Thursday, September 15, 2011

Troubled Sleep

-Chapter One-

     The roar of the crowd was overwhelming.  One almost couldn't hear oneself think.  Of course, the people there weren't accustomed to thinking.  No one in Greater Los Angeles had ever before heard such a noise in the Ducks' home arena.  Most of them had never before been to the Ducks' arena before today, only the gravity of a championship event was too much to resist.  The Stanley Cup was in the building.  And it was about to be awarded.
     Amidst the hysteria, the red carpet unrolled onto the ice like the dog Pluto's cartoon tongue.  White-gloved hands carried the heretofore pristine trophy from the gaping vomitorium to where all the cheering customers could see.  It was the first and last time, most of them knew, that the Stanley Cup would be awarded to a Los Angeles team.
     Chris Pronger watched without listening as the commissioner gave his perfunctory congratulations to the home team.  The six-foot-six defenseman did not let his beady eyes leave the sparkling trophy as the Ducks' captain Scott Niedermeyer hoisted the Cup over his head to applause unprecedented within the marble walls of the Honda Center.  The captain kissed the beloved trophy as he slowly skated the ice and Pronger follwed him, impatiently waiting for his own moment of glory.  Pronger had spit out his mouth guard in the moment of victory; now his teeth ground as he watched Scott Niedermeyer pass the Cup to his brother, Rob Niedermeyer, but Pronger swallowed his words along with chips of his teeth.  Deep down, he knew that he owed the lesser Niedermeyer this moment; hockey's champion defenseman, and the Ducks' captain, had only deigned to sign a contract with this team out of pity for his younger sibling.  It seemed like ages that the Cup was in Rob's hands.  Pronger had waited long enough!  He had waited while they passed out championship baseball caps.  He had waited through the tedious presentation of the MVP award.  He continued to fight the urge to grab his trophy from the little squirt.  He had won it!  It was his!  He knew his own on-ice contributions far outweighed anyone but Scott's and that he had deserved to be second in line for his moment of supreme self-satisfaction.  It wasn't fair!!
     But presently, Pronger's eyes widened with anticipation as he saw the most beautiful trophy in all the world skating toward him, carried by Niedermeyer's brother.  He tried not to look down, fearing vertigo.  The dizziness of disbelief and his own freakish height were taking their effect on him.  His moment had finally come.  Elated, he greedily snatched the proffered trophy from Rob's ourstretched hands.
     The Cup burned his flesh as with cold fire and Pronger only gripped it tighter--tried to steady his hands as the thing which he desired most in the world was finally delivered to him.  He felt the Cup try to slip from his grasp.  The whole moment seamed unreal, like it wasn't supposed to be.  Fifteen and a half kilograms of etched silver seemed feather-weight in his hands.  With one deep breath and the most powerful scream he could muster, Chris Pronger raised hockey's greatest trophy high over his head and, as he slowly lowered it and felt the cold metal touch his chapped lips, he knew he had proven what he had suspected for a long time:
     There was no God.

     Patrick Marleau shot upright in bed, drenched in a cold sweat.  It might have been a warm sweat had he not been in Canada, but as he caught his breath he saw that he was back in his room on his parents' farm, just a few miles outside of Aneroid, Saskatchewan.  Under a bright moon, the flat plains he had worked and skated throughout his youth stretched out beyond his window to the horizon.  He swung his legs over the side of the bed and placed his head in his hands, trying to collect himself, waiting for the anxiety of his nightmare to pass.  Quietly, he waited and listened to see if his anguished scream had awoken anybody.  His right hand involuntarily reached for Mr. Cuddles and brought him to his chest.  Mr. Cuddles' marble eyes were scratched from repeated trips in the washing machine.  Patrick's mom would have to wash him again after tonight, so soaked was he with sweat.
     A clock on the wall told Patrick it was 3:30.  It wouldn't be long before his parents would wake up to begin the day's chores.  He wondered if they had anything special planned for today as he remembered the date: September 15th.  It was his birthday!  That cheerful realization was shaded with melancholy when he realized he would not see his friends today.  He missed them.  Summers were always so long here in Saskatchewan.
     Patrick gave up on the thought of crawling back under his sweat-drenched sheets and got up to walk to his desk.  He opened it up and brought out a well-worn book, which he opened.  It was his diary.  A few heavy pieces of paper fell out of it.  Patrick turned on his desk lamp and stooped to pick them up.  In the harsh light, he saw that they were pictures of him and his friends and teammates from the San Jose Sharks, all smiles and laughter.  It only made him sadder.  Patty had long ago caught his breath, but his chest was aching.  His hand found a pen and he sat down to his desk and opened his diary to the first blank page.
     "Dear Diary," he began and put the pen to his pursed lips in thought.  "How are you?  I am fine."  But that wasn't right.  He began again.  "I had the nightmare again.  It seemed so real. like it actually happened.  It's like finding out the girl you've had a crush on since freshman year fucked the biggest asshole in school.  It makes you wonder if she's the person you thought she was.  It makes you wonder if you want her at all, anymore.  Tell me, Diary: Why do bad things happen to good trophies?  Why does the good guy never win?"
     He waited.
     "You go ahead and think about it.  Get back to me-- Shit!" he jumped at the sound of a loud crack against the window pane.  He looked around.  He was alone.  Slowly, Patty got up and quietly started for the--
     "Fuck!" he said as a second rock hit the glass, leaving a chip this time.  Now he bolted for the window and threw it open, which he immediately regretted as the night air slapped him in the face and chilled his damp t-shirt.  Outside, silhouetted against the moonlight, Patrick recognized the large, familiar frames of Joe Thornton and Douglas Murray.  Douglas waved hello.  "Jumbo" Joe was lining up another shot with his hockey stick and hadn't seemed to notice Patty's arrival.
     "What the hell are you doing?" Patty hissed at him, trying to keep his voice down.
     "Trying to get you to come to the window," replied Joe.
     "I'm on the ground floor, Dumb-ass!  Why didn't you just tap on the glass?"
     Joe looked to Douglas for an answer.  He didn't seem to have one.
     "Happy birthday, Patty!"  Now they were both waving.  Patrick felt his heart warm a little.  He really was relieved to see them.  He bid them with his hand to move closer to the house.  As the two approached and stood at the window, Patty looked at their dirty boots and thought nervously of his carpet.  He tried to think of a reason not to invite them into his room, but was again relieved when he saw they had no intention of coming in.
     "Let's go!" Joe said, motioning for Patty to climb out the window.
     "But what about my parents?" Patty wondered aloud as he threw on a sweater.  "It's my birthday.  They probably have something really swell planned for me!"
     There was silence for a moment.  Douglas Murray shrugged his massive shoulders.
     "Fuck it," he said.  Patty was torn.  He gave it some thought.
     "Okay!" said Patty, throwing Mr. Cuddles into his backpack and shrugging it on.  He hopped out the window and gladly followed them, but, as they raced across the open field to where a pair of dogsleds waited by a lonely box elder tree, Patty had another question.
     "Where are we going?" he asked.

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