Monday, August 6, 2018

#272: "I Dreamed of Mark Messier" by Leslie Pietrzyk


***As noted last week, this post will be the final to appear in Redux as I have decided to put aside my editorial duties. Archives will be maintained, and a guide to the more-than-250 authors published here appears below, to your right.


~This story previously appeared in New York Stories (2001)


             This happened several years ago, though I had to look at a calendar before I believed that much time had gone by.  In fact, I think Mark Messier plays for another team now, is retired, has left the country, something, something big, something dramatic.  But what do I know about any of that?

            My boyfriend Andy had been watching Stanley Cup hockey play-offs all weekend, so when I told him Monday morning that I’d had a dream about Mark Messier, he said, “Was he playing for Edmonton or New York?” and I said, “I don’t know,” and he said, “Was he on the Oilers or the Rangers?”, and I said, “I don’t know,” and he got kind of ticked:  “Well, what color was his shirt?”, and I said, “Coral,” and then he got really mad—“No team jerseys are coral, not even expansion teams would pick coral.  What the hell is coral, anyway?”
            Actually, Mark Messier hadn’t been wearing a shirt, because what’s the point of dreaming of a muscley hockey player if he’s got on his shirt the whole time?  But that wasn’t anything you’d say to your boyfriend, not when you were talking around the edges about getting married and no one was getting any younger and there were biological clocks going off all over the place.
            “Well, what else, Lynne?” he asked.
            “It was just a dream,” I said.  “So who cares?”  We were going to be late for work; he was driving, and there was some crash miles ahead of us on the highway.  Whenever he drove there was some crash.  When I drove, we had green lights and clear lanes and no commercials on the radio.  Right now, we were absolutely still.  Every car in every lane was still.  I watched drivers around us whip out their phones to scream at people already at work.
            “I have to know if the Rangers are going to win the Cup,” he said.
            “Not unless their defense steps up,” I said, repeating what I’d heard on the radio in the shower this morning.  I wouldn’t know defense from picket fence.
            “This traffic sucks,” he said.  “The Rangers’ defense sucks.”


