A sad tale’s best for winter.
I have one of sprites and goblins.
— A Winter’s Tale
I was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario — Bytown, as we say. The Ottawa Canal was practically in our backyard, and the reason I say practically
is that we didn’t really have a backyard. There was this little square thing that was full of bricks, because my father was always planning to build something. I never did learn what the Jesus he meant to build, but he certainly had the bricks for it.
I thought the canal was a beautiful thing. I spent so much time beside the water that it seemed to the young me that the canal had moods. Sometimes it would be whitecapped and rough, and I wouldn’t think that the wind was up and blowing over a storm, I’d think the water was angry. Or sometimes it would be gentle, with little pieces of sunlight bouncing on it, and I knew that the canal was happy and that if I went swimming the water would play on my body.
But I loved her best when she froze.
A few nights of the right weather, and I’m talking thirty below, teethaching and nose-falling-off-type weather, and the canal would grow about a foot of ice. Hard as marble, and just as smooth. Strong and true. It gives me the goose bumps just thinking about it. Lookee there, see how goosebumped I am right now.
I can’t remember lacing on blades for the first time. Likewise with hockey. I’ve got no idea when I first heard of, saw, or played the game of hockey. Some years back, Clay Clinton and I were invited to one of those hockey schools for a seminar. It couldn’t have been that long back, come to think, because what we were discussing was something like The Development of Hockey in North America, which means we were trying to figure out a way of beating the Russians. So there was me there, and Clay (who was drunk much of the weekend, and occupied with the pursuit of somebody’s floozy wife), and this young coach from Minnesota.
And the lad from Minn. starts talking about the origins
of hockey. He went on and on about soccer and lacrosse, English foot soldiers playing baggataway
with the Indians, some Scandinavian entertainment called bandy
. I bit my tongue, but the truth of the matter is, I never knew that hockey originated. I figured it was just always there, like the moon.
Now, there were three of us Leary lads, Francis, Lloyd, and myself, Percival. We all early on got reputations in our neighbourhood as good hockey players. Even though I was the youngest and the smallest, I was rated the best. Little Leary, they called me, a puff of Irish wind.
So one day — and this I remember like yesterday, better even, because what the hell happened yesterday other than Blue Hermann tweaking Mrs. Ames’s enormous bub, eliciting a shriek that popped my eardrums — this strange young lad shows up at the canal.
The strangest thing about him was the way he was dressed, namely, a full-length fur coat with a matching little cap. We just wore sweaters, one for every five degrees she dropped below freezing, and on this particular day I had on maybe six. This boy in the fur coat and matching cap stood by the snowbanks and watched us for almost half an hour, not saying a word. I was pretending to ignore the lad, but really I was studying him. He was fat, but
not the kind of fat that would get him called Fatty. Mostly what I noticed about him was his face, which was handsome as hell. The lad had gray eyes that seemed to have slivers of ice in them.
I decided to impress him, don’t ask me why. The next time I got the puck I danced down the canal like I was alone. Then I made like Cyclone Taylor. I still loved Taylor even though he had, the year previous, abandoned the Ottawa Senators for the loathsome Renfrew Millionaires. As you may know, Cyclone claimed that he could score a goal skating backwards, and he did this against the Senators, and that’s what I did myself, turning around and sailing past the pointmen, slapping the rubber with my heaviest backhand. The little boy standing between the two piles of snow that was the goal — who had been pretending to be Rat Westwick of the Silver Seven — just covered his head and let the puck fly by.
Excerpted from King Leary by Paul Quarrington. Copyright © 2007 by Paul Quarrington. Excerpted by permission of Anchor Canada, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.