Don Johns was one of the largest guys I knew.  Dirty blonde hair, fourteen and over six feet tall in grade eight, with a duck tail haircut and black rimmed glasses.  He could have passed for a thicker more heavy set Buddy Holly who looked as solid as a tree trunk.  In another era or in another neighbourhood, he might have been spotted and recruited to play linesman for a college football team.

He wasn’t the brightest but he was rock solid as a friend.   He was quiet and shy, especially around girls, but you never wanted to get him riled.  I saw him beat a guy to a pulp when he was angry.

My elder brother, no small fry himself, and famous for rubbing the knuckles of those who crossed him on the cement, was Don’s friend. When Don and my brother walked out into the neighbourhood, everyone got out of the way.  

I hung around them like a puppy hoping the big dogs would leave something on the bone.  I watched them go into Kresge’s and come out with pens, nail clippers and erasers.   I learned from them the fine art of pocketing things, hiding them up one’s sleeve and above all, the displacement rule.   According to them, you never shoplifted an article from where it was located.   First you moved it from one place to another in the store; that way, the store sort of “lost” the article before you removed it.   You put it where they did not expect it.   Then you went in an hour later and took it from the place it wasn’t supposed to be.    They don’t expect you to shoplift something that isn’t “there”.

I watched the way my brother and Don wore their pants and their T-shirts, rolling both up.   I did the same.   I applied Wild Root Cream Oil to my hair but I could never make my curly ringlets straight enough and long enough for a ducktail.  Everything just bunched up.   I tried to walk down the street the easy way they did, confident, kings of all they surveyed, afraid of nothing.  This worked fine as long as I was with them but otherwise attracted fights the way rotting meat attracts flies.

Don lived on Church in an old house on the first floor.   My brother and Don usually went there after hockey.  One Sunday afternoon, I tagged along behind, my brother and Don walking together crunching the snow, smoking their cigarettes and discussing the fine points of the game.

“Jimmy should have passed the puck when you were in the clear, eh?” says Don.

“Yeah he had his head down.  The other guy almost took head off.”  answers my brother.

“Yeah, well I came up behind him and knocked from here to Sunday.”

At this they both guffawed.

“Christ, he look stunned when he got up.  I think he might have chipped his tooth.  It was bleeding, eh.”

“We would have won but that’ goalie was too fuckin’ hot.”

“Well Chris and Norm tried to run him twice, eh.   And I got off a few shots at his head but he was just too fast.”

“And how about Barry.   Holy shit, that guy can skate.  But he’s got a mouth on him like a sewer.”

“Yeah.  All game he’s yellin’ at me.  ‘Fuckin’ well pass the fuckin’ puck you fuckin’ fuckface.’  But he sure can skate.  He’s gonna try out for Junior B next year.

“Izzat so?  I’m gonna go out for defence.”

I now piped up. “I’m gonna try out for goalie for the school team.”

“What are you, nuts?” my brother says and Don snickers.

“Well, everybody says, I got good hands and I move fast in goal.”

“They tell you you skate too slow?  That’s the other reason they want you in net, so you don’t screw up on defence.”

I was indignant.  “Barry and Jimmy were taking shots at me and I stopped all of ‘em.  Howzzat, eh,”

Don and my brother walked off to the side and conferred.

He came back and smiled at me.  “Well, little brother, why don’t we test you too?  You can stand against the garage in the alley behind Don’s house.   You can use my gloves, pants and pads and I think Don still has the baseball glove I let him use in the summer.  You can use that for a catcher.  Don and me will take some shots, just to see what you can do.  Whadaya say?”

Could I turn down an offer like that?  To be tested by my big brother and Don and to show them how good I was - this was the chance of a lifetime.

 When we got to Don’s house, he went in and brought out the baseball glove and some padding he found I could wear on my chest.   The rest of the equipment I got from my brother. 

I walked to the garage and indicated the dimensions of the goal with my stick.   I crouched down as they walked back thirty paces and dropped a few pucks on the snow.

