Corie snatched her father’s Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap from his head, of thick dark hair, and tossed his hat onto the pedestrian crosswalk. Javier chuckled as he picked up his hat, dusted the visor, and returned it to his head. He pushed Corie’s stroller along the busy sidewalks of Bloor Street West. They strolled near the neo-Victorian house, which Olivia’s salary and fees as an international trade lawyer allowed them to buy. Olivia made precisely that argument to her husband, when she shouted at Javier in the morning before she sped off in her hybrid electric car to work. That morning, during the huge row, which was rather one-sided since Javier maintained his silence as Olivia shouted, she threw her personal smartphone over his head and struck the wide screen television, broadcasting business news. Then she hurtled her work smartphone at him, hitting the enlarged snapshot of the happy couple posing in front of the mist and tumbling waterway and waterfalls at Niagara Falls, knocking the framed picture to the floor, where the glass cover broke and shattered to hundreds of pieces, causing Corie to squeal with laughter.
Needing to return to her regular routine and career, Olivia decided she could no longer work from home during the pandemic. Olivia shouted at Javier she needed to return to work at her law firm in the office tower downtown in the financial district, or else she was afraid she would suffer a nervous breakdown. She needed to return to her corner office, her law colleagues and trade practice, her firm in the financial district, her regular hours, and her well-heeled clients, multinational corporations scattered across industrialized and emerging market nations, with most of her clients and their companies having head offices in the United Kingdom. If she did not have her career, she did not have her identity, and then she felt worthless and depressed. As she tried to explain this, she became overwhelmed with emotion and started to argue and fight with Javier, who became a stay at home father during the coronavirus pandemic. Javier did not understand her aggressive attitude and tried to reassure her he understood entirely. He was surprised she had not decided to return to her law office and big tall tower in the financial district earlier. During the pandemic, Javier felt relieved to stay at home and care for Corie, since he still managed to earn a healthy income advising loyal clients, managing their investments and portfolios, from his home office, work that seemed ingrained, part of his DNA, even though he never talked shop and disliked the pretensions of corporate finance and the head office.
As Javier pushed her in the stroller along the sidewalk, Corie sang, shrieked, and laughed with energetic, boisterous hilarity. “Oh, Daddy, the cars are moving like freight trains. You’re pushing the stroller fast, but I like it. And you said you were afraid Mommy would get into an accident when she drove to work.”
“Absolutely not,” Javier said, “No accident is going to happen with my daughter. I’d never compromise her safety.”
This first day of summer, Javier promised Corie he would take her on a grand tour of the city, focussed on what he considered its best summer attractions and fun venues. He loaded Corie into the stroller and took her, his precious passenger and cargo, through the Bloor Street intersection. He pushed her quickly past the shoe museum at the edge of the University of Toronto campus as the green light turned red through the busy traffic intersection with Saint George Street. He opened the gates, for the stroller, and passed through the adjacent turnstiles, paying his fare. He returned to push Corie and the stroller into the subway station, down the mechanically droning escalator, and along the train platform and onto the subway train, whose roar and speed Corie, squealing in delight at the noise and bustle, loved.
“So which sight shall we visit first, my dear?” Javier asked.
In her British English accent, a speech pattern she acquired from her mother, Javier concluded, Corie said she would like to first tour the CN Tower, thank you very much. So, they rode the long train southbound from St. George station to Union Station downtown. Several subway train passengers and commuters considered Corie rather large and developed for the stroller; as a vigorous, energetic, bubbly child, they figured, she seemed perfectly capable of walking herself. Javier did not like the bustling pedestrian traffic on city sidewalks, though, and worried Corie or the stroller might get bumped or struck. Olivia loved her curls so much, she figured the less they trounced the less her hair became tussled and the more photogenic she looked for that modelling and acting scout she hoped might discover her daughter.
Olivia did possess hopes and aspirations for her daughter as a child actor. She eagerly awaited the day a model and acting scout recognized Corie’s innate talent, prodigious ability, and irresistible personality. Every night Olivia painstakingly set Corie’s abundant hair with bobby pins for exactly sixty-four curls.
Javier pushed Corie in the stroller along the promenade and the boulevard towards the CN Tower.
