Last year, after I finished my novel, I sent out the following query letter:
Attn. (INSERT NAME HERE):
When Graziano Buonfiglio’s family disowns him, he sets out to reclaim his life… even though they want to end it.
A lifetime of physical and emotional abuse, along with the unsolved deaths of his grandparents and boyfriend, leaves Graziano Buonfiglio enduring the continuous wrath of his family in Brampton, Ontario. Following his latest suicide attempt, his family banishes him from their lives. Graziano heads back to his hometown of Toronto and moves in with his former English professor.
For the first time in years, Graziano flourishes personally and professionally. As his professor provides him much-needed stability and support, he makes new friends and reconnects with old ones, and even contemplates a career in modeling. But as his lot in life improves, the clouds from his past are always present.
After his family discovers him alive and thriving, much to their displeasure, they begin a covert war against him. Graziano soon learns the shocking truth behind the deaths of his loved ones, and as Christmas approaches, he and his friends come under threat. Before it is too late, Graziano must save them and himself from becoming casualties.
SAINT GRAZIANO THE GOOD is a 63,000-word LGBT Fiction/Adult Contemporary novel. Below is the first chapter of the book. The full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your consideration.
Alex D. Sarmiento
I e-mailed 20 potential agents across the US and Canada. Unfortunately, I did not get a single response in my favor. Some of them did not respond at all, and those that did told me that my material wasn’t right for their agency. I felt so defeated that I pretty much gave up.
A year later, I plan on going through the same rigmarole again.
Thank you for reading my novel, because it took me three years to complete the damn manuscript. I’ve been busy with other projects, and my adventures in self-publishing have yielded no fruit at all, not even a bud of a blossom. (Are they the same thing or different things? Biology was terrible for me in high school.)
This blog will still be in use, only now I plan on using it to chronicle my adventures in the promotion and the publishing of “Saint Graziano the Good”. That could take years, so stay tuned.
It was Friday, the 6th of May, 2011. I sat in the front row of the courtroom, where they could see me. I wanted them to see me. I wanted them to see what they tried to do, but ultimately failed to do. And as they walked in, I gave them a look of utter contempt and anger. I sat at an angle that would make them look at me as soon as their asses walked through the door.
Mykhaylo, Ryan, Claire, Brandon, Aunt Kendra, Uncle Wayne, Aunt Tatiana, and many of my other relatives and friends were in attendance along with me. We watched as Giuseppe “Joseph” Buonfiglio, Anna Dina “Nadine” Buonfiglio, Charlotte Buonfiglio, Niccolo “Nicholas” Buonfiglio, Denise Buonfiglio, and Cecilia “Sissy” Vandenbroucke entered the courtroom at Toronto’s Old City Hall, smug as hell. They did not appear to be fazed at all by the reality of their situation. I wasn’t surprised. Throughout the month-long trial, they treated the whole thing like some kind of game. After the jury broke for deliberations, I even saw Charlotte talking to her friends about plans to celebrate, under the naive assumption that she was going to walk. If Nancy Grace and Jane Velez-Mitchell had been watching, their heads would have exploded.
We were all present because the jury had come back with a verdict in the case of Crown v. Buonfiglio et al. It was the conclusion of over a year and a half of legal work, and during that time, the Crown dug up evidence to add to the kidnapping charges. They added eight counts of first-degree murder to the indictment, among charges including kidnapping and attempted murder. The murdered victims were Pietro Buonfiglio, Annunziata Buonfiglio, Raimondo degli Angeli, Maria Grazia degli Angeli, Evan Smart, and three innocent friends of Nonno Pietro and Nonna Annunziata: Girolamo Braschi, Pietro’s long-time friend; Maddalena Braschi, Girolamo’s wife; and Marisa Testaverde, Maddalena’s sister. Those three had died in the car crash that was later revealed to be a homicide.
The judge soon read out the verdicts. It took fifteen minutes to read through every single charge on the docket. It was the longest fifteen minutes of my life, but ultimately one of the most important. On every charge: GUILTY. I really don’t have a head for legal matters, but I was so relieved to hear GUILTY after every single charge.
As expected, the sextet showed indifference to the verdicts. I had long ago given up any hope that they would shed a tear or scream for me. With Mykhaylo holding my hand, I held myself together throughout those minutes. When it was all over, the judge passed sentence. Joseph, Nadine, and Charlotte were sentenced to life in prison without parole, and declared “Dangerous Offenders”. For their parts in the conspiracy, Niccolo and Denise received 20 years. Cecilia was sentenced to 10 years, on top of having already been convicted in a previous trial of fraud and embezzlement.
My kidnappers, Enver Berisha and Ilirian Martini, had pleaded no contest to the kidnapping in exchange for a deal of 5 to 10 years in prison. I gave the Crown my blessing to proceed with the deal. The arsonist who killed Nonno Raimondo and Nonna Maria Grazia had died while serving time in prison on an unrelated charge. In addition, the men that Charlotte hired to kill Evan plead out to first-degree manslaughter. I was reluctant to let them proceed with that deal, but after some thought, I let them go ahead.
Before they were sentenced, I made my victim’s impact statement. I didn’t have much to say to them, however; I had testified for two days and was exhausted afterwards. Still, I looked at all of them dead in the eye and said, “You are no longer my family. You never were to begin with. Real families never do what you did to me.” Okay, Cecilia was not technically family, but she had wormed her way into the Buonfiglio inner circle by virtue of her friendship with Charlotte, so there. Ryan gave his victim’s impact statement as well, followed by Aunt Kendra, Aunt Tatiana, and Uncle Wayne.
