Night games of shinny started by five o’clock in December. Streetlights came on like candles that were slow to catch, making kids rush through their macaroni and hit the ice, boots unlaced, tomato sauce still on their chin.
We threw our sticks in a pile. Lloyd rifled them to either side of the street. It was a fair enough system. I wasn’t one of the strongest players, but I wasn’t the weakest. Thin Paul was forever getting driven into the snow by one of the Wheelers.
Rules were loose, tempers smoked and that red ball got raised higher and higher. Slapshots were outlawed—unless you were really pissed at someone. This one time, Lloyd let a shot fly that took off his brother’s toque and left a bent circle on his forehead that I could still see at school the next morning. Fists, balled inside of mitts, hit down-filled jackets and the thumps sounded like they were three blocks over. I stayed out of the way.
I ran up and down the street, never handling the ball for long, firing it to the first guy I saw or taking a lame swing, hoping to direct it towards the two lumps of snow that served as goalposts.
We played when it was almost melting and we had to strip off our jackets to let the sweat out. And we played when the wind bit into our cheeks and I thought my feet would break off into my boots. We played until calves burned, lips cracked open and blood ran down chins into dirty snow.
Around nine o’clock, we heard names being called out of doorways, like strange night birds. John… Mike… Lloyd and Ray… get home. My mom never called me. I just went in when the others started to disappear, afraid to be alone.