LOOKIN’ LIKE A LONG WINTER – Sheldon Birnie

Chappy owed his old coach Bill Price a favor in the worst way. That’s how he ended up coaching the Ditch Creek bantam boys hockey team back in the winter of ‘94.

“Just keep your head up and your nose clean,” Price had said with a dismissive wave of his gnarled, scarred hand when Chappy’d expressed his doubts. “You’ll do fine, I can tell.”

“You want me to be the assistant fuckin coach?” his buddy Ray had said, as they sat around in lawn chairs on the patch of grass out front of Chappy’s trailer after work in the weeks leading up to the start of the season.

“Well,” Chappy hadn’t really meant to ask Ray anything, he just needed a buddy to talk shit over with. “Sure. Why not?”

“Fuckin rights I’ll do it,” Ray replied, slapping Chappy on the shoulder. “Shit’ll be a blast.”

“We dunno fuck all about coaching, though,” Chappy admitted. Neither of the men had ever been behind the bench in their lives. “What the hell are we supposed to do?”

“Fuck, bud,” Ray laughed. “This is some simple shit. We’ll just figure out who’s on our team. Then we skate ‘em, stick some pucks, one-two-three, tic-tac-toe, fuckin’ Ba-wango!”

Ray came over the next night. They had a couple pops and watched Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em 2. When Ray took off for home a couple hours later, Chappy put Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em back in again, watched it as he killed his beer then pulled another from the back of the fridge. When the video ended, he sat on the sofa a while, staring out the window, across the highway, at the moon and the few cold stars that could be seen against the glare of the trailer park lights. His sense of dread loomed large.

When he stepped into the dressing room the next morning before practice, all eyes turned on him. His heart began racing like he’d been up all night dancing with the devil’s dandruff. Chappy took another breath. 

In for a penny, in for a pound, as his drunk old dad used to say.

“Listen up, fuckers,” Chappy told the room. “Name’s Marc Chapman, and I’m your goddamn coach. Fuckin’ got it, boys?”

“When’s our first game?” some kid called out. 

“What colour are our jerseys?” another hollered.

“Why are you our coach, anyway?”

Chappy looked around the room, trying to figure out who it was who’d spoken up. But it was no use. The kids all looked the same to him anyways.

“Doesn’t fuckin matter,” Chappy barked. Truth was, he didn’t know the answer to any of their questions. Not really. Chappy began to fancy a drink, something strong, in the worst way. “Let’s hit the ice, for fuck sakes. We’ll figure the rest of that shit out as we go.”

The boys all got up, jostling each other as they made their way to the door.

“Don’t sweat it, coach,” Ray said with a wink. “This’ll be a piece of piss.”

“Fuck sakes,” he cursed again, as he followed the boys out of the dank dressing room onto the ice, knowing he had a long winter ahead of him. Real long. “Better be.”

 Sheldon Birnie is a writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, whose fiction has recently appeared in BULL, Rejection Letters, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Cowboy Jamboree, and elsewhere. The father of two young children can be found hanging out online @badguybirnie after bedtime.