Then, they lead all six of them away. Again, there was no sign of empathy, no sign of human warmth, and no sign of anything other than indifference. The last thing that I remember, as they essentially walked out of my life forever, was thinking that they would be pulling similar shit in prison. I would not have put it past them.
It wasn’t until I stepped out of Old City Hall on that breezy May afternoon that I could finally say that I was free. A throng of reporters from across Canada and around the world greeted me. I carefully fielded question after question in English, French, and Italian. One reporter asked me what I was going to do afterwards. I chuckled and said, “I’m hungry. I need a burger.” That reporter was Italian. We ended up having burgers afterwards.
I haven’t been up to Kingston, where all of them are serving their sentences. (I hear that they’re closing down the facility soon, and where they’re planning to send the prisoners, I have no idea.) Ryan has, and from what he has told me, they’re still indifferent to the whole thing. But that’s not all. Nadine has had to sober up, and she hasn’t taken kindly to withdrawal. She’s been screaming at all hours of the night, so much that they had to put her in solitary confinement. Joseph has lost his license to practice law, but that hasn’t stopped him from giving crooked legal advice to people in the yard. Charlotte’s daughter, Savannah, was in foster care for over a year before the decision was made to give custody to Uncle Wayne and Aunt Elfriede. No one knows who Savannah’s dad is, but for now, it’s a moot point. Neither I nor Ryan was considered, but it was for the best. Charlotte spends her days and nights in a delusional stupor, thinking that she’ll get custody back. Other than that, she’s been trying to seduce the guards (even the FEMALE guards) into giving her more privileges, albeit with no success. Pissing her off even more is the fact that her now ex-boyfriend, Lionel, has become one of my friends.
Ryan and I have gotten a lot closer since he came back to Canada. We see a lot of each other, and have been making up for lost time. He is a financial consultant during the week, and on the weekends is a bartender at a gay club on Queen Street West. I still don’t go to bars on a recreational basis, however, and Ryan is cool with that. Still, I pop in every other weekend to chat with him, while he’s making Cosmopolitans and Harvey Wallbangers and Screwdrivers or whatever the hell they serve. And no, we haven’t had sex. Mykhaylo has brought up the prospect of a three-way with him, however.
I’ve also reconnected with other members of my family. Aunt Kendra still lives in Vancouver, but she visits me from time to time. Aunt Tatiana now splits her time between her Italian vineyard and Toronto, where she is trying to distribute her wines. They’ve come over to my apartment a few times, and we’ve had a lot of fun.
This brings me to Brandon. I’m still living with him rent-free, and we’re closer than ever. The events of the past year or so forced him to confront his own past, so he went over to Regina in the summer of 2010. When he came back, he had great news: his parents had apologized for everything that they did to him, and slowly but surely, they’re mending fences. I wasn’t offended that his family has a chance at reconciliation, while I put mine away in the slammer forever. Professionally, things have gotten a lot better for him. He received a promotion to Associate Chair of the English Department, which he honestly didn’t expect.
Claire is no longer my therapist. My new therapist is a guy named Christopher Calcaterra, who happens to be both Italian-Canadian and gay. He’s really nice and fun to be around. Since I started going to the CAMH, I have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. I knew what PTSD was, but Asperger’s threw me for a loop. But Christopher has been very helpful and I’ve been researching Asperger’s since. The authorities decided not to close Claire’s practice. While we don’t see each other on a regular basis, Claire calls me every week to check on me, and we even have dinner once a month.
Carolina is doing well, too. She still lives in the old house on Ascot and Nairn, and often invites me over for parties and such. While I will always have the painful memories of being subject to unimaginable abuse at that house, being friends with Carolina has allowed me to make new memories there.
Mykhaylo is still at York University and working at the CBC. In case you didn’t know, he is a production assistant for CBC Radio One. We’re still dating, but we don’t have any plans to move in together. We’re falling in love more and more each day. I no longer feel any guilt about loving Evan and Mykhaylo at the same time. Evan is still a part of my life, and Mykhaylo respects that. In a related story, after the trial, I received a phone call from Walton Smart, Evan’s father. He had heard about the verdict and offered his apologies for the way he and the rest of the Smarts had treated me and Evan. He even sent me a check for $75,000, the amount of money that had been in Evan’s bank accounts at the time of his murder. In Evan’s honour, I donated half of the money to the National Ballet of Canada. He would have wanted it that way.
And then, there’s Britney. I’ve had her for almost seven years, and not a day goes by that she isn’t just the most precious creature on Earth. Despite her age, she’s very agile and loves to play around. Even though I’m not emotionally strong enough to be a father, I feel that I’ve succeeded in raising Britney to be the best cat that she can be. Conversely, having Britney in my life has helped me to be the best that I can be.
My life is almost unrecognizable from two years ago. After years of one part-time job after another, I’ve found financial stability as a model. I’ve done both fitness work and portrait work. The jobs are frequent, they pay well, and I’ve been able to travel across the world. I still volunteer when I can with the 519 Centre. Plus, I’ve gotten back into competitive bodybuilding. I’m looking forward to eventually getting my pro card. I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts since Christmas 2009, I’m no longer crying all the time, and I just feel so fucking great. And I no longer feel guilty about feeling so fucking great. It’s healthy to cry and let your sadness run rampant, but it’s even healthier just to experience pure happiness.
I bet that you’re wondering what happened to the money that I found in my old home. I still have it, along with the million bucks that Brandon gave me. Joseph and Nadine tried to get back what they thought was theirs before the trial began, but they failed miserably. I paid off some bills and debts, and while I don’t like to throw cash around, let’s just say that on a few occasions, I’ve indulged in a bit of shopping.
