BY JERROD EDSON
Jerrod Edson was born in Saint John, NB, in 1974. This is an excerpt from his novel, The Goon, published by Oberon Press, and posted here with Oberon’s permission. Copyright is held by the author.
HIS HEAD throbbed as he made his way down the narrow hallway toward the bathroom. It was a Friday morning in late June. The sun was shining.
It was dark in the bathroom. The floor was cold and felt good on his feet. He flicked on the light and it stung his eyes. He slipped the big gold ring off his finger — his 1992 Allan Cup Champions ring — and placed it gently on the edge of the sink. He filled a small glass with water, took out his false teeth and dropped them into the glass. He let the tap run, till the water was cold, then knelt over and splashed his face. It woke him a little. He opened the cabinet, uncapped a bottle of Tylenol and chewed a few without water.
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked in the mirror. Water dripped from his face. He had big droopy eyes, and a crooked nose and thin lips. His face was scarred about the eyebrows, nose and chin. His skin was leathery, rough and wrinkled, like an old dried-out hockey glove. He noticed a small cut on the edge of his lip. Not a bad night, he thought. He couldn’t remember what had happened. Probably tripped, he thought, wiping away the dried blood. Or punched. He grinned.
He splashed his face with cold water again and things came back. It was his 58th birthday. He was at the Three Mile Tavern. The waitress Ruthie was flirting and saying “My oh my, Jack Jones, the only NHLer we ever had in here.” Jack was feeling tingly and patting her on the ass and laughing at the loudness of the bar and the beer. Then Ruthie said “Jack, you oughta write a book with all your hockey stories — you’d make a million bucks”, and she asked everyone if they’d buy a copy and they said yes, and him, Jack Jones, feeling so fuckin’ smart being a writer and how it had impressed that group of young girls — university girls — when he told them he wrote books.
His erection hit the edge of the sink.
His eyes were now adjusted to the bathroom light. How in Christ do you write a whole book? His brain went fuzzy. He wouldn’t think of it now. He knelt to splash his face again, his hands cupping the cold water, but he heard a woman’s cough from his bedroom and he quickly straightened up. He put his teeth back in and went to investigate.
He tiptoed down the hallway, his arthritic knee aching with each step, and he poked his head into the room.
The woman was asleep, her face pressed into the pillow, her feet hanging off the edge of the bed. Jack crept up to the bed, lifted the covers and looked at her legs.
She awoke, rolled over and smiled and pulled up the blankets. Jack wished she hadn’t. She smiled again as he hovered over her. More things were coming back to him now, but in pieces: The cab ride home. Tripping in the hallway. Laughing. The taste of her, of the bar, on her tongue, in her hair.
He could smell her hair now, a little, in the stale bedroom air. “What’s your name?” he asked.
She forced a chuckle, as if she weren’t disappointed. “I knew you wouldn’t remember.”
Jack flopped down beside her on the bed. “You wanna have some more fun?”
“Guess my name first.”
“Rumple friggin’ Stiltskin.”
“Alright. Gimme a hint.”
“We met at the Aquarius.”
“And you said you wrote books.”
Jack smiled wide.
“You said you’d show them to me.”
“I said I’m writin’ a book — about my NHL days.”
“Can I read it?”
“It ain’t done.”
“Can I read what you got?”
Jack paused. He reached under the covers and felt her leg, the stubble along her shin, then up over her knee before she shifted away.
“Gimme another hint.”
“I work there — at the AQ.”
Jack rolled over, onto her, pressing hard against her, between her legs, over the sheets. Up close he could see the wrinkles around her eyes and the hardness of her tiny lips. He felt the firmness of her breasts pressing against him. “Let’s quit the games and get to it.”
“What’s my name?”
He rolled off her and sighed. “I know I should remember and it’s goddamned rude of me, but for the life of me, sweetheart, if I get it right it’s only gonna be a guess.”
“Then guess. You want another hint?”
“You were sitting by the edge of the dance floor, looking at the girls.”
