Blame it on the Wind Chill

Chapter 3

The newspaper clippings are peeling off.

I flip over the half solved word search glaring at me with my big toe to find a black and white grainy photo of Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur in celebration after Salt Lake City, along with Simon Gagne.

When Cousin Tim and I were little, we and our friends were hardcore hockey fans, borderline obsessed, but enthusiastic, nonetheless. When I visited during the winter, our mornings were spent at the outdoor rink, where we were miniature versions of the players that we admired die-hardedly; the Lemieuxs, the Messiers, the Yzermans. It didn’t matter that we had to wake up at 6:00 A.M, while most neighbourhood children were dead to the world in quilted cocoons, dreaming of Christmas pudding and trying to solve Blue’s Clues. It didn’t matter that we had to make our own revolting breakfast creations of leftover sesame chicken pancake sandwiches with servings of maple syrup drizzled orange slices and caramel popcorn cereal. It didn’t matter that we had to ride our bikes through snow and ice, smacking into trees in the dark and cutting through fields Pythagorean-style because Uncle Eric wouldn’t give us a ride. As long as we made it there, it didn’t matter.

We would then practice drills like coach taught us, play 3-on-3, and basically mess around until someone’s parent showed up and took us all for hot chocolate. Sometimes the parents would neglect to figure out a pick-up schedule and we’d all be stranded there until the afternoon, frostbitten with icicles hanging from our cages.

Afternoons were spent in Jason the goalie’s freezing basement. He was allowed to use his mother’s computer and was obviously “cool” kid of the group. We’d memorize stats, watch painstakingly lagging highlights, while jotting down ideas for tricks on YouTube. We knew everything about our favourite players, everything about the league, and everything, we thought, about hockey. We had a lot of free time.

Looking around the room, I remember the countless hours spent here as a kid. In fact, it hasn’t changed much since then, with layers upon layers of childhood history. In here, new things are always added, without taking away the old. It’s like a museum of memorabilia from the various phases and the chapters of his life. It’s kind of cool that way.

I put my things in the corner. The dusty corner where some fermented socks and Track & Field Day ribbons lay. Purple for participation. Those are gingerly lifted and tossed into closet.

“Hello?” It’s Aunt Helen, peeking around the corner, with her trademark Pepto-Bismol pink bathrobe. Her hair is tied up and her eyes tired. She gives a big smile.

“Hey,” I say, sidestepping a Jagr bobble head to give her a hug. “How are you? Wait, did I wake you?”

“Of course not, you know I’ve been counting down the days to your arrival on my Advent calendar. Yesterday I went out and got all your favourites: chocolate milk, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, chocolate chip waffles; you want it, I got it. And I’m making cookies tomorrow.”

“Can I take you back to Anaheim with me?” She knows me well. Then again, I’m exactly not hard to please; just give me chocolate and a hockey stick and I’ll be happy forever. Niedermayer’s always on my ass about my eating habits and he’s probably right, but I can’t part just yet. Old people forget what it’s like to be young. “I love you, you know that? You’re always so nice to me,” I say extra loud, as I hear someone’s slippers scuffle around the corner. It’s fun messing with him.

“Why are you always so polite to her?” says Uncle Eric, shaking his head and leaning on the doorframe. “What does she have that I don’t?”

“Chocolate.” She raises her eyebrows. “And kindness. Most importantly kindness.” I put my arms around her shoulders. Aunt Helen is probably one of the nicest people I know. She’d give Oprah a run for her money. That’s a lot of money.

“Okay, now hands off the wife.” I put my hands up in surrender. “You don’t know where those have been. I mean, I was worried that you’d walk in on him masturbating,” he whispers into her hair.

“Ew! Hell no. Don’t take that shit, Aunt Helen. He’s a bad person.”

“Not a bad person!” he cries, sarcastically. “Please. You’re running out of wit and I’m running out of time. Go to bed. You can probably get a few hours in now. I’ll expect you to be at practice, puck boy.”

“Okay, I’m going to sleep, too,” Aunt Helen yawns. “Make yourself at home and just holler if you need anything.” She turns on her heel and walks back to the master bedroom.

“Will do.”

“Hey, is that a curly hair?” Uncle Eric points to my jeans.

“Good night!”


Flipping over to the ‘Sorry! We’re closed’ side on Tim’s sign, I shut the door and flop down on his big fluffy bed. It smells like a lot of Febreeze and Glade and whatever the hell people use to mask unwelcoming odours. A sure sign that Hurricane Helen has been here.

On the sheets is one big blown-up picture of Gerry Cheevers with his iconic scar face mask. I smooth out the wrinkle in his blocker. There are a lot of things I plan on “borrowing” from him this visit. His fault for not coming home this winter to defend his items.

I twist myself into white downy heaven.

And I wait for it.

I wait.


What time is it?

I roll over to the left. 6:43 says the Scooby Doo clock.

One duck, two ducks, three ducks, four…

Did Aunt Helen say the fridge was stocked?

Hey, those glow-in-the-dark stickers still work? Sick.

I knew Zellers would never rip me off.

Unlike Dollarama.

Those markers didn’t work; I still want my dollar back.

Make that dollar and fifteen cents.

I wonder if the expired foods stash is still around.

Not that I would put anything from it in my mouth.

That’s gross.


You’re kidding.

I sit up in frustration. Maybe it’s the change of pace. After all, insomnia is rare for me; I could take a nap with rockets blasting off in the background. Dad’s snoring had helped me build stamina to withstand the loudest, most unruly noises from an early age. Try being a three-month-old in your crib, jamming your ears with squishy balls because your pop’s playing the Hockey Night in Canada theme with his nose. Mom, my sisters, and I eventually learned to cope. The earplugs just weren’t doing it.

