Errata Literary Magazine
Bucks County Writers Workshop
Sportscape by Jules C. Winistorfer
Stopping by to look in the display windows at Sportscape was like a sacred ritual to Jason -- an evolving adventure, especially every other Friday. That's when the windows were completely redone to show the latest stuff. The rest of the days he spent studying the styles of every skateboard, surfboard, pair of roller blades, and ice hockey skates in the windows. He memorized each curve, every color, and the manufacturer's name for every captivating item-two weeks between display changes suited him fine.
Every day Jason zipped through the mall parking lot on his skateboard. No big deal, it was on his way home from school. It irked him to have to put the skateboard under his arm and carry it when he entered the mall proper, but that's the price you pay for being a kid, he thought.
Today was Thursday, not even halfway to the next milestone in Jason's perennial luxuriating. So far this week, with hockey season fast approaching, he had focused mostly on the awesome selection of ice hockey skates. His eyes crawled from one pair to the next, mentally caressing the fine leather of each upper and admiring every cruel, shiny blade. Jason's practiced eye easily detected the gradual increase in quality as he moved along the row of skates. He could visualize the accompanying progression of prices on the tags, which had been artfully tucked under some pairs and turned over on others, giving the appearance of innocent oversight. Before he reached the end of the row of skates, movement behind the tan pegboard backdrop, covered with great pictures cocked at various angles to exaggerate the action of the superstars depicted, caught Jason's attention. The guy behind the pegboard motioned him to come inside.
Jason pointed at the skateboard under his arm. "That's okay, bring it along," Jason read on his lips as the man maneuvered between racks of brightly colored team shirts toward the door with more welcoming sweeps of his hand. Finally, the boy succumbed to the coaxing and went inside.
"I've never actually been in Sportscape before," Jason said. "My dad always buys my equipment on the Internet; says your prices are too high. No offense mister; I love your stuff. I look in your window every day almost."
"Yes, I know, I've seen you lots of times. Come on, check out some of these magnificent skates; touch them, feel them," he said as he reached over the pegboard and withdrew a pair from near the expensive end of the row.
"Jeese," Jason said as he fondled the fine leather uppers, then ran his fingers along the cold, sharp steel blades. "I shouldn't be doing this. My dad says he hates tire kickers. Says if you can't afford to buy somethin' you want, don't spend your life lookin' at it."
"You look in the window every day, don't you?"
"Yeah, but that ain't the same as taking up the salesman's time and making a fool of yourself." Jason said.
"I appreciate your dad's position kid, but if we salesmen never got to confront a window shopper, we'd never get to show our sales ability. It's easy to sell people things they really want and can afford. A guy who can sell the devil an electric blanket, now he's a salesman."
"I suppose," Jason said. And as he reached the skates back over the pegboard into their home in the display window, he spied a pair he hadn't seen before. "What are those goofy looking things?" he asked.
"Ah, I wondered how long it would take you to spot them. They're special." His mustache twitched when he spoke. He drew his lips into a thin smile.
"You know, I've never seen you in here before. Most of the sales people I see when I look in the window are high school kids. None of them wear suits like you. How come?"
"Maybe I'm the new store manager. Did you ever think of that?"
"Yeah, okay. Let me see the funny looking skates."
"I thought you'd never ask," the guy said as he lifted them from their spot, handing them to Jason with the same care one might afford gold filigree.
Jason ran his fingers over the dry, cracked leather, which had separated from the soles in a couple of places. The blades felt dull and chipped, uncomfortable to the touch; and some of the rivets that held the blade platform to the sole were missing.
"Who the hell, er, heck is gonna' buy these old beat-up things?" Jason asked.
"You are, my friend, you are," said the salesman.
"Yeah, what makes you so sure?"
"Well, here's the deal kid. You can have 'em for a buck-one simoleon."
"And what would I do with them?" Jason said.
"Ride 'em to fame and fortune, that's all kid. Look, you obviously play ice hockey; otherwise you wouldn't be so damned enchanted by our outstanding selection of skates. My guess is you play on some local ragtag team because your dad played when he was a kid."
"You're almost right, but my dad never played ice hockey; I just love the game."
"Yeah, whatever... I figure you'll be starting high school next year and want to make a big splash. Take my word for it, these are the babies that can do it for you. As a matter of fact these gems will take you right through college and into the pros. And you'll be a superstar all the way."
"Even if I believed you, I know I'd grow out of them in about a year; my mom says I'm getting bigger every day."
"That won't happen. They've been worn by lots of superstars through the years and those guys never had any trouble; the skates always seem to be the proper size-no matter what. Look kid, do you want 'em or not. Last chance, one buck."
"Yeah-but," said Jason, impressed with the guy's sales pitch.
"Trust me kid-superstar all the way."