I still think about my grandparents and Evan every single day. I don’t pray much, but every day I look up to the sky and quietly express my wishes to God, or Goddess, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the Sky, that they are happy and doing fine in the other world. They haven’t been down to visit me, even in my dreams, but I know that they’re looking out for me. Before the trial, I became a dual citizen of Canada and Italy. My grandparents never officially renounced their Italian citizenship, so that made things easier. The day that I got my Italian passport, I immediately thought of my grandparents. And whenever I see a ballet on TV or at the theatre, I think of Evan. I think of all of them every day. I hope that I’m doing all of them proud.
I still don’t drink wine, though.
CHRISTMAS DAY, 2009
“Our top story on this Christmas Day continues to be the incredible events surrounding a Christmas Eve kidnapping. Graziano Buonfiglio, a 28-year-old from Toronto, had been kidnapped outside the Metro supermarket on College Street. Five hours later, he was found in High Park alive. In a bizarre twist, his parents and sister had planned and financed the kidnapping. But that’s only part of an even wilder story. For more, we go to 680 News’ Anna Townsend outside the Toronto Jail. Good morning, Anna.”
“Good morning and Merry Christmas, Shane. Joseph and Nadine Buonfiglio, along with their daughter Charlotte, had been out on bail after they were arrested on attempted murder charges. The intended victims were all friends of Graziano Buonfiglio, estranged from the family for months. During a tense standoff at High Park, they, Mr. and Mrs. and Ms. Buonfiglio respectively, admitted not only to staging the kidnapping, but they also admitted to the murders of four family members and Graziano’s fiancé.”
“Anna, where is Graziano now?”
“He is currently at home with friends. He was released from Toronto General Hospital late last night and, miraculously, suffered only a few bruises. Graziano is a former Canadian junior bodybuilding champion who is still in good physical condition. According to his boyfriend, Mykhaylo Karbanenko, Graziano has elected not to speak to the media on this matter until tomorrow.”
“Who did his family claim to murdering?”
“According to Mr. Karbanenko, Joseph murdered his wife’s parents, Raymond and Mary Grace degli Angeli. Nadine confessed to murdering her parents-in-law, Peter and Nancy Buonfiglio. Charlotte said that she orchestrated the murder of Graziano’s fiancé Evan Smart while she was living in New York. Those cases have yet to be re-opened, but it is likely that they will. Shane, this is a very complicated story, but at least Graziano is home safe.”
“I understand that several other people have been charged in connection with this crime.”
“Yes. Earlier this morning, Nicholas and Denise Buonfiglio were arrested for supplying the van that was used in the kidnapping. Nicholas, a car salesman, is Joseph’s brother and Denise, who works for Service Canada, his sister-in-law. Also, Sissy Vandenbroucke, a preacher in Oakville and a family friend, was arrested this morning as an accessory to kidnapping. She was also out on bail, and was awaiting trial for fraud.”
“All right. 680 News’ Anna Townsend. Thank you and Merry Christmas.”
I heard that on the radio as I drove all the way up to Prospect Cemetery. It was not what I had expected to hear on Christmas Day, but then I didn’t expect everything to happen like they did.
When I arrived at the cemetery, everything was covered in a light blanket of holiday snow. The tombstones looked like bases on which to build Frosty the Snowman clones. When I walked up the slushy path to my grandparents’ graves, holding four bouquets in my hand and a small foldable chair in another, I noticed that there was virtually no one around. Not one person. Not even someone to tend the lawns.
I wiped off the snow from each of the graves and laid flowers at each. The pictures on the graves had dulled somewhat with the passage of time, but I could still see their faces. Finally, I sat on the chair, facing them.
“Buon Natale,” I said. “I guess you heard the news. I hope you’re not mad at me.”
It was eerily quiet in the cemetery. I couldn’t even hear birds chirping, or even the wind. And then, I heard some twinkling sounds, like a harp or a bell or something. Suddenly, I saw Evan, and only Evan. He was in a white suit, of course, because he was coming from heaven, after all. He was standing right next to me. My heart began racing like hell. He never looked more beautiful.
“Evan!” I exclaimed.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas. Where are my grandparents?”
“Princess Diana is throwing a Christmas bash, and they got tickets. They told me to wish you a Merry Christmas for them, and that they’ll never be mad at you. And also, they want justice.”
“Thanks. I intend to get it for you and them.”
He took my hand. An angel taking my hand. It felt as if he was still on this earth. “I miss touching you,” he said. “I didn’t know what it felt to be loved until I met you.”
“The feeling is mutual.”
“Hey, about Mykhaylo: I like him. He seems like a great guy, and I hope you two make it work.”
“Yeah, Mykhaylo’s been good to me. What about you?”
“Well, I’ve had my share of offers. But I wanted to see you happy before I could get some, you know.”
“Can angels have sex?” I asked. What a weird question that was.
“I haven’t seen anyone’s wings fall off. It’s not an orgy kind of place, but romance is alive up there.”
He looked at his watch, which was gold, of course. “I should be going. Vasiliy Nidzhinskiy is having a party, too.”
“Evan?” I asked, grabbing him gently. “Can you do me a favour? Actually, two.”
“First, tell my grandparents that I finally got the money. And second, keep being there for me.”
Evan smiled, and kissed me on the lips. “You know I will, Graziano. Always.”
We hugged each other hard, as hard as an angel and a mortal can hug together. And then I heard the twinkling sound again, and I was again all alone in the cemetery. But I was no longer disappointed. I looked up to the sky and gave it a quick air kiss. I’m sure that Evan got it.
I drove back to the apartment building, listening to Christmas carols on the radio. As I parked my car, I saw Brandon standing at the entrance. He waved to me, and I waved back. I got out, and walked up to him.