“Mommy found a different man, Daddy-O,” Corie said mischievously and gregariously, as Javier pushed her stroller closer to the massive concrete needle of a tower looming in the distance.
“A different man?” Javier asked chirpily. “But she works with plenty of different men in the office.”
“Whatever.” Delighted, Corie playfully twirled her shiny, gleaming tresses, kicking her roundish legs in the stroller. As they rode the empty high-speed glass panelled elevators to the main observation deck, Corie hummed and sang. After they toured the observation deck, Corie protested, her insistence growing to screeches: she wanted to ride the elevators to the highest floor, closer to the pinnacle of the CN Tower. They rode the elevator to the skypod where they stood before the windows and portholes. Corie pressed herself against the glass and gazed in utter fascination, while Javier, cringing at the height of the tower, looming above the clouds, stood back from the window. As they toured the highest sections of the tower, Corie continued to gaze awestruck at the panoramic view of Toronto from different perspectives on the observation deck, but Javier felt preoccupied coping with his fear of heights, vertigo, and nausea. Suddenly, Corie decided she was tired and bored with this venue and insisted on sightseeing elsewhere. They needed to visit a different place, Corie said cheerily, from the highest point in Toronto, with her usual boisterous bluster, a different venue, in the city where she was born. She did constantly feel the need to remind her Daddy she was born in big beautiful Toronto, while her Daddy as born and raised in a dingy, remote town in Northern Ontario.
“Well, Daddy is glad that you remember where he was born.”
“Of course, I remember where Daddy-O was born. And Mommy was born in London, and her new friend was born in Kuala Lumpur.”
“Does Daddy know where Kuala Lumpur is?”
“Yes, I do, honeybunch. I have a rough idea where Kuala Lumpur is located. Your mother has clients in Kuala Lumpur and I even have a client from Kuala Lumpur.”
“Kuala Lumpur is such an exotic and faraway place, Daddy, a land of fairy tales. But Mommy says Amir—that’s her friend—offers the opportunity to visit exotic and faraway Kuala Lumpur.”
“As in a tour guide?”
“Yes, Daddy, precisely, exactly.”
Her word usage, clear enunciation, and diction in a child at such a young age reminded him Olivia’s psychologist found her to possess an exceptionally high intelligence. Earlier, Olivia, disturbed with the tone and voice Corie used around her father, insisted they visit her psychologist. Olivia believed Corie was bossing her father around, controlling and dominating the father-daughter relationship. She confided these observations when she privately met with her psychologist in her office afterwards.
“I would love to visit the zoo, thank you very much, Daddy-O.”
“A visit to the zoo means a long bus trip. If we want a fun time, it means a walk around the zoo, since the monorail is still closed.”
“Yes, that was horrific, Daddy-O. I saw the accident on TV.”
“Mommy let you watch the monorail accident on television news?”
“She sure did. Her friend was stroking her hair, and she was resting with her head in his lap, not paying attention.”
Javier thought Olivia agreed they would try to keep their daughter from exposure to gratuitous violence on television, not permitting Corie to watch the broadcast or cable news until she reached adolescence at least, even though they believed she was intelligent enough to comprehend the nuances of media and reality. Olivia insisted.
In any event, with Corie an aficionado of journeys on the subway, streetcars, and buses, they rode the commuter train to the easternmost edge of the main line at Kennedy Station. Then they took the epic bus ride through Scarborough to the Toronto Zoo, Corie still riding as a passenger in her stroller, which Javier laboriously lifted, step-by-step onto the bus. With the bus virtually empty of passengers, Corie tried to warn Daddy-O and whispered, sotto voce, “Daddy, I think Mommy is ready for a new man.”
“She is, is she?”
“She says so—a man with a different way of thinking, a man who speaks like a song, a man with darker skin.”
“Well, your mother always believed in diversity,” Javier said. Absent, lost in thought, and even mourning, Javier noticed Corie’s English accent, which varied between Cockney and Estuary, seemed even more pronounced.
“Yes, Daddy, whatever you say.”
Father and daughter took a long hike around the zoo, touring the exhibits and pavilions, Javier pushing Corie in the stroller past the various animal exhibits, cages, pens, enclosures, and hutches. With the digital single lens reflex camera Olivia bought her husband to take pictures of Corie and document her growth and development, Javier took pictures of their daughter posing beside the zebras, elephants, giraffes, polar bears, and gorillas.
