John Tavares’ previous publications include short fiction published in various literary journals, online & in print: Blood & Aphorisms, Plowman Press, Green’s Magazine, Filling Station, Whetstone, Broken Pencil, Tessera, Windsor Review, Paperplates, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Maple Tree Literary Supplement, The Writing Disorder, Gertrude, Turk’s Head Review, Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, Bareback Magazine, Rampike, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, The Round Up Writer’s Zine, The Acentos Review, Gravel, Brasilia Review, Sediments Literary Arts-Journals, The Gambler, Red Cedar Review, Writing Raw, Treehouse Arts, The Remembered Arts Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, Ginosko Literary Journal, Mgversion2>Datura, Riverhawk, Quail Bell, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Grey Border’s Magazine, Free Lit Magazine. Also, over a dozen of his short stories & some creative nonfiction was published in The Siren, then Centennial College’s student newspaper. Following journalism studies, his articles & features were published in various local news outlets in Toronto, including community & trade newspapers such as the East York Times, the Beaches Town Crier & Hospital News, where he interned as an editorial assistant. One summer he broadcast a set of his short stories as a community broadcaster for Sioux Lookout’s CBLS/CBQW radio & he recently wrote a novel, unpublished. He is also an avid photographer & his images were featured in The Writing Disorder & on Flickr’s popular Explore.
Born & raised in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, John is the son of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores. His education includes graduation from 2-year GAS at Humber College in Etobicoke with concentration in psychology (1993), 3-year journalism at Centennial College in East York (1996) & the Specialized Honors BA in English from York University in North York (2012). He worked as a research assistant for the Sioux Lookout Public Library & as a research assistant in waste management for the SLKT public works department & regional recycle association. He also worked with the disabled for the Sioux Lookout Association for Community Living.
FAITH AND DESTINY
Things were happening so fast—Faith couldn’t believe how quickly her anger overpowered her. When she discovered her sister took her brand new black yoga pants, and chopped the legs off, so they were ragged ass tight short short cut-offs Destiny could parade her fat ass in downtown, on Yonge Street, and around the boardwalk and beach at Summerville Pool, she flew into a rage.
Faith confronted her sister in her bedroom, where she was taking nude selfies of herself in front of her bedroom mirror and sending them through a messenger app on her smartphone to one of several boyfriends. She got into Destiny’s face, started shouting and name-calling, and demanding reparations, a brand new pair of yoga pants. Her sister pushed back and punched her. They got into a pushing and shoving match at the top of the steep stairs at the end of the corridor where both opposing doors of their narrow bedrooms faced each other. In retaliation, her sister jabbed her hard, slugging her in the stomach, and punched her back hard in the mouth. She split her lip and when she spit blood into the bathroom sink. When she looked in the mirror and discovered the broken tooth, she groaned and screamed. She thought about all the time she spent brushing her teeth, and the thousands of dollars her mother and her mother’s dental insurance plan spent on retainers, braces, cleanings, X-Rays, and filling, cavities, and indeed all the tedious time she spent each morning and night obsessively cleaning and brushing her teeth. She flew into an even deeper and stronger rage. She punched and slapped her sister and called her a cowardly, back stabbing bitch. Her sister threw herself at her and, like she was a vampire, bit her exposed collarbone. She threw herself at her and ended up pushing her backwards, so Destiny lost her balance at the top of the stairwell and fell and tumbled down the steep hard wood steps.
Destiny screamed as she tumbled down the flights of stairs, over the landing, and came to rest in a rumpled heap on the rug at the bottom of the stairwell. When she rushed to her side, and tried to arouse her from her unconsciousness, Faith realized Destiny, unconscious, had suffered some sort of head injury, a concussion, or a brain injury, possibly a hemorrhage, and feared she was on the verge of death or dying. Faith grew agitated, excited, paced the house looking for a cordless telephone or a smartphone. Finally, after she hit the intercom button on the base and scooped and shovelled a row of books, compact discs, and DVD’s from a bookshelf, she found a cordless handset.
