Louie Nickas died inside a garbage bag full of nitrous oxide. I played hockey with him thirty years ago on a team called The Vultures. He was fast and fierce. Women loved him for all kinds of reasons. Louis had ten thousand friends. He and his brother Peter threw notorious parties. Louie's name was like credit when you used it right. He was going to marry Rina who had eyes like Betty Boop. A sweetheart. When she lost Louie she lost too much.
We all wore our black jerseys to the funeral. Louis was buried wearing his. The church was packed with mourners.
I still play. Still love the sound of blades scraping ice, the ammonia air. Everything's quiet, puck drops, gets frantic like gulls when the lady with the breadcrumbs arrives, then stops again when she leaves. I'm a lot slower than I used to be in the Louie days, but it's fun to be around the guys, and it helps keep me in decent shape.
The Louie days.
Sometimes I think about poor, sweet Rina. I haven't seen her in years. Probably moved away. In the months right after Louie died, I'd run into her once in a while in a local diner, sipping coffee with Peter. They sat together in their bubble of sadness. I never knew what to say to either one of them, so I'd just wave and go my way. I used to wonder if they'd wind up together, Rina and Peter, out of some kind of cosmic default. But I guess that never happened.
Peter has the palest skin of anyone I know. Works at the airport. If you see him around nowadays, he's alone. He reminds me of a bird, small and gray, not quite settled on his brittle limb. Not a songbird. And not the kind that flies in a flock. Not anymore.
Steven Ostrowski has published stories and poems in Raritan, Wisconsin Review, Madison Review, The Other Journal, and many others. He has published two chapbooks of poems: In late Fields (Bright Hill Press) and Birds, Boys, God (Finishing Line Press). He is currently working on a Young Adult novel called The Suicide Walk. He teaches in the English Department at Central Connecticut State University.