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ADELAIDE Independent Bimonthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Bimensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOREST HILLS
John Tavares

 

 

 

 

After Ollie served nearly a full sentence, officials decided to release him from the juvenile detention facility early. They shortened his detention term after he helped administer First Aid to a fellow inmate who suffered an epileptic seizure. Then, when someone nearly beat his epileptic friend to death, he intervened and made a ruckus until guards could no longer look the other way and transported his injured body to the infirmary. Either way, Ollie became sidetracked by his own desire to set life and past wrongs right.

In his plaid shirt, cargo pants, and scuffed canvas running shoes, he took a nature trail for cyclists and joggers to the park near the detention facility. He found the bayonet with its sheath where he stashed it in a hole in the sand and soil at the base of a culvert. He stuffed the sheathed bayonet in the pocket of his cargo pants, near his thigh, which had grown muscle from exercise routines and fitness training, part of a self-improvement regimen he followed rigorously in prison. All he needed now was a bandanna, but he decided to skip that detail because he thought then he would look suspicious.

Gazing through the curtained window inside his former school principal's house, he stepped through rose bushes growing wildly beside the cracked concrete stairs. Having already rung the doorbell on his Forest Hills house several times, he knocked persistently with the tarnished brass knocker. His former principal shuffled on his bare stocking feet to the inside of the door, where he gazed intently through a peephole. Unshaven, gaunt, he carried a glass of Madeira in his hand and at first refused to answer the brass knocker on the door.

“Whoever is at the door—go away.”

When Ollie persisted in knocking, Vermilion relented. He grudgingly stepped forward to answer the door, stumbling through a pile of unopened envelopes, bills, invoices, receipts, bank and trust company statements, subscription magazines, and flyers from high-priced shops, boutiques, and realtors. Vermilion indifferently allowed the mail, fallen beneath the letter slot, to accumulate over the past few weeks. He did not expected to meet Ollie face-to-face—a legacy of his past, a youth a portion of his age, who looked worn, stressed, a former student at his school, where he was formerly principal in his hometown. He saw his former principal’s look had not changed drastically: his physical appearance was similar, although he aged less than gracefully. He still had that frozen cheek, which caused him to grimace and look peculiar when he spoke. Depending upon whom you spoke, the facial paralysis came from Bell’s palsy or from flying in bombers in the cold thin air associated with the high altitude flying during combat missions, nighttime raids during the Allied strategic bombing offensive of the latter part of the Second World War.

Vermilion appeared to be neglecting his appearance and physical condition; his clothes looked rumpled and shabbier. He looked as if he had given up to nature, surrendered to aging, as if he had apathetically retired—not just from work, but life—everything. Leaner, he had the same amount of thick hair—now tousled, white, whereas in the past it was neatly combed. Dried salvia encrusted the corners of his mouth and his chapped lips and flakes of dandruff speckled his shoulders. The only item lacking was the fancy smoking pipe, with swirls of bluish-white smoke, and the aroma of pipe tobacco. Still, Mr. Vermilion aged considerably, with more fine wrinkles furrowing his face and lining his brow. To school pupils, he might have looked as intimidating as the first day they met him in the school gymnasium.

Now, he was unafraid when he should have felt the deep chill of fear, since the authority figure was poison to him. Before Vermilion could slam the door shut, Ollie rammed his knee between the door and doorway. The former pupil pushed his principal further inside the house.   

"I told you never to call again," Vermilion said in his polished, precise voice. "No phone calls, no letters, no visits, nothing. So get out." Ollie pushed him backwards into the hallway of the mansion-like house. Quavering, shaking, Vermilion demanded, "What are you doing here?"   
  
Ollie started to communicate in American Sign Language, but his former principal became angry. He complained they went over this a thousand times before and insisted he talk, speak. He knew he could talk well and his loud voice and guttural sounds did not bother him, so Ollie started to speak, which made him more agitated and nervous. Ollie figured he should have known then his former principal was ultimately in control, just as he was years ago.

“What were you doing to me years ago?” Ollie countered.

"Get out of my house immediately.”   

“’Don’t be bold.’” Ollie tried to mock him, crudely trying to mimic the voice he used on him so many past times. “That’s what you always told me when I was sent to your office because I did something wrong. ‘Don't be bold.’”

"Get out of my house or I'll call the police immediately.”