“How are your grandparents?” he asked.
“Let’s just say that everyone’s fine up there,” I replied. “Can I show you something?”
We crossed the street onto Waterfront Trail and stopped along the railing, next to the City School. “After Evan was cremated, I spread his ashes here,” I said. “He liked coming to this place. Often, after a hard day of dancing, he’d come here and feed the pigeons and seagulls. Every year, after he died, I’d come here on his birthday and Christmas and throw a bottle cap in the water. He liked bottle caps.”
I took out a cap from my pocket. It came from a bottle of Stella Artois. I flipped it into the water, and it made a soft plop sound and floated away. I then looked at 600 Queens Quay West. “It wasn’t until I moved here that I realized where I had been going to all this time. I didn’t even pay attention to my surroundings. I was just so zoned in on honouring him that the surroundings didn’t matter.”
After I turned back, Brandon asked, “So, how does it feel to be the last person standing in your family?”
I shook my head. “Honestly, Brandon, I’m scared. Now that the ordeals for the most part are done, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“At least you now have a home. And you have Mykhaylo, you have Claire, you have Britney, you even have Aparecida… and you have me. We’ll be your family, Graziano.”
I looked at him and said, “That is the corniest thing anyone could say. But I’m glad you said it.”
Brandon chuckled. “Thanks. I didn’t tell you this, but a few nights ago, I called my family in Regina. It was the first time in almost twenty years that I was in contact with them.”
“How did it go?”
“Better than I expected. We had a nice conversation, and they want to reconcile with me.”
“Do you want to reconcile with them?”
Brandon nodded. “I’ve always wanted to. Would you ever reconcile with your parents?”
“No.” I said it rather quickly. “They never were my parents, Brandon. They never were my family, because I was never made to feel like I was part of theirs. My grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins who still talk to me, Evan, Claire, Mykhaylo, Aparecida, Britney, and you… you and them made me feel like family. For that, I’ll be forever thankful.”
Brandon smiled, and then we hugged for the next minute. It was bitterly cold, and snow was falling gently, but it was such a beautiful feeling to be hugged in such an Arctic atmosphere. After we let go, Brandon said, “We should get started on Christmas lunch, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. I’m in the mood for a delayed Feast of the Seven Bitches.”
“Don’t you mean Seven Fishes?”
“I brought down my father, my mother, my sister, my paternal aunt, my paternal uncle, and two Albanian thugs.”
“Don’t forget Sissy Vandenbroucke.”
I thought for a moment, and then said, “Okay. It’s the Feast of the EIGHT Bitches.”
We both laughed, and walked back to our apartment. There was no fish to be had at our Christmas lunch, but there was a plethora of food nonetheless: Christmas turkey with sausage and apple stuffing, panettone, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and parsnips, and pumpkin pie, among others that we made and that our guests brought. And let’s not forget the platter of fine meats and cheeses, along with the pastéis de nata.
And our guests came fast and furiously: Mykhaylo, Claire, Aparecida, Deirdre from the 519 Centre, Marie-Lourdes, Carolina, some of Brandon’s colleagues, even Niamh showed up. It felt great to see my friends and my new family come together, especially after all that we had been through in the past few months. Britney was especially welcoming to everyone, and that’s not something you see in cats.
Just before we were ready to tuck into our buffet, however, amid all the chatting and the clinking of glasses of sparkling non-alcoholic apple juice, the doorbell rang. I volunteered to get it. I looked through the peephole, and it was a blonde guy who appeared to be in his early 30s. I asked, “Who is it?”
“Graziano, it’s me. Ryan.”
WHAT. THE. FUCK? I hadn’t heard that voice in over a decade. I thought that he had vanished off the face of the Earth. I thought that my mind was jerking around with me. So, I slowly opened the door to make sure that I was hearing and seeing what I exactly thought that I was hearing and seeing. Sure enough, it was my older brother, Ryan James Buonfiglio.
I closed the door behind me, and it was just the two of us in the hallway. Ryan was thinner than I had expected, especially compared to me, but he looked like a hybrid of Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds. “Oh my God,” I said, tears welling up in my eyes. Only this time, they were joyful tears, but even still I took out a hanky and wiped them away. “I’m sorry, Ryan.”
“Don’t be,” he said. “You don’t have to be sorry for anything ever again.”
We just stood there, looking at each other for a moment. I can’t imagine what he must have been thinking. And then, we just exploded into a warm hug. Ryan, the only person in my immediate family who had my back no matter what, whom I thought had vanished forever, was back in my life.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
“You want the Cliff Notes version or the Wikipedia version?” he replied.
“Cliff Notes. I’m already overwhelmed.”
He released me from his embrace. “I didn’t go to Notre Dame. I never got accepted into Notre Dame, anyway. I went backpacking around Europe for a year, and then went to Oxford. Afterwards, I came back to Canada and I’ve been living with my boyfriend here in Toronto.”
“You’ve been living here? Why didn’t you find me?”
“I didn’t know where you were. I haven’t spoken to Mom and Dad in years. And then Aunt Kendra called me and told everything, and I heard about what happened last night, and I decided to look for you.”
“Do you hate me for putting them away?”
Ryan shook his head. “I just wish that they had been put away sooner.”
“I’ve missed you so much!”
“I’ve missed you too. Goddess on a wheel, you’re so big and buff now. You’re no longer my little brother.”
I chuckled. The door opened, and Mykhaylo emerged. “Graz, is everything all right?” he asked, touching my shoulder.
“Yeah, everything’s great,” I said. “Mykhaylo, this is my brother, Ryan Buonfiglio. Ryan, I’d like you to meet Mykhaylo Karbanenko, my boyfriend.”