Jason extracted a crumpled dollar bill from the recesses of an otherwise lint-littered pocket in his jeans. "Here ya are mister," he said as the guy bagged the skates.
"Before you leave kid, I have to explain the rules."
"I figured there would be a catch. There always is. Like my dad says, '...no free lunch'"
"It's simple. You just have to listen and do what I tell you. These skates are designed for a maximum of eight hundred and forty-three goals for one person's career. If you score one more goal than that, there will be a price to pay."
"What kind of price?" asked Jason.
"If I told you, they wouldn't work for you; it's the secret of the skates. After you've scored your last goal just bring them back here and I buy them back for one dollar. Or you can relinquish the skates at any time during your career by selling them back to me for a buck. Simple, right?"
Jason stashed the magic hockey skates in his closet, figuring the man at Sportscape was a kook but conceding he was one hell of a salesman. He figured they might make a good conversation piece when he got to high school and needed a wild story to impress the girls. Jason didn't stop by to peruse the window displays at Sportscape anymore. He didn't want to run into that salesman guy; there was somthin' weird about the dude.
Jason entered high school with an inflated view of his ice hockey prowess and barely made the team at Council Rock. Thoughts of the magic skates, squirreled away there in his closet under some old, smelly sweatshirts, crept into his mind. What if the nut at Sportscape was telling the truth? What if they really could make him play like a superstar? Wouldn't it be a hell of a shame to pass up a career like that?
The next week, Jason wore the skates to practice. The stiff, imperfect relics, which drew a few curious stares when he glided onto the ice, were surprisingly comfortable. The puzzlement of his coach and teammates dissolved when he lit up the scoreboard with two goals in an intra-squad scrimmage. As Jason remembered the rules, scrimmage goals didn't count, but he decided not to take any chances, wearing the special skates in official games only. Once he established himself as the best scoring center on the team, nobody gave a damn what he did in practice anyway. Besides, he had not even begun to use up his allotted eight hundred and forty-three goals.
Once, Jason stopped by Sportscape when he was home from College on spring break. Thought maybe he ought to thank the salesman, what with the full hockey scholarship he had received and, judging by the pro scouts sniffing around in his junior year, the direction in which his life seemed to be heading.
As he idly perused the merchandise, Jason saw the mustachioed salesman showing a young kid an ancient, beat up, left-handed baseball glove. The man invited the kid to run his fingers over the dried out, cracked leather. The boy's eyes grew wide when the man reached the glove high above his head in simulated capture of a fly ball. The guy's mustache still twitched like hell when he spoke. The salesman spotted Jason and motioned him to come in just as the boy pushed a dollar bill in the man's direction.
The matte aluminum handle felt cold to the touch as Jason pulled open the heavy door. A rush of cool air, thick with a musty smell he didn't remember from before, enveloped him causing icy fingers to grip the base of his testicles. He turned on his heel, and hurried away, ignoring the hiss of the closing door and the hand motions of the salesman trying to dissuade him from leaving. Moments later, rapid footsteps behind him added to his uneasiness.
"Hey mister, look what I just bought," the kid from Sportscape said as he drew alongside Jason and pulled the ratty glove from yesteryear out of its bag. "I don't know why I bought this piece of crap, look at it. I'll probably throw it in the trash when I get home. My old man would kick my ass if he knew I spent a buck for this. That guy is the best salesman I ever seen."
"That he is kid. Probably told you it would make you a superstar too."
"Yeah, how did you know?"
"Maybe it will," Jason said.
"Do you know that guy? He acted like he knew you when he was trying to get you to come in the store."
"Met him once, that's all. I'd use the glove if I were you kid; you never can tell what will happen."
"I guess I got nothin' to lose," said the boy. He discarded the bag, slipped the glove onto his hand, and, in the time honored manner of all ball players, began to sock the pocket of the glove with his fist. When the kid turned into the food court, Jason lost sight of him behind a popcorn kiosk.
At age thirty-six, Jason was a shoe-in for the NHL Hall of Fame. Not bad for a mediocre player-more than he had ever dreamed of as a kid. He knew the Pittsburgh Penguins' management, where he had played for fourteen years, would understand him making this his last season. He'd been getting pretty banged up lately, making it tough to get out of bed in the morning. The Penguins, though, neither knew nor would they understand he had barely enough goals remaining in his skates to get through the season.
Jason wasn't sure those first two goals he had scored, way back in that first high school scrimmage, really did count against his total. He had accurately tallied the rest of his goals, keeping track in a three-by-five wire bound note pad. When Jason thumbed through the pad he could visualize almost every goal he had ever scored. The notations were all made in a similar fashion-Penguins 5 (J. 3 HT), -Flyers 3 or Penguins 2 (J. 1), -Buffalo 2. At the bottom of each page he kept a running total of all the goals by J. It frightened Jason to think his whole life, to date, was contained in about half the total pages in that tiny book. With the season half-gone only thirty-two goals remained in Jason's lifetime allotment. And they had to last through the Stanley Cup playoffs as well.