I weigh my options. I could try reading? Nah. Who am I kidding, Tim doesn’t read. The good stuff, I mean. His shelves are stacked with philosophical shit like Mind and Nature or The Concept of Utopia. The only philosophical thing I’ve ever read was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which I borrowed from Logan Niedermayer, and I thought that was hard.

Maybe I need something to help me relax and turn off that little switch in the brain. I press my ear against the cool wall. Nothing. Hmm. Maybe if the coast is clear and the adults are asleep I can just sneak into the kitchen and get something real quick. Early morning munchies, who doesn’t get them? No, I’m not pregnant.

I slowly make my way out of bed. This is going to be one tricky manoeuvre to pull off.

Thing is, Aunt Helen has always been a light sleeper. When we were young, those ears could pick up every rustle of comics, every click of flashlight, every Pacman chomp even though we turned the volume way low. But she wouldn’t say anything. Then the next morning, Tim and I would be dipping our foreheads into bowls of scalding oatmeal and she’d ask us how our night went, with that “the jig is up” look all over her face. Uh oh. We would sit up a little straighter and exchange not-so-secret looks. She knows, alright. Gone is the feeling that we got away with something, replaced by thoughts of “what does this mean” and “please, not another week of garbage duty”. Then our ten-year-old brains begin to turn gears, wondering what went wrong. Was it when Tim spilled the glass of water around 11:30? Or maybe when I pounded my fist on the hardwood floor, sending seismic waves throughout the house as Calgary scored on Vancouver in a late western conference match-up? By then the tension’s just killing us. We can’t bear to look into her eyes, while she’d tease us, saying things like, “I’m so glad you boys went to bed early, most kids would stay up late and play, but not you two. Is there anything you would like to tell me?” She knows that we know that she knows. Uncle Eric would mouth “I don’t get it” to us, with cream cheese and bagel bits all over his shirt. At last we’d both crack, dropping on our knees and begging for forgiveness. She’d pretend to be surprised and ramble on about honesty and whatnot. What a killjoy. Took the fun out of sleepovers.

After a few times of that, she’d just call us out, right there and then. Just when we’d think that it’d be safe to commence, she’d begin with a series of play-by-plays: “Timmy, I know you’re not trying to sneak to the living room. Cam, I can hear you giggling. Don’t you touch that TV.” Meanwhile, we’d be freaking out, wondering, how does she know this? “I know you’re wondering how I know all this, but really you should be thinking about the week of no TV coming up if you don’t shut your eyes.” What’s really creepy is when she’d start reading minds, saying, “don’t even think about it!” before we'd even make our move.

I’ve always told her she should make sports predictions. I remember that time Tim and I wasted 20 bucks at a psychic’s, trying to figure out the winners of playoff series and who to pick for fantasy pools that week. Do you know how much snow you have to shovel to earn 20 measly Canadian dollars? Do you know how hard it is to find snow in April?

I tiptoe across the room like Swiper the Fox. Dora is so blind. No wonder she always needed help spotting the great banana tree.

“Fuck!” I hold my foot in agony, hopping around on one leg. A bowling ball, seriously? You cannot get anymore cliché than this. Then again, it is Tim’s room. I almost go down like a soccer player, but unlike most soccer players I wouldn’t be faking it. I flip on the lights and examine the damage. Should we add broken toe to the resume, too? I swear by the time I return to Anaheim I’ll be more banged up than I was in the first place.

Recovering, I slowly turn the knob and snap it open blitzkrieg-fast. My back is pressed against the wall in an instant, assassin style. I can hear my blood pumping and cold sweat collecting on my back. Honestly, it’s so cold in here I’ll have a snow globe in my shirt by the time I make it to the stairs.

I wait. Not a sound.

I quietly edge my way out of the room, against the wall. This is fun. I feel like Bond or something. He’s a total ladies man, right?

Feeling confident, I do a little half-somersault, half-roll with my hands folded together in a gun. Oh, my back! Somebody’s having a little too much fun with this.

One hand supporting my back, I hobble and grip onto the stair banister. I’ve made it this far, I’m going all the way. It’s dark and I feel my way down the stairs. As I get to the bottom, I flick on another set of lights and half expect to find Aunt Helen standing before me, like in a horror movie or bounty hunter. But no. I dance around in victory of my successful prison break. Shit, my toe.

“What to eat, what to eat,” I mumble, popping open their fridge. I hope they don’t mind that I’m raiding their food supply. I’m sure it’s fine, we’re practically family.

There are rows of vegetables and saran-covered dishes. Roast potatoes, greens, and chicken. Soul food, but not what I came here for. I do take the carton of chocolate milk from the side compartment. Next, the freezer.

It takes some digging around, pushing my hand past frozen peas, chicken nuggets and ice until I finally reach the slippery cardboard feel. Feels like delicious, that’s what. It’s wedged between frozen yogurt, which is also good, and some beef patties.

Setting my treasures on the table, I grab a Christmas-y mug from the cupboard and fill it to the brim with cold bovine nectar. I feel giddy and oddly excited while I hack at the plastic covering with a knife. It’s unopened, untouched, all mine, mine, MINE! The first spoonful is always the best part. It’s like the first step onto fresh, unmarked ice.

I dig into the chocolaty divinity with a frozen patty on my swelling toe. The temperature is frigid cold because they always turn the heating down a few degrees at night time. Canucks, what can you do? I’ve got a tub of ice cream on my lap, a brown duster inked above my lip like George Parros, and it feels just right.

This time no complaints. Not one.
♠ ♠ ♠
More rambling from me, but I thought I’d post it anyway. To the few readers, thanks and comment, okay?