Last changed 08:44am 11 October 2000 by email@example.com.
Copyright Sunir Shah. All rights reserved.
When my dad told me we had to sell our house and move downtown all I could think of was how I just needed the Vincent Damphousse for my Habs card collection. Eniel, my best friend, owed me that card. Now he could welch easily. "Don't forget, a deal's a deal," I said to him and he said, "Yeah, I'll find it. Don't worry."
Lucky for me the people who bought our house didn't get there for a month which was enough time to finish school, which pleased my parents, and for Eniel to get the card, which pleased me. Before we left, Eniel not only gave me the Damphousse but a Brian Bellows rookie card as a goodbye present. In return I gave him the Paul Broten card he's wanted for months. I figured I didn't want it and I couldn't get anything better for it so why not?
Eniel offered to let me stay at his place for the summer if I wanted but my dad said no. He said "he didn't want to associate with those stuck up, I've-got-a-better-barbecue bastards," and my mom said, "Honey, calm down," and my dad said, "No way do I want to talk to those arrogant S.O.B.s any longer than we have to!" and then he went to watch T.V. Then my mom said to me, "Franky, don't listen to him. He's just angry at Eniel's father. He was your father's boss. He'll get over it." But he didn't and we left.
Our new place was a second-floor apartment in the middle of a street full of apartments. From the outside, it looked pretty much the same as all the others: brown brick with a couple windows here and there.
Outside, the moving men were standing around, stretching in front of the giant white truck with our entire house packed in its belly. We parked and my dad went over to talk to them. I went upstairs with Mom.
"It's tiny," I said after looking around.
"Oh, it's not so bad, Franky."
"Is this my room?" She nodded. "It's smaller than the one back home."
"Franky, you'll get used to it." She looked up at the ceiling, like she was praying.
"Franky, be thankful for what you've got."
I knew that meant the conversation was over so I went back downstairs to look for my dad. On the way down, movers carried boxes past me while my dad was still talking to their boss.
"Hi, Franky." He continued explaining what goes where while the man just stood there nodding and sometimes saying "Uh-huh." While I stood there, I studied the street corner where a bunch of teenagers were hanging out in front of a store and smoking. I'd never seen a teenager smoke back on my street.
I turned when I heard my dad talking about my room.
"Put the bed on the right wall," my dad said.
"But, Dad, I want it near the window."
"And put the dresser on the far wall."
"No, Dad. I want the bed there."
"We can rearrange it later, son. This is just for now, until we get settled in. Ok, Franky?"
"Go help your mother unpack upstairs, Franky."
Upstairs, inky and wrinkled balls of newspaper covered the kitchen tile. Mom was unpacking the dishes, so I picked out a dish from the box and started to remove the newspaper when it slipped.
"Oh, Franky, look what you've done. Your uncle gave us that for our wedding. Why don't you go downstairs and help your father. Don't worry, I'll clean this up."
"But, Dad told me to help you."
I jumped when I walked outside. Just out of the movers' way was this kid just standing there in the middle of the sidewalk, watching. He looked a couple years older than me and wore a Leafs jersey and cheap knockoff shoes.
"Hi, I'm Frank MacKinnon. I'm new here."
"Um . . . I'm Henry Milberry. I live across the street. Upstairs." We stared at the sidewalk for a minute. I watched an ant running from the summer sun towards its hill. Before the ant got home, I kicked the mound in.
"So you like hockey?"
"Yeah. I like the Leafs."
"I like the Habs myself. I almost have the entire set. Do you collect cards?"
"Sure. I've got a pretty good Muller and a near mint Potvin rookie."
"We should trade sometime."
* * *
My parents didn't say much that first week. During the day, my dad would go out to "pound the beat," while my mom would type his resumes. At night they'd just kind of unpack, quietly. We'd eat dinner together but all you'd hear was the clinking of knives on plates.
I'd wake up from the sun burning through my thin curtain each morning and then spend most of my day watching T.V., which was crappy because we didn't have cable. Or sometimes I'd go outside, but there wasn't much to do except go to the store and play an arcade game or buy a new pack of cards. Sometimes I'd see Henry and we'd discuss hockey cards. Sometimes we'd trade cards, but nothing major. Usually bench warmers or European WHLers that couldn't take the rougher NHL.
Mom let me call Eniel a couple times and I found out that he'd finished his Rangers set and that he was going sailing on the weekend. He suggested that I should come with him but my dad probably wouldn't let me so I had to say no.
At the end of the week, the store got a new box of cards and I was running out of cash. All I did was ask for my weekly allowance and my dad starts yelling at me. He goes, "What do you mean you want money?"
"I just want my allowance."
"I can't give you any more allowance, Frank. You'll have to do more with less like the rest of us."
Mom to the rescue. "Dear, let him have his four dollars. It's not that much to ask. You know he spends it on hockey cards."
"Hockey cards? What a waste of money."
"It's his one hobby."
"Don't come to his defense. You know we can't afford it."
"And who's fault is that? If you weren't so damned self-righteous maybe we wouldn't be living in this matchbox."
After that they stopped talking about my allowance and started yelling about everything else. I'd never seen them yell so loud before. I couldn't pull myself away. Somehow I crawled backwards around the corner, turned and ran downstairs and out the door. I ended up in the middle of the sidewalk, just standing there, staring at everything, like Henry on the first day.
My face must've been red because even the warm summer breeze cooled me down. I could still hear them go at it even from the sidewalk but at least I couldn't make out any words. Down by the store the teenagers were still smoking. Then, across the street, I noticed Henry blended with the shadows.
"Hi, Henry. What's up?"
"Nothing. Just watching." He paused to walk out onto the sidewalk. "What are you doing?"