They shook hands. And then Mykhaylo said to him, “So, you’re the guy who fucked my boyfriend.”
I nearly froze in fear. Ryan had a puzzled look on his face. It was an awkward silence between us three. But then, Ryan said, “I never fucked my brother. I just made love to him, that’s all.”
“Oh. Okay,” Mykhaylo said.
“Ryan, would you like to come in and have Christmas lunch with us?” I asked.
“I’d like that.”
Ryan came in with us, and the party continued. We tucked in to the buffet, and soon presents were being opened. I gave Mykhaylo an Italian-English dictionary, which only seemed fair as I had learned a bit of Ukrainian. I gave Claire a box of artisanal chocolates. I wasn’t sure what to give Brandon, especially since he had been so good to me, so I got him a Chia-Pet. The funny thing was, Brandon always WANTED a Chia-Pet. He was so happy to get it.
What did they give me? Mykhaylo gave me a DVD of Céline sur les Plaines, that concert Céline Dion did up in Quebec City in 2008. Claire gave me $200 worth of iTunes Gift Cards. Ryan gave me a framed picture of me and him eleven years earlier, back when he graduated from secondary school. He had found it in a box after moving back to Canada. I was initially reluctant to accept some of these gifts, as I spent considerably less on presents for others. But everyone assured me that it was alright.
And then Brandon pulled me into the room. “What’s going on?” I asked.
Brandon simply smiled and took out a small, folded piece of paper from his desk. “Do you remember when I told you that I won the lottery?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, unsure about what was to happen.
He took the paper and placed it in my hand. “Merry Christmas, Graziano,” he said, kissing me on the cheek. He walked toward the door, and said, “I know that you have more than a bit of money already, but some more couldn’t hurt. I’d keep this between us for the time being. And don’t worry; it won’t bounce.” He left to join the other partiers.
I looked at the piece of paper, and opened it. It was a cheque… for $1 million. The amount shocked me, but then in the memo, Brandon had written this: “because you’re a saint among men”.
A saint among men. I never thought that I was a saint to begin with. Still, I was deeply touched by Brandon’s more-than-generous gesture. He never asked for any financial help from me. He never asked anything from me, other than to be happy. And for the first time in my life, I was. Nadine, Joseph, Charlotte, Aunt Denise, Uncle Nicholas, Sissy… they were all in jail and facing multiple charges. They could no longer hurt me. Nonna Annunziata, Nonno Pietro, Nonna Maria Grazia, Nonno Raimondo, and Evan were looking after me from their celestial abodes. Ryan was back in my life, and I was looking forward to strengthening my relationships with everyone else in the family.
I still had a lot of therapy to get through, but Claire assured me that the people at CAMH would take good care of me. Even if Brandon hadn’t given me the money, the fact that he gave me a home and love was more than enough. And Mykhaylo… he had been with me every step of the way, and I was beginning to envision a future with him. Marriage, adopting children, growing mature together, being active in our communities, the whole shebang. I was finally happy.
Britney walked in and nuzzled at my feet. I put the cheque in my pocket and picked her up, cuddling her. She smelled so clean and fresh. Her fur was soft as snow. As she licked my face, we left the bedroom and rejoined the party. It was a Merry Christmas, and I looked forward to a Happy New Year.
THURSDAY, 24TH DECEMBER, 2009 (CHRISTMAS EVE)
Joseph was wearing a white suit, similar in cut and tailoring to the one he wore on the fateful night of my birthday almost three months ago. Nadine, whose hair had been turned into a chic bob, was to his right, wearing a green pantsuit. As for Charlotte, she wore a figure-clinging red dress, exposing her arm and breasts to the elements, with only a gauche black bolero keeping her from frostbite. They resembled the Italian flag, and I thought it an insult to Italy.
“You fucking bastard,” Joseph said. “You thought that you could get away with it, didn’t you?”
“I could say the same of you three,” I replied.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Nadine screamed. “I knew that we shouldn’t have hired those Albanians.”
“Did you fuck them?”
“That’s not the point, bitch.”
“She fucked them,” I muttered under my breath.
“I’m so glad that you four are here tonight,” Joseph continued. “This is the Dream Site, where the finest Shakespearean plays are performed in the summer. Tonight, we have a treat for you. William Shakespeare Presents: The Death of Graziano Buonfiglio and His Friends.”
“Shakespeare never wrote such a play,” Brandon said.
“OH, FUCK YOU!” Charlotte snapped.
The terrible trio walked off the stage, their guns at the ready, and came within ten feet of us, even as we took a few steps back, clutching each other.
“I know you killed my grandparents!” I yelled. “I also know you killed Evan! And I know that you all tried to have my friends killed, too!”
“Oh, and we did a damn good job of it, didn’t we?” Charlotte replied. “And you thought that all I was good for was being kicked off of the Next Top Model franchises on either side of the 49th Parallel.”
“Whatever, bitch!” Mykhaylo snapped.
“Oh, shut the fuck up, you Slavic slut-puppy. I was too kind, putting in just those tablets of GHB. Had I added one more, you’d be dead, motherfucker.”
I looked at Mykhaylo, and he looked like he was about to rip her head off. “YOU TRIED TO KILL ME!” he roared, lunging toward Charlotte. But Charlotte aimed at him… only for her gun to jam.
“Jesus H. Christ,” she muttered, opening the chambers. There wasn’t a damn bullet inside. I pulled Mykhaylo back as Charlotte looked at the gun. “FUCK!”
“You’re worse than a serial rapist, you fucking whore,” Mykhaylo sneered at Charlotte.
“Can we get on with this execution?” Nadine replied nervously. “We have a party to attend at 9PM.”