She called 911. After the paramedics arrived, and prepared Destiny, still unconscious, for transport to the hospital, in a huge body and head brace, Faith told the paramedics Destiny, a weekend gymnast, wearing gym tights, injured herself practicing a gymnastic maneuver, a toppling routine on the hallway above the stairs. The paramedics, to her relief, didn’t seem the least suspicious, and the police for some reason weren’t summoned. She rode in the back of the ambulance alongside her sister and accompanied her through the hospital emergency department and trauma ward. Then she called her mother at Humber College. The sociology professor was in the middle of a lecture on social psychology experiments on obedience to an introductory class. Surprised her mother didn’t even answer when she called from the smartphone her mother had given her father, if only for emergencies, a gift he declined, saying God’s work didn’t require a smartphone but a megaphone, Faith tried a few different smartphones her mother bought for her daughters.
Her mother finally answered when she called from her sister’s smartphone, which actually caused her to feel a spate of jealousy. Maybe Destiny, her first born, from an unplanned pregnancy, was her favorite daughter. She told her mother her sister could be dying of head injury in the trauma ward of St. Michael’s Hospital; the doctor insisted on having a parent or guardian present, but she couldn’t stand to see Destiny in that condition.
“Don’t they have a specialist?”
“Yes, she’s actually a neurosurgeon, and, mom, she’s black, or mixed race. She’s got awesome curls, doesn’t straighten her hair.”
“That doesn’t matter. Just so long as Destiny’s getting the best medical care she needs.”
“What about that wild and crazy white dude, Dad?” Faith always thought of her father as white, despite the fact he considered himself coloured; he tanned dark, darker than some blacks, during the summer.
“Forget about him. Leave him to preach at Dundas Square. We don’t need any kneeling and day long prayer vigils at her bedside.”
“He is her father.”
“But he’s also crazy.”
“A religious zealot maybe?”
“It doesn’t matter what he is. This is about your sister, not your father, and I don’t want him at the hospital.”
Their mother took down the hospital information and the neurosurgeon’s name and cellphone number.
“Mom, with Dad, it’s a Catholic guilt thing.”
“You’re wrong. He’s converted long ago to evangelical Christianity, and he’s been ostracized by the rest of the Portuguese community, who aren’t big fans of the evangelicals and Pentecostals, assuming they ever embraced him in the first place.”
“Mom, you’re not being fair! Show a little compassion and understanding!”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not getting into arguments over your father again. Not when your sister’s in hospital.”
Still jacked, excited, pumping adrenaline, ready to kill the next man who crossed her, Faith decided to take matters into her own hands. She thought about taking her mother’s Ativan to help calm herself down, but she thought she needed to settle the score with her father somehow. She packed the Swiss Army knife she won as a consolation prize in a junior triathlon on the Toronto Centre Islands, and she drove the all-wheel drive hybrid car out of the garage. Faith decided to drive straight to Dundas Square to check and observe if her father was preaching with his megaphone. When she pulled alongside the entrance to the subway station and the water fountains, across Yonge Street from the Eaton Centre, which saw more foot traffic than any mall in Canada, she saw him shouting through the upraised amplification device. She pulled the all-wheel drive car alongside him where he stood on the boulevard of the square, shouting into his megaphone, as he shouted about seeking forgiveness and repentance.
When he saw her, he said, “Faith, you don’t even have your driver’s license. Your mother says you still can’t drive alone.”
“I have my learner’s, my beginners.”
“But your mother says you’re still not licensed to drive alone.”
“Shut up. Get in the car.”
“But I’m preaching.”
“Get in your wife’s car.”
“But I’m bringing the word of God, the gospel of Jesus, to sinners and the sick and the poor and the rich.”
“But, but, but, it’s always but with you, Dad, everything, even the most basic emotions and desires, needs to dissected, qualified, analyzed. But, Dad, you’re mentally ill, you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Get in the fucking car.”
“Faith, you’re starting to sound like your mother. In fact, I think you’re parroting her. Anyway, we’ve been through this a million times before.”
“Dad, you’re obsessed with God, religion, and preaching. You need to take your medication, your lithium. Now get into the fucking car.”
“Faith, are you all right?”
Faith pointed the knife at him and gasped, “Get in the fucking car before I stab you and stab myself.”
“Faith, this is disturbing, but I’m used to disturbing with you.”
She jabbed her thigh with the tip of the knife blade and the incision on her thigh started to bleed, as she uttered, “What do I need to do to show you I mean business?”
Faith turned off the megaphone and sat in the passenger seat beside her daughter. “Dad, we need to get together as a family again.”
“Where is this coming from – out of the blue?”
“Better late than ever.”