            It was our first hockey play-off season together; we’d been dating since October, now it was almost May, which isn’t the time of year you’d expect to discover the man you’d introduced to your mother was a hockey fan.  I mean, you think hockey, you think winter.  That’s what I thought.  But the hockey that mattered was play-off hockey which was apparently something different than all the other hockey games that had been won and lost all those winter months.  You even called it something else; everyone said, “Play-off hockey” like it was a diamond rattling their mouth, and the players stopped shaving because it was play-off hockey and everyone, absolutely everyone—even the boyfriend who’d once awakened you late at night worried because he’d always planned to be married with two kids by now—started screaming things like “take the body, not the puck, you idiot,” as if that were something normal and comprehensible to scream at a T.V. set.
            I turned on the radio, he turned it off.  It wasn’t anything personal, just bad traffic, just Monday morningness.
            “You don’t even know what Mark Messier looks like,” Andy said.  “You never even heard his name until Sunday.”
            Sunday was Sports Bar Sunday.  Seven hours of play-off hockey.  What kind of good girlfriend was I?  At the bar, I read magazines, drank six Diet Cokes, and drove his beer-soaked friends home after the last overtime goal.  They all kept talking about how pumped they were, how the Rangers dominated the ice.  “We’re going all the way, baby,” they said again and again; they were crammed in the backseat like children on a school bus; Andy kept twisting from the front seat to high-five someone’s hand or the air, it didn’t seem to matter which.  I dropped them off one by one at their houses and townhouses, long quiet streets leading to porch lights left on by wives; “Let’s-go-Ran-gers!” they chanted before leaving the car, but they fell immediately silent as they trudged up the walk, fumbled their keys at the door, and then disappeared inside like a stone sinking into a pond.  When it was just me and Andy left in the car on our way home, he said, “You gotta love the Rangers.  They’ve got heart,” and why was it that men saved their best compliments for teams, for sports, when with every next game, they ran the risk of being let down so instantly and so totally?  Why was it the players could change, the uniforms could change—even the rules could change—and the men would still cheer every point, goal, hit, and basket?  Then Andy said, “You’re not a fan, so you’ll never understand what it means for your team to win,” and I could’ve made something of it, but I guess he was right, I wasn’t a fan, I didn’t understand what it meant to have a team, for it to win, and anyway, Sunday was a day of me being good, me scoring girlfriend points with him, with his friends.  As payback there’d be an antiquing weekend in my future, a foot massage, a dozen roses arriving at my office, someone agreeing to accompany me and my mother to the ballet, maybe more.  Suddenly he said, “My dad used to take me to Rangers games, so if we had a boy, I could road-trip him up to New York, couldn’t I, Lynne?  I could make him a Rangers fan, don’t you think?” and I nodded and kept driving.  It wasn’t like I’d never thought about a daughter taking dance lessons and the exact shade of pink tutu she’d wear at her first recital.  So that was Sports Bar Sunday.
            I said, “Why does it bother you that I dreamed about Mark Messier?” 
            “I don’t know what it means,” he said.  “It means something.”
            “Maybe it means I watched seven hours of play-off hockey yesterday.”
            “I think it means the Rangers are going all the way,” he said.
            “You’re not like this.”  He wasn’t like this.  He was a lawyer but not that kind of lawyer.  He mostly wrote wills for old ladies.  Once one lady left her estate to a cat.  He’d told me that on our first date; “not even a pedigreed cat,” he’d said, as if that might make a difference, a pedigree.  Someone had fixed us up.  “You’re perfect for each other,” she’d said, which meant:  You’re both unmarried.
            “This means the Rangers are winning the Cup,” he said.  “You know, I was there in ‘94.”
            “Where?”
            “New York.  I was at the Garden when they won it.  Messier was awesome.  They called him the Messiah because during the play-offs he guaranteed a win against New Jersey in Game Six to get to the finals.”
            “Great.”
            “You don’t understand.  They had to win that game or they’d be out.  He won—and got a hat trick.  A hat trick!  Jesus.”  Andy turned off the car.  Clearly we weren’t going anywhere, traffic was a knot.  Then he went on about ‘94, there was lots more; he described intricate details about shots on goal and power plays and bad bounces and penalty killing and rolling pucks and beautiful saves that would make a grown man collapse into tears (his exact words).  “I was there,” he said.
            If it was about sports, men remembered it.  If it was about their wives or girlfriends or mothers, men forgot it.
            “I’ve still got the ticket,” and he pulled out his wallet and showed me the stub in one of the plastic pockets where you were supposed to put pictures of your kids.
            “Why do you carry that around?” I asked.
            “You’re just not a fan,” he said.
            Okay, I wasn’t a fan, but I knew a little piece of cardboard in a wallet when I saw it.
            “So, how many goals did Mess score in this dream of yours?” he asked.
            “Um, two?” I said, but he caught the catch in my voice.  I coughed, cleared my throat, looked out the window at a woman who was looking out her window at me.  She looked like someone who wouldn’t know a power play from a Broadway play.  No ticket stubs in her wallet, no dreams at night even; she looked like what people meant when they said “sensible.”  She wouldn’t turn away, so finally I looked back at Andy.
            “I’m so stupid,” he said.  “It wasn’t a hockey dream, was it?”  The car ahead of us started up; other cars started up.  People were snapping shut their cell phones.  “Just what was Mark Messier doing?”  He did a kind of laugh-choke to make me think everything was okay, but everything wasn’t.  I mean, this wasn’t my first boyfriend; what he was doing was trying to lure me into saying things he could use against me forever, things to wedge into every fight we might have, whether it was a pull-over-and-ask-for-directions fight or a whose-mother’s-house-for-Thanksgiving fight.  I knew a mission for ammo when I saw one.
            I turned on the radio in time to hear that the accident on our road had been cleared fifteen minutes ago.  Then there was a commercial for motor oil.  Then there was a sports update, and someone mentioned that great overtime goal in the Rangers game.  Then a commercial for a chain of really bad sub shops.  Finally I said, “It was a dream.”  Then I added, “I don’t remember.”  Cars were rolling ahead of us, but Andy hadn’t even turned the ignition.  Finally I leaned over and twisted the key.  “He wasn’t as good as you,” I said, and I kissed him on the cheek, then I turned his head my way and kissed him on the lips—full, long, and hard; added tongue--(people were practically standing on their car horns trying to get us to move) and he asked, “Really?” and I nodded, and he said, “Figures,” and he put the car in gear and we were on our way to work, and that was another thing about men:  none of them ever wanted the truth, and maybe women didn’t either, come to think of it.