I rolled my eyes. Once again, they were more concerned with their appearances and social calendar than anything real humans talk about.
“Oh, you’re going to hell, asshole,” Nadine said, aiming her gun at me. But she, too, fell victim to nothing coming out of it. She opened the chambers to reveal several marijuana joints inside.
“You put your joints in a gun?” Claire laughed.
“At least I’ve had children,” Nadine retorted.
Even with her arm in a sling, Claire came close to decking the bitch. But we pulled her away, gently as to not harm her arm.
“God, you women are ridiculous,” Joseph scoffed.
“Hey, bastard!” Nadine snapped at him. “Don’t blame us. You were the one who doled out the guns. Wouldn’t it have hurt you to check for bullets beforehand?”
“Mom! Dad!” Charlotte exclaimed. “Remember what we’re here for: to take these bitches out. We don’t need guns.”
Oh, this was just getting so annoying. As they bickered, I looked at my friends and we slowly walked backwards toward the entrance. But then, Joseph looked at us and fired his gun. We all ducked at the same time. And then, Joseph opened the chambers in his gun to reveal… rubber bullets. This had turned into a farce. Joseph screamed and threw his gun onto the ground.
We walked back towards them. “Ha-ha!” I said in my best Nelson Muntz impersonation. And then, with all three members of the Buonfiglio family looking at me like they wanted to tear me limb from limb right there, my tone turned serious. “I want to ask all three of you a question: what did I ever do to merit what you did to me?”
No response from either of them. “Well?” I asked again. “Non parlate inglese? (You don’t speak English?)”
“YOU WERE BORN, THAT’S WHY!” Joseph screamed.
Joseph calmed down. “You… were… born.”
“We never planned on having you,” Nadine added. “We wanted to wait until 1982 before we had another kid. But no, your fucking aunt Tatiana had to marry some Tuscan dork and invite us to the damn wedding.” She walked towards me. “And then, all it took was a bottle of wine and some Barry Manilow, and we ended up doing it. Frankly, the sight of him naked makes me sick. Nine months later, you came.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. “You could have had an abortion,” I said, “or at least given me up for adoption.”
“Oh, that would have been too easy. No, those nine months of pregnancy were the worst of my life! They were the worst of your father’s life, too! I was experiencing the most excruciating pain imaginable, and your father was losing clients faster than some people lose their minds!”
“All this because of some fucking superficiality reasons?” Brandon replied. “Wow, you are one fucked-up bitch.”
“WAS ANYONE TALKING TO YOU, ASSHOLE?!” Joseph snapped at him. “NO ONE WAS!”
“Oh, get bent, Tony Soprano!” I interjected.
“Anyway,” Nadine continued, “when you were born, everyone was oohing and aahing on how special you were. You weren’t. You were a fucking nightmare! Do you think that I enjoyed drinking and drugging? NO! YOU drove me to that!”
I was unmoved. “Babies are born all over the world, and women go through labour all the time, and rare and messed-up is the woman who blames her problems on that,” I said. And then I walked up to her and slapped her clear across the face. Surprisingly, she didn’t fall back on her ass. But when she lunged at me, she fell face-forward. As she got up, I couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Do you want to know why we killed your grandparents?” Joseph asked. “Well, it’s pretty simple: when it came to you, they were always in the fucking way! Always inquiring about you, always looking out for your interests, always taking you someplace special, and NEVER leaving us alone! They weren’t your parents. WE are!”
“Then you should have acted like them, and not like a bunch of terrorists!” I screamed. I was slowly getting riled up. “You should have taken a number from them, instead of spoiling Charlotte and Ryan and leaving me not even one miniscule scrap.”
“So what? I deserved the spoils!” Charlotte exclaimed. “Speaking of Ryan, we know that you two did the Jerry Springer thingy.”
Now, things were getting serious.
“What Jerry Springer thingy?” Brandon asked.
“INCEST!” Joseph yelled. “This faggot fucked his older brother!”
Yes, that’s right. That’s my big secret, people. For much of my teenage years, I had a sexual relationship with my older brother Ryan. It started one night, after Joseph beat me up again, and I was crying in my closet. The door suddenly opened, and Ryan pulled me out. He held me in his arms as I cried, and after ten minutes, I stopped crying. We looked into each other’s eyes, and suddenly he was on top of me, on my bed. He was the first guy that I ever kissed. And it didn’t stop. It went on from 1996 until 1999. At least once a week, he would come into my room, even on the nights that I had avoided Joseph and Nadine and Charlotte, and we would make love. We never engaged in penetrative sex, however. It was mostly making out and oral. That’s why Ryan left: Joseph and Nadine found out, they had a big argument, and he left home that night, never to return.
I turned to my friends, who had inquisitive looks on their faces. I nodded, acknowledging what I had done. And then I turned to the terrible trio, and calmly said, “And I’d do it again.”
“Excuse me?” Joseph replied.
“Yeah! I slept with Ryan, and I would do it again! And do you want to know why? Because he loved me. He truly loved me. He never made me feel bad, he never took me for granted, and he always made me feel better after all you bitches went to town on my ass!”
“Did you sleep with your grandparents, too?” Nadine sneered. “If you love them so much…”
“Nadine, you fucking bitch…” I shook my head. This was the first time that I had ever referred to Nadine by, well, that: Nadine. “Credit me with some discretion.”
“What the fuck did you just call me?” Nadine snapped.
“You heard me. You never were my mom, so I refuse to call you ‘mom’ or ‘mother’. To me, you’re Nadine Buonfiglio, the mother from hell to end all mothers from hell.” And then, I glared at Joseph. “Joseph, you’re a terrible lawyer and an equally worse father.” Finally, I looked at Charlotte. “Savannah doesn’t deserve you at all, harlot.”