They stood about twenty feet apart and took turns shooting the puck - at my head as it turned out.

I stopped most of them.  My brother whistled one past my left ear.

“Hey,” I yell, “what the Hell are you tryin’ to do?”

“Just showing you what it’s like to play goal on the school team,” says my brother.

Just then I get hit in the head by a puck and topple like a felled tree.

My brother runs up, “Holy shit what happened?  Don, you were supposed to miss him.”

Don is kneeling somewhere nearby too.  I open my eyes and see both looking concerned.

“He’s lucky I noticed he wasn’t looking at the last second and took a little off it.”

He was right.   I got hit by the flat of the puck and there was no cut.  I put my hand to the side of my head and feel a painful bump growing.   Being a younger brother, I start to yell bloody murder.

“Asshole, you could have killed him,” my brother says out of pure brotherly affection and concern for his neck if his parents found out.

Don grinds his teeth and starts to turn purple but suppresses it. “Ah, he’s alright.  It’s just a bump.  Let’s take him in the house and give him some water.”

They carry me like luggage my brother holding me under the arms, Don holding my legs.  I have my eyes open and watch the evening clouds gather, turning red on the horizon.  We enter a dark doorway and walk down a dark hall to a room with a TV blaring.

As soon as we walk in Don yells, “Mom, I’m home.  We got company.”  Then as he enters the living room, “Vanessa, George, Lucy, Tom, move out of the way.  Get off the couch, we need the space.”  Four children much smaller than Don scamper around the room.  They look like they’re between three and six.

They dump me like a sack on the couch and Don roughly sticks a pillow under my head.

“Vanessa, get me a glass of water and some ice too.”

The largest of the small children, a thin blonde girl, runs down the hall and comes back a few moments later with a glass of water.  Following her a shapely blonde woman comes into the room wearing a white bathrobe.  She’s framed by the single lamp beside the door way and I can’t see her face.  She glides across the room to me like an angel.

Behind her, slumping into the room, there’s an old guy in jockey shorts and an undershirt.  He comes in slowly and keeps his distance while the angel bends over me.  Her bathrobe is loose and falls open and I am staring at two perfectly shaped breasts, white as the bathrobe, but smoother.  She loosens my coat and opens my collar.

“Here, let’s put some ice on that nasty bump,” she says.  Her voice is young and soothing.   It purrs like a kitten.  She puts some ice wrapped in a handkerchief on the bump and holds it while I wince.

 She takes my hand and puts it on the ice.  “Hold this here for a while.  The bump’ll go down.”

The man in the shorts growls, “Look, Nicole, I don’t want you spending time with these damn kids or I’m outa here.  Come back to bed or I’m outa’ here.”

“Yeah, sure, Hank,” she answers lazily, “like the last ten times.”

I hear rather than see the man storm out of the room, stomp down the hall and slam a door, swearing  all the way about “little bastards” and “bitches”.

“Mom,” says Don, “I’m sorry to bug you but the kid was hurt and…”

“Don’t worry,” she says, “I’m just lookin’ for an excuse to get rid of that one.  He’s outa money and just hangs around drinkin’ beer.   Besides, the kid has a bump the size of a golf ball.  Here,” she says, “have a drink.”

She bends over me again and holds the glass to my lips.   I am staring into the bluest eyes I have ever seen.   I cough and some water dribbles down my chin.   She wipes it with her hand.   As soon as she touches me, it’s as if a spell is broken.

Suddenly, I can see the wrinkles and lines on her face.  I smell alcohol on her breath.  She stands up and sways slightly.  How old is she?

“I gotta get back to Hank,” she says, “so Don, you make the kids the macaroni and cheese, OK?’

“Sure, mom.”

“You’re my one and only lover boy,” she stumbles over to him, hands him the glass of water and hugs him and then reaches up and kisses him on the lips. “You’re my special boy, my number one.”  Her hand reaches up to his head and she runs it along the back of his neck. “Christ, you look like your father,” she says.