            The next morning it was me driving to work.  He brought the sports section in the car, and he kept reading out headlines and scores that didn’t matter to me—baseball, boxing, football drafts.  But we were pretty chipper; I mean, in the morning you tell your boyfriend he’s good in bed and by night I promise he’ll try proving it to you.  And traffic was somewhere above stop-and-go and just below cruising.  So why would I tell him I dreamed about Mark Messier again?  I mean, I liked having a boyfriend more than not having one and I liked this boyfriend in particular.  We talked about getting married, we talked about the two kids we’d have, names for the dog we’d get, whether a Cape Cod was better than a rambler, how important good gas mileage was in a car, no-load mutual funds versus playing the market, keeping ketchup in the cupboard rather than the fridge.  There was a lot we agreed on, even personal things like the toilet seat always being down.
            He said, “What do these idiots know?”
            “Which idiots, honey?”
            “These idiots who think the Rangers don’t have what it takes this year.”  He thrust the paper towards me, and there was a picture of Mark Messier looking like a poster of what every mother warned you to stay away from.  But when I tilted my head, I’d have to say Mark Messier also looked a lot like the guy in your high school who takes six woodshop classes a semester that he doesn’t bother going to because he’s hanging out in the far corner of the parking lot smoking whatever and whose jeans fade just so and fit just so and who looks at you in this one way so you feel the blood suddenly fast in your veins, and you know you’re not supposed to like it (because you’ve been told you’re not supposed to like it), but, come on, of course you do, and damn-sure he knows it.
            Okay, there was that, but all I really knew about this Mark Messier was hockey, was Rangers.  Like, would he carpool with his girlfriend to save money on parking?  How did he feel about no-load mutual funds?  He probably littered and had bad breath.  He could be anything.
            Andy said, “Is everyone who writes for this paper an absolute idiot?”  He jabbed his finger at another article then dropped the paper in his lap.
            “Do you think Mark Messier has bad breath?” I asked.
            “Hockey players barely have teeth,” he said.  “Do I have bad breath?”  He went “hua-hua” into one hand.  It’s one thing to do that in private, like in a bathroom or in your office with the door closed before a meeting, but not in a car with your girlfriend.
            “You’re fine,” I said, but he unzipped my purse, rooted around for gum.  Men going through women’s purses were always awkward, like they’re terrified of what they’ll find in there.  Like if their fingers graze a tampon wrapper, they think they’ll lose the ability to grow hair on their faces.  I reached for the purse—my eyes totally watching the road—and pulled out a pack of gum within one tiny fraction of one second.
            “How do you always do that?” he asked.
            I did a Mona Lisa—“I’ve got my ways.”  I felt like maybe we were being cute, but then he said:
            “The Rangers are on T.V. tonight.”  He dropped his gum wrapper on the floor of my car.  “Game three.  Whoever wins this, wins the series.”
            “I thought it was seven games.”
            “Metaphorically,” he said.
            “That’s not a metaphor,” I said.
            “You know what I mean,” he said.
            “But it’s not a metaphor,” I said.
            “Okay, it’s not a metaphor, so what?”  He picked up his newspaper, folded back the pages, made a lot of noise doing it.  He snapped his gum.
            Everyone knew you were supposed to be married by now.  My mother knew.  My sisters.  All my friends except for the new single friends I’d made lately, all younger, all no-kids and long hours at work.
            I merged into the fast lane.  I dreamed of Mark Messier last night.  I didn’t say the words.  But I drove as if I had said them, and finally, ten minutes later, after I’d cut off two people who didn’t deserve to be driving, flashed the finger once, and gunned up to 75 for a too-short stretch, Andy said, “Something’s different.  You’re different,” and I said, “Do you really think so?”
            “You’ve got an edge,” he said.
            “I’ve got an edge,” I repeated.
            He put his hand on my leg and I let him leave it there, but all it felt was heavy and sweaty, like some dork in high school who doesn’t make his move in the theater until the final credits roll.  I hadn’t thought about that kind of guy for quite a while, the kind of guy who thinks he’s good at talking to your parents and whose change rattles around in his pants pocket when you’re walking together in the mall.
            “It’s kind of sexy how you are,” he said.  “Dangerous.”  He slid his hand half a millimeter higher up my thigh.  “Like last night.”
            I flipped on the blinker and crossed four lanes of traffic flawlessly, in a groove.  The car bounced and skidded a bit as I pulled onto the shoulder, slid into “park,” and turned off the engine.  He pulled his hand off my leg, folded his arms together.  He looked shocked, like something had just exploded into tiny pieces in front of him.  Traffic whizzed by.
            “What’s this?” he asked.  He gripped one hand around the car door handle.
            I unbuttoned my blouse, taking my time.  “What do you think it is?”
            “Wow,” he said, “oh, wow,” and that’s what he said again and again, over and over, like if he stopped saying it, everything would disappear, like what was happening was something he didn’t even know to dream of.