Upset, agitated, his speech barely comprehensible, he warned: if he called the police, he would have to do him serious harm. Thinking he needed to remind Vermilion who was in control, he slipped the bayonet knife from the leather sheath he attached to the thigh of his cargo pants and made a dramatic show of the blade. He almost felt like lecturing him on the past of the venerable object, but he was almost certain he was familiar with its history. He was a bit surprised he could detect no sign of recognition when he pulled the bayonet and flashed it in his face. Ambrose Vermilion gasped and backed away from him, terrified, although lately almost any unexpected knock, snap, footstep, or noise startled him, inciting considerable fear and anxiety.

“Look, what I did to you a few years ago was wrong and I paid the price," Vermilion said, calm, rational. “That’s no reason to come to my house and terrorize me. Now that business is over. Please just leave me alone."   

Upset, angry, stuttering severely, he was barely coherent. Ambrose Vermilion normally had no patience for anyone who couldn’t communicate clearly according to his dictums. As Ollie held the bayonet, the principal did listen to him, although several times he raised his brow in dismay, disgust at Ollie’s speech, but Ollie realized however he communicated his former principal’s attitude of disgust and disdain would remain the same.

“Business? That’s what you call it? You've completely ruined my life, made a mess of it.”

Because of him, Ollie said, he wasn't able to finish high school, didn’t trust anybody, and couldn’t love anybody now.

"Look, it's over with. Leave me alone." Vermilion ran down the hallway to the telephone, mounted on an end table, which he programmed to dial automatically the nearest Toronto police precinct at the push of a button. Still, Ollie snatched the receiver from his hand and slammed the telephone down.

“After what you did, you’d have a lot of nerve calling the police,” Ollie said. Ollie wrapped his hand around the loose telephone cord, wound it roughly, and ripped the plug from connector in the wall.

"Look, what do you want? Get out of my house. You've no business being here.”

“You had no business messing around with my life when I was young.”

"But that's over now, man, get on with your life.”

“How can I? You've destroyed my life.

"I didn't destroy your life. Now quit acting like a victim and get out of here." 

“You destroyed my life, and now I’m here to destroy yours.”

Ollie lunged at him with the formidable bayonet, the blade flashing in the dim interior light of ornate dusty chandeliers. Vermilion screamed and backed away, stumbling over the worn malodourous carpet, shouting for help, screaming bloody murder. Begging, pleading for mercy, he scrambled to his feet and started running up the carpeted stairway. Ollie easily chased him upstairs and down the hallway, while he shouted and protested. With a lull, Vermilion surmised he derived a certain perverse delight from terrorizing him.

"That happened years ago!" Vermilion screamed. "Now let me get on with my life!"

Ollie thought his former principal sounded like the crusty retired woman who worked as a volunteer in the school library. Whenever he visited the library, the woman hassled him, tolerating not the slightest transgression, giving him no breaks on overdue books, books damp from rainfall or stained from accidents, coffee or hot chocolate spills, rejecting his requests for books through interlibrary loans. She did little to conceal her revulsion with his lisp and stutter, or guttural voice, and permitted absolutely no noise or sounds from him. Whenever she saw him signing in American Sign Language in the library, she cracked down on him mercilessly, saying he was distracting other students, expelling him from the library, hoarsely shouting to shut up, ordering him to sit elsewhere, or at a study carrel near the back or the emergency exits, or even sending him to the principal’s office. The only word in American Sign Language sign she knew: NO, which she made whilst shaking her head, clasping two fingers and her thumb together. Ollie loomed over Ambrose Vermilion on the staircase to the third floor. Breathing hoarsely, he reeled backwards as the bayonet blade approached his throat. When he feared he would plunge the point deeper into the loose flesh of his neck, he eased up and pulled back. 

“So, Mister Vermilion, what have you been doing these past few years?”

