The liquor, set behind the bar, a cherry laminate smoothed by decades of forearms passing over it, is top-shelf. Glass bottles with slim lettering and unadorned shapes: there is no need to hide it like he first had in a bottle of pop, or dress it up to hide some cheap factory origin. Top-shelf, like how it is, and Pavel stood to greet him, one heel unhooked from the rail at the foot of the bar.
He doesn't think he's had too much to drink. Not at the downstairs bar, with Pavel waving one hand, telling him about Moscow in the autumn, and not up here in the room, with a bottle out of Pavel's suitcase, still three-quarters full on the table between them.
Gino tells him, "the winter wasn't like that."
Pavel shakes his head, and then nods. "It was. That is how Russia is, you must know these things." The room is nice. Nicer than what he might choose, if he ever needed to go somewhere, to travel. Which he has, he is not a recluse, nor is he unsociable. It isn't as though he could not do it, go to some distant place -- it is only that he has never seen the end to it. "Winter is meant to be snow, ice, and lots of wind." How to be pointlessly extravagant, in this way: traveling for no particular reason, staying in a fancy hotel. It would be trouble, and he has grown content where he is. Although, of course, he has been back to Quebec for innumerable events, and there is always Florida.
"There's winter here too. Not everyone moved to Florida, with palm trees in January. All your tough winters, and now?" Wisely, Gino thinks to accompany this last with a little shrug, he is after all only joking.
This is no longer any great offense, as Pavel only pushes his glass, one-two fingertip touch, a few centimetres. "I live in Florida because there is a beach outside, not for the palm trees. Also, it gets the cold out of my bones."
He gently tries a joke, "the beach? You moved there for the – surfing? The women in their bikinis?" The rhythm of it is all wrong, leaden and serious, instead of how they were, how it could be. Funny, and light, because they would go out together. Because Pavel was already famous, and neither of them could really talk to girls.
Pavel smiles, delightedly. "Oh yes, those. Now that I am an old married man, no one is looking at me, but these girls go – suntanning, swimming, and saying hello to the young men. In December, they can do these things. December."
"What can you do in Moscow in December, wear your hat?"
"Yes, wear hats. Or here, spend all winter with rain in your shoes."
"It is winter, though. That is how it is." How it has always been: it rained here before there were any people at all, no moccasins nor boots to get wet. It is not, Gino wants to reassure him, a personal insult. Not that he is meant to be unhappy from it – but every slight: weather, questions about his play, the injuries that make up the day - is personal, to Pavel. The weight of this must be very heavy.
"Well, not winter like this. Hail the size of golf balls." Pavel inclines his head to Gino. "The river frozen hard so that people could walk on it. It's the truth, it's all true. They were a family, father and children, out walking, because it was so safe, deep ice. You know, good enough to put a car on, maybe even do some driving. And so, they go out, whole family. The river is very frozen, you know how. Solid.
"And they are walking, much farther than anyone can go from the shore, most years. Down the center of the river. It is so cold this year, windy out there, they probably talked of turning back, but the river, you see, you can reach to land, islands, but not by turning back. Must continue on, and the family does. And the daughter says, look.
"They all look down, and there is not only the rivermud trapped under the ice, but a sunken boat. From a long time ago, with sails and ropes. Sunken, still upright, like it was dropped there, waiting. Still, under the water, the ice. Waiting to be found." Pavel leans back, and drinks, finished with his story.
Gino is not sure what to say, and waits. Air softly moves through the heater. He has already discovered what he thought lost, like finding a glove in the spring melt. What he never thought he'd find at all, and that is the only discovery he can desire; to ask for more, like a second glove, would be selfish. Wasteful, for what he has found is sufficient. It has always been sufficient. Yet here he is, wanting. Right from when Pavel called, saying: that he shouldn't have gotten a new phone, the number was unfamiliar, and that he would be in Vancouver on Wednesday, here was the hotel address.
"You know how that is?" With honesty, Pavel pauses. When he thinks of it, he can be considerate, but he's always been kind to Gino: buying drinks this evening, taking time from whatever business brought him here to talk about winter and mystery.
