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Excerpted from the novel THE MIGHTY OAK

Jeff W. Bens

The night before the Worcester tryout, Oak’s dreaming while awake. Skating, he sees the patterns, cage, net, the goaltender slow across the goalmouth, Oak fast at him, smooth, clear, knowing every move the dude is going to make. Providence College Friars, St. Anthony Saints, Murphy rink, Quincy rink, Harvard rink and the Donato boys, the PC fans screaming, his ma and his sister pounding the glass, peewees bang!, midgets bang!, bantam bang! Ice block heaters in Michigan, crappies and walleyes, flash-poppers in the stands, Texas water heat rising, ice-steam, a sweat-heavy bag skate, sweat-heavy gear. Oak’s skating in a corner get-and-go, elbow the soft ribs, the boys from Tabor Academy fold, the boys from Boston College fold, St. Lawrence College and Colgate, the pretty skaters from BU, have a handful of Chiclets and bounce. Goalmouth, slew foot, top shelf, glove side, stick side, bonfires on Wrightsville Beach, puking in the Carolina sand, puking in his truck, the hard punch to win the New England Silver Mittens, Hey, Hey Southie Pride, shot to the body, shot to the head, upper-cut, hook. The goalie’s coming out. Oak knows what the guy doesn’t know he’s going to do, what the guy’s trying to avoid, deke left, his tooth in the flesh of some goon’s hand, a needle full of Prednisone, deke right, a needle full of Toradol, blue line, red line, MVP, MVP, MVP, the rink funneling, triangle in the upper left corner, triangle between body and glove, between stick and glove, the goalie’s blocking the five-hole, Oak has no intention of going five-hole, seven goals, seven games, seventh grade skating with the varsity on a papal exemption, he brings his blade back, they put him in the Boston Herald, they put him in the Patriot Ledger, patterns, this is what he told the coaches, the game he scored five goals, the game he scored four, he sees patterns when he sleeps, and later when he doesn’t, Shannon in the Boston stands in his varsity jacket as the goalie takes a knee, their baby inside her, like the rest of them the goalie plays it safe, goes to BC High, goes to Syracuse, has four kids on Cape Cod, and the goalie’s falling, and the rush comes up Oak’s feet, leapers in his knees and his legs and his balls and his guts and his lungs and his throat and his face and his brain, backhand, top shelf, red light, board blur, steam from the nose of a giant plastic bull, his teammates on him in a pile, Little Bruins, Bandits, Raptors, Saints, Friars, Griffins, Stars, Bears, Storm.

And when he wakes fully, he’s sitting on a bench at L Street beach. He doesn’t remember walking there. He checks his phone. It’s 3:00 a.m. The knuckles of his right fist have popped the stitches. He’s sweating in the cold.

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