"Are You Sick or Not?" Read an Excerpt from Shayne McGreal's Tense and Honest Debut, Anthony: A Composite Novel
Shayne McGreal's debut novel, Anthony: A Composite Novel (Guernica Editions) takes readers deep into the experience of the titular character and all his complications, weaving in and out of the various lives he touches.
Fragmented, powerful, and atmospheric, Anthony: A Composite Novel follows Anthony's nonlinear experience as someone living with obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety. McGreal's empathy, clean prose, and unflinching attention create a tense, authentic exploration of fear and panic and its sometimes devastating effects, as well as the depth of Anthony's longing, perception, and insight amidst his struggles.
We're excited to present a gritty and compelling excerpt from Anthony: A Composite Novel, courtesy of Guernica Editions. In this section, we meet Anthony at a hockey game where he's been recruited as an enforcer, as he deals with an escalating panic attack he attempts to conceal from his teammates.
Excerpt from Anthony: A Composite Novel by Shayne McGreal
After the dirty hit Two Five gave his teammate and best friend Ivan, Anthony couldn’t stop fantasizing about beating the shit out of him.
For example: Anthony calmly sits on the players’ bench and turns and taps his stick on the glass partition between the two benches. He makes eye contact with Two Five, points to centre ice, and skates there as his teammates cheer him on and bang their sticks.
As Two Five moves toward Anthony, Anthony lays his stick and gloves on the ice. They circle each other, size each other, and then quickly, both reach for each other’s bucket and rip it off. Anthony, as usual, punches right away, rapid fire, and as Two Five tries to tie him up, stop the powerful punches raining down on him, Anthony gets loose and punches and punches and punches, hammer to nail, down, down, down, until Two Five begs for him to stop. Anthony turns toward his bench and simply skates off the ice. No big deal, been here before. His teammates cheer him and pat him on the back and bang their sticks against the bench.
Now, Anthony sits at his stall in the dressing room and does his best to breathe normally, behave normally. His knees bang against each other as he digs his foot into the ground, legs shaking and bouncing. Just stay calm. There’s nothing to worry about. Don’t be a fucking bitch.
His teammates are scattered throughout the room. Some stretch on the floor at the centre; some tape their sticks in the small equipment room in the corner; some sit still at their stalls and stare blankly ahead. Music plays loudly; guys chat and laugh. But Anthony, Anthony hears nothing distinct. He hears sounds, their sounds. Muffled. Loud. In the background, behind the swift winds of breath coming in and out of him, reminding him every so often that there are people in this room who will witness his foolishness, point and laugh at him. He wishes his teammates would vanish, not see what is happening to him, not be waiting for him to change his behaviour. But they won’t vanish, and they will see and stare and mock. Anthony feels them jumping up and down in front of him, or leaning toward him, eyes wide and glaring.
He cracks his knuckles, grips his sweaty hands as his stomach’s insides flutter and then rise and rise and rise and...
Anthony leaps at the nearby garbage can and hurls. He spits and then looks up. He feels each and every player looking at him.
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— You pregnant? Smitty asks Anthony. Anthony gives a polite chuckle and again looks around the room at all the players staring down at him.
— Take that shit outside, the vet Mikey says.
Anthony tries to stand up but when he does, he starts to puke again, and again, and again. Now he is dizzy, woozy, wobbly, and all he wants is to rest his face against the ice pad or go outside and feel the crisp winter breeze hitting against his forehead.
— Fucking Christ, Anthony, you nervous or what, bud?
— Get out of here with that shit.
Anthony feels like he’s going to pass out, but Anthony can’t pass out because he has an opponent to fight. If he doesn’t step up they will think he’s a chicken shit, a fucking pussy who doesn’t care about his teammates and defending their star player. But what about him? What about how he never wanted to be a fighter and that he shouldn’t have to be a fighter just because he’s big and fights well? How is that fair? But what does fair matter, Anthony? You will have to fight. You will have to fight because they are expecting you to fight. You are a rookie and you’re not a goal scorer. How else are you going to get ice time? Besides, what are you so afraid of? You’ve fought three times this year. How is this any different? Anthony thinks it’s because this is a planned fight and the other fights all happened in the moment. It’s the expectation that’s hurting this fucking pussy, that’s made him leave his teammates and walk out the door in just his shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops, with his head down, breath going in and out, in and out. Come on Anthony, in and out, you’re okay. What the fuck is happening?
Anthony needs space, needs to be left alone, and once left alone he will figure this out, place his feet firm on the ground, get in an athletic stance, hold still, be strong against the swirling twirling images coming at him.