He should know, he always should: Pavel is so good. "It sounds strange."
"Of course it is strange, it is ice and exploring."
"In the city." Gino thinks of the warm harbor – it is east of them, he recalls – out east.
"Of course in the city, that's where it all was." Pavel leans forward, uncaps the bottle with one hand and refills their glasses: Gino's, and then his own. "That's why I told the story," he adds, not without petulance; Gino drinks; and it is as it ever was.
Used to be, Gino contemplates, looking over the lip of his glass, that this would hurt. Even from Pavel, who is forever thoughtless, but it is not his fault. Pavel never really means what he says if it hurts. Not like he means it to hurt, it would have be thought-out, more considered, and Pavel is not unkind. Everyone is allowed to be a little thoughtless. These are allowances for the work of living. That morning he'd hurried to stop at a Tim Horton's and in the rush, had set his shoulders for a hit. Stronger, and narrower, in preparation: and he had ignored a girl asking if he was really who she thought, and how were the Canucks going to do, this season? Inappropriate, and a bad judgment call, but he hadn't been thinking. It's not much of an excuse, just a reaction: fight or flight, what he has been told. Not that it had been nothing, but it had not been remarkable either: nothing much at all. Hundreds of little frauds. He had paid, picked the remaining coins from the counter, and the woman there gave a sad look, like he needed to be considered and worried over. Like he needed to be watched, in case he did something wrong.
He knows things. He can lay a fire, read books, tell how a bone is broken, and can fix most parts of an engine. No one's born knowing. Like everyone else, he'd been at school -- not for long, once there was hockey and early morning practice with late nights after the games -- but he'd been. He doesn't forget, not anything: once it is there, knowledge forever sure in his mind.
It had only, at first, been that Pavel wouldn't do that. Never something like that, staring and so easily thinking that he's stupid, even – even in the dressing room, it would sometimes be a joke, how he didn't know much. Like in that first year. For he had to listen close since everyone was older than him, so he was supposed to respect them but he couldn't even understand them. They'd all done fine: scoring, joking, and telling bad stories about hunting trips and astronomy in English and in French. Not enough of the first, but they were all hockey players and knew that, so they kept busy with the rest. He could, of course, follow, although more the French than the English, which had accents and words he hadn't ever heard. There was never anything he could say, he wasn't fast enough, even if he would have been heard or listened to. He was a rookie, and he was slow, that was just the common wisdom by the time camp opened in his second season.
Smooth and difficult, Pavel had arrived. Like a shallow stream: fundamentally placid, but tearing over the roughness of a riverbed, and jumpy with the effort. Determined, too, for one end. They had known about him, of course, the whole city had been attentive all summer. And then, one day, he had been there, in the dressing room, his name on a plasticized sheet, P. Bure Like he had never been anywhere else, like coming home.
Gino does not remember what he first thought when he saw Pavel. He wishes he did, although it was probably not very much: he's shorter than we heard, or could he really do everything as promised? Or even, there sure are a lot of russians. They had met, and whatever Gino had thought, it was probably very shortly proven wrong. Pavel did things like that.
It was, at the time, fine. Just rookie things, and the team wasn't mean to Pavel, although Gino had thought, even then, that they'd all been much nicer to him in his rookie season, and he'd been drafted to mostly stand in the way if someone threw a particularly good right-hook. There was more, but that was later, and it was then, that all through the season, Pavel's things would go missing in the dressing room: shoes trundled under someone else's skates, wallet knocked out of his pocket. Gino thought, in his own first year, about sometimes hitting someone, even if it was a violation of everything he was meant to do: protect the team was the entirety of his code, fighting was only a way to do that, not an end of itself. Pavel had never fought back, had even turned down Gino's offer to do something: of course it was silly, and not worth it, but Pavel was still walking around in his socks and sorting the contents of his wallet from where they'd been scattered on the ground.
