Since we’re talking stories… November 1, 2016

Thanks to all the lovely comments on my story, Steroid Dreams. A reminder that you can download the e-book version of another short story, The Hockey Stalker, free from Smashwords.

It’s the story of a man with a fetish for female hockey players stalking a a women’s team. He fixates on Janis Trevor, a screenwriter who’s trying to figure out whether to stay with her boyfriend — and whether he’s going to stay with her.

Here’s how it starts:

 

He was standing outside the arena as they pulled up, a little man with bad hair.

“That’s him,” Janis  said, pointing out the car window. “I phoned Dad in Ottawa. He says legally they can bar him from coming inside, but they can’t keep him off the public sidewalk.”

“Unimpressive specimen,” Dieter said. “A troll, I think, degraded from more mythic times. Or Hockey StalkerRumplestiltskin, something like that. These creatures still exist, you know. They’ve just gone to live in basement flats.”

Janis smiled at the self-referential pair of plush dice hanging from Dieter’s rear-view mirror. Dieter taught cultural studies at the university, while she was a film school drop-out. That’s probably what made her approach to life more ground-level. Concrete—or maybe just cold. Janis played hockey, signing up, winter and summer, for the women’s house league at her local arena.

“He follows us to the pub after the game,” she said. “The manager won’t ban him. All he does is sit and watch, and the manager says that if they started banning men who watched women, they’d go out of business.”

You’d all leave, he said.

The manager was right. Janis and her friends courted attention, shouting over the piped-in music, hooting at the wrestling broadcasts on overhead screens, letting out absent-minded cheers when the Toronto Maple Leafs scored on TV—although it was really their own games that thrilled them. They bitched every week about missing passes, about cheap goals and the Singing Ref, who hummed non-stop as he skated. They shared insights into their jobs, men and hair colour, meanwhile passing around newspaper clippings about other women in the league: the immunologist who made a discovery no one understood, even after reading the article twice; the goalie who was sent down for assaulting a security guard; the former winger (broken tailbone) who’d attended a celebrity wedding.

“We don’t feel particularly safe leaving the pub alone any more,” she told Dieter. “We usually leave in pairs.”

“I think maybe this we that doesn’t feel safe is a collective reaction,” he replied. “I think you aren’t bothered at all.”

It was true. Janis felt she could take on most men, with her height and strength, and the stalker looked pocket-sized and lonely outside the arena. As she wrestled her equipment out of Dieter’s car, the little man stood in no particular place with his head hung down. Yet as she strode past him, the man looked up and caught her glance, and Janis was startled at first by the hunger in his dog-brown eyes, and scared by the need, his self-pity.

Later, she wondered if this was the moment he chose her: her window to gawk up at, her steps to hound, her life to dishevel, her fear to exploit and intensify; the moment when everything changed and nothing changed, since she wouldn’t let him alter her behaviour, despite what the police advised. Vary your routines, they told her, and Janis refused, meaning that changes that she would probably would have made didn’t happen. Life froze. She was frozen.

Even hockey players didn’t want that.

 

The problem was that she found Dieter too good looking. He had blue eyes and nut-brown hair and skin that tanned deeply. What especially fascinated Janis was the firm sculpting of his face, the healthy male skin that folded into such smart nostrils and ears, that moulded his long upper lip into two sharply raised ridges running down from his nose to his mouth, that outlined his rather thin lips and dimpled his fleshy chin, a bristly-whiskered chin that she liked to take lightly between her teeth, just as she did the thick rubbery head of his unreliable penis. Unreliable in bed with Janis; unreliable because of its perky availability to other women. His availability.

One time, before they started dating, Janis had seen Dieter in a dark and crowded after-hours club standing with a woman in a corner, both of them using or very drunk. The woman was stroking his crotch and he liked it. Normally, Janis would have turned away, hoping that she’d never see either of them again. But she was buzzed too, and they wanted to be watched. They were displaying themselves, advertising their abilities, and Janis felt drunkenly tender toward them: they’d gone to all the work of mounting a show and she was their only audience. She knew who Dieter was, the young professor who’d written a couple of books, afterwards making his sound-bite opinions accessible to both the hippest TV shows and women’s magazines. Friends laughed at him a little.

“He wants to be the male Camille Paglia,” someone said.