“Please, Daddy,” Corie said, “let’s take a picture of us together near the panda bears.”
“Come now, darling, you know Daddy doesn’t do selfies.”
“Oh, Daddy,” Corie said, “I’m so disappointed.”
After he bought Corie postcards, knickknacks, and souvenirs at the gift shop and a soft ice cream cone at the snack bar in the rest area of the zoo, Javier, indulging her taste for adventure, said, “Okay, the zoo is fine, but the day is yet young. Where to next?”
“Oh, yes, I love Daddy-O, and the day is yet young. Let’s visit the islands with the swans, the amusement park, the ferries, the water taxis, and the boardwalk. You know I love Toronto Islands. I love to ride the quadricycle, and walk along the boardwalk, and munch on the BeaverTails, and see the lighthouse.”
So Javier hoisted Corie back in the stroller. Lean, muscular, not a large man, Javier preferred to dress in athleisure, as opposed to the formal business outfits, suits, ties, and vests of his colleagues in the back offices of banks and brokerage firms. They boarded the city transit bus for a ride downtown, to the subway station still in the suburbs and the ferry terminal downtown, another exciting adventure for Corie, with plenty of sightseeing through the bus windows. They made the long, winding ride on the bus through the eastern suburbs of Scarborough. While Corie hummed and sang, they rode the subway back across the city of Toronto and south downtown to Union Station. After Corie attempted to direct traffic in the station, ordering the men to wait until the elders and then the women and children boarded, they rode the streetcar to the Harbourfront and the ferry terminals.
As father and daughter waited to board the ferry terminal, they comfortably reclined in the Muskoka chairs. When Corie suggested a cool drink, or even a snack to eat, Javier bought her a bottled ice tea. The ferry was delayed due to mechanical difficulties, but Corie squealed in delight as he swung her around like a merry-go-round. She said she was still hungry, since she had only a light lunch, he bought her a second snack, an ice cream sandwich, if she promised not to tell her mother. When Corie became bored waiting for the ferry, she started poking and giggling at a security guard, inquired of a young woman about her faded, tattered denim shorts and crop top, and then slapped repeatedly a young woman’s floating helium birthday balloons.
As Corie demanded her father pay close attention, Javier seemed lost in an absent state of mind. Corie mentioned her mother had been constantly reminding her of the age difference between them; Daddy was a significantly older man, with grey hair, wrinkles, and weathered skin, which tanned darkly in the summer, causing people to believe he was indigenous, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or South Asian.
“Daddy, Mommy tells her new friend that you try too hard.” Javier laughed nervously and absently. With her brow furrowed intently, Corie asked, “What is that supposed to mean?”
“That I try too hard to please her?” Javier asked. “She also says I push you around in the stroller too much, that you’re old enough to walk. But, today, for instance, we covered an awfully long distance on foot for a youngster like you to walk.”
“But, Daddy, you’re my chauffeur,” Corie said, as she reached up to embrace her father. She hugged him tightly, and kissed him on his coarse silver and black stubble. Javier needed a shave, Olivia complained, adding he always needed a shave as his stubble and beard grew furiously. Javier simply did not like taking razors to his face and claimed shaving was a barbaric practice. Olivia tried to give him tips to avoid razor burn, cuts, and nicks, but he said he only shaved because he liked her kisses and caresses more than he disliked shaving. In the waiting area of the ferry terminal, he hugged their precious, pudgy daughter, lifted her from the stroller, and held her high as she laughed exuberantly.
“Oh dear,” Javier mused, “I stained my shirt with ice cream.”
Corie tilted her head and held her chin thoughtfully. “Funny you mention it. Mommy says something’s wrong when you get more upset at a missing button on your shirt, than when she screams and yells at you for an hour.” Corie gripped Javier’s shirt and tugged downwards, tearing a button from its dangling threads to his annoyance, but he forced a nervous laugh. Amidst the crowds of day trippers and tourists, screaming and crying children, in baseball caps, short-sleeved shirts, short shorts, and sandals, as well as wagons, strollers, bicycles, they boarded the ferry. They rode the ferry, older than its passengers, across the inner harbour channel to Wards Island, before Javier started to push the stroller along the roadway that encircled the island. They toured the beaches, strolling the boardwalk, the trails, and roadway, past the pier, beaches, shorelines, and the lighthouse.
