Bloom of Youth

Spencer Lucas Oakes

Jonesy went from house party to four-way stop to emergency room to the waiting area of a hospital at capacity to a stairwell to a hallway where he waited for a radiologist. The others from the four-way stop were ahead in line, stiff and still, wrapped in white gowns and medical gauze. Lying flat on a gurney, Jonesy thought his bladder might pop in the busy corridor so a nurse gave him a bedpan and when he turned on his side, he made a mess. Eventually, the nurse noticed the dark sheets and shiny puddle beneath the bed. Jonesy felt like an idiot but more than that he felt distant, like his head belonged somewhere else, space, maybe.

He found out later that the SUV that transformed his sedan into a bright mess of glass and steam had come from the party he just left. A house in a quiet suburb only a few blocks away from the four-way stop; when Jonesy no longer recognized anyone at the party he decided to go and the other people must have done the same and even though they took different paths, the coiling streets led to the same place. Jonesy’s friend Parko always said drunk driving wasn’t the problem, other people were the problem.

On the hospital bed, Jonesy’s foam neck-cone robbed him of his peripherals and his eardrums chirped on loop while his eyes watered under the hallway luminescence. He recalled the ambulance’s lights arriving first, maybe not first, but technically first that day, because the ambulance appeared seconds after midnight, and, more specifically, Jonesy remembered Parko and Seb losing their minds over the time, how they kept yelling, Friday the 13th! Can you believe it? and laughing and had the accident occurred a few minutes earlier this detail would be no detail at all, yet Jonesy could still hear them, singing their song, a chorus filling the corridor while his nurse helped him into a new gown.

Next, Jonesy remembered getting to his feet before being pulled back to the ground. Summer’s final warm moments had soaked into the pavement and Parko or Seb knelt over him, his eyes and cheeks wet, the sludge of tears running hot down his temples, cooling his skin, beads rolling into his hair. Seb, or maybe Parko, pushed them elsewhere, making sure no one saw and despite the day-warmed cement, Jonesy’s body shivered in the night. Try not to move, they said. I’m late for training, he said, as he struggled against the paramedics.

A few days later when Sasha visited Jonesy, as he laid in bed at home and performed little more than the small acts of watching TV or observing the ceiling, she told him that Parko and Seb weren’t there. In the car, you mean, Jonesy said, but Sasha meant the party and the accident and the hospital and she seemed pretty sure Parko had been at home and she didn’t know a Seb, she said, let alone anyone on the Bulldogs with that name.

A   month passed in a blur for Jonesy as his last summer as a university student  came to an end along with preseason training, while his ears continued to ring, reminding him of his car’s horn.

Jonesy found himself standing in his room with the blinds hanging low; thin slits of sunlight illuminated the rocky covers on his bed. Sweatpants, a hoodie, cotton socks and spent underwear on the carpet like confetti. On top of Jonesy’s dresser was the get-well-soon card his team had signed and given to him. Sasha found it on the floor, under his gym bag, and told him he should put it out. “Winners never quit,” “Championship mentality,” “Victory is a state of mind,” they wrote. Someone else drew a penis. Above the chest of drawers, the white and black squares of a calendar had been pinned to the wall with the most important square highlighted in yellow, its text read HOME OPENER in a speech bubble sprouting from the head of a cartoon dog, a bulldog, and while, technically, the season began this weekend with the team away on the road, visiting St. Mary’s College or Doncrest University, Jonesy didn’t go because of his concussion, but, when they returned, and if Jonesy was cleared to play, it would be his final home opener, ever; he was a senior now, though his injury, his stupid head, had him seriously considering what it would mean if he couldn’t play, if he had to spend his time on the bench, the sideline, like a nobody. He might never play again, might never win again. I’m not ready for the bench or a lifetime of sidelines, Jonesy thought, not ready to be relegated to nobody-dom; so he decided he would do whatever it took to make sure that didn’t happen and if, no, when another chance to play came along, he wouldn’t waste it.