"There's a new box at the store. I bought a couple packs today. I got a couple new ones."
"Really? What'd you get?" And in a practiced five seconds:
"And a Duchesne."
"Need 'em. Trade you for an Anderson."
* * *
It was the first time I had ever walked into a stranger's house without telling my parents first. But that wasn't why it felt different. It was the faint smell. The smell you get when you let things sit too long.
The apartment was a mess and I felt sick. In the distance, a laugh track was playing.
"Henry! Is that you?" shouted a vaguely female voice.
"Yes, Mother. And I've got a friend over."
"Well, now, aren't you going to introduce us?"
"C'mon," he said to me and I followed him into the T.V. room. In a red plush couch sat a red plush woman. To her left was a bowl of barbecued chips and to her right was a two-litre Pepsi bottle.
"Mother, this is Frank. Frank, this is my mother."
"Hello, Mrs. Milberry."
"That's Ms. Milberry to you, sir," she sniggered. "So what are you kids up to?"
"We're just trading cards," I said.
"Oh? Back when I was young we didn't trade cards, we played 'em. Do you know how to play poker?"
"Henry, go get us some cards. It's time you learned."
* * *
We played for two hours, just the three of us. Sure I didn't play very well but Ms. Milberry didn't rub it in. She even gave me tips so I'd play better.
By the time I got home I'd almost forgotten my new possession, a brand new Duchesne. I headed for my card album when my mom stopped me with a giant hug. She was crying.
"Thank God you're alright. Where were you? We thought you ran away. Your father's out looking for you. I'd never forgive myself if anything happened . . ."
"Across the street at the Milberry's."
"The who?" She let go, just a little bit.
"I thought I told you never to go into a stranger's house without permission."
"Lay off 'em, Mom. They're nice people." I shrugged her arms off and went to my room to place my new card.
My mom gave me a five minute head start then came in to say sorry. Then I said I was sorry. Then she said it was my father's and her fault and that that was the last time that would ever happen. It's just they've been under so much pressure and . . . Before she left she dropped four dollars on my bedstand.
I woke up when my dad came home. He started yelling again, "Why'd you let him leave by himself?" and "Why'd you let him go across the street and associate with that trash?" This time my mom didn't yell back.
Before I fell sleep again, I heard her say, "You're drunk."
* * *
I slept in the next day. The cloudy sky blocked the sun out. When I woke up no one was around so I just got ready to take the Anderson over to Henry's.
I rang their doorbell. Henry answered. But inside there were two women. Ms. Milberry and my mother. "Hi, Franky."
"Hi, Mom." Henry and I filed into his room.
"How long has my mom been here?"
"Couple of hours."
"What've they been talking about?"
"I don't know. I wasn't listening."
I gave him the Anderson which he stored careful of the corners. Then we talked hockey and hockey cards for an hour, stats, legends and must haves. In the middle of our conversation my mom knocked on the door and said we should be going.
"I'm so glad our boys are friends."
"Yes. Your Frank has sure made an impression on my Henry."
"It's wonderful that Franky has someone to talk to about hockey so near by."
Henry and I stared at each other's embarrassed faces as we tried pushing and pulling our mothers apart.
On the way home my mother said, "I'm so proud of you."
"For having a friend like Henry."
"Not just anyone could or would."
* * *
"I don't want my son hanging out with no monkey boy! Frank, don't go over there any more." Whatever my mom told my dad, it must've been pretty important for him to start yelling like that.
"He's not a 'monkey boy.' He's a nice kid with a few problems," said my mom.
"Franky's my kid and I know what's best for him."
"He's my kid too."
I interrupted. "What's a monkey boy? What are you talking about?" They stopped yelling and turned to face me.
"Franky, Ms. Milberry told me today that Henry was developmentally delayed. Just a little slow in learning. I thought you knew."
"He's a retard, Franky."
"What? He's not a retard. Dad, YOU'RE a retard!"
I could see his face go red but my mom intervened, "He's right. You're acting like a retard. Grow up and act your age." This started another yelling match. I left.
* * *
A couple days later I called Eniel again. He'd been having the greatest summer. He'd been sailing, camping, watersliding and next week his family was going to Montreal. I asked him if he got any new cards. He said he stopped collecting. He didn't have anyone to trade with.
* * *
This season's hockey card series was finally coming to a close. I had a problem, though. I was missing a card. I had three Patrick Roys, four Wendel Clarks, even seven Adam Oates but not a single Joe Sakic.
I would spend entire clumps of money buying card packs hoping to find the missing card but I couldn't. Every single one denied me my goal. If I only wanted one complete team it was the Habs.
Just my luck, one of the dinkier teenagers bought the last pack of the season right in front of Henry and me. I had to know, so I asked him. "What'd you get?"
"Wayne Gretzky, got'em, Alexei Kovalev, got'em, Claude Lemieux, got 'em, Ray Bourque, got 'em, and a -- finally! -- Joe Sakic. That's the card I was looking for!"
"So you wouldn't trade for it?"
"Are you kidding me?"
"Isn't there anything you want?"
"Maybe if you had a mint condition rookie."
"I've got a Brian Bellows."
"No, no. Someone good." This was going to be the first year I didn't finish my Habs set. Moving to this neighbourhood was the worst thing that happened to me.
Then, out of nowhere Henry said, "I've got a near mint Potvin. I'll trade you for it."
"Henry, that's your favourite card!"
"It's just a card."
"Wow. Thanks, Henry. Thanks!"
That night I rearranged the furniture in my room while my parents were out. It wasn't easy to move things around by myself, but I did it. Now, instead of sun in my eyes, I wake up to an outline of my street on my wall.