When they passed the eatery at the Centre Island beach, Corie became frantic and restless in her stroller. She asked for the local treats, sugar pastries, but Javier did not want to buy her the doughy BeaverTails; he did not want to take a chance on Olivia discovering that their daughter had snacked and eaten sweets. Corie threw a temper tantrum, finally managing to persuade Javier to buy her a tasty sugary BeaverTail pastry before the takeout restaurant closed for the evening. Further along the roadway and down a trail, they watched the sunset at Hanlan’s Point Beach, the shoreline and stretch of sand virtually empty of sunbathers and swimmers, even though it was the first day of summer, the solstice, the longest day of the year. A few homeless men sat around a campfire along with a nudist and hipster couple. A cool chill in the air did not bother Corie in the least; her tummy was full, and she was hot with excitement. She would not even allow Daddy to make her wear her sweater over her frilly light skirt.
“Daddy, mommy says, she’s ready to float the idea of separation as a trial balloon,” Corie said, matter-of-factly. “Those are her exact words.”
Even as Corie said this Javier, impressed with her precise English enunciation and unmistakable British accent, mused at speech patterns he never expected in a Canadian born and raised child, particularly his own. She tugged at the long thick tangled strings of his hoodie and he caressed her blonde curls absently.
“Daddy, should we be concerned?”
“It’s another day in paradise,” Javier murmured.
“My thinking exactly,” Corie murmured.
They watched the orange glowing ball of the sun set across the lake and harbour channel behind the towering windmill and geodesic dome of Ontario Place, as sailboats, yachts, motorboats, and personal watercraft plied the waters around the island airport. They strolled along the asphalt and cement pathway, a cross between a road and sidewalk, to the ferry dock at Hanlan’s Point. They rode the ferry across the harbour, the natural light dimming, as the city grew alight from the illumination of office high-rises and condominium towers, urban developments stretched and growing from the shores of an inland sea.
“This is so romantic—that’s what Mommy tells her new friend. Isn’t this so romantic?” Corie asked.
Lost in sombre thought, Javier pushed the stroller from the ferry to the terminal. Forgetting the traffic light at the pedestrian crosswalk flashed red, he barely missed getting broadsided by a city transit bus, which only left Corie with a case of hilarity and giggles when the bus driver called him a disparaging name and cursed him through his open window, as he loudly honked his alarming horn for a prolonged period, startling motorists and pedestrians alike. When Javier saw the streetcar station near the ferry terminal remained closed due to street construction, infrastructure upgrades, and building renovation, he softly muttered, to Corie’s amusement. He decided the pair would walk from the foot of Bay Street beneath the expressways and through the bleak tunnel and the traffic filled thoroughfares and concrete intersections to the subway station. When they reached the intersection beneath the expressway, still south of Union Station, the lanes buzzing and humming with fast and heavy motor vehicles on the underpass below the speedy laneways.
“Daddy-O, I think you know exactly what you need to do.”
Javier gazed deeply into her green eyes, as she firmly pressed her lips together. A double chin formed as she lowered her head in a mock stern expression. She solemnly nodded her head, as Javier distractedly and gently patted her curly blonde locks, before he kissed her on the forehead. Javier tossed his baseball cap into the boulevard, where it hit the asphalt and rolled and blew slightly with the light wind. He left Corie in her stroller on the pedestrian traffic island at the intersection of the street with the fast-paced traffic, speeding louder on the wide boulevard, beneath the narrow elevated expressway with its racing cars and trucks. Without looking in either direction, he stepped into the busy lanes, crossing to the far lane to retrieve it. The last thing he thought before he hurtled through the air and tumbled like a thrown dressmaker’s dummy and was smacked and knocked down and crushed by a heavy freight transport truck was that his daughter, as Olivia feared, possessed some strange mental and psychic powers. Then Corie screamed, in anticipation of a spectacle of carnage, the collision and crash of metal, the skidding and burning of rubber, the crushing of flesh and bone, on pavement and cement, alongside his baseball cap, crowning the whole messy affair.