Vermilion stumbled backwards, collapsed on the stairway in sheer exhaustion and resignation, and started sobbing. He cried while he brought up his arms and flung them backwards. The image of his former principal breaking down reminded him of World War Two photographs from the lavishly illustrated history books series Ollie loved to read in the school library, showing the aftermath of an intense, fiery, destructive battle. He specifically remembered a picture showing a Russian mother, flailing her arms upwards, grieving the loss of her soldier son during the siege of Stalingrad. When he was sent to the principal’s office, he sometimes avoided any meetings or confrontations by heading straight to the library. The principal usually knew exactly where he could find Ollie, though. In the school library, he spent plenty of time perusing oversized photojournalism books and history volumes, particularly on World War Two, the Korean War, and Viet Nam War years, instead of working on his school assignments. He leaned against the wall and watched with curiosity, stroking his chin, which had grown peach fuzz and pimply—from the starchy foods, he guessed—in the detention facility. The outpouring of emotion from his usually cold and reserved principal, with his privileged upbringing, surprised him. He remembered him for his calm, reserved demeanour and painstakingly correct speech. Yes, his principal always showed a veneer of civility and polish of gentility, even when he abused Ollie. This outburst of strong emotion Ollie would have normally expected more from his mother or father than from this sham paragon of Victorian morals and virtue.
"I've paid the price!" Vermilion cried repeatedly. "My life is still in ruins. It's over. It's over." 

“Your life is in ruins?” Barely able to mouth the words, Ollie stammered he wasn’t able to finish school and wasn’t able to love anyone because of him. 

“That’s because you’re still too young. Give it up. Give it time, boy.”

“I—I h-h-haven't b-been a-able to—to trust any-b-b-body.”  

"But is that my fault?" Vermilion bellowed.  

“Y-y-yes, it—it i-is,” Ollie spat. Although he realized the more potent weapon with his former principal were words, he stepped towards him, ready to strike him with my fists. “Y-y-you've s-screwed up—up—up m-my l-life t-t-totally.” He decided to reveal he had been in jail, a facility for young offenders.

"You're merely using me as an excuse for your failures and shortcomings."

Ollie swung his open hand, slapping him on his drooping cheek and Vermilion started sobbing again. Wiping away his tears and blowing his nose, he managed to find some coherence to speak again. "You're life has been ruined? Well, my career was destroyed."

Ollie looked around the hallway at the comfort and luxury of the home, the ornate decor, the plush carpets, the rich, densely woven tapestries, fascinated by the high quality reproductions of classic paintings, Renaissance depictions of boys and young men, with names like Holy Family, Ganymede Rolling a Hoop, and Prince Carlos, and fancy, carved frames. The stuffed deer heads and moose heads, the mounted walleye, northern pike, and rainbow trout, and other species of Ontario freshwater fishes, and the aged photographs of hunters and anglers seemed tacking and out of place, alongside the fine art reproductions, and reminded Ollie of his hometown. He commented it certainly looked as if he had done well enough for himself; certainly, he did not appear to have financial worries. Vermilion felt he owed him an explanation: "This was the house of my grandfather, who owned the gold mine near Beaverbrook, which you are too young to remember, since it closed before you were born. It's part of an inheritance, my legacy, from which I have derived my income." He narrated additional family history, but Ollie thought the elderly man pretentious and conceited, thinking his white robber baron ancestors owned and operated the bushes, the mines and forests, around his hometown. Then, distracted, Ollie asked himself what he was doing in this man’s house and felt his misery knew no end. This old man, a figure who exercised authority and control over him in what seemed like an entirely different life altogether, was provoking him in ways neither understood. If he was smart, he would walk away before his mood and impulses, ugly and vengeful, turned into even more awful actions, but he was acting on sheer, raw emotion. Neither of them, he realized afterwards, was behaving intelligently and rationally. Ollie raised his steel-toed work boot, which he wore harvesting the vegetable crops, mainly potatoes, onions, and beets, growing on the grounds of the minimum-security detention facility, thinking he could slam the heel down and smash his skull. Instead, he lightly pressed the grooved soles of the heavy-duty boots against the side of his face. He even gestured, as if about to strike him with his fist, but then he scowled and pushed him away at the shoulder with his boot. He left Vermilion cowering on the stairs and went downstairs.

Ollie wandered around on the first floor restlessly, taking an impromptu tour of the home. He snacked on some cheese and overripe grapes in the kitchen and then made himself comfortable in the old man's study, looking at some fine books, leather-bound classics. Eventually, he noticed his high-fidelity stereo system and searched through the music collection. He found a Mozart compact disk and slipped the symphony recording into the CD player. Then he returned to the kitchen, where he made himself a sandwich, using the leftover salmon salad Ambrose Vermilion purchased earlier at a midtown deli. With a sandwich in one hand, he sat down in a comfortable chair. After he found a pen and paper on the coffee table, he bit into the whole wheat bread, and, more out of instinct, started writing notes about his experiences in the correctional facility for young offenders. Meanwhile, Vermilion sat slumped at the bottom of the stairwell, and, assuming they shared a love of classical music, thought hope still existed.   

