John Tavares

Son and Lover

john tavares 2014 c



Born and raised in Sioux Lookout, in northwestern Ontario, John Tavares is the son of Portuguese immigrants from Sao Miguel, Azores. He graduated from Humber College, with concentration in behaviourial sciences, and journalism studies at Centennial College. His previous publications include Blood & AphorismsGreen’s MagazineFilling StationBroken PencilTesseraWindsor Review,PaperplatesThe Write Place at the Write TimeThe Maple Tree Literary SupplementGertrudeTurk’s Head ReviewOutside In Literary & Travel MagazineBareback MagazineRampike, and The Writing Disorder. His journalism was published in East York Observer, East York Times, Beaches Town Crier, The East Toronto AdvocateOur Toronto as well as community and trade publications such as York University’s Excalibur and Hospital News, where he interned as editorial assistant. He broadcast a set of his short stories as a community radio broadcaster for CBLS in Sioux Lookout one summer. He recently wrote a novel and is an avid photographer. Having recently acquired an Honours BA, Specialized, in English at York University, he returned to his hometown of Sioux Lookout.

Life had not been good for her, Fatima told Ana over coffee. She had immigrated with her parents to northwestern Ontario in Canada from the island of the Azores far off the coast of Portugal when she was a child. Her Portuguese parents thought that, even as immigrants, they would flourish and prosper in the promised land of Canada. Her father worked as a trackman for the railroad and her mother worked as a cook in the federal government hospital, which provided health-care for aboriginals from northern reservations. Indeed, Fatima’s Portuguese parents prospered and found their niche in the bleak, rugged part of the country with long winters and thousands of kilometres of lakes and forests surrounding the town. Still, after living the majority of her life in the town of Beaverbrooke and raising her own son, long after she had become a naturalized Canadian, Fatima figured that the family would have been better off and happier if they stayed on the islands of Sao Miguel in the Azores.

After her husband, the son of World War Two Polish and Ukrainian refugees, died from heart failure after suffering from lung cancer and liver cirrhosis, she was left alone with her adult son Denis, who cut a bold, masculine figure. She complained to her closest friend and second cousin Denis didn’t understand the meaning of education and the purpose of a career. He worked at a series of dead end jobs or menial careers, as a cook in a diner and hotel, or a caretaker in the high school, until he was laid off, or had some issue with the boss in particular or some problem with authority in general. He relied on his looks to pull him through whatever jam he found himself in. Women considered Denis handsome, admired his exotic good looks, and tended to swoon and go brainless around him. Sometimes the house would fill with young women at all times of the day and night. After the latest series of girlfriends, one of whom moved into the house, which Fatima owned, without her permission, Fatima thought she couldn’t tolerate his girlfriends any longer.

At a bar downtown, he met a young woman, dark, slim, well-proportioned. When he complimented her on her handbag, Farrah Tehrani said she had a Persian background and the weathered Hermes Kelly handbag was a gift from the Shah of Iran to her mother. She suggested he apply at a newly opened local clothing store, Tehrani’s, which her parents owned. Afterwards, Denis started working steadily as a clerk in Tehrani’s. Farrah’s father found him industrious and a steady, hard worker and promoted him to assistant manager. Denis introduced his latest girlfriend to his mother as Farrah, of Muslim faith, with modern Persian parents. “They named her after Farrah Fawcett Majors, the TV star, from Charlie’s Angels.”

“That’s interesting.” Fatima grudgingly admired Farrah’s hair. The irony was not lost on Fatima, often complimented by mature women for having thick, dark hair without even a touch of grey and no hair colouring. “She has the same hairstyle as Farrah Fawcett, except your Farrah has nice jet black hair.”

“Farrah is the daughter of an Iranian military family, Mom. That beat up Hermes handbag she always carries—the Shah of Iran gave that Kelly handbag to her mother when she was a debutante.”

Farrah’s grandfather had been a decorated general in the Iranian Army and a trusted advisor to Shah of Iran. The entire family escaped and fled the country during various stages of the revolution and upheaval in the Persian Gulf, including persecution by religious revolutionary authorities and fighting during the Iran-Iraq war. Fatima, a devout Catholic, thought that she had no problem with Islamic religion, but she soon learned that Farrah didn’t practice her faith. A young divorcee, with two children from different fathers, Farrah shattered whatever illusions she nurtured about Muslim women. Farrah drank openly around Fatima, which left her visibly disconcerted. She had gold piercings in her tongue, nostril, and navel, and tattoos on her flat stomach, forearms, upper arms, narrow ankles and wrists and carried a worn Hermes Kelly handbag, which she repeatedly claimed the Shah of Iran had given her mother when she was a teenager.