The following week slid by like mist off the river. Jonesy tried to forget the accident and figured acting like everything was normal would serve him well and, in a sense, he found that putting on in this way felt no different from any other day of his life, so even when his concussion made him feel especially lost, which was most of the time, he still went to the gym. During lifts and curls and squats a scratchy haze made him feel like the walls were closing in on his sight. Jonesy pushed extra sets through the dimming light. Normally, his inhales and exhales were fluid and unthinking but now they felt scattered, ins catching outs, dogs chasing tails. When Jonesy’s vision fully returned, evening had arrived and he found himself in bed, unsure how. He assumed he took the bus even though his wallet had disappeared in the crash. Jonesy drifted off again before a vibration caused his phone to glow to life. A social media notification directed him to a wall of posts where people commented on a string of pictures he’d been tagged in; grainy scans and digital photos of film photos of Sebastian Sisleski. Jonesy caught himself in some of the images from when they were kids. In one picture he and Seb were kneeling in the front row of a team photo, round white faces and pink cheeks, bumpy clouds in the background; in the next picture, above a comment labeled “first day of school,” the two boys stood with their arms around each other, brush-cut heads, a soccer ball, thumbs up, squinting from the sunlight beaming off the driveway. Jonesy remembered that was the first time he’d shaved his head, an act of solidarity with his friend Seb, who died of cancer at the age of twelve. How could he have forgotten Seb’s anniversary? Jonesy wondered in the shadows of his room.

In the morning, Jonesy returned to the gym. He hadn’t slept, which ultimately seemed like a good thing. He saw Parko laid out on a bench on the far side of the fluorescent room, pressing dumbbells into the ceiling. Jonesy beeped a treadmill to life.

“Jonesy, you little fuck boy, you’re late as shit,” Parko said without interrupting his reps.

Jonesy jogged and said nothing, two things that never failed him. Looking over he could see chunks of light in Parko’s sweat when Parko dropped his weights to the black rubber mats that jigsawed the floor and said, “How’s the head? Still soft?”

Jonesy increased the treadmill’s speed. “Why aren’t you with the team?” Jonesy asked.

Parko looked down at the white tape wrapped and wound around the middle of his leg, his kneecap popping out like an egg’s yolk, and hobbled closer to Jonesy, exaggerating the limp, leaning on the treadmill’s rail.

“Sometimes I forget that you never had a lot going on up there to begin with,” Parko said, swiping a hand at Jonesy’s bobbing head. Jonesy liked the height difference the treadmill gave him. He also liked that he didn’t have to tape over his head.

“Is all that tape necessary?” asked Jonesy. Parko reached for the controls on Jonesy’s treadmill and increased the speed. Jonesy jogged, ran, then sprinted with no problem, and he said as much to himself, repeating the words no problem in his head, until Parko got bored.

“You seem fine to me,” Parko said, moving away from the treadmill.

Jonesy pushed himself to keep running until Parko left the gym, then rested his weight on the treadmill and heaved for air, widening his eyes as if to trigger feeling normal. Sometimes he couldn’t tell if he and Parko were friends. Jonesy lifted ropes and medicine balls. When he got dizzy he looked at his phone in a search for focus. More posts about Seb’s anniversary. Jonesy typed a comment then cut it. He didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how anyone ever knew what to say, and felt he didn’t want anyone else to see what he might write anyways. Seb you were my best friend lol, Jonesy deleted.

Among the polished concrete floors, rubber mats and steel apparatus, a mirror on the wall contained an image of a singular Jonesy. He looked like a lesser version, a blinking satellite copy. The last few weeks had revealed to him that it’s only when you’re made to be in isolation that you realize how alone you are. He found it hard to be away from the team and unable to express himself in the usual ways: through slide tackles, headers, laughs with the boys. Jonesy’s head injury had exposed a crack and revealed a void. He texted Sasha that the workout went well, his best one yet, and she replied with a smiley face. He asked for a ride.

In his bedroom, Sasha got on top, moving slow and gently, as Jonesy’s stomach tensed; he told her he needed a minute, took a deep breath and peered over the side of the bed before sitting up, while the ringing inside of his head came on like a fire alarm.

“What’s wrong?” Sasha asked as she moved to sit beside him.

“It’s my head.”

“Which one?” Sasha laughed but Jonesy stared past himself at the floor. They sat together on the edge of the bed. Jonesy leaned down and pulled up his shorts.

“I have an idea,” Sasha said. “Stay right there.”

Ten minutes later they were stretched out on the bed with their faces covered in a mint-green lather. Aloe and white tea, Sasha told Jonesy. The television glowed with sitcom reruns in the dark room. Eventually, Sasha gave Jonesy a hairbrush and sat between his legs. As Jonesy brushed Sasha’s hair he sensed, for the first time in a month, part of the pain in his head cool under the cold layer of lotion and tender laugh tracks gushing from the TV.