“No, more serious. The male Susan Sontag.”

The woman was leaning full against him now, her hand between their shifting, slipping bodies. A small woman against a tall man. She came up to the open top button of his shirt and nuzzled his chest distractedly. Her elbow was working, pushing Dieter into the black-painted corner, and he turned his head from me in profile, eyes toward the lit club bar. Once or twice he raised his arm and brushed his hand down the woman’s spine. Once or twice he glanced down at her, maybe at himself. Janis felt the bass thump of music in her molars, heard laughter from passing mouths, repositioned herself as people came between her and Dieter, their eyes searching mirrors for someone they’d lost. Gradually, Dieter rose up on the balls of his feet, turning his face in her direction, eyes closing. He stretched his head back, his neck becoming a pale streak, mouth opening like a choirboy’s. Gulping at fame, she thought.

How strange to catch yourself thinking that.

When he came back down, Dieter lifted the woman gently aside and walked quickly toward the Men’s. Janis didn’t know who the woman was, a small dark-haired woman. She looked dazed.

A month or so later, a friend introduced Janis to Dieter at a dinner party. Hosts with a new west end house, a baby, an architectural practice, and an ambitious menu involving lamb inside pastry, the smell of cinnamon and heat. There was the usual pre-dinner conversation in the kitchen about who had got what gig, who had left whom, some mild teasing of Dieter for an opinion piece he had published about everybody being watched these days, the democratization of celebrity.

“Gulping at fame,” Janis said, already slightly whacked and giving him a knowing smile.

“Dieter Hagen, Janis Trevor.”

“I spell it wrong,” she told him. “I-s, not i-c-e.”

Janis felt far from icy. Dieter was so good looking she batted her big brown eyes, deciding that someone had to go out with the people from the last party who made it on top of the coats on the bed, the ones who emerged together from the bathroom, the pair behind the steamed-up windows in the rocking parked car.

“Janis is a screenwriter,” their host said.

“He means that I write the Saturday morning cartoons. Cute little bears. Raccoons.”

“She’s being modest. That’s her day job. One of her scripts was produced…”

“A long time ago,” she said. “By former friends.”

“An indie screened at several festivals.”

“To no discernible effect.”

“I hate to interrupt this Canadian argument,” Dieter said. “One downmanship, I think. The problem is”—he smiled at her sweetly—“I grew up in what was East Berlin, our noses pressed against the glass. Pinned there like pig noses,” he said, demonstrating. “I’m afraid it is impossible to be more ill-used than we are. I am simply unable to permit this. You must allow yourself to be much more successful than me or my self-image will feel threatened. I will lose my chippiness, and then where will I be?”

Janis appropriated the chair next to Dieter at dinner, gracefully spilled red wine on his hand, and accepted a ride home in his skittish European car. When he pulled up, she invited him in, shed more than her coat and mittens a few feet inside the front door and had sex on what wasn’t even their first date.

It wasn’t out of character, she had to admit. Much more unusual was the way that Dieter seemed to get her. They shared cultural markers, neither of them liking to admit they’d passed thirty, both increasingly cynical about cynicism, both admitting to pangs of absurd sentimentality about used furniture.

Still, Janis wasn’t expecting much when Dieter took her number and was surprised when he phoned to ask if they could have lunch, dinner, sustenance. It turned out they cooked well together, loved renting classic Hollywood movies and were hooked on telling bedtime stories about their childhoods, his deprived and traumatic, hers set in the plushest neighbourhoods of Mexico and Ottawa.

Soon Dieter started looking for meaning in her Saturday morning cartoons, where there was none. Janis began alternately shaking her head and nodding while he rehashed departmental in-fighting at the university, nodding off before shaking herself back awake, yet slowly understanding that every scene he staged at work was part of an invisible screenplay he was writing. He was developing himself as the hero of a script that would arc toward a splash job south of the border—a script, Janis couldn’t help noticing, that had no role for her.

Query: What can come of a relationship that begins with the woman not trusting the man?

Query: Is there any other kind?

 

The whole story is available gratis here from Smashwords. It has previously appeared in Aethlon, the Journal of Sports Literature, and been translated into French as Un pervers chez les hockeyeuses (une histoire de amour) by Marianne Audouard in the anthology Toronto, accidents de parcours, edited by Linda Spalding (autremont).