At times Denis bragged to his friends she was built like a porn star; at others, he complained she dressed and acted like the world was her porn movie set. During an argument, Fatima heard Denis complain that Farrah never heard a pickup line she didn’t like and slept with any strange man foolish and naïve enough to buy her drinks.

Fatima began to think she had only one person in the world. Fatima’s best friend and second cousin, Ana, lived alone across town and was suffering from breast cancer. A few weeks after Fatima met Farrah, Ana became critically ill. Forever after Fatima linked the two events in her mind. Her best friend and second cousin was evacuated by air ambulance from the hospital in the small town of Beaverbrooke to Thunder Bay. Because her friend had recently suffered a stroke and had lost the ability to speak, she escorted her on the flight in the air ambulance and accompanied her to the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital where she was diagnosed with a brain abscess. She stayed by Ana’s bedside in the emergency department. Fatima helped nurse her friend and second cousin back to health in the intensive care unit and the neurosurgical ward, after she recovered from neurosurgery. Once she was disconnected from the respirator and life support and breathing on her own, the neurosurgeon decided Ana had recovered sufficiently to fly on a nonemergency flight in an air ambulance back to Beaverbrooke where she could resume her recovery in her hometown hospital. Back in Beaverbrooke, Fatima stayed by Ana’s side in the hospital until she was well enough to be discharged into her home.

When Fatima returned home, she found that Farrah had moved into her house. Her makeup and cosmetics cluttered the bathroom and her clothes, her panties and bras lay soiled in the living room, kitchen, porch. She figured they had even had slept in her bedroom, when she searched for a brand new pair of leather shoes, which she found Farrah wearing, under the bed and found a g-string and bra under the bed. Farrah had left her lingerie in every room in the house. There was even a garter wrapped around a huge wine keg her husband used to brew homemade wine. At night, she fielded calls from Farrah’s mother who confessed concern her daughter wasn’t fasting for Ramadan or heeding the Muslim call to prayer. Fatima didn’t understand how she could heed the Muslim call to prayer when there was no mosque in Beaverbrooke, or even a synagogue, but she held her tongue. Yasmin was also worried her grandchildren, Farrah’s own daughters, weren’t seeing enough of their mother.

One night Fatima even heard Farrah describe the time she was away in Thunder Bay to nurse Ana as “a weeklong fuckfest.” In her house! Meanwhile, the sounds of Farrah’s rapture and joy over her sex with Denis flooded the house and echoed through the rooms. Disturbed by the screaming, shouting, and explicit talk she heard Farrah deliver, Fatima couldn’t sleep. She even wound up talking to her family physician about her son. He drank plenty of Budweiser every night and became aggressive and confrontational with her. Finally, she summoned the courage to talk with Farrah. Fatima gently reached out and tugged at her hijab, fascinated by the material and fabric in the cloth, which, in a perversely ironic fashion statement she wore with cut-off denim shorts, a lacy, see through Victoria’s Secrets bustier, and pointy high heels. Farrah glared at her coldly.

“I just like the feel of this material you have in your scarf.”

“It’s a hijab.”

“I’m sorry.”

Farrah curled up the corner of her mouth and shifted her weight on her left foot, jutting out her shapely hip.

“Do I have to remind you that this is my house?”

Farrah laughed and blew cigarette smoke in her face. Fatima noticed through the veil of white wispy tendrils the young woman smelled like spiced rum. Outraged, Fatima went to her filing cabinet and showed her a photocopy of the deed for the house, which, she reminded her, had been her home the past forty years. The four-bedroom house had been her parents’ home, and it had been her and her husband’s home, and now she owned her home alone. Farrah petulantly curled her lip, heckled, and refused to look at the document. Farrah said she knew that she had left everything to her son because she had seen a photocopy of her last will and testament. Besides, she would be dead soon anyway because she had had heart disease.

“I’ve seen all the medications you take in your medicine cabinet.”

Fatima retreated to her bedroom and checked her prescription medication cabinet, which she had started to lock, after she found Farrah wandering the house, taking swigs from a bottle of her husband’s homemade wine, wearing the fur coat her husband had given her. The fur coat was custom made by an aboriginal seamstress in Beaverbrooke who specialized in furs and hides and was made from red fox trapped and snared on the trap line he shared with a Metis freight train conductor and had given her for their anniversary. She double checked her filing cabinet and medicine shelf and realized the girl had riffled through her pill bottles and her personal papers and business documents. She summoned the courage to talk again to her son. Denis had been drinking Budweiser beer and vodka again, grew angry, shouted, and argued with her and threatened to move out of the house.