Jonesy slept through a communications class and a lab. He couldn’t remember why he’d registered in a lab. You’re in the wrong room, someone said. Jonesy almost hit the guy. At lunch he went to buy textbooks but the bookstore eluded him, too hard to find. The campus pharmacy revealed itself and Jonesy asked if they had anything for dizziness. A pharmacist looked over, in the middle of preparing a flu shot for a young woman, and asked Jonesy if he was okay. Jonesy took a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and left. His pink drink seemed to work because he found himself at practice. The team was back from their match away and an evening sun sank flush with the earth’s curve. Parko told Jonesy to just wear a helmet. Coach told him to go home and rest for Friday’s game, everyone was talking about the home opener. Jonesy shagged balls behind the net until it became clear he wasn’t needed. Eventually he caught a bus going in the direction of his house. Jonesy saw a baby-faced man who looked like Seb—same short hair, holding a soccer ball—get off at one of the stops and go poof in the dazzle of streetlights.

Friday arrived. On his way into the locker room, Jonesy could see the stands filling, people in jerseys and scarves, the smooth green field under towers of fluorescent light. A lot of blue and white. He heard public announcements, the small marching band, music filling the empty space. Jonesy finished another bottle of Pepto and then the trainer intercepted him so he followed the trainer into the clubhouse and lifted himself onto the medical table as his stomach knotted. Jonesy prepared for his life to be sidelined as the trainer’s penlight devoured his whole world in a flash.

“Okay, you look good. You’re all set.”

“What?” Jonesy pushed to comprehend through the penlight’s glare which superimposed the room.

“Yeah, you’re all set. Good to go.” The trainer wrote something down in a notepad. “All signs of head injury or concussion have dissipated. Completely.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well, yeah. What’s going on, Jonesy? Do you feel okay?”

“I feel fine,” Jonesy said. “Completely.”

In the locker room the rest of the team went out of their way to welcome Jonesy back with shoulder grabs, soft slaps to the head, handshakes and hugs. Baz asked about Sasha. Soobz laughed hard. Coach called to him from the office but Jonesy didn’t hear.

“Jonesy,” Roddo said, “Coach is asking for you.” Jonesy looked up at Roddo, one of the youngest players on the team, a new recruit who looked like a child, like he’d never been hurt. “You don’t look great,” Roddo said, “I mean, you look like a ghost.”

Jonesy passed the trainer’s office and saw Parko on the table, looking flat, knee wrapped in bags of ice. “Ice age!” Jonesy yelled but Parko didn’t laugh, he just stared ahead and deflated on the table.

“How are you feeling?” Coach asked from behind his metal desk.

“I feel good.” Jonesy wobbled and leaned on the door’s frame. “I’m all set.”

“You look fit,” Coach said. “I heard you’ve been in the weight room.”

“I was, yeah.”

“That’s what I want to hear. You’re at centre-half tonight. If they want in, they go through you.”

“Starting?” Jonesy asked.

Jonesy had started every match since first playing for the university three years ago. Coach laughed him off.

“Do some damage out there, Jones, we’ve missed you.”

Jonesy’s memories of the game were minimal; enduring a calf cramp, colliding with opposing players, streaks of colour: greens, blues and reds, the field on fire in parts, a car’s horn honking whenever a player kicked the ball, like a cartoon, puddles of glass and steam swirling near sidelines, how he saw Seb’s face on the opposing team. The crowd showed nothing but blank faces of other people, sometimes stop signs or high-beams, and during a moment in the second half, Jonesy found himself outside his body, but more like he had exited his pain, traded it for the flow of the game when an elbow angled off his cheek. He found himself in an automatic car wash, then someone else took over his controls, instantly he was very tall, too tall, his head a planet, in conversation with the moon, What should I do? he asked the moon. You can keep going, the moon said, if you want to. I don’t think I feel fine, Jonesy said. You’ve transcended fine, my boy, said the moon. I want it to stop, said Jonesy to the moon, but the moon had vanished, leaving a black spot filled by a young Seb who gazed down at him as he shrank to the earth. Jonesy was on his back when his teammates lifted him from the grass and placed him in position for the next play.