“But your mother didn’t want me in her life any longer, or even in your life and your sister’s life any longer; she's been very clear about that.”
“It’s time to try again.”
“That’s not my decision to make.”
“The least you could do is move into the basement apartment.”
“Your mother doesn’t want me living back in the family abode again.”
“We hardly saw you when you lived at home any way.”
“Maybe that’s the reason. She became very officious about living together, starting with separate bedrooms, then separate telephones, then separate toasters and coffeemakers, then separate washing machines and washrooms, and that’s partly how I ended up in the basement apartment. She says she doesn’t want to affect my kosher lifestyle, but her sarcastic implication is offensive and I don’t have dietary restrictions.”
“She probably said that because you eat the same thing, black coffee and peanut butter and brown bread toasted, day after day, meal after meal.” Faith forced a laugh, trying to relieve her own tension. “She’s full of BS, mom, is sometimes.”
“What do you expect from a professor of sociology?”
“She just a college professor, not a professor professor, and she is your wife.”
“Faith, she’s a published academic, in a world where you publish or you perish, and we’re separated, practically divorced.”
“She doesn’t talk about getting divorced, and she is dating another man, but I think it’s to keep her from getting bored. You two may get back together again someday.”
“I wish I could be as optimistic.”
Faith told him about the Serbian or Albanian helicopter pilot her mother sometimes dated. He spoke in a thick Eastern European accent, and Faith often wondered how air traffic controllers could understand him. He regaled her dinner parties with the most astonishing tales of aviation adventures. When he flew a tour helicopter around Niagara Falls, he said, he was routinely called to locate or attempt to rescue people who, usually in acts of despair, threw themselves into the Niagara River above the massive waterfalls to end their existences in spectacular style, including presumably drowning and a plunge over the spectacular falls. Several times potential suicides he was sent to rescue refused to cooperate, pushed away the harness, or would not grab the rope the flight engineer dropped from the helicopter hovering overhead. Through some difficult and dangerous maneuvers, he would position his helicopter into a hover, creating concentric waves on the river surface that literally blew the swimmers back to shore, at which both they usually decided death by drowning was not feasible with this pilot flying overhead. Then again he was reminded how dead serious and intent these people were about perishing and ending their existence. Faith thought he must have been a Catholic because he was still intent on rescuing them. Oftentimes he wondered if he had done the right thing, especially after he heard the one of the victims he rescued died in a fiery car crash that also killed another motorist, a tourist.
“Where are you taking us anyway?”
She braked the car for a woman in a motorized wheelchair while the snaking downtown traffic behind her at Yonge Street and Front Street honked their horns impatiently. “You’ll find out soon.”
A B-I bomber flew overhead, seemingly gliding to the eastern half of the city, before it circled around again. “An American flying across the skies over Toronto—I’d say that was an ominous—nay, even an apocalyptic, sign.”
“Except they’re just here as part of the air show.”
He glanced out the tinted window at the Toronto Police cars, its siren screaming, lights flashing, pushing through crowded traffic wending the lakeshore and hotels and condos along the waterfront. “If you get pulled over by the police, you could find yourself in some fairly serious trouble. You’ve only got a learner’s permit.”
“Why are you always worried about what the police will think or do? This isn’t a police state; we live in a democratic society. Anyway, don’t you have your driver’s license?”
“I let my driver’s license expire. I take public transit; it provides me the opportunity to talk to commuters about the gift of God.”
“If you don’t get arrested for harassing subway and bus passengers.”
“That’s never happened.”
“Ok. Maybe once, but we best not dwell on the past mistakes of well-intentioned law enforcement officials.”
Faith drove the car to the Ferry Terminal and left the car parked beside a row of Toronto public works utility vehicles and a fleet of Toronto Hydro trucks, while a security guard scowled at her.
“You’re going to get towed. To release the vehicle from impound will cost a mint.”
“I’m not worried about a tow truck or tow truck drivers, although I’d like to date one of them. They seem cool and macho, towing expensive cars, getting into shouting and shoving matches with entitled owners, packing pistols in their glove compartments. You worry about money too much.”
“Where are we going?”
“On a ferry ride to Centre Island.”
“To get closer to peace and nature and to meditate.”
“How are we supposed to pay for this little excursion?”
“Typical dad, always worried about money and no minute details left to chance. We pay for adventure with Mom’s credit card, the way we’ve done it every time.”