Later that evening, after being forced to cook supper, Vermilion tried to leave the house. He intended to escape in his luxury convertible sedan, which he planned to race across the city to his sister's house. Wiping the sweat from his brow and the crumbs and rich icing from the corners of his mouth with a silk napkin, Ollie looked up from devouring a thick slice of chocolate cake, creamy with icing, which had gone crusty and stale, which Vermilion picked up earlier in the week at an Eglinton Avenue bakery. He spotted Vermilion stumbling across his front lawn in his soiled, smelly, ill-fitting socks. Ollie burst from the house and balcony and chased him across the landscaped grounds. He dragged Vermilion, yelling and cursing, spitting and dribbling salvia down the corner of his mouth, back into the house.    

"Get out of my house!" Vermillion protested. "Leave me alone!"  

“You never left me alone. Why should I?”

"What do you want? Look, if it's money, I'll give it to you."

Breathing hard, Vermilion trotted over to a desk in his study and opened a drawer, pulling out a chequebook from a fine leather-bound wallet. Vermillion started to write out a cheque, muttering, “Pay to the order of Oliver Eagleton,” writing his name on the recipient line, saying, "Just name an amount, and I'll give you your compensation, fair and square."

Ollie seized the cheque he drafted and the pad of blank cheques out of his hands and ripped and tore the bank note into shreds. Although he had little money, he decided the passion that drove his vengeance would be spoiled and his integrity would be damaged if he accepted money. His integrity would not be harmed if he kept the leather wallet, he decided; he had little money and his own wallet, assuming he could find it, was so worn out and torn he needed a new one. As the Friday turned into Saturday and the morning turned into afternoon, Ollie continued to refuse to allow Ambrose Vermilion to leave the house on any errands. He did not even allow him to shop for groceries, fresh fruit or vegetables, or refill his prescriptions for high blood pressure medication and sleeping pills at the drugstore. He would not even permit him a walk to the corner for a newspaper from the vending machine. Reminding him they had a few scores to settle, he insisted they stay at home. He sat in a chair at the kitchen table, rolling his own cigarettes from papers and a small pouch of tobacco. He picked up the terrible habit of smoking in the detention facility. Like other young offenders, he rolled his own cigarettes to save money. 

Ollie looked worried, troubled, preoccupied, lost in thought. Sometimes he made notes in a wad of three-hole ruled paper he folded and stored in the pocket of his plaid shirt. After staying awake without even a nap for over a day, he fell asleep in his chair, reading a book. Vermilion hurried to his bedroom, but, when he desperately checked, listening intently through the telephone extension with faint hope, he discovered the phone still dead. Gasping and grunting, he reached underneath his bed and grabbed a .303 Lee Enfield rifle, a souvenir, an heirloom in the family since the end of the Second World War. He relied on the rifle for a greater sense of security. He earlier loaded the vintage British army rifle with brand new .303 cartridges and started keeping the gun nearby, hiding it underneath his bed. He went downstairs and confronted Ollie, previously awake for countless hours on end, now asleep in the chair at the kitchen table. He poked Ollie’s shoulder with the iron sights of the muzzle. When that did not rouse me, he tapped his forearm with the barrel. Ollie stirred and awoke, blinking his bloodshot eyes open.

The sight of Vermilion aiming point-blank the barrel of this almost antique rifle—the same rifle with which his uncle had bayoneted a German—startled him at first when he awakened, but then he merely smiled. Then he blanched, wondering if Vermilion realized that the knife he brandished was actually a bayonet for the rifle. In fact, he discerned that if he attached the bayonet to the rifle the fit would have been snug, perfect. 

"Get out of my house or I'll have to shoot you," Vermilion warned.
 
Ollie dared: “Shoot me, kill me; you’d only be putting me out of my misery. My life has been nothing but wretchedness since y-y-you d-did w-w-what you d-d-did t-to—to m-me.”

"Leave! Leave now.” 