Anthony feels his best friend Ivan following him. Anthony stops. But he doesn’t stop for Ivan. He stops because he’s about to pass out. He leans over, grabs his shorts and mumbles: It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.
Ivan catches up and says: Big Wheel, you got the flu?
— Are you gonna be able to play?
— Are you going to be able to handle him? Ivan says.
— ‘Cause if not I’ll fuck him up, Ivan says.
— I got it.
— Warm up starts soon.
Anthony feels Ivan waiting for him, watching him, and this makes Anthony more aware of what he is doing, or rather, what he should not be doing. He should be going inside and getting ready and fighting the guy that hit Ivan so they will know they can’t fuck with their leading scorer.
They start to walk back inside, but Anthony stops. Ivan waits.
— Just leave me be, Anthony says.
— All right, but hurry up.
Near the door the coaches are standing outside smoking. Anthony feels them watching him too. They ask Ivan what’s wrong with him.
— I don’t know, Ivan says.
Anthony stays outside and is now cold and shivering. The shakes rattle him as he forces himself to walk back inside.
One step, two step, three step, four step.
Anthony knows they are going to ask him if he’s okay, and Anthony doesn’t know what he will say, or if he’s okay. Check that: He knows he’s not okay.
The closer he gets, the more he wants to stop and remain in the cold, biting air. He wants to bury his head in the snow, splash puddle water onto his skin, run full speed in one direction, legs pumping, arms swinging with the precious crisp wind hitting him in the face and taking his mind away away away, away away away, away away away. But he can’t. If he turns back they will know. If he keeps walking his nerves will continue to rise and he’ll lose control. He has to keep walking.
— You playing? an assistant coach asks him.
— I’m good, Anthony says opening the door.
But when he opens the door the smell of his vomit punches him, makes him wobbly again, keeps him outside with one foot in, one foot out. Outside there is smoke from the cigarettes, inside there is his vomit and the ever changing, ever escaping grip. He needs to decide what to do because he can feel the coaches watching him. If he doesn’t go back inside, Anthony will feel weird because they will think his behaviour is weird. How strange to open a door and not walk through. What’s the issue? The issue is that in there is where all this happened and in there it can happen again. If he runs away, he won’t feel all these eyes glaring at him.
Anthony goes inside and toward his stall and the dressing room and the AC/DC music, the guys chatting, tape ripping over shin pads, over blades of sticks, around wrists, and someone yelling: OKAY let’s fucking get it tonight boys. And someone else yells: This is our barn here fellas and nobody fucks with us in here! Anthony sits down and notices the garbage is gone, but the smell still claws at his nostrils, firing off sparks inside his skin, tingling his palms. He rushes to the toilet on the other side of the hallway, his heartbeat sprinting, and instead of it coming up, it’s coming out the other end, too quickly for Anthony to build his usual nest of toilet paper on the seat.
Anthony focuses on his breathing, begging for it not to run from him, not like it did before when he lunged to the garbage and puked and puked and puked, and puked, and puked, and puked. No, please don’t, please don’t, please don’t. Anthony knows it’s the playoffs and they need him to play and he can’t not play because he’s scared and because he’s panicking like some fucking pussy. Anthony, you are a fucking pussy, you know that. Jesus. Get on with it, will you. So, what if you breathe quicker. Just breathe quicker. What’s the big deal?
Anthony hears the buzzer for the start of warm up, hears the guys yelling and chanting and banging their sticks on the way out. A few guys have stayed back and Anthony listens to their conversation as he keeps shitting in the toilet. He hears Mikey and Jonesy and Wilson. Truthfully, he only hears Mikey and Jonesy but he knows Wilson is there as well. They are always together. Anthony hates Mikey ever since he posted online the photos of Anthony wearing a Speedo and water wings at the rookie party, and then when Anthony went to practice that week, the photo was stapled to his stall. Or Jonesy who went through Anthony’s backpack one day and found some poems Anthony had written about a girl, and then made copies and shared them with some other guys on the team. Or when Wilson found out Anthony worries about germs and when Anthony was seated on the bus going to their away game and when Wilson was walking by Anthony, he shoved his fingers into Anthony’s mouth. Or, when Mikey and Anthony were in the shower with a few other guys and Anthony felt something different on his leg and when he looked over, he saw Mikey pissing on him. But it was all in good fun. They say.
— See Anthony bitchin’ out in the stall? Anthony hears his best friend Ivan say.
— Of course he is, Mikey says.
— Listen to Ivan talking some shit, Wilson says.