Afterwards, it had changed. There were goals, and 1994. Pavel got better at English, although when he didn't know a word he would stop talking, instead of asking, but Gino didn't mind. They did what they liked, and Gino sweetly remembers Pavel trying to bribe the staff at the Coliseum to keep the lights on late. They would have done it anyway, yet Pavel continued to insist with small amounts of cash, Gino looking on. And then, skating: the push-drag of blades on ice, coming down through the empty hash-marks, and shooting. It was, for Pavel, like breathing, and he refused to take any kind of explanation about role players, or not refining hands when all they were for was fighting. That smooth insistence on doing things well, and so Gino had showed Pavel how to stay on his feet after a hit, and when to angle in at the boards. Those had been good nights.
The ice was big enough for anything, and in those hours, they were invincible. Alone in the game together, matched strides and low echoes. His limbs are heavy, as though he has been walking in the snow, on a too-far journey. "Do you have another story?"
"Here." Pavel stands, finishes his glass and leaves it on the table. "We should sit on the bed. The plane was not so good for my knee." He sits on the far edge of the comforter, and swings his legs up: Gino can't recall what Pavel told him about the last surgery, even which knee it is that might be hurting, but he too stretches out.
"This is comfortable."
"It is a nice room. The view to the ocean and all." Pavel offers a small smile. It warms Gino quite completely, hotter than the room is already. He looks to Pavel, who is not very far away at all, this time. Retirement has been good to him, even without hockey. Hockey, which Pavel had once needed, and he must sneak out to skate with the Panthers. Gino had taken his skates to be sharpened a few days ago. No one can truly give it up.
But Pavel seems to be more -- without pain. However much he will admit to skating, he looks good. Less of a muscular curve to his shoulders, but his shirtfront hangs flat and narrow still. There is more to his jaw, and the years haven't been without enjoyment, but Pavel is still recognizably that same person who arrived in Vancouver and asked Gino what kimchi was, and Gino didn't know either. He's not very far from that himself, although he knows what to ask for at the Korean grocery. He did all the damage then: his own face is a windless cave, beneath the overhang of his forehead and the twist of his chin. The intervening years have been unchanging.
"She would – this is my mother – send us out in the late afternoons. Into evenings. We would have our warm things on, and play in the courtyard, ball hockey or running until we felt our breath, you know?" He gasps for effect. "Like that. Saw it, too, like winter, and when it would get dark, the other children would go inside, to their own apartments.
"We would be out, still, just us. It was good, like children always find. I remember it as good, though it was much colder and darker than I think of it now. We were fearless.
"I had my stick, and Valeri had a stick too, and there was a net back cut into the snow, for a boy to defend. We were just the two of us, and would alternate shooting and blocking. The blocking was the worst, and the ball would get lost in the snow, and I had only one glove. My hand was icy, from looking for it, and Valeri was blocking. I wanted him to play well, so we could be evenly matched.
"I know, you are thinking that this is a fib." Gino starts, shakes his head. "Well, you are not. I scored, of course, on Valeri, but it was new. I was not just putting it behind him because that was the other part of fair, to truly compete, to be good. I scored that goal because I could tell, even with one cold-dead hand, what he would do, and I knew that I was better. Far better, because he had to worry about how I would go right, and I could see that and shoot over his left shoulder. That first goal.
"They were still angry when we returned, but I was the happiest boy in the city. That goal had been the beginning, you know, the first important one." Pavel sighs with rapture, losing the words in joy. "Not even their fighting could diminish it."
Gino does not mind the story, it is familiar. He is not curious, but he had thought he knew most things about Pavel. New information like this is rare, and well-guarded, even by the changed standards of talking to Pavel."They fought?" It is not, exactly, as unfamiliar as he makes it sound. He knows it from his own life: there is nothing secret to how his own mother and father did not get along. Most adults didn't, not with anyone, and if they were off from work, there was plenty of time for it. Plenty of time and not enough to do. Without the work, or even after, in the evenings, his mother would go out to the yard: sawing, hammering, shaping, and laboring. Practical things, like additional chairs, boxes for each of them to store their things in, and somewhere to go while his father would be in the house. He did not, however, as a consequence, score any very important goals. Even in Laval, where the team did so well, and Victoriaville would front whenever they fell back to their own zone, he could score but it was not important, not like how Pavel thinks: most of the game is not scoring, it cannot be for all every player. The scouts were there to see him fight, after all, and he would not let them down in that.
