“I don’t know why I have to go. I just know I do.” That’s what I told Moses.

He only studied me some and then nodded. He’d been around a long time and he knew drunks. “We’re here if you need us,” he said. “Don’t forget that.”

“I won’t,” I said.

Once I’d checked out, I caught the bus east and promptly fell asleep before we’d hit the highway outside of town. It was a dreamless sleep. I woke to a dull morning in the fog of northern Ontario, and while the bus refuelled I sat in a diner and drank coffee and had a small breakfast of dry toast and fruit. Everyone seemed as bleary as I felt. They took tables alone or meandered through the parking lot sipping coffee and smoking to kill the time. When we loaded up again I stared at the land flashing by. I remembered how I’d watched it as a kid in the back of that sedan with Lonnie Goose and the girl whose name I’d never learned.

White River hadn’t changed all that much. It still looked like a northern mill town. There were newer chain stores now, and the main street had been widened. The old arena had been replaced with a newer, bigger version. The gravel road that had led out of town beyond the quarry was paved now. But the sweep of the land was still the same. Past the quarry it dipped down into lowlands, the marsh and the stream where we’d bagged suckers, then wound upward through thick bush. As the cab I’d caught rounded the last turn, I could see the school.

I paid the cab driver and stepped out at the head of the driveway. The old sign drooped sadly off one post. Someone had shot out most of the letters with a shotgun so that only the first S of St. Jerome’s was legible. The post it hung on was nicked and bitten off by bullets. Old wine bottles and rusted-out beer cans were strewn about the ditch. Lumps of human excrement sat by the post itself. I unhooked the chain across the entrance and laid it on the ground. The cab driver honked as he pulled away. The driveway was pocked with potholes. The fields where they’d grown potatoes and cabbage and turnips were overgrown with weeds.

The school itself was crumbling. Hollow. All of the windows were smashed. The ones on the top floors had been shot out, bullet holes splayed on the sills and sashes. I could hear the flutter of birds from within and the coo of pigeons in the eaves. Graffiti covered the walls with epithets and damnations. The leak of them like blood. The scrunch of my steps echoed through the gaping windows. It was like being followed by ghosts.

The classrooms had occupied the first floor, and beneath their windows people had laid flowers. They were withered now, in bouquets wrapped in plastic and tied with string or ribbon. Here and there I saw a doll or a teddy bear. I knelt and picked up a small yellow truck and spun its wheels with my thumb. Inside, the desks had been smashed and the chalkboards torn from the walls. There was a heap of black rubble in the centre where someone had lit a fire that didn’t take. The feel of the room on my face. Desolate.

The outbuildings were in ruins. I walked past them toward the barns. They too had been ransacked and they smelled of decay. The wet rot of hay and straw. When I rounded the back end, I saw that the boards of the rink were still standing, mostly, though the chicken wire that had stretched across the ends had rusted through. Coils of it hung down like webbing. I stepped through a break and stood in the mud and weeds. A pad of earth. That’s all the rink was now. I knelt to touch it.

“You can’t be here, mister.”

An older, bent-legged man strolled toward me from around the corner of the barn. He was scowling, but the ruddy good health at his cheeks gave away the effort it took to create the look.

“I used to live here,” I said.

“Don’t matter. Lots of them used to live here, and you can see how heartwarming an experience the visits have been.”

“I haven’t seen it since the sixties.”

“They closed her in ’69. Fact is, she was pretty close to being done a few years before that. Most of the kids had run off, and no one could be bothered chasing them down anymore. The town’s looking to sell the land.”

“Ransacked pretty good?”

“There’s nothing left now but junk. People still come here though. Some nights I see their fires. I generally wait until morning to chase them off. They’re hung-over or just wore out by then. Sometimes it’s the same ones. Time after time.”

He stretched out a gaunt hand and I took it. “I’m Jim Gibney.”

“Saul. Indian Horse.”

“Jesus. That’s a handle isn’t it? Our Indians around these parts are mostly Foxes, Martins, Wasacases or Wabooses. How long were you here?”

“I left when I was thirteen. Came when I was a little guy.”

