By: Roger A Wilbanks
“He won’t come out.”
“Why the hell not?” Glenn banged on the locked bathroom door.
BANG BANG BANG “Reggie! Get your ass out here and get dressed! It’s the first game of the frikkin season and it starts in ten minutes!”
Larry put his hand on his Captain’s shoulder. “He saw birds today.”
“Oh Holy Fuck! Birds? You’re kidding me! REGGIE! Get out here NOW!”
“He ain’t budging.” Larry said as he walked back to his spot on the dressing bench.
Glenn assessed the moment and refocused his plan of attack.
“How many birds, Reg?” he asked.
“Three.” was the bathroom door’s answer.
“Oh shit. That’s bad.” He said.
Every player in the Hawk’s locker room knew two very important things. The first was that ice hockey goalies are both highly superstitious and certifiably insane. The second was that Reggie, their goalie was abnormally afraid of birds. He had actually struck a bird with his CJ-5 while driving to a game many years ago. He not only lost that game by a larger than normal margin, but suffered a severe injury as well. Since that moment he was convinced that the sight of birds (especially dead ones) on a game day was an omen of the darkest portent. This thought so invaded his rational thought process that now, after the sight of three dead pigeons under the I-635 overpass, he now found himself barricaded in a stinky dressing room toilet, refusing to budge.
“We’re playing the Ice Brigade tonight, Reg. You hate those guys, remember?”
Silence spurred Glenn to try again. “Come on out man. Things will be different this time. I promise.”
“Not gonna happen, skipper. I step out on that ice tonight and I’m a dead man. One of them was fuckin LOOKING at me!”
“Look Reggie. We’ve done this for seven years now. We have won the last 4 championships in this stupid league. You saw birds then too, remember? Do you think any of the guys in here are going to let anything happen to you now?”
“Want me to call Mort?” Larry asked. Mort was Larry’s twin brother and also a goalie. He and Reggie never saw eye to eye on anything, but he was handy if Reggie couldn’t play. Even if he wasn’t as talented as the goalie who was now locked in a bathroom stall, refusing to budge. He wasn’t called to play often, however. Reggie always played. Mort wasn’t as good a goalie as Reggie, but when you are dying of hunger, a Whopper’s just as tasty as Filet Mignon.
“Nah. He’ll come out. He’s a gamer. Right Reggie?” The only answer was the echo from the concrete walls. “Besides. I heard the Brigade’s bringing back Conner this season.” There was a slight rustle in the bathroom stall but the door remained locked.
“Conner? Holy Crap! Didn’t that guy score three goals against Reggie in that 18-skater shootout a few years back? They really could have used him last season. He was in jail, right? What was he in for anyway?”
“Assault, I think. Or a DUI. Not really sure, but he’s here tonight.” Attrition was the primary enemy of any beer league hockey team. These teams are a collection of like-minded men who’s love for hockey spurs them to spend thousands of dollars a year to compete against other like-minded men. Needless to say, not every team is able to maintain a consistent roster from one year to the next. New faces appear on each team, or in Conner’s case, re-appear. In the six games Conner faced Reggie over a two-year span, he scored 22 goals. Each goal was unassisted. To put it in the plainest of terms, Conner owned Reggie.
“FUCK! See what I mean? Fucking birds! Why do they always have to drop dead right in FRONT of me?”
“Reg, it’s not the bird’s fault that Conner’s back. He got paroled. This isn’t a bad thing though.” Every eye in the locker room now focused on Glenn to see how he would spin this development. Even the ones hidden behind a locked door.
“Think about it, man. He’s been in jail for a year. He’s bound to be rusty. This could be your chance to get even with him for all those goals!”
“Three birds, Skip! Not one. Not even two. THREE! Bam! Dead bird. Bam! Another dead bird. And just a foot farther, BAM! Another Freakin Dead Bird! Only thing different was THAT was the one that was looking at me! I could see it in its eyes man. It was warning me not to play. It was telling me it’s my time!”
“Bullshit.” The Captain answered.
“Excuse me?” Reggie said.
“I said Bullshit, Reggie. You’re not afraid of a fucking bird.”
“I never said I was afraid of the birds, Skip. I’m afraid of all the bad shit that happens to me when I see them.”
“Reggie, I’ve never seen you back down from a fight. I’ve never known you to get rattled.” The faces in the locker room were unconvinced. The voice behind the bathroom door was sounding pretty rattled right now. “Even that game where he scored 6 goals against you, you were STILL mad. You kept telling us to let him through.”
“And he kept scoring…”
“But you never blinked, man.
“Great. So in addition to being a sieve, I’m a glutton for punishment.”
“No, man. You’re missing the point. You’re a fighter. Do you honestly expect us to believe you’re going to go Chicken Shit on us just cause you saw a few dead birds?”
Heads began nodding in the room. The players liked this line of attack and motioned Glenn to push his advantage home.
“I’m not a…I’m a…Ah Fuck it Skip! I know I’m going to get hurt tonight. I FEEL it. Soon as that bird looked at me all I could see was an ambulance.”
“But the bird didn’t look at you, Reg. You looked at IT.”
Silent ‘golf claps’ made their way around the room. Everyone could tell that this was the speech that would save their goalie.
“Don’t you see the difference here? You didn’t run into those birds by accident. It was Destiny.”
Eyes rolled as the room felt their Captain was sawing on the wrong side of the branch that he stood on.
“How do you figure that, Skip?”
“When you see Conner, do you get scared?”
”Hell no. You know better.”
“Right, but does Conner see you? Or is he always looking just past you?”
“You mean into the net? Following the puck he just shot there?”
“You’re not helping, Arthur. You are the one doing the looking here, Reggie. That bird wasn’t looking at you. You were looking at IT. Just like when you look Conner in his eyes when he’s coming in on a breakaway against you. Do you blink then?”
“That’s my point.” Arthur pointed to an imaginary watch. Glenn nodded. “You looked that bird down just like it was a breakaway. You don’t stick your head in the ice when Conner’s skating towards you. You’re not going to do it when a bird looks at you either.”
The unnecessary sound of a flushing toilet announced the end of the argument. After a brief rustle of noise, the lock clicked open and the door swung free. Reggie was back.
“If I get hurt, I’m gonna kick your ass, Skip.”
“I’ll guard you like you were my own baby, Reg.”
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