— I’m just fucking around, Ivan says.
Anthony cleans himself and walks to his equipment stall. Ivan is the last guy in the room, and he asks Anthony if he’s going to play and Anthony says he is. He’s fine.
There’s a silence in the room and Ivan leaves Anthony without apologizing for what he said.
Anthony puts on his helmet and gets on the ice just in time for the lines to go through their breakouts.
He looks at the other side to see if Two Five is there. Anthony sees him near the red line and wants to quickly skate over, rip his helmet off, and start punching him to get this whole thing over with, but doing something like that would get him suspended and probably kicked off the team. But wouldn’t it be nice to get kicked off the team and not have to deal with any of this anymore, not have to worry about being thrown on the ice at the end of games in case something happens? Or when the team is down and needs a boost Anthony must know his role and drop his gloves and fight the fight that gets everyone on the team hyped up? A wake up. A punch in the face, if you will.
And so, now, if he skates across the ice and does what he’s dreaming of doing, it could all be over, but the thought of doing that makes him nervous, big surprise, and the sharp little knife stab stab stabs his hands, the flurries flutter and scrape the inside of his stomach, and Anthony thinks of getting undressed and going home. At home there is peace. At home it’s not like this. It’s easier to be at home, on the couch, watching TV. Distracted. Away. Gone. Not here.
Here, Anthony’s line is doing their breakout and Anthony feels a little winded as he skates and then he thinks: What if I have another panic attack?
After he shoots the puck he enters another world and keeps telling himself to be calm be calm be calm, just stay calm, don’t breathe too heavily, let the breath stay here, in and out, as usual, and then he wonders what the proper way to breathe is. Is he breathing correctly? Maybe Anthony you should stop focusing on your breath as it seems to be making you more nervous. The presence of the surrounding space engulfs him. Who will stop the thoughts that come? Who will stop the mind that runs? Who will pour water over this fire in his head?
Anthony is the only one who can stop this, and he can’t stop this.
Anthony quickly skates to the bench, leaves the ice and hurries up the steps to the dressing room.
— Where the fuck you going? the coach says to him.
Anthony wants to tell him to fuck off for telling him before the series started that he needed to fight if he was going to play. He needed to be ready if the coach needed him, and for him to know his role, something that was constantly preached by the veterans and coaches.
Anthony sits at his stall and an assistant coach comes in the room.
— You sick? the coach asks.
— Can you play?
The trainer enters the room and comes to Anthony’s side as he hunches over with his head between his legs.
— What’s wrong? she asks.
Anthony stands up and walks to the physio room with the trainer following behind him.
— I can’t stop breathing, he says.
— That’s a good thing.
— That’s not what I mean. I can’t stop chasing my breath.
Anthony sits on the massage table.
— Are you on any kind of medication? she asks.
— No, why? What’s wrong?
— Nothing. Has this happened before?
— I think you’re having a panic attack.
— You gotta tell coach not to play me. I’ll just sit on the bench.
— It will pass.
— No, it won’t! It passed and then it came back. I’ve had like 10 of these in an hour. I was puking and shitting before.
— Maybe it was something you ate.
This makes Anthony more nervous and he thinks back to the chicken he had before the game and if the chicken was cooked and he did see some red in the chicken but his mom said it’s just the vein and it’s cooked, it’s been in the oven for 45 minutes. It’s cooked, it’s cooked, it’s cooked, it’s cooked, it’s cooked, it’s cooked.
— Once you get out on the ice, you’ll feel better, the trainer says.
Anthony doesn’t believe her and then he hears the buzzer and the guys coming back into the room saying, here we go boys, and Anthony looks at the trainer and she looks at him and tells him, again, that he is fine and he’ll feel better after a couple shifts. Problem is Anthony will only get a couple shifts and the rest of the game he’ll be on the bench consumed by all of this, worrying, worrying, worrying.
Anthony walks back to his stall and sits down.
— Where the fuck were you? Ivan says to Anthony.
— Don’t worry about it.
— Quit being a pussy.
— Are you sick or not?
Excerpt from Anthony: A Composite Novel by Shayne McGreal, a novel published by Guernica Editions. Copyright 2021, Shayne McGreal. Reprinted with permission.
Shayne McGreal was born and raised in Hamilton (Dundas), Ontario and lives in Toronto with his wife and son. He tends to write about mental illness, masculinity and violence, focusing on characters who are insecure, full of doubt, and desperate to control themselves and their surroundings. In addition to being a writer, Shayne works in post-production in the film and TV industry. Anthony: A Composite Novel is his first book.