BLOND MARISA MILLER RECLINES on the sand, smooth and luscious, wearing a peek-a-boo bikini bra and a thong. She is the cover girl on this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Peter wishes that he could poke his finger and lift the bra's flaps to sneak a peek. He smiles, thinking what that would be like. Soft, squishy, exciting, and what if she were real and not on a printed page? What, he wonders, would it be like if she were right there in front of him and if she would let him touch her and what that might lead to…well, then maybe he wouldn't be a virgin anymore. And that would just be great.
But right now that isn't happening. That isn't real.
In fact for all intents and purposes Marisa Miller isn't real either. What is real is the box of Cracker Jacks that lay beside the Sports Illustrated. Needing instant gratification, Peter's hand impulsively dives into the box pulling out a cluster of caramel coated popcorn and the Cracker Jack prize. It's a green plastic compass. It is sort of lame. The needle points resolutely due north and maybe that's a good thing to know. But with Map Quest, he thinks, who needs a compass? Just as he's about to hurl the lagniappe into his bedroom's trash can, he, for no reason at all, slips the compass in his pants pocket. What the hell!
Peter Blanchard throws the handful of Cracker Jacks into his mouth. He thoughtfully munches as he slowly turns in his swivel chair, gazing around his dishevelled bedroom. His bedspread is a red and green plaid. His bedroom walls are wallpapered in faux wood panel. Along side his older brother's frayed poster of Kathy Ireland is a poster of the Astro's catcher J.R. Towles is taped to the wall. Toys no longer played with are relegated to a corner. On his work desk loose-leaf notebooks and schoolbooks spill out of his half-opened backpack. There's a picture of him from two years ago in a Little League uniform. It's the only picture that he likes. His red hair, blue eyes and freckled expression aren't so goofy looking. Country Western music is playing in another room. A partially destroyed science project on the electrolysis of water sits on top of his chest of drawers. The floor is strewn with clothes that should have been put in the laundry hamper.
The clutter didn't bother him. He knows where everything is. Sometimes his dad would get his balls all in an uproar and tell him to clean up the room, but all Peter has to say, is that his father's bedroom was no better. And that's true. Even his dad admits that. His dad's room is even a worse mess, smelling of opened beer cans and smoked cigarettes.
It had been a year since his mom had gotten up and left one day. She packed her clothes and drove away. She left Peter's dad a long letter that his dad said made little sense. She went off the deep end because she had "just had it." Whatever that meant. Whatever anything means.
Peter looks out his window to the schoolyard across the street. The white sun is neutered by the overcast stretching from horizon to horizon. It's three-thirty in the afternoon and soon he and his friends will hook up for a little rollerblade hockey.
Peter looks around to where he last left his rollerblades. He gets up from the chair and crosses and criss-crosses his room, scanning the floor. Huddled beneath the foot of his bed, his Performa skates lay like sleeping dogs side by side. They're high-top like the classic Converse basketball sneakers. The skates bolster extra ankle support by two black straps that lock at the tip of the shoe's tongue. Like an Oreo cookie there is a line of white that streams along the black body of the shoe. A ribbon of blue runs from the lip of the heel to the tip of the toe. The black and blue blade harnesses and four black and blue wheels remind Peter of a toy locomotive.
He slips his feet into the shoes and straps himself into the skates. He rolls out of his room and down the hall. This he couldn't do if his mother were around and perhaps this was one of the ancillary perks of desertion. But honestly there are times, (in fact many times) when he did miss his mother. He misses her smile. He misses her comforting hum. If that makes any sense, when she was home and when she was happy there was an unheard hum about the house. The hum signalled that things were going to be all right. The hum informing Peter she was home. The hum of her being there. Peter missed that.
He misses her especially when his dad cooked.
Peter rolls past the closed door leading to the master bedroom and on to the half-opened door of the other bedroom which his father uses as an office. There Willy Nelson is playing as his father speaks on the telephone. Manila folders lay about the couch and any available tabletop surface is like pick-up sticks. His father has an old Dell.
"So it looks good? Yeah. You and me both," his father speaks into the phone.
Brad, Peter's father, is a contractor. As Peter glides by he hears snatches of what his father is saying: "Well, he is probably lying. What else is new?"
Brad looks despairingly at the skates rolling across the varnished wood floor. He glances up at Peter. His eyes glower. Even though Brad lets Peter skate in the house, he really doesn't like it. Brad shakes his head. One day they may have to sell the house and roller blade scuff marks down the bedroom hallway won't make the sale any easier.
Peter stands by the doorway studying his father. Brad is still good looking even though he is wrinkled. He still has his hair and manages a winning smile when he is in a good mood. Peter's father is usually both forlorn and pissed off because his wife left their marriage. This leaves him with all the responsibilities of parenting, which, if truth be told, he'd rather be watching sports and happily not thinking.