Faith showed him the credit card and laughed, a heckle her father recognized. “You’re reckless.”
“I’m reckless?” Faith gave him a peculiar look.
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking about what you saw in Mom. She said you met at Caribana, when she was a masquerade in the parade. You asked to take her picture and then she flashed you and smothered you with her breasts.”
“She was a hard woman to resist. I think I got caught up in something beyond my control—beyond the control of either of us.”
“Is that your way of saying you were attracted to her looks, her body and not her brains, and you had good sex together?”
“As a parent, I’ll pretend I didn’t hear your latest transgression. Your mother is blessed with a beautiful body as well as a beautiful mind and personality. She has no shortage of attractions—that may have proved a problem for me.”
“May have?” Over his objections, she led her father through the line of tourists and day-trippers, skipping the queue to the front of the line, and paid for an adult ticket for him and a youth ticket, even though she was nineteen and didn’t bring her high school identification and an adult ticket for her father. They shuffled through the lines and rows of expectant holidaying, touristy and crowded aboard the ferry.
“Faith, where are you taking me?”
“To Hanlan Point.”
“Isn’t that the site of a nudist colony?”
“I’ve never heard of any nudist colony. The beach gets a bit odd with all the gays, nudists, swingers, swimmers, straight people, and families all in their separate sections, but that’s a very Toronto type of thing, isn’t it? Anyway, I think the politically correct term is clothing optional beach. We’re going to get closer to nature.”
They walked the short distance along the roadways, pathways, and trails, past yachts moored along the convoluted shorelines and bays, rows of portable toilets, and washrooms, which looked like they could withstand a nuclear blast, on Centre Island to Hanlan Point Beach. When they arrived and her father saw the nude adult bodies on the beach, he tried to walk away and started to hike along the pathways and trails through the sand dunes, but his daughter chased after him, grabbed him, and threatened to stab them both or otherwise make a scene, so he finally ceded.
“Take off your clothes.”
“And to what end, to what purpose.”
“Take off your clothes, Dad, and get closer to nature and God, as he, or she, created you. The knife on this Swiss Army knife is awfully sharp.”
“Faith, you’re only perpetuating stereotypes of African-Canadian women.”
“And what stereotypes would those be? And do I need to remind you about my Portuguese-Canadian half?”
“Faith, you’re too smart for me. You know I’ve given up reading. I now take a strictly bare knuckles approach to preaching.”
Faith heckled, “The man Mom – no book hater herself—”
“Your mother loves books and knowledge—“
“The man Mom could never drag away from a book says he’s given up reading. This I have to see.”
“There’s nothing to see, especially since even my eyesight has declined.”
“That’s why I want you to take off your clothes.”
“And put them where?”
“On the fine hot sand beside you.”
Faith stripped off her top, bra, shorts, and underwear to reveal a taut, muscular, almost masculine body.
“Your mother tells me you’ve been excelling in athletics in your senior year in high school. Is that why you decided to stay an extra year?”
“Dad, I’m nineteen years old. The rest of my friends and peers are in college and university, and I stayed behind because I simply didn’t have enough credits to graduate.”
“That’s only because you’re going through a rebellious teenage phase and no longer apply yourself to your school work. They say you score very high on all your scholastic aptitude tests, you’re academically gifted, you’ve exceptional skills in mathematics, and you should be pursuing a career involving numbers, but you stopped handing in your papers and assignments or you hand them in late and don’t study. You’ve changed. Anyway, you look like an Olympic athlete now. Your mother even tells me you’re competing in swimming, running, and biking races.”
“Oh, so you finally noticed. I’m a triathlete right now and they want me to compete in the qualifiers. Dad, I went from a bookworm who read every Harry Potter novel sixteen hundred times and had the biggest collection of young adult novels I read and reread while I snacked and nibbled junk food. I lounged around the house all daylong reading, writing, and drawing when I wasn’t in school. I was practically sixty pounds overweight. The coach asked me to play basketball because they had a shortage of players, and my classmates were amazed at how strong and fast I was despite my size. Then I started training at the gym, weight lifting, cardio training. Boys finally noticed me. But now I’m beginning to think I’m a lesbian, or I just don’t care, or I wonder if it’s just revenge against the guys, for all the times the boys ignored me and insulted me.”
“God will help you figure out the way, the true way.”
“Dad, I fucked up.”