“I can’t believe you think you have to choose between Farrah and me. But if you feel that way, then moving out might be the best idea, as long as you make her a part of your harem.”

Denis slapped her on the face. She sobbed and retreated to her bedroom and considered calling the police, but she realized her son would never forgive her, even though she firmly believed he needed an intervention like she had seen on the reality television series about recovering drug addicts. She considered selling the house and moving into an apartment building, but she thought surely that would entail even more nuisances and inconveniences and a loss of freedom for her. Then she watched the young woman remove a plastic sandwich bag of white power from her faded Hermes Kelly handbag and snort white powder on the kitchen table. She threatened to call the police, but Farrah merely laughed. When she talked to her son, he tried to reassure her.

“Farrah is just doing her own thing.”

“Snorting cocaine?”

“She’s not hurting anybody.”

“She should be with her children. Her mother keeps calling, asking why Farrah isn’t home with her girls.”

Her son pounded the table, and she realized she better keep quiet before he lashed out.

One weekend, Farrah bought a Texas mickey of vodka at the liquor store and made a great show of displaying the huge bottle in front of Denis and his mother. The couple drank vodka and orange juice nonstop while they watched a DVD from a Led Zeppelin concert at a loud volume on the high-fidelity stereo and home theatre in Denis’s bedroom. Then Yasmin called, but Farrah refused to take the call. Fatima listened as her mother complained she was tired of looking after her daughter’s children. Fatima insisted Farrah take the call again and Yasmin told her Farrah she should take her grandfather to the hospital because he had numbness and paralysis on the left side of his body. She argued with her mother angrily in Farsi and then hung up the phone.

Having taken another call later that evening, Farrah said she was going to sell a case of beer she had in the trunk to friends to turn a quick profit. Having consumed several beers and a pint of vodka that afternoon, Farrah got behind the wheel of the car. As she drove away in her BMW, Fatima decided to call the police. When she picked up the telephone and called the emergency number, her hand trembled, her tongue became numb, and her voice stammered. She struggled to provide the operator with an exact description of the car.

“The make of the care, ma’am,” the 911 operator asked impatiently.

After failing the practical road test for her driver’s license test three consecutive times years ago, Fatima never drove a car again herself. “I think it’s a Honda, or a Toyota.”

“A Honda or a Toyota? Okay, that really narrows it down. What color?”


“And the license plate number?”

Fatima had written the license plate number on the back of a supermarket receipt, but she couldn’t find the slip of paper as she fumbled with the cordless telephone. Then she tried to remember correctly the license plate number and repeated three different sets of letters and numbers.

The emergency operator chuckled. “Ma’am, have you been drinking this evening?”

The operator’s remarks greatly offended Fatima. After her husband suffered his first case of jaundice and cirrhosis of the liver, from hepatitis acquired after drinking contaminated well water dozens of mile outside Beaverbrooke on the railroad siding, at the site of a train derailment, she refused to permit him to bring hard liquor into the house. She even forced him to stop making homemade wine. The operator mocking irked her as badly as Farrah’s manner.

Realizing she was fighting a losing battle, Fatima could no longer tolerate the young women’s antics and excess. Every night she prayed the girl would be killed in a drunk driving accident. After Farrah and her son finally offered to give her a ride to church the following Saturday night, she repented. Still, after Mass she was forced walk home across town in the chilly drizzle and fog. When her legs started to feel tired and her feet heavy and the rain started to pour, she was forced to take a route downtown, where she felt unsafe, and drop by the taxi stand, where, she heard, drug dealers loitered and take a cab home. Later that evening, when Farrah returned home from church and stepped into the kitchen she could hear her son and Farrah screaming, the bouncing mattress, banging headboard and sex noises. The next Sunday she attended church early so that she could go to confession and receive the Sacrament of Penance. In the confessional, she confessed to the priest that she had prayed for her son’s girlfriend to die in a car crash. For penitence, the priest gave her one hundred Hail Marys and one hundred Our Fathers. Since he knew her to be a devout Catholic who attended church regularly, every Saturday night, or Sunday morning, and sometimes during Lent every morning he asked to speak with her afterwards in the sacristy. The priest told her after Mass he admired her for her honesty. He advised her the next time she observed Farrah drinking spirts or beer and then getting behind the wheel of a car, she should simply call the police with honesty and conviction, in the righteous knowledge her actions would be sanctioned by the Lord.