“Student Party Night.”
“You’re too old.”
“That’s why I brung you home.”
She slapped him. “Be nice.”
“Just kiddin’, darlin.”
“You were telling my friends you used to play hockey but they didn’t believe you and you got mad and punched the table. That’s when you said you wrote books.”
Jack looked at his knuckles and saw the scraped skin.
“But we were just joking with you. Everybody in Saint John knows who Jack Jones is.”
Jack smiled. “I played for the Bruins.”
“I know. You told us a hundred times last night.”
“And I won the Allan Cup with the Vito’s in ’92.” He held up his hand but realized he’d left his ring in the bathroom. His hand felt naked without it. He sprung from the bed and quickly snatched it and then lay beside her again. He held up his hand and twisted his wrist, the dull light from the window reflecting in the gold of the ring. “You new at the AQ? I know all the waitresses there.”
“You’ve seen me enough times to know my name.”
She bit down on her lip, trying not to smile. Jack’s head turned sharply and his arm dropped.
“It’s Joyce, ain’t it?”
She bit down and giggled. Jack flipped up the sheet and climbed on top of her and kissed her hard, like he did during the night when they were both drunk and the sex was rough and awkward.
Later, when it was over, they went into the kitchen. Jack was naked as he stood over the stove frying eggs. A few hardened noodles and spaghetti sauce dirtied the stovetop. Dirty dishes were piled clumsily in the sink. A tiny toy Zamboni sat on the windowsill. Smudges of fingerprints lined the cupboard doors and there was a faint smell of garlic, of cracked linoleum, of the fine layer of cat hair that lined the edge of the kitchen floor.
Joyce sat at the kitchen table and smoked a cigarette. She was wearing one of Jack’s t-shirts which covered her like a dress. She played with the salt shaker, rolling it from one hand to another. On the wall behind her hung a wooden map of Canada with decorative spoons hanging over each province. Jack had bought it years ago at the flea market. He thought it refined the room, given it a lady’s touch. Dust had settled along the top of it, along Northern Quebec and the Territories. The silver spoons and the tiny vibrant colours of each province’s flag contrasted with the faded white walls.
Jack tapped at the eggs with the spatula. “How you like ’em?”
He scraped them onto two plates and slid them across the table.
“Water or juice?”
“Juice,” she said, picking at the eggs then taking a drag from her cigarette and placing it on the ashtray.
Jack grabbed a can of apple juice from the fridge. He opened a beer for himself and sat, naked, and ate. His body which was once very muscular was now flabby, his pectoral muscles drooping, his arms once feared in the hockey world, now thin, the skin sagging under the biceps. But his hands were huge; the fork looked tiny, his long thick fingers, his knuckles, wrinkled and red and swollen, making his ring, a big gold ring with Vito’s emblem, look like that of a mobster, a hoodlum who broke legs for a living.
“Where you live?”
“I’ll drive you.”
Jack shoveled the eggs into his mouth. “Pickup and delivery. Nothin’ but the best.”
Joyce smiled. “You know, we’ve been together before.”
She was still smiling as she finished her eggs. “When you were with the Vito’s. It was after a game, at the Three Mile. You took me to the Courtney Bay Inn.”
“I took a lot of ladies to the Courtney Bay Inn.”
“I bet you did.”
Jack wiped the edges of his mouth with a napkin. “Honey, I don’t mean you no disrespect, I really don’t, but I don’t remember. I don’t remember any gals from back then.”
“I bet you remember playing for the Vito’s.”
Jack picked a piece of egg out of his teeth. “We had a great team. Me, Bill Stafford, Brian Daniels, Rob Keane. We barely lost a game.”
He drank down the bottle of beer then belched loudly. The sunlight was bright in the kitchen. Outside the trees swayed a little in the breeze. He got up and opened the window so you could hear the leaves rustling in the daylight.
Joyce smoked another cigarette before she went to the bedroom to get dressed, then Jack drove her home.