Gibney swept an arm toward the rink. “You play when you were here?”


“Any good?”

The rink was smaller than arena-sized ones. I saw that now. Its corners were sharper, and it was shorter by about fifteen feet. The boards weren’t as high as they should have been, and I remembered us hunting pucks down in the thigh-high snow, heaving them back over the boards to the players, who waited impatiently, their breath like storm clouds in the crisp winter air. “They couldn’t keep me on the team,” I said.

“Well, not everyone’s Gretzky. Listen, Saul, you take your time, and when you’re ready to leave make sure you hook the chain back up at the head of the drive. Keeps the cows out, leastways.”

“I’ll do that.”

As Gibney sauntered off, I walked over to the boards and propped my elbows on the top. The wood wobbled. The only sound was birds calling in the trees at the edge of the field. I closed my eyes, and in the still air I could hear the wild calls of boys and the sound of sticks clacking on ice and hard rubber pounding into board. I remembered the prick of ice crystals and the numb feeling in the soles of my feet in their thin rubber boots and the shovel in my hand as I worked, thrilled at seeing open ice emerge, each laboured breath making child’s play of man’s work.

I cried then. I stood there and looked at that sad ruin of a rink and wept. And suddenly, I remembered.

I remembered standing at the boards with Father Lebou-tilier on a perfect winter’s day. The clouds of my breath rose around my face and the sound of the boys skating was magnified by the cold, still air. As we watched the scrimmage, he pointed things out with his stick. I paid close attention. He pounded the top of the boards with one hand at a very nice play, and I did too. He turned to look at me and smiled. Then he rubbed my head with his hockey glove.

“This game brings out the best in you, Saul,” he said.

I remembered the two of us alone in his quarters, watching a game on television. When the Canadiens scored a goal, we celebrated. I jumped up and down in boyish glee, and he clapped his hands. Then he stood up and pulled me toward him. He pressed my face into his body as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. I could feel the broad warmth of his hand on the back of my head, smell his soap, feel the scratch of fabric on my skin and the buckle of his belt against my chin.

“My angel,” I heard him say.

When he knelt down and cradled me in his arms, I felt no shame or fear. I only felt love. I wanted so much to be held and stroked. As he gathered my face in his hands and kissed me, I closed my eyes. I thought of my grandmother. The warmth of her arms holding me. I missed that so much.

“You are a glory, Saul.” That’s what he always told me. It’s what he whispered to me in the dim light of his quarters, what he said to me those nights he snuck into the dormitory and put his head beneath the covers. The words he used in the back of the barn when he slipped my trousers down. That was the phrase that began the groping, the tugging, the pulling and the sucking, and those were always the last words he said to me as he left, arranging his priestly clothes. “You are a glory, Saul.” Those were the words he used instead of love, and he’d given me the job of cleaning the ice to buy my silence, to guard his secret. He’d told me I could play when I was big enough. I loved the idea so much that I kept quiet. I loved the idea of being loved so much that I did what he asked. When I found myself liking it, I felt dirty, repulsive, sick. The secret morning practices that moved me closer to the game also moved me further away from the horror. I used the game to shelter me from seeing the truth, from having to face it every day. Later, after I was gone, the game kept me from remembering. As long as I could escape into it, I could fly away. Fly away and never have to land on the scorched earth of my boyhood.

I felt revulsion rise in me. My throat was parched. Rage was a wild heat that rose out of the base of my spine and through my belly, and I punched those rotting boards until my knuckles were raw, the tears erupting out of me. I fell to the ground and buried my head in my arms. I had run to the game. Run to it and embraced it, done anything that would allow me to get to that avenue of escape. That’s why I played with abandon. To abandon myself. When the racism of the crowds and players made me change, I became enraged because they were taking away the only protection I had. When that happened, I knew that the game could not offer me protection any longer. The truth of the abuse and the rape of my innocence were closer to the surface, and I used anger and rage and physical violence to block myself off from it.

When I sat up again, the sun was sinking low. A gathering chill rode in on the breeze that kicked up dust at my feet. It was a very long walk back to town, and I knew where I had to go from there.