            The next morning it was his turn to drive.  “I had a dream about you,” he said, unlocking the car door.  “It was incredible.  We were in a swimming pool.  Water was everywhere.”
            The thing about water was...it was wet.  Sloppy.  Everywhere.  What you look at and think, Someone needs to clean up this mess.  The thing about ice was...that it was exactly the opposite of those things, that a skate blade could cut sharp across it, leaving behind a thin line.
            I said, “I dreamed of Mark Messier.”
            He slammed the car door so hard I thought an air bag might pop open.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”
            “Aren’t we talking about dreams?”
            “Is that what this is all about?”  He backed out, drove down the block, just missed the left arrow at the corner.  “It’s not me, it’s some asshole hockey player you don’t even know?  Some guy you’ll never meet?  Is that what this is all about?  A dream?”
            I was wearing brand new hose today.  Brand new hose fit your legs like once-worn hose never could.  It was just something to think about while he went on:
            “It’s sick.  Mark Messier might as well not exist—do you get it?  not exist—for the chance you have of ever meeting him.  He’s a superstar.  Superstars match up with models and actresses.  That’s how it is.  So stop it.  Stop dreaming about him.”
            “It’s just a dream,” I said.  The light was still red, still red, still red.  It was the longest light in the city; it had to be.  “The light’s broken,” I said.  “Just turn.  We’re late.”
            “The light’s not broken,” he said.
            “You’re scared to turn,” I said.  “Just turn.”
            “It’s against the law,” he said.
            There was a stretched-out moment where all I thought about was that the light had never been this long.  Then it changed, and Andy turned, spinning the steering wheel with one hand, letting it slide back through his fingers, the way you drive when you’re trying that hard to look cool.  I felt exhausted, like I’d already been through this day once, but here it was again.
            The Rangers had won last night, so they were up 3-0 in the series.  I’d noticed that Mark Messier was number 11 and that he always seemed to be where the puck went which seemed like a good thing because he scored one goal and made two assists for a three-point night.  I’d noticed all this while I was reading a magazine at the sports bar, drinking Diet Cokes.  Andy had said I didn’t have to go, but I told him I didn’t mind, that I could be the designated driver again.  I was the only woman watching hockey at the sports bar; all his friends’ wives were home with kids or at power networking events for their jobs.  One guy said his wife was on the phone ordering summer clothes from mail order catalogs stacked higher than a beer bottle.  Between periods, they talked about ‘94 and how much they hated the Islanders and whether some guy Keenan coached like a psycho, schizo, savant, or genius.  I noticed that the Rangers jerseys they wore looked too big, the sleeves too far down their hands, the necklines saggy; and did wanting your team to win mean drinking beer by the pitcher and eating three baskets of fried mozzarella sticks?  Did it mean high-fives across a sticky table?  “You don’t understand,” Andy told me on the way home, “it’s my team, and they won,” and I said, “What if they lost?” and he said, “But they didn’t.”
            Like when I went to my little sister’s wedding three years ago.  When I asked if she loved him, she said she did, so I asked, “How do you know?” and she snapped, “Of course I do.”
            Another light we just missed.  Andy said, “Am I boring?  Is that why you’re all of a sudden dreaming about big stud hockey players?”
            “You’re not boring,” but what wasn’t boring—traffic, what I was going to eat for lunch, the e-mail I’d read at work, anything that came on T.V. that night, the dress I was wearing, the light turning green, the yellow flowers along the road, everything.  It was all boring.  “Of course you’re not boring,” I said again.  “Am I boring?”
            “Just because I’m a lawyer,” he said.  “Just because we live in a three-bedroom, two-bath townhome in the suburbs.”
            “This is what people want,” I said.  “This, exactly.”
            “Don’t marry me if you think I’m boring.”  He headed onto the ramp to the highway, merged into traffic.  I would swear it was the same car ahead of us today as yesterday, something blue and boxy.  The car we’d buy after we got married.  The salesman would shake our hands too hard, say, “How’re you folks doing today?” and the dealership would be passing out free hot dogs and balloons, and we’d drive around and around the block on our test drive and later brag to everyone about what a great deal we’d gotten, secretly sure we’d been massively ripped off.
            I said, “I love you.”
            “I love you,” he said right back, like a slap.
                                                                             