Ambrose Vermilion had a look of disgust and contempt on his face. “You—you—you—” He pointed his finger accusatively and thrust it repeatedly “I have a word for people like you. You're a professional victim."

“You're a coward. You don't even have the courage to shoot me.”

Ambrose Vermilion moved his finger over the trigger and applied light pressure to the groove. Ollie could clearly see his finger on the trigger—the distance between us was no more than a body length—but he merely shrugged and forced laughter. "Go ahead. Pull the trigger.  S-s-shoot m-me."

Seemingly ready to fire the gun and send his own existence into oblivion, Vermilion swung the barrel around and inserted the muzzle into his own mouth. He feared a boom and blood and grey matter splatter, but he expected Vermilion to behave rationally and forced more laughter, but, in his grim state of mind, his own attempt at a gesture of mirth was half-hearted, barely credible and, indeed, his voice sounded sinister. He tugged at the scratched, dented stock and wrenched the vintage military rifle from Vermilion’s hands. He accused him of being a coward and said he did not even have the courage to kill himself.

The rest of the weekend passed in uneventful periods, which alternated with a peculiar tension. Then Ollie tuned Ambrose Vermilion’s expensive stereo receiver into a favourite FM radio station, which played loud hard rock and heavy metal music. To feel the vibrations on his body, Ollie cranked up the volume of sound on powerful amplifiers to a level intolerable—far too loud—for Ambrose Vermilion and pressed his head against the large speakers. The unbearable noise drove the elder Vermilion into a fury and a vale of frustrated tears. Oblivious to his turmoil, Ollie occasionally made notes into his folded bundle of ruled paper, writing passages he wished to incorporate into the memoir/novel he was writing on again, off again for the past several months, since he was an inmate.

His former principal said he seemed wise beyond his years, so why was he continuing with this farce? He merely replied he seemed to be presuming something, and they continued an argument that intermittently grew more heated until just as unpredictably it quieted down.  

On Sunday evening, Ollie forced his former principal out of the house for a drive in his luxury sedan. They drove through the Forest Hills and Rosedale neighbourhood around what Vermilion referred to as his estate, past mansions and through narrow winding streets, shaded by majestic elms and maples, immaculately maintained grass and gardens, with pristine ponds and walkways. They rode the sleek car past black wrought iron gates surrounding estates with landscaped gardens and lawn sculptures made from bronze, marble, and ornate water fountains, past private colleges and prep schools with magnificent and immaculate green grounds, and homes of the privileged, rich, and famous. The cruise in the comfortable car with muted classical music playing on the high-fidelity car stereo gave me some unexpected pleasure, so he could not help nodding and behind the tinted windshields. He relaxed in the comfort of the automobile, enjoying the opulence of the scenery. They continued to cruise through the surrounding neighbourhoods, and Ollie initially felt lulled into a certain sense of complacence. While continuing to drive the Jaguar, Vermilion noticed a police cruiser trailing behind them. His driving became slightly erratic, as he gently swung the vehicle back and forth into the opposing lane, weaving the sleek car back and forth across the traffic median. Noticing the odd driving pattern, Ollie peered into the rear-view mirror, but could not see anything from his perspective, so he turned around and glanced out the rear windshield.

A Toronto police officer, wearing sunglasses, at the wheel of a brand new cruiser, polished, buffed, and waxed for a car show, virtually hugged the bumper of the luxury motor vehicle. If the police officer gazed closely enough, Ollie supposed he might surmise the pair was a couple. Ollie slid down in the seat, close to the driver’s position, and put his arm around Vermilion’s shoulder. Then he placed his foot alongside Vermilion’s on the accelerator pedal, only then noticing the artisanship and fine materials used in its manufacture of his shoes.

If he kept acting up, this could be the last ride for both of them, Ollie warned, as he rested the sole of my own steel shank leather boots against the fine shoe leather and braided laces.

“If you're going to try to speed this car into anything, I should tell you there is an emergency brake."
Vermilion stared straight ahead, boldly disregarding his abductor. “Yes, and I could just strangle you on the spot,” he warned. He pressed the sharp edge of the bayonet blade against his side, poking the tip through the fabric of his sweater and undershirt, indenting but not penetrating his bare flesh beneath. The bayonet was a gift from his father, he explained.