The Bulldogs won their home opener and celebrated in the showers, in the locker room, by their cars in the parking lot. Everyone told Jonesy it was his best performance, they were glad to have him back. Jonesy puked. They cheered. They were going to a house party.

In his bedroom, Jonesy heard a ringing he thought signalled how permanently damaged he might be, but he didn’t want to tell anyone. When he closed his eyes, he saw images of a crash test dummy’s face get mashed while rubber and plastic ballooned in slow motion, like a TV commercial playing on a VHS tape, then he saw empty sidelines, unoccupied bleachers and nobodies. His high-pitched reminder cooled briefly when Sasha appeared, though he didn’t notice her come in.

“My gentle giant,” she said, and she put her hand on his shoulder. It looked like she’d been in the bed for some time. They kissed until they didn’t. Again he couldn’t get hard. She ran her thumbs over his temples. A touch like feathers, like running water.

Sasha never spent the night, but she had fallen asleep. Jonesy listened to her breath and while not wanting to wake her, got up for a glass of water, thinking maybe he could flush the hurt. In the bathroom, he filled and emptied the glass, losing count. He’d stay up all night or wet himself trying. When he couldn’t drink anymore, he went back to bed.

Sasha sat perched on the edge of the mattress, the moon illuminating her through the blinds. She had her clothes on, leather jacket, keys, phone, bag in hand.

“I fell asleep,” she said.

“You should stay,” he said and sat beside her.

“Maybe next time.” She kissed his head in the most tender spot and white flashes filled the room. Jonesy didn’t move.

“I’m sorry about, you know, whatever’s going on.” He looked at his lap.

“Don’t worry, okay?”

Jonesy wanted to say that he wasn’t going to be okay and Sasha seemed to be waiting for him to say as much. He thought about showing her the pictures of Seb and him as kids. They said goodnight.

Porn didn’t do anything and he eventually turned it off for sports highlights which also didn’t help find peace or sleep. The clock read 2:47. Lying in bed and looking into his phone’s blinding screen, Jonesy scrolled up through time in his text conversation with Sasha and stopped at a photo she’d sent him. In it, she stood across from a mirror having just got out of the shower, with her phone in her hand and beads of hot water coating her body. Jonesy remained limp. He swiped to the next picture which was the selfie she took of the two of them with their faces coated in green; it wasn’t like he felt nothing while staring at the photo, no, in fact, he felt twelve years old again. He typed erectile dysfunction into his phone’s internet browser, but that just made him feel stupid and then the screen’s glare began to press into him like an iron, and his stomach, with a mind of its own, made its way out and he stumbled into the bathroom before vomiting into the toilet and onto the floor. Jonesy drank more water which also found its way into the toilet bowl. He searched for relief amid bouts of puking and dizzy streaks but all he found in the toilet water was his distorted silhouette and a feeling of confusion and he knew then how often he had been confused, a lifetime spent in a daze, as if all this time his inner workings were falling short of what his programming intended him to be. You’re always confused, he thought, don’t know how to grieve, can’t even love right. Jonesy felt cheated by the way he had lived his entire life. Winning was nothing but a debt owed to the inevitability of loss.

At practice tomorrow Jonesy would say he was not fine, he would tell his teammates about his friend Seb and finally open up to Sasha, but now the dim world dimmed and flickered and his dreams of change faded every time a head rush circled and landed like a drunk-driver sideswipe. He knelt before the toilet, fighting the spasms, face leaking into the porcelain. Jonesy squinted in the dark and made out the bits of himself orbiting the toilet bowl—who he used to be. This must be what losing looks like.


Spencer Lucas Oakes

Spencer Lucas Oakes is a writer from Saskatoon, SK, living in Vancouver, BC. His writing appears in Maisonneuve and PRISM international, and was recently shortlisted for the Fiddlehead’s 2021 fiction contest. He has an MFA from the University of British Columbia’s School of Creative Writing.


Toby Sharpe


I don’t know where a person can go when they disappear, apart from underwater.


Young Earle Birney in Banff: September 1913¹

what a day!at the Basin2 dove from the tufa overhanginto the water, playing my trick ofseeming to drown, not coming up until I finish wrigglingthrough that underwater chimneyand burst into air. always startles the tourists.


Zamboni Driver’s Lament

i know hate, its line-mates. believe me. you kids have, i’m sure, wasted—all early morning anxious and weak-ankled—their first impatient shuffle-kicks and curses on me.