            The next day it was raining, a hard day to wake up into.  Anyone with any sense would trade it all in to be a cat and doze through the next 20 hours.  My turn to drive.  I wanted to do it with my eyes closed, I was that annoyed, that bored.
            Halfway there he asked, “Did you?”
            “Did I what?”
            “Dream about him?”
            “Who?”  I knew who exactly.
            “Mark Messier.”
            “He’s a thug,” I said.  There’d been something in the paper this morning, some dirty hit Messier had done in the game the other night; someone’s ribs were cracked or a concussion, maybe both.  There was controversy, complaining, two coaches screaming at each other.  “Anyway, it’s just a dream; it’s not like I actually slept with him.”
            “Oh, Christ!” he said.  The windshield wipers flapped back and forth, pushing the same line of rain from side to side.  You could get hypnotized.  “Why are you telling me this?”
            “You asked me.”
            “Because you’re supposed to say no.  No more dreams, no Mark Messier, nothing.”  He spoke in rhythm with the wipers, the same back-and-forthness.
            “I don’t even like hockey.”  I’d never played hockey, never lifted a stick or smelled a puck or put on a glove.  I could tell you maybe three rules at most, I could name two players, four teams.  I could say Stanley Cup, but what did you win when you won it?  What did it mean?  Like being married—I knew the white dress and the ring and the Cape Cod (or rambler) in a nice neighborhood with good schools and the two kids and the dog that everyone’s too busy to walk and the joint tax return and bills addressed Mr. & Mrs. and side-by-side burial plots—but what was the rest?  Mark Messier was nothing but a man on the ice on T.V., Mark Messier was nothing.
            The rain suddenly downshifted, more of a drizzle, a mist, something that wanted to be a fog but wasn’t quite.  There was a meeting today at 11 with a group of people I hated.  How many more times could I be nice to people I hated?  Did anyone else ever think things like that?
            “This isn’t about hockey,” Andy said.  “Is it.”  He didn’t say it like a question.
            The wipers squeaked against the dry glass and squeaked again before I thought to turn them off.
            In the silence, I thought someone might cry.  Then he said, “Look, it’s just a dream.  I know a dream doesn’t mean anything.”
            I thought I might cry.
            “Neither does a hockey game,” I said.  “But a marriage does mean something.  Anyway, it should.”
            That’s where we were when we got to our exit.  There would be more to get through, later, and it would be awful and it would be boring; it would be worse than rush hour traffic, it would be rush hour traffic with a crash every half-mile, rush hour traffic when you have to pee real bad.  And after we’d gotten through it all, maybe that’s when I would worry that I’d never meet another man who was better, nicer, kinder, cuter.  And maybe he’d get married to someone and maybe I’d get married to someone or maybe we’d never get married to anyone, exactly as we feared.
            And maybe I’d never again dream of Mark Messier, and certainly I’d never meet him—but maybe if I did, it would turn out that he was just a really nice, really sweet guy who wants a dog and two kids he can take to Rangers games.

            Like I said, I think Mark Messier plays for another team now.  Or maybe he did once, but he left that team.  Maybe he even came back.  I don’t know.  Sometimes I look for his picture in the newspaper, but I never see it.  I should ask someone what happened, what exactly happened, but no one I know follows hockey.

*****

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY


As noted in last week’s post, this is the story that essentially gave me the idea for Redux: I longed for a place where I could resurrect a story that was a personal favorite of mine but that I most likely wouldn’t include in a collection. The genesis of this story is pretty simple. I wrote it the year that I became a hockey fan, so much of a fan that I watched play-off hockey every single night, my team (Washington Capitals), the west coast teams that played the late games, and essentially any team that showed up on (I believe) ESPN during the two months of post-season, over-time hockey. I read a bunch of hockey books. I inhaled hockey. After my team lost, I rooted for the Rangers. And, I dreamed about Mark Messier*….

*Rangers Messier, post-Cup victory

*****
ABOUT LESLIE PIETRZYK

Leslie Pietrzyk is the founder of Redux, on online journal that features previously published work, not available elsewhere on the internet. She has published four books, most recently Silver Girl (Unnamed Press, 2018). This Angel on My Chest, her collection of unconventionally linked short stories, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Short fiction and essays have appeared/are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Southern Review, Gettysburg Review, Hudson Review, Arts & Letters, Cincinnati Review, The Sun, The Collagist, Salon, Washington Post Magazine, and many more. She is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program. For more information: www.lesliepietrzyk.com

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