Vermilion cringed at the thought of the boy’s aboriginal father, who had guided him more than once musky and lake trout fishing and moose hunting; he thought he understood the boy’s mother—his Portuguese side much better. Ambrose Vermilion remembered pulling him out of class and summoning him to his office to inform him his father, who had once guided him on a fishing expedition up the large reservoir of Lac Seul, had passed away, a victim of an apparent suicide, a finding Ollie disputed and disbelieved originally. The thought of the boy’s father’s demise and the potential such violence might lurk within his former pupil caused Ambrose Vermilion to shudder and pause. In fact, Vermilion resumed driving normally.

Ollie ordered him to head home, and the rest of the drive passed in silence. After they arrived back at his home, he decided he needed the consolation and distraction he usually found in books, and he turned to Vermilion’s bookshelves. He started to make himself comfortable in Vermilion’s study again with a fine, portable hardcover leather-bound edition of Homer’s Iliad, neat because it was no larger than a compact paperback book.

Having spent time in an institution that enforced isolation, he thought he could now easily tolerate a lonely existence and monkish lifestyle. Oftentimes he preferred such solitude, but when he thought of the loneliness stretched over a lifetime, it invoked fear. However, Vermilion found himself filled with a newfound resentment of Ollie’s presence; for the past few years, he zealously protected his privacy, building an impenetrable wall of secrecy around himself. He even went so far as to lay off the hired help, cancelling the regular visits by the cleaner, groundskeeper, and maintenance worker. Now this mischievous figure from his past intruded into his life, trying to destroy his peaceful, sheltered existence. Growing heated at the thought, he decided he could tolerate Ollie’s presence and antics no longer, and exploded with anger. "Leave!  Leave now!” He flailed his arms in the general direction of the front doors. “You! You!” He pointed his fingers accusatively, a gesture he resorted to frequently in his school principal days. “You know what you are? A victim. That's what you are—a professional victim."

“What?” 

“You asked for it."

Ollie couldn’t believe what he heard—Vermilion assigning blame, virtually accusing him. Glowering ominously, Ollie strode towards him with his rifle, which he hoped to use to frighten him away. He carried the rifle, pressing the stock against his thigh, the muzzle pointed towards the floor. He had been almost using the rifle as a walking stick. The presence of the rifle started to anger and annoy him. He resented Vermilion’s introduction of the weapon into the situation. He actually feared he might need to resort to use of the firearm. Ambrose Vermilion feared for his life; he had never seen such a look of anger on the face of a pupil before, a depth of rage and passion, he presumed, originated in the darkness of his soul. “What did you say just now?”

"No, no, no," Vermilion sobbed.

“What did you say?”

"No, no, no, I'm sorry, I misspoke. I am truly and genuinely sorry. You're perfectly right: It was my fault. I just inadvertently released an outburst."

“What did you say before? I think whatever you’re saying now is an act of self-preservation. You’re cowardly.”

“Oh, what does it matter anymore? I said it's your fault. You asked for whatever you got. At least you never protested.”

Ollie became agitated, heated, and enraged he could barely make his speech understood. “How was I to know? I was young. I didn't know better.” Ollie insisted he abused his position of authority, but Vermilion insisted he did everything with his knowledge and consent. Ollie started swinging the rifle.
Vermilion screamed hysterically that, yes, of course, he had been too young to know, as he backed away and raised his hands for protection. “You—you’ve r-r-ruin—ruined m-my l-life,” I protested. “R-r-ruined it.

Hovering above him, he held the rifle by the barrel above his head, swung the stock down, and slammed the grip against Vermilion’s legs. He could hear the bones break in Vermilion’s upper legs as he slammed the wooden gunstock down and swung the rifle down again. By the time he finished, Vermilion was groaning, gasping, stifling the animal noise the tremendous pain forced him to make. Unable to move, he looked down at himself, his legs limp.

“Are you satisfied? Have you had enough?”

Ollie wanted to touch his legs, straighten them, and make certain they were all right, but he realized that gesture would only cause him great pain. He remembered the excruciating pain he felt when his own legs were broken, and he felt pity for him. He realized the same type of injuries he suffered when a snowmobile struck him afflicted Vermilion.

“Are you sure you don’t want to leave?”

