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A short story from up North...

  T h e  S t - H e n r i  H a b s

But the thing I remember most about that year was the brand-new hockey jersey that Jeremy MacGuinn¹s father gave him. Man, I loved that jersey. It was white and so new it almost shone, with "CARBONNEAU" spelled across the back in crisp, black letters and the captain's C above the squat Canadiens logo on the front. The rest of us had old red sweaters with the names half missing and holes in. I would skate around the rink, my thick blue sweater showing through the ratty tears in my jersey, and peer at Jeremy from the corner of my eye. His skating was unsteady and his shots and passes missed the mark at least as often as they hit, but since he had the new jersey, people passed to him more than they used to, and he was no longer the last man picked when the teams were divvied up. My hockey sweater was faded almost to pink and the logo on the front was coming off in places. It was frayed at the elbows and the hem had come down at the back. One of the digits was missing from the number on the back, and the left arm was coming loose at the shoulder. Laurent's sweater was just as bad and Eric's was even worse. None of our fathers could get us new jerseys, so each day we carefully pulled our old sweaters on, hoping they would last one more season.

Jeremy's father was a manager at the Imperial Tobacco factory around the corner where most of our fathers worked. Papa called him "Le gros salaud" behind his back. Most of the other boys' fathers did it too, but none of us ever mentioned this to Jeremy. Every night, Mister MacGuinn would come from their house up on Dorchester and pick Jeremy up for dinner in his shiny BMW somethingorrather. The rest of us ran home at the sound of our mothers and sisters calling out thinly against the bitter wind, eager to fill our bellies with pork hocks and tourtière.

***

Christmas vacation started about a week and a half after Jeremy got his new jersey; on that day, the left arm came off of my own. Maman sewed it back on as well as she could, but the frayed material wouldn't last the rest of the winter. I wanted a new Habs sweater for Christmas, but I knew my parents did not have the money. I got socks and a scarf instead. I began to think about Jeremy¹s beautiful white hockey sweater more and more until my desire began to show the first blush of obsession. During the day I thought about nothing else, and at night, my dreams were laced with images of a sweater with the captain's C and the name "CARBONNEAU" in golden thread. Since my parents couldn't get me a new sweater, I decided to take matters into my own hands: I could shovel driveways until I had enough money to buy the sweater myself.

But St-Henri is not a town of driveways. The front doors of the rowhouses come straight to the sidewalk, with maybe a half metre of yard at the front. They had huge driveways the size of steamships up in Westmount, but Papa wouldn't let me walk up there alone, so I had to settle for shovelling people's tiny walkways and front. By the end of two weeks, I was still a long way off from the price of a new hockey sweater, and I was restless. At this rate it'll be the middle of summer by the time I can afford my new sweater I lamented, bitterly cursing my neighbourhood and its poverty. Then I got an idea.

***

At the Atwater Métro station there is a big shopping centre. My friends and I had gone there many times to look at the hockey jerseys in the sports clothing store. They had an exhaustive collection: Boston's black and gold, Toronto's blue and white, The Québec Nordiques with that weird logo on the front, and the familiar Habs' red white and blue. The Canadiens sweaters hung in three columns near the front door, and the other teams took up space further back. I snuck out to the mall every day, walking by the store and planning my crime down to the smallest possible detail: What time did the clerks go on lunch? What time did they close the store? Which clerk was the least attentive, and what day did he work? I took mental notes, repeating the times and figures to myself as a mantra every night before bed. I categorised every clerk and each day of the week, cross-referencing them one against the other, until I could rattle off the store's schedule as easily as the manager himself. It was time to make my move.

***

It was Boxing day. The Mall was crowded with shoppers locked in the traditional post-Christmas spending blitz, which would make it easy for me to get lost in the crowds. I stood next to a payphone and watched the store, waiting for the perfect time to act. I watched the three clerks chat for a while near the store's entrance. The manager would leave first; privilege of rank, I guess. He would go upstairs to the food court and come back exactly an hour later. The two other clerks would take advantage of his absence to slacken off a bit, which was perfect; if only he'd shut up and leave. I looked at the jerseys next to the door: the Carbonneau ones were flanked on either side by a bunch of other Canadiens. He was still talking. I counted to 100 in French, then in English, then in French again. Finally, the manager left. I watched him go up the escalator, then took a deep breath and walked into the store. One of the clerks saw me and strolled over.

"Can I help you?" I wasn't sure, but I think he sneered.

"I'll just look around a bit first, thanks." I was surprised at how calm I sounded. I was convinced he could hear my racing pulse. He shrugged.

"Come get me if you want something and I'll give you a hand," he said.

He looked like he'd rather sweep me out the door. I was glad that he was such a jerk. It made what was coming next that much easier. The clerk went to the back of the store and started sniggering with his co-worker. It was time. I could feel my pulse in my wrists and throat and my eyesight began to swim. I was breathing too shallow, too fast. Now.

I blindly lunged at the jerseys and grabbed. I ran. I heard an alarm go off somewhere, felt my feet thud in rapid fire against the mall's tile floor. Behind me, someone shouted. I pushed my way through the crowds, not even thinking about where I was going. I vaguely remember an old woman with groceries spilled around her feet and faces distorted by shock and outrage. I ran *Bam* into a heavy metal and glass door, then I was outside and running for home with blood pouring from my nose. I was free. When I got to my block, I stuffed the contraband into my jacket and walked around the block twice to catch my breath. Then I sat on the kerb and wiped my nose clean, melting snow in my hand to wash with. When I was ready, I strolled to my front door and entered. My mother looked at me as I passed through the kitchen, and I thought I caught a glimpse of accusation in her eyes.

"Tourtière?"

"Not hungry."

I continued toward my room. I closed my bedroom door and tore off my coat, anxious to see the jersey. I was surprised to discover that I felt nothing. I had spent two weeks planning the heist, and figured that I should feel some sort of satisfaction, but there just a slight unease which settled in the bottom of my stomach and picked at my intestines. I spread the jersey out on my bed, and looked at it, hoping to stir up some sort of triumph. Sh*t. There was no captain's C. I quickly flipped the sweater over: "GAINEY".

***

I could hear my friends congregate at the rink. The dry snap of sticks and yells of my friends as they warmed up on the ice were an invitation which I would normally have jumped at, but to-day my stomach was locked into a bitter knot which threatened to pull me inwards and crush me. What could I do? If I wore the damned sweater, the guys would want to know where I got it, and the story would eventually reach Papa's ears. If he found out that I'd stolen the sweater, I would probably be whupped to within a centimetre of my life. For the same reason, hiding it in my drawers was out of the question: Maman would surely find it there, and I'd get the wooden spoon across my arse. At a loss for what to do, I sat on the edge of my bed and stared at the sweater. I have no idea how long I sat there, but I eventually came to a decision. I took my big scissors out of my desk and cut the jersey into little scraps. Then I dumped the whole mess into my wastebasket and took the bag out to the can in front. I returned to my room and sat again on my bed. The yells and ruckus from the rink outside grew louder; the guys had started a match. I crossed to my window and looked out towards the park. I could see the guys swooping around the rink, red sweaters flowing around a white one. I took out my decrepit jersey and pulled it over my head. I stood before my mirror and inspected every tear. Maybe next year. I slung my stick and skates over my shoulder and went out to play.

Jesse Corbeil

 

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