"No, no. Well, not terribly. Not that. Like how there is, with hurting. She sent us out so we wouldn't see them, wouldn't be in the way."
"It was the honorable thing to do. To keep a disagreement private. Not maybe the sensible way, but honor was important. To my father, especially. But he wouldn't have minded us, then.
"Not then. He is irrelevant, I do not wish to talk about him. The goal-scoring, that was what mattered. In the story, and always." Yes, Gino thinks, it was, and it is so simple for him. How to win hockey games: score goals. Even with the repetition, it is a bright truth, and inseparable from Pavel, everything good.
Unsettling, then, as Pavel sinks his forehead into the bend of his fingers and palm. The motion has the effect of tightening the skin, and it makes him look close to upset. Crying, almost, like he could cry. At what, Gino wants to know, what is it that has Pavel like this. Goals are decent, but thinking about them is like worrying over the snowfall: crisp, and unalterable. Pavel knows this, Gino knows this, and here they are, sitting in this fine room, being miserable and confused together. Even at this sidelong view, he does not understand, and worse, does not like it. If he knew, like he used to know: speaking to strangers, shopping alone, and playing at the Saddledome. Mentioning his father like that, perhaps, but Pavel has said that the man does not matter, and Gino is not going to inquire. To second-guess.
He made what he needed, when what he wanted was out of reach. He leans back into the bed, his neck curled forward to still see Pavel.
The day hasn't been long: coffee-getting, meetings, planning the spring opening of the golf course, and driving here. It is heavy, though: talking with Pavel is easy, but not uncomplicated. Drinking, and the warmth of the room, are enough to settle into. Settling, close enough to staying, even though that will never happen. The light fades, as he blinks slowly, long moments of rest. Pavel is here, safe and sincere. As he can ever be, but Gino cannot always look out for him, can only hope that he is well. That he is untouched in Florida, even if it is so far.
Gino comes awake. "It's getting late. Or I'm getting old." He blinks, looks down to see Pavel's hand close, not-quite-almost-but-for touching. A small and private matter.
It was never that they had done very much. - he'd maybe wanted it more, but Pavel hadn't been averse, hadn't said no, like he would if he hadn't wanted it all. That wasn't what he had said, what he had made known at least, and Gino had trusted it. Hearing that - a no, a more complicated denial - it would have been like chewing glass, worse even, but it would have settled in his mind. At least he wouldn't be thinking this still. Denying it outright could be safer. It would have hurt, but only the once, right away.
Not like this. Not like how it still could, because it would not be just Pavel. Pavel, who is lonesome and bored –- at loose ends, more -- without games and practice. Gino does not ask how Pavel manages, what he does to fill each day. Now is not then: there is more to life than the game. He golfs, keeps busy at the course and with Band affairs, fields Kirk McLean's calls, and thinks of what it had been like, when he was twenty-three.
These days, like everyone else, he has Internet at work, and can watch the videos: Pavel at the dock, Pavel in the sun, Pavel talking about the team, - still, even after everything. It hadn't been the last time they'd done this, nearly the last time, when he'd been leaving, and Pavel had curled to the edge of the bed. One shoulder rising out of the sheets, and soft huffs of breath when Gino had reached to him. At the time, it had struck him as impressive, and he'd thought that maybe there was a song, a story that he hadn't recalled becoming familiar with, that mentioned how the shadows of an afternoon washed over someone else's body. Poetic, where he was not usually.
"You." Pavel doesn't move his hand. His nails are still short, rounded and ground down like he could still fit gloves back on, and Gino can't think of it further than that. He notices these things like unsorted photographs, like knocking over a stand of postcards: the images are very much the same, and sharpen with repetition. Pavel's hands, his knuckles still narrow without fighting or age, how warm it has become in this room, his own hands.
"I -- yes." Gino tells Pavel, "yes."
The city curves around the water, eight stories down. Once, not very long ago, the city needed the water, before the highways came in and the airplanes could land. It is active still, at this time, even late at night, ships and industry ceaseless, breaking the blank stare of the sky's reflection with each turn of the propeller.