Silenced, Ollie grimaced and felt he was no longer in a position to argue, or reject his pleas or queries; his mood had turned to dread and fear. Finally, he watched the old man painfully drag himself over to the stereo, using the armrests of chairs and sofas as supports. He felt incredulous Vermilion could still walk and even advised him he should stay off his feet and rest. Vermilion somehow managed to put on a compact disk from a London musical and limped back to his chair.

He covered his legs with a quilt from the sofa and grabbed a bottle of Scotch. He reached over to the table and grabbed a mug, dumping the flat leftover ginger ale onto the carpet. His hands trembling and quavering, he poured Scotch into a coffee mug and sipped the drink. The climbing voice of the singer flooded the house and caused his heart to swell, his chest to ache, and his eyes to fill with tears.

The soprano’s voice soared, filling the upper reaches of the lofty spacious room with her song of love and mourning. His hands trembled, spilling drink on his lap, and he cursed and muttered, breaking into tears. "Just can't seem to do anything right. Damn it all." He splashed more Scotch into the coffee mug. "Bloody well damn everything." He gulped the drink and poured yet more into the coffee mug, before he had even finished it, muttering, "Damn everything." Tears trickled down his dimpled, withered, wrinkled cheeks. The singer's voice climbed, raising his him upwards, upwards, soaring above the melee, setting him adrift a sea of pained bliss.

Frantic to leave, desperate to flee his former principal’s house, on the verge of panic and breaking down himself, Ollie checked to see if he could leave Vermilion alone, unassisted. Vermilion insisted he go so he decided to leave the house immediately, even though Ollie still had too many uncertainties in his mind about the man’s condition. The sight of the man in such incredible pain filled him with fear and remorse. He suddenly became aware of the consequences of his actions, of how wrong and misguided he had been. 

He felt mystified at how he arrived at the point where he could commit such violence. This sort of awareness and dawning might affect somebody who suddenly realized that they might have lost a limb in an accident or hears of the sudden unexpected death of somebody precious and close to them. As he jogged out of the neighbourhood with fine houses and majestic trees, he feared he might attract the attention of the police or private security patrols. His attitude changed drastically from the mindset he possessed when he originally went to confront Ambrose Vermilion. Depressed and remorseful, he realized the drastic action he took could not be reversed easily. Eventually, Ollie rode the southbound subway to Union subway station.

Afterwards, Ollie made a collect call from a pay phone in the lower floor of Union Station to his cousin. Knowing Ollie was recently released from the juvenile detention facility, Gary said he would send him a train ticket on the passenger service from Toronto to Vancouver. Gary said that, once Ollie learned the coffee shop business inside out, he wanted to put him in charge of a third Mocha Van coffee shop in the Upper East Side, near shelters where he felt confident the homeless, addicts, drug dealers, sex trade workers, and shelter workers would appreciate the caffeine fix.

“You want to set up a coffee truck near a homeless shelter?”

“It’s not a coffee truck; it’s a full-fledged coffee shop. It’ll be my third cafe, if you help me.”

“Why do you want to set up a coffee shop near a homeless shelter?”

“Because I have a social conscience, and I like to make money at the same time.” Then Gary laughed his manic giggle, creepy, frightening, particularly if you knew he suffered bipolar disorder. Indeed, just as Gary promised, by the time Ollie ascended the ramp in the vast cavernous train station to the ticket counter, the agent handed him a train ticket, reservations, and luggage tags for the following morning.

Ollie decided to wait overnight in the station, since the train to Vancouver was scheduled to leave in several hours in the early morning. Meanwhile, Ollie looked about vigilantly, fearfully anticipating the arrival of the police. Finally, he managed to nap in the waiting lounge, tranquilized by the sole other train passenger in the train station, playing a saxophone. By the time the train prepared for boarding at eight am, Ollie was at the head of the line a few hundred passengers long and, aside from train officials, there was no authorities. Ollie boarded the train and settled in his seat for a weeklong journey across Canada. As the passenger train passed beneath the CN Tower and the office towers of the financial district of Toronto, he peered up through the window and thought there was a glimmer of hope.

 

 

About the Author:

j. Tavares

Born and raised in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, John Tavares 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), and  the Specialized Honors BA in English from York University in North York (2012). His writings have been published in various magazines and literary journals. Set of his short stories has been broadcasted at the Sioux Lookout’s CBLS/CBQW radio.

 

 

 

 

     
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