Elliot Archambeault was the best skater on his hockey team, without question. No one could deny it. He was the fastest, and the most graceful, and he never fell down, even though he also took the most hits. He wasn’t the enforcer for his team, the hawks, because Rich Beaudoin held that title, unofficially of course, but he nevertheless took the most hits. He was an easy target because he was a freak. He stood out. He always did, always had. He wasn’t ashamed of it, honestly he wasn’t. He’d been told enough times by his parents and plenty of others that his deformity made him special, cool even. And it certainly had advantages. It made him stronger, and more stable than others. Walking looked a bit awkward, because he sort of skipped along in a bouncy way, but it helped him skate. On the ice he could glide, and tip real far without falling. While skating, that part of him made him beautiful. Not that he would ever use such a word. He never used any positive words to describe himself, because he didn’t want to be seen as boastful. He didn’t want to be seen at all. That’s what it came down to really, this desire to be invisible, for once in his sorry life. He just wanted to blend in. He was tired of always being noticed, of always sticking out. Tired of having this extra appendage always, literally, sticking out.
There was nothing he could do to hide his third leg. It was too big to fold up and tuck away. He was the only person in the world with a third leg, which he knew because he was listed in a bunch of medical textbooks, though his parents had declined to allow his photo to be featured in any Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums. Tripod, that’s what they called him, the other kids, even his friends. But were they really friends if they called him that? Were his teammates friends? They always cheered when he scored a goal or helped block one. They even one time tried to lift him over their heads in celebration, though they hadn’t succeeded, since he was pretty heavy, and his extra leg got in the way. That’s how he felt, like he was perpetually in the way. He envied girls, because they could wear long dresses. But he couldn’t hide what made him different.
“Way to go, Tripod!” laughed Rich as Elliot managed to kick away the puck with his third leg, his extra limb, his add-on body part, his adjunct appendage. The whole team hollered and cheered, and once again, they won the game. They were the best in the minor leagues in all of Quebec, maybe even all of Canada. They were the best, and he was part of that. Wasn’t he? He helped them be the best, and so in some ways, he too, was the best. Wasn’t he? When he’d first started making waves in the minor leagues, there were parents and coaches who’d tried to get him kicked out, who’d claimed that his extra leg gave him an unfair advantage. But then others had argued the opposite, that it was a disadvantage, that it was a defect. The story made the national news. He was famous. Famous for being a freak. Freakishly good at hockey, and just… freakish.
But he didn’t even like hockey. He liked skating, but that’s because it was something he could do alone. Every winter his dad turned their backyard into a skating rink so Elliot could practice hockey, but when no one was watching he wouldn’t even try to hit the puck, he wouldn’t even hold a stick. He’d just skate, going round and round, twirling, free to stop thinking. But hockey was different. Hockey was a team sport and he hated being part of a team, because he wasn’t really part of it. He was always on the outside, and always would be. He’d always be different, he’d always be that weirdo, Tripod.
He couldn’t quit though, even though he wanted to, because his parents wouldn’t let him. They insisted that being part of a team built character, like he didn’t already have plenty of that. He knew they wanted him to stay because soon he’d be recruited into the juniors, and then there might be sponsorships, and then maybe he’d even make it to the NHL, and that’s when the real money would come in. But he knew he’d never make it that far, because he didn’t want it. Even if he did, it would be too hard to fight all those battles again about unfair advantages. The truth was his extra leg was an unfair advantage. It made him better than everybody else, and he hated himself for it. He hated that extra leg. He hated hockey, and he was even starting to hate skating.
After the game, he told his parents he wanted to walk home. They eyed him suspiciously, because he’d done this before, walking home with all his gear, so he could get rid of it. He’d been eight years old the first time he’d dumped all his hockey gear, and claimed to have lost it. He’d known it was expensive, so he figured they’d punish him by disallowing him from playing anymore. But they’d just bought him all new gear and forced him to keep playing. He did it again when he was twelve, and had suffered the same consequences, except this time they’d bought new gear with his allowance money. Now he walked with his skates slung over his shoulders and dropped them in an empty lot, next to to a cigarette butt, and a pile of dog shit, where they belonged. Then he walked home, and before going into the house, he turned around and went back to that empty lot, where he picked up his skates and slung them back over his shoulders. He knew there was no denying his destiny. He was a hockey player, and he was Tripod.