Don is turning redder by the minute.  One hand is holding the glass with the water, the other kind of waving in the air.  “Mom,” he says, “mom, I gotta get the stuff for the kids…” and separates her from him.  It’s as if she doesn’t want to let go.

Just then she notices my brother, the dark teenager, as tall as her son and slimmer.  “Why Don, I didn’t know you had such handsome friends.”  She reaches out her hand. 

He takes it and shakes it, smiling.   “We’ve already met a few times, remember.?”

She hesitates, “Why of course, what’s gotten into me?”  She withdraws her hand, straightens the bathrobe and sashays out of the room, flipping her hair out of her eyes and away from her forehead.  “Well, I really got to run.  Don’t forget the kids, Don.”

I hear her stumble her way down the hall, open and close a door.  The T.V. set is playing in the background, the kids gathered closely around the set.

I notice that all of the children look different from Don.  Besides the skinny blonde girl, the other  three are dark but don’t seem to resemble Don at all.

“Are these your brothers and sisters, Don?” I ask.

“Yeah, what of it?” Don snarls.

“Nothin’,” I say, “I was just askin’.”

My brother comes over and says, “so how about it kid, ready to try goal again?”

“Naw, I think my head still hurts too much.”

“Well Don and me are going out for few drags, eh Don, Then you and me will head home, OK?”

I nod carefully and slowly.  Don hands me the glass;  then he and my brother leave me with the kids gathered around the set.

I sit up and take off all the padding and arrange my clothes.   I ask the skinny blonde girl, “Is that your father?”

She and the others are mesmerized by the T.V., sitting silently.  She says, “Hank?  Naw, he’s just a guy who comes over.”

“Where’s your father?”

“I don’t know,” she says, and a after a few more moments of silence, “we don’t know where any of our fathers are.  There’s just mom and Don.”

“Is Don your brother?”

Silence.  Then one of the smaller boys turns his head and whispers, :”Shhh, we can’t hear.”

I get up, do up my coat and walk down the dark hallway to the kitchen, where I leave the glass, the ice cube and the handkerchief in the sink.   There are a few empty beer bottles on the table and the smell of tobacco is everywhere.

As I come back down the hall, I can hear the bedsprings in the bedroom squeaking.  Hank is whispering hoarsely, “Jesus, you’re good, Jesus.”

I walk outside and hear Don and my brother arguing.

Don is shouting “you’ve got fuckin’ nerve to ask me that.  You’ve got your fuckin’ nerve.”

His face is purple again.  He sees me come out the door, comes over and grabs me by the arm, then flings me at my brother.

“Take your shitface little brother and get the Hell outa here before I kill you both.”

 My brother is not afraid, although I think he should be and stands his ground. “C’mon Johns, we all know what your mother is and what she does.   None of you has the same father.  What’s the big fuckin’ deal?”

Don looks like he will explode.  “Fuck you,” he yells and starts to stalk my brother, who stands ready, defiant but overmatched.  I dart aside, grab one of the hockey sticks and push it between Don’s feet as he goes by.

He trips and falls on his face, his glasses go flying.

I run past my brother and grab him as I go, “Run!” I yell, “Run!”

My brother waits until I get a few steps past him, then turns and follows me at a trot.

I look back and see Don looking for his glasses as he screams, “I’ll get you, you bastards, I’ll fuckin’ kill you.”

I put my head down and run.  After a few moments, I look back and see my brother coming up, walking briskly but not running.  Don is not following.

“What the Hell was that?”

“Aw, it was nothin’.   I just asked him if I could have a turn with his mother.   She lets everybody else fuck her.  Don told me she crawled into his bed once too. Why shouldn’t I get a shot?  For her it must be as easy as falling out of bed, or into it,” he laughed.

“But Don’s your friend…”

“Listen little brother.  Sex comes before friends.  He’ll get over it.  Besides, blood is more important than all of it.”

He paused for a moment and looked at me with what I thought was affection.  “That was a slick move with the stick.”  He slapped me on the back.  “You can play goal anytime.”