For the first time, in a long time, they looked as if they were on the defensive. Their faces, previously facades of conceit mixed with indifference, were now visages flush with fear. I now had the power, and I was not going to waste this opportunity. My physical strength was coming back, as well.
“I have been wracking my brain for most of my life, wondering what I did or said that compelled you to subject me to some of the most inhumane activity a person could endure,” I said. “And now, you tell me that I was the arbiter of your failures as human beings, so I deserved to be beaten up. Even if I died, it wouldn’t change things at all. You’d be still miserable pieces of shit looking for the next person to blame. Well, that all stops here.”
I looked at my friends. They gave me looks of encouragement. “You were so bent on destroying me that you decided to destroy ANYONE who blocked your path. You killed my grandparents, you killed my fiancé, you drove family members away, and you threatened to do the same with Mykhaylo, Brandon, Claire… even Aparecida was a hurdle that you had to eliminate, didn’t you?”
I looked directly at Joseph. “You had some of your goons rape her! She gave you her time and attention, even if she didn’t give you her pussy, and THAT is how you repaid her?! All the women you’ve fucked over the years; did you dispose of each one of them like you disposed of Aparecida?”
“You tell him!” Claire cheered.
“I may never understand fully what compelled you all to do what you did,” I continued, “but I can live with that. I can live with the fact that Evan and my grandparents are in a much better place. And I can live with the fact that I now have friends and family and my cat to help me make it through life. And I hope that you can live with what you did. Because what you did is sickening. What you did is so horrible; there are mass murderers who would be offended!”
At that moment, tears began to well up in my eyes. But I decided to let them flow, rather than wipe them away. “Do you see these tears?” I asked, pointing at my eyes. “I’ve cried more in my lifetime, than the combined lifetime tears of ten random people on the street. You’ve caused these tears to flow! And you know what? I’m glad I’m crying right now, because it shows that I have feelings! It shows that I have a conscience! It shows that I am a MAN!”
I took a deep breath. “You’re not going to get away with what you did. You took the lives of five innocent people, people whose only ‘crime’ was to love me! You tried to take the lives of four others who loved me! And now, you want to take MY LIFE too! Well, guess what? It’s not going to happen, you fucking wops. Because much to your dismay, I’m still going to be here, surrounded by love and happiness, while you bitches rot in prison for all eternity! Why? Because I’m Graziano Giancarlo Marcello Buonfiglio, THAT’S WHY!”
That felt great. I turned and saw Brandon, Claire, and Mykhaylo applaud. They had smiles on their faces. And then, Claire’s face turned from happiness to fear.
“LOOK OUT!” she screamed.
I turned and, in the blink of an eye, I saw Joseph with the gun in his hand. He had picked it up, and was taking a bullet out of one of his jacket pockets. He slid the bullet into the chamber, closed it, and said, “That was a wonderful speech, Graziano. Such wonderful, final words.” And then he aimed the gun at me, and then…
Suddenly, the gun dropped from his hands, and fell onto the cold ground, and the bullet popped out of the chamber. And then, a bunch of police officers stormed the Dream Site. I don’t know how many of them were present, but it was certainly more than enough. They swarmed us, and before I knew it, Joseph, Nadine, and Charlotte were in handcuffs. At that moment, snow began to fall on us.
The police led us from the Dream Site to the parking lot outside the Grenadier Restaurant, where a flotilla of police cars, an ambulance, and plenty of media awaited us. With all the lights and snow, it was clearly a dramatic sight. The police swept Joseph, Nadine, and Charlotte into separate cars. As she went in, Charlotte turned around and screamed this at me:
“WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?! SAINT GRAZIANO THE GOOD?!”
I simply turned to her and said, “No. But at least I’m not the Devil.” And then, I turned to Joseph and said, “By the way, that $500,000 you hid at the old house? It belongs to me now. Merry Christmas!”
And within moments, they were gone, heading for jail, cold and unmoved to the bitter end. Meanwhile, as a precaution, the paramedics loaded me into the ambulance and I was off to Toronto General Hospital. Brandon, Claire, and Mykhaylo soon followed. At the hospital, after over two hours of examination, the doctors cleared me to leave, as I had held up remarkably well under such excruciating circumstances. I gave the police my statement, and around 11PM, we all left the hospital. After Claire and Mykhaylo hugged me, they went back home to resume celebrating Christmas with their families. Brandon and I went back to our apartment.
After we entered our apartment, Brandon and I hugged again. This time, no tears and no “I’m sorry”. We sat down on the sofa and watched Christmas Eve from St. Peter’s Basilica. We watched as some Swiss lady jumped Pope Benny the Dict XVI, much to our amusement. As the clock struck midnight, signaling the arrival of Christmas, we exchanged Christmas greetings and more hugs. The telecast of the glorified drag show from Vatican City ended around 1:30AM, and by that time, Brandon was fast asleep.
I turned off the TV, and walked into my bedroom. Britney was on the bed, and she leapt into my arms. I had never been happier to see her. We snuggled on my bed for a few minutes, and then I got undressed. I went into the kitchenette and found a tin of Danish butter cookies on the counter. I popped in a Brent Everett DVD, sat down with my tin, and for the rest of the night, engaged in an early Christmas gay porn marathon.
THURSDAY, 24TH DECEMBER, 2009 (CHRISTMAS EVE)
My life had changed so much since I left Joseph and Nadine’s madhouse in October. Within almost three months, I had gone from spending most of Thanksgiving weekend in my car, to living in a swank condo on the Waterfront, to uncovering some painful secrets that no one should ever have to know, to having real friends and real family in my life, to having $500,000 in my possession. I had made so much progress in such a short amount of time, especially with the first decade of the new millennium rapidly heading for the archives of history. When I woke up on the morning of Christmas Eve, I looked out the window, and despite it being snowy and cold, my heart and outlook were warm. I didn’t know that, by the time Christmas Day came around, everything would change.
