on the windows of the houses nearby. We brushed Joey’s sweat on our jeans.
The paramedic got to the point: ‘What he’d take?’ They hadn’t left the ambulance.
‘Mushrooms,’ Loder said, meeting the woman’s eye. ‘We’re on mushrooms.’
She nodded and wrote something on a thick, fancy looking clipboard. ‘And how much have you boys had to drink?’
‘Three or four beers, maybe.’ The truth.
The woman looked at the man who’d come along with her. She took our names and then threw her clipboard onto the front seat. They both put their hands on their belts, trying to look official. ‘Can you get him home?’
Loder and I looked at each other. ‘Yeah,’ Loder finally said. ‘We can.’
‘Otherwise we have to take him to the hospital. They’ll send him to the Homewood for a weekend involuntary.’
‘They will?’ Loder asked.
‘That’s just policy, boys. I don’t make the rules.’
‘Sure,’ Loder said, ‘sure.’
I thought Loder would be the one to lose his mind on mushrooms, because I thought Loder was permanently bent inside.
‘We can get him home,’ Loder said to the paramedic. ‘Honestly.’
Joey rolled over, blades of grass sticking in his long hair. ‘Where are we, boys?’
The woman said, ‘If we see you again, or if we hear about you again, all three of you are going downtown in bracelets.’ The male paramedic didn’t say a word.
Do paramedics carry handcuffs? We didn’t ask.
The paramedics walked back to their ambulance and left. Calling them seemed so pointless. We probably became a good story around the coffee pot at their shift change. A call to witness three degenerates strung out past the town line. One might’ve been that hockey-playing kid.
Loder put an arm under Joey’s left shoulder and I put one under his right. Joey could still walk, but he tried to wander away from us, like those autistic kids who walk away every summer, the ones you hear about on the news who end up trapped like logs against the mesh of the dams down the Eramosa or the Grand, waterlogged heads and limbs bloated into cartoon disproportions.
Loder looked at me and then looked at Joey. ‘Let’s get him home,’ he said.
With his free hand, Loder texted Shannon and told her to unlock her basement door.
She let us through the fence and the four of us crossed the Millers’ yard without speaking. The bottom of the door to the house caught the overgrown weeds.
‘I don’t even want to know,’ she said, her eyes bleary and her hair arguing with itself. Dawn light looked soft and kind. ‘But is he ok.’
‘He’ll be fine,’ Loder said. ‘He’s just wiped. We all are.’
I looked at Joey and avoided looking at her. I could feel her eyes on me.
Loder fireman-carried Joey over to the sectional and there Joey fell asleep, in his pee-soaked boxers, with scuffed-up hands and forearms, but alive, not hypothermic, not freezing on a bed of pine needles. I took a blanket from the tiny closet by the bar fridge and sprawled on the island of throw rug before the great flat screen, while Shannon went back upstairs to bed, her slippers whispering on the hardwood as she left.
Loder poured a glass of cold water from the basement fridge and left the glass on the coaster near Joey’s head. He ran his hand through Joey’s hair, tugged at the knots. His eyes bounced from Joey to the backyard to the stairs.
‘Alright man, I’m going home,’ Loder said to me. ‘Bus leaves in an hour.’
‘See ya.’ I pulled the blanket to my chin.
He winked. ‘When the angels win the pennant.’
Loder slipped out the sliding door and disappeared behind a stand some kind of coniferous tree. He blended with the trees and the mist, an early morning ghost.