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Excerpt from “Small Forward”

In another month, the playoffs will be done, our team will not advance to even the division finals. My wife Tooey will denounce them: "Underachievers and chokers. Count me out next year barring some miraculous trade." Tooey will then set her mind on this year's garden and the promise of perfect cantaloupe and on our 10-year-old daughter's tennis.
        In another month, some players will return to their homes overseas—Captain Sculpted gathers his wife and little ones and jets back to his parents, his village on the lispy Gulf of Bothnia. The hairy power forward will stuff the whole family into a monster SUV and bulldoze back across the country to his very own golf course in Ontario—the NHL diaspora spread wide—and others, local boys made good, will holiday somewhere hot and sandy and sky back to Vancouver to be good fathers, model citizens, and fish for sturgeon on the murky Fraser River.
        In another month, the little Slovak left winger named Marian will be happy to laze Vancouver afternoons mowing his lawn in silk boxers, to play out the evenings stretched on short grass, beer from a long-necked bottle, whiskey-keg thighs flexed, and tossing a tennis ball high for a large and waddle-prone dachshund, Dirk. Marian is twenty-two. That was his third season in the league, and he is pleased and bruised—the wrist will swell, surgery will loom and then recede—and hopeful for stardom, but there's no one left for him in Slovakia. Karen is here, and their children. On an early morning at the end of June, he will curl one baby and one toddler into his strong arms, stand on the wet grass in bare feet—weirdly small ankles—and whisper good-bye to Karen.
        He means 'please.'
        "Police, Kahrrain. Do your best." He will sound like he has a sinus infection but he’s just having trouble finding a clear airway. His jaw's gone tight and his huge eyes look hard into hers. Marian and Karen are the same height but he seems compressed, normally much taller than her but telescoped in for the off-season. The babies are quiet, concerned with Daddy's tone.
        "It's just a course, Ray," she says. She calls him Ray. "I don't even get a mark."
        "Steel, you must succeed. Do your best, Kahrrain. Prove to them. Police."
        "It's not that kind of thing, Ray." The cab driver has her buckskin bag and waits behind the wheel. "It's going to teach me dispute resolution. How to solve ego problems in big companies."
        "Kahrrain. It's urgent. Just prove to them." He moves close and touches his cubist nose to her small and perfect one, the aftershave too Eastern European for such a clear and democratic morning. She kisses him hard despite, or because, who knows? The little ones hide in their father's big pimply neck and Karen does a singsong, "Bye-bye for now babies," as her Barbie doll legs are drawn into the cab.
        She will take a ferry—one hour and thirty-five minutes—to Vancouver Island. From the terminal, she will cab it—another 45 minutes—to the refit medieval castle/spa where the course takes place; she will check in, wander, find—another 20 minutes—her room; she will peel off those shiny capris and make herself long on the cot they've assigned her and dial my cell number. I'll load the cans and tell Tooey I'm going to the landfill and then drive my pick-up the 12 minutes to Karen in the heritage garden, behind the greenhouse that seems too Victorian and dark and empty. Male peacocks strut the chip trails like Miss Venezuela.
        She will be here for the first time. Every other meeting—count the number of road trips her husband's team has played since October—I've taken the ferry to her. I'll be either more excited or slightly less.
        "There you are," she’ll say and the new glasses—black, narrow and ready to dangle from custom gold chains—make her look like a Raymond Chandler librarian: wise, over-sexed, a little drunk. Is this what we used to call foxy? Cleavage at that time of day, on the castle grounds, in the presence of turrets. Karen pulls my arm and we are behind the copper beech, between two superlush rhododendrons and their bracken. She kisses the high ridge of my cheek, the deep dip of scar on my jaw where we pretend a high stick caught me in juniors. "Say something smart," she will breathe in another month. And then my mouth.
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