Faith started sobbing. “Boys finally notice me, and like my looks, and I’m not sure if I care, but I like the attention, and I’m finally starting to care about my appearance.”
“You look fantastic.”
“And I’m starting to care about my clothes, instead of letting mom buy them, and your other daughter mangles and vandalizes them.”
“There’s always been a sibling rivalry between you two. It’ll work out.”
“It will not work out.”
She muttered barely audibly beneath her breathe about how angry she was her sister had broken her front teeth with her clenched fist and a punch to the mouth and started choking back the sobs, as she bit her knuckles. “I think I killed her.”
When her father asked her what happened, she realized her instinct for self-preservation was too strong or she didn’t have the courage to admit the truth. She looked her father in the eye.
“When are we going to be a full family again, Dad?”
“Faith, I want to be a family. I come from a culture and nationality that has family as its absolute foundation. But your mother doesn’t want me around my own daughters, our daughters. She thinks I’m a bad role model and influence, and I’m not certain I disagree with her. But you’re both grown up now and you’ve turned out fine. Your mother even tells me you’re competing in swimming, running, and biking races.”
“Yeah. I told you, she told you, but you don’t care. All you care about is God, Jesus, and old-time religion.”
“That’s not true, and I have to tell you: on occasion I’ve been followed and approached on the subway and bus stations on my way home, after I tried to visit my daughter and their mother, by large thuggish men who told me to stay from my own wife and children.”
“That’s her old high school buddies from the hood, Jane and Finch, the towers. They’re just messing with you and your head.”
“Probably at your mother’s instigation.”
“They’re just typical men, and they go into overdrive and overkill.”
“What does your sister have to say?
What about her?”
“She wants you back, even more than I do.”
They strolled along the beach towards the island airport where the number of sunbathers and swimmers started to diminish, and she started to sob.
“Oh, Dad, I fucked up.”
Faith stepped into the water, and waded away from the beach. She swam further and further from the shoreline, and her father started to stride and plow through the shallows, splashing through the gentle surface after her. The cool fresh water was immense, still, and calm. She swam freestyle hard and fast, but she wasn’t destined for the steel mills of Hamilton, or the condominium towers in Etobicoke, or the far closer Canadian National Exhibition grounds and Ontario Place, the geodesic dome or windmill; towards the blurred horizon, the indistinguishable line between sky and sea, the vast lake, and on the other side of the expanse, New York state and the United States, she swam with determination. Her father soon lost sight of her, and, realizing there was no way he could catch or help her, swam back towards the shore. Gazing from the shore, he couldn’t observe her swimming anywhere in the lake, although he was confident she was alive, afloat, and swimming further to sea in an act of teenage rebellion. He walked to the lifeguard stand and then further down the beach to the nudist parts. Confident in her strength, he marvelled the clothing optional beach seemed the last place in Toronto where there was a readily accessible pay phone, and he punched the three digits for the emergency services number.
As her father tried to speak with the 911 operator, a squadron of F-16s, the Blue Angels, the United States navy aerobatic and precision flying team, flew overhead, creating an cracking and thundering that momentarily drowned out sound and sensation, which awed the long line of crowds snaking along the shoreline of Lake Ontario for the annual Labour Day weekend airshow.
As Faith swam further from the shoreline of Hanlan Point Beach into Lake Ontario, an Armed Forces search and rescue helicopter spotted her, hovered, and circled overhead. They sent a search and rescue helicopter just for her? The rescue technician threw the helicopter’s bay door open, leaned through, threw down cables and lines, and lowered the bucket. She looked up at him, and he looked down at her with the most intent gaze. He drew back his smoke screen visor so she could see his hazel eyes and fierce chiselled expression. He even doffed his jacket, so she could see his strong, muscular arms, and this seemed like a strange gesture until she realized the hot temperature and humidity must have been overwhelming for him and she was swimming not merely topless but completely nude.
He shouted at her, but she could not read his lips or hear his voice above the eggbeater noises of the helicopter blades and its whining, whirring engines. Still, she felt as if they had established some sort of bond or connection. He looked too handsome to resist, the hero of a fairy tale, and she surrendered her swim and climbed into the rescue cage. She felt the whir and steady hum and vibration of cables and pulleys mechanically powered as she was hoisted and felt herself ascending upwards on the cable to the helicopter hovering like some lustful monster overhead.
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