The following weekend, Denis and Farrah decided to attend a fish fry at the town dock beach, part of the summer walleye festival and a fundraiser for the volunteer fire department. While Fatima fried fresh walleye fillets from the farmer’s market at the town dock beach at the skillet over the stove her husband purchased for her just before he died, Farrah’s mother repeatedly called the house. Yasmin protested over her home telephone that Farrah wasn’t answering her cell phone. Farrah’s youngest daughter also needed to visit the family physician in the emergency department because of an earache she had acquired after her grandmother had taken her swimming to the town dock beach on the lake, a favourite local swimming hole. Before Farrah stepped outside the house, Fatima watched her drink straight from a vodka bottle. Then Farrah poured more vodka in a bottle of pure orange juice, which she shook vigorously and slipped in her Hermes Kelly handbag. Fatima watched through her living room window as Farrah and Denis argued alongside her BMW convertible sedan before Farrah took another swig from her bottle of vodka and orange juice. For the first time in a long while she actually felt proud of her son; he said he was starting to feel that she wasn’t spending more time with her daughters. Then Farrah drove away while Dennis bounded into the backyard and mowed the lawn with the electric-powered grass trimmer and the riding lawn mower.

Blocking the caller identification on her telephone, Fatima called the local detachment of the police. Fatima said she wanted to remain anonymous in reporting an impaired driver and provided a description of her car. As soon as Farrah learned a police cruiser was following her, as she cruised along the highway to the Tehrani family suburban home on the lake, she sped ahead. When she rounded the bend and crossed a Frog Rapids Bridge she tossed the Hermes Kelly handbag, which had chunks of crack cocaine in plastic sandwich bags in various compartments out of the car and into the narrows of the lake. She then floored the accelerator pedal on her convertible BMW sedan and led a rookie police officer on a high-speed chase along the twisting, winding highway through the Canadian Shield.

Later the following morning, Fatima learned from a radio newscast that a motorist had died in a high-speed pursuit with police after they tried to pull her over on suspicion of impaired driving. A black convertible BMW sedan had a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer hauling logs destined for a pulp and paper mill. Stunned, Fatima realized who the victim of the crash was—probably. Police investigators and forensic experts later positively identified the victim of the motor vehicle crash, badly burned in the crash, from the DNA in her bones and her teeth and her dental records. Later, Fatima’s relief was palpable and a soothing sensation smoothed the features of her face. When she saw how devastated her son was, though, she became grief stricken.

“I didn’t realize he actually loved her,” she confessed to Ana, as she pushed her in her wheelchair along a bicycle path. “She was wild, addicted. I thought the only thing that kept them together was alcohol and sex.”

“You shouldn’t be so judgmental,” Ana said.

Afterwards, Denis came home every night from work at the Tehrani clothing store drunk, hours after he finished his shift as manager. One night during a heat wave, he found the heat and humidity in Fatima’s house stifling. Wearing his leather sandals, surfing shorts, and carrying his wife beater shirt in one hand, and an open bottle of Budweiser beer in the other, he headed out of the house. He walked across the downtown district, carrying his bottle of Budweiser beer, which he swigged, as he muttered and ranted in grief and outrage. A security camera from the Tehrani clothing store where he worked caught the last grainy black and white videos images of him, hurtling the empty beer brown Budweiser bottle through the huge picture window. 

Denis strode further along Railyardside Street downtown to the local town beach and tossed his shorts, t-shirt, and sandals on the dock. Naked, he stepped down the ladder from the wooden dock, but when he dipped his foot into the darkness of the freshwater lake he found the water too chilly. He walked along the dock to the shore and waded from the shallows along the sandy beach into the deep lake. Denis never returned home and went missing and was never found. He was presumed drowned, and his youthful muscular body was never recovered.

Alone in her house, grief-stricken, Fatima pottered in her backyard, weeding her vegetable garden, and tended to her front yard, watering her flowers in their beds and planters. During the winter, she shovelled the sidewalk of the snow from the front door and cement ramp  and along the walk. Occasionally, Ana, wheelchair bound, visited in a wheelchair accessible van from the extended care facility where she was now a resident. As she recovered from her grief, Fatima felt calm in the large house. Alone in her home, she finally found serenity and the peace she had so yearned for in the new world.