Gump Kerri, the Penguins' coach and general manager for many years, was closer to Jason than anyone else on the team. He recognized what no one else ever had-that Jason in reality was not a very good player and there was an uncanniness about the way he scored so prolifically. A few times, Jason had almost broken down and confessed to Gump about the skates when the coach needled him about his awkwardness on the ice, but he decided against it figuring the man would never have believed him anyway.
"You know Gump, I think the goalies' masks this season are uglier and more ferocious looking than ever. These guys must think they're gonna scare us into losing."
"Naa, it's your imagination, but I'll tell you what Jay-the way you've been pourin' in the goals, I think the net must be getting wider every game."
"Oddly, it seems that way to me too-just an inch or so wider each time. Before and after the game though, it looks the same as it always has."
"Yeah, don't we wish," said Gump, "we'd be scorin' twenty points a game if that was the case."
Jason fell silent. For him the ever-widening nets were not a joke. He knew they were there to speed the depletion of his quota of goals.
"C'mon kid, it ain't the end of the world. I know this is your last season and all, but you're havin' a great year. It happens to all of us."
"Yeah, but this will be my last shot at the cup," Jason said.
"I suppose it will," Gump said, slapping Jason on the back. "Let's make it a good one."
The stores in the mall were getting ready to close when Jason hurried into Sportscape. He looked around for the salesman with the mustache and suit. When he asked for the man, the skinny high school kid in the ridiculous baggy shorts and the XXXL Steelers jersey looked at Jason like he had two heads. "I been here over two years and ain't seen nobody like that work here," he said.
The thought that the two unofficial goals from so long ago might actually count against his quota nagged at Jason like a strand of tough steak jammed between two molars.
The conservation of goals was not going as well as Jason would have liked. The Penguins were winning games by two and three point margins-and the excess goals were always his. As the season wound down, the width of the net, in Jason's consciousness at least, had become so great he refrained from even passing the puck in the opponent's end of the ice for fear of inadvertently scoring a goal.
Game seven of the Stanley Cup final found Jason with eight hundred and forty lifetime goals. Lacking a source of clarification for the rules, he reasoned counting on a single unused goal, rather than three, to be his only course of action.
"Gump," he said to the coach, during the skate-around before the game, "I'm not going to hog the puck. One goal will be plenty for me to close out my career, as long as we win."
"What kind of an attitude is that, Jay? This is your game kid-your swan song, your crowning glory, your last hurrah."
"Naa, I'm going to feed the puck to the young guys who haven't played for the cup before. Some of the old timers did it for me when I was coming up."
"It's your funeral," Gump said as he left the ice to take his place behind the players' bench.
The third period drew toward its close with the Penguins and Flyers deadlocked in a one/one tie. Jason had scored the Penguins' only goal, and, gripped by terror, he knew he must not get another. In desperation, Jason flew around the ice stealing the puck and passing it off to potential Penguin shooters. Oddly, his skates began to feel a little tight and uncomfortable.
Gump screamed at him. "Jason, you bastard, you're playing hockey better than you've ever played in your life, but we need a score. Go get one yourself for God's sake. You can see these other guys ain't doin' it."
The clock wound down to twenty seconds and a stoppage of play occurred at the Flyers' end of the ice, resulting in a face-off near the Flyers' net. Jason looked over at Gump Kerri; the old guy flailed his arms at Jason in obvious disbelief at his superstar's actions. The Flyers controlled the face-off and started a final run at the Penguins' goal.
Jason intercepted the puck and looked down ice at the opponents' net; it looked wide as a soccer goal. To Jason, the ice appeared deserted. Only the Flyers' goalie stood between himself and victory for the Penguins. Gump's hoarse scream became a distant echo. Poor old bastard, he thought, probably his last shot at the Cup too.
With the puck firmly on his stick, Jason deliberated for only an instant and then started his run at the net. Deftly shifting the puck from one side of his stick to the other, he planned his final feint for just a few feet in front of the goalie.
As the moment of truth approached, the net took on the appearance of an ominous tunnel, blocking Jason's view of the fans and drawing him inexorably toward its gaping black throat. The goalie, looming huge in front of him, leered down at Jason from inside the hideous, bright colored mask. An instant before Jason cocked to shoot, the giant goaltender tore off his mask, stepped aside, and made a sweeping hand motion toward the tunnel. Jason fired the puck at the open net, powerless to keep from following it into the void.
"Superstar all the way, kid," the goalie said. His mustache twitched wildly and he drew his lips into a tight smile.
Jason heard the muffled roar of the crowd behind him and felt the terrible pain as the skates became four sizes too small for his feet. Without a doubt-one hell of a salesman, he thought.