Brad puts down the phone.
"Did you clean up your room?" he asks in a tone that is tired of asking the same question over and over.
Peter thinks for a moment and considers retorting in his usual manner by shrugging: I don't know. Instead he decides to try something new.
"After dinner," he says.
"OK," shrugs Brad, as he gestures in dismissive way. "I'll buy that." It is Friday after all.
Peter continues to roll down the hall, gently turning the corner into the foyer that looks into the living room, where the television and a pair of steer's horns were mounted. Peter loves it when he turns the hallway corner on his rollerblades, it's so much like a movie then, like a smooth camera movie.
Peter carefully manoeuvres out the front door, where he brakes the roll and gingerly steps down one step.
"Oh shit," he says, forgetting his helmet, as he skates down the concrete driveway and across the street to the schoolyard.
The school is a one story beige brick building. It lies low like the land. It was built in the early 1960's. On the asphalt basketball court seven other twelve-year-olds are waiting for him. They all are wearing brightly coloured roller hockey gear. They beat their hockey sticks on the tar ground. They all yell, but not entirely in unison. "It's about time, asshole!" Their shouts reverberate off the school building. They are joyous in the fact that it is a balmy Friday afternoon. They all know they can stay up late tonight and sleep in tomorrow. At times, it seems that life could be perfectly wonderful.
"You live right across the fucking street," taunts Larry, "you'd think you little shit-head'd be the first one here."
"What the fuck were you doing? Jerkin' off?" blathers the bullish Billy Chan. Billy Chan must have nursed exclusively on steroids when he was a baby, because he was huge--not by just Asian standards, but by Neanderthal standards. He might be a cousin to Yo Ming. He has a hunched-over Mac Truck-like body. His broad features sneer at Peter. Billy always seems to be angry at something.
Peter has no recourse but to give Billy the finger. However, that did not take away from the fact that in a sense Billy is right. How dare Billy be so perceptive! Peter had spent a few minutes mooning over Marisa Miller. Oh God, Peter is secretly thinking: to get my hands on that piece of ass! Wow!
The group quickly divides up into two four-man teams: one goalie and three players out on the court.
Peter and Billy Chan are poised across from each other in a face-off. Jorge Martinez stands between them holding the puck between his forefinger and thumb.
Both Billy's and Peter's biceps are taut in the anticipation of the dropping puck. They look one another in the eye and by catching each other doing that, their attention automatically shifts to the circular black rubber puck.
A surge of adrenaline crests through Peter. Come on, already drop that fucking thing, he thinks sucking in his teeth.
Jorge snaps his wrist but holds onto the puck in a perfectly executed fake out.
Both Billy and Peter jerk onto the ready only to realize it was for nothing.
Billy's rattlesnake eyes veer over to Jorge: stop the shit, just drop the puck.
Jorge gives Billy a "Go fuck off" look and then unexpectedly drops the puck, catching both twelve-year-olds off guard.
Both sticks clatter against the asphalt as they fight to control the puck. The puck is wedged in between the two opposing forces at the bases of the two sticks. With each player exerting the same amount of muscle on the sandwiched-in puck, all action is at a standstill.
The boys growl in an equally ferocious and frustrating moment.
Suddenly Billy lifts his stick to Peter's eye-level and is about to swing it across his head, when Peter ducks. The sweep of Billy Chan's mean-spirited swing makes him almost topple over. Peter quickly takes advantage of that and skates away with the puck.
Billy Chan, not being one to give up, tenaciously follows Peter. His legs pump vigorously as the wheels spin with a particular insane intensity atop the asphalt's surface. "You motherfucker," Billy Chan screams as he catches up and careens into Peter. And in doing so, Peter's stick is knocked to the side and he loses possession of the puck. Instantly Bobby Chan backtracks toward the goal.
Peter is in a rage at Billy's attempt to slam him in the temple fuels a heart-felt revenge. Peter skates up behind Billy and for a moment slips his hockey stick's blade beneath Chan's wheels.
For a faltering moment Billy almost topples over, which affords an opportunity for Peter to regain the puck.
"Motherfucker!" screams Billy. "So if that's the way that dick wants to play," burns Billy, "then I'll play that way too." Like a hunting dog on to a scent, Billy lunges toward Peter in a blur. In the spirit of evening things up, Billy slips his stick just in front of Peter's wheels. For a moment Billy's stick skims the asphalt just molecules away from Peter's blades. Peter bumps up against Billy to push him away. In one mean jarring move, Billy jerks his stick under and toward Peter's skate and in that instant trips him up. Peter hurls forward into the black abyss of the asphalt.
Peter's head pops like a cantaloupe.