Like many people, Brandon and I had a lot to accomplish on Christmas Eve. We spent most of the morning putting the last-minute touches on our Christmas feast and tidying up the apartment. I called Aunt Kendra, Aunt Tatiana, and Uncle Wayne and Aunt Elfriede to wish them all a Merry Christmas. I called Mykhaylo and Claire to do the same. Mykhaylo was spending Christmas with his family, and they too were running around the house in anticipation. Claire’s arm was healing rapidly, and she was staying at her sister’s house in Etobicoke being a doting aunt to her nieces and nephews.
Around 2:30PM, Brandon realized that there was no eggnog in the refrigerator. He wanted to make a batch of eggnog like the one that he saw Martha Stewart do. Since he was still recovering from the attack twelve days earlier, I told him that, to be on the safe side, I would go with him. He didn’t put up a fight. And after I gave Britney her lunch, we left.
Arriving at the Metro supermarket on College Street, we were lucky to find a spot at all. The parking lot was packed, and so was the store. Left, right, and sideways, people from all walks of life, even those who weren’t members of any Christian denomination, were going up and down the aisles, getting their hands on last-minute holiday foods, drinks, and other accoutrements.
Brandon finally got the eggnog that he so desperately wanted, nay, craved. We also picked up a few more items, including paper towels and paper plates. As we headed for the check-out counters, I heard someone call out my name:
I turned around, and there was Marie-Lourdes, pushing a cart full of food. “Merry Christmas!” she exclaimed.
“Hi, Marie-Lourdes!” I said, hugging her. “Merry Christmas.”
“Thanks. I see you’re finishing up your Christmas shopping,” she said. And then she looked at Brandon. “Professor Gutensohn!”
“Hey, Marie-Lourdes,” Brandon said, giving her a hug. “How’s everything?”
“Great. My girlfriend and I are having a Christmas Eve lesbian potluck later tonight, and I’m so behind!” she exclaimed. “I was lucky to find some turkey. They’re disappearing!”
“Aren’t most of your friends vegan?” I asked.
“I’m not. I love animals, and I’m all for animal rights, but I also want protein, and peanuts aren’t going to cut the mustard. Besides, I got humanely processed turkey.” She noticed a line open up nearby. “Gotta go. Keep in touch, guys, and Happy Holidays!” she cheerfully said, speeding towards the check-out line in question.
After we made our purchases, Brandon and I walked out into the cold, late afternoon. Already the sky was darker than before, and the sun was barely visible in the clouds. We crossed the parking lot to Brandon’s car, and we loaded the trunk. Just as we were about to enter the car, a van suddenly appeared out of nowhere, right next to us. The windows rolled down, and two men got out and approached us. Both of them were muscular, a bit hirsute, and sported tattoos of the Albanian eagle. I could tell because they weren’t as bundled up as we were. One of them wore a red cap, and the other wore a black cap.
“Are you Graziano Buonfiglio?” asked the guy in the red cap, in a thick Albanian accident.
“Why do you ask?” I replied.
“Get in the van.”
The guy in the black cap suddenly grabbed me and SLAMMED me against the van. “GET IN THE FUCKING VAN!!” he screamed, his breath stinking of vodka.
“Brandon, help me!” I screamed. Brandon tried to force the guy off me, but the bastard in the red cap shoved him towards his car. And within a few seconds, the asshole in the blue cap had opened the back door of the van and thrown me in. I looked out the window, shaking like a building in an earthquake, and screamed, “BRANDON!!!” I saw Brandon run after the van, and soon he disappeared from view.
The guy in the black cap shoved me to the floor and screamed, “THIS IS FOR JOSEPH AND NADINE AND CHARLOTTE!!!” And then it hit me: these Albanian sons of bitches had been hired by the Buonfiglios to kill me. And then, the black cap bastard delivered the first punch against my temple. I immediately fought back, and for the next fifteen minutes, it was me and this brute asshole in the van, punching and slapping and rolling in the van as the fucker in the red cap drove along on a seemingly random route through Toronto.
I fought for fifteen minutes, but my aggressor was, despite being slightly smaller in weight than me, too fucking strong. I began to drift in and out of consciousness as the asshole continued to pound mercilessly. My body was burning in pain. My insides seemed to turn into liquid. The last thing that I felt before I completely blacked out was a hot tear run down my left cheek. And then, nothing.
LATER THAT NIGHT
When I woke up, the first thing that I saw was the night sky, and it looked like a bunch of cotton balls dyed purple. My body was still aching, but I could still feel every part of it. I slowly got up, and realized that I had ended up in a snow-drenched forest, near a frozen brook. I had no idea where the hell I was.
Everything was quiet. Nothing was making any sound, not even the chipmunks and squirrels in the trees, if there were any to begin with. I could feel my cell phone in my jacket, against my chest. I turned it on, and not only did I get the time (6:30PM), but there were no fewer than 10 phone messages, most of them from the past two hours. I pulled up Google Maps on my phone, hoping that there was a clue to let me know where I was. Alas, there was no Wi-Fi connection to be had. Google Maps could not find a location.
I was beyond scared. I was beyond petrified. I don’t think that there is a word in any language to describe the level of fear that I had reached. I sat down against a tree, and dialed Brandon’s number. But I could not get a connection. The network didn’t work. I got up and walked around, trying to get a signal. My heart was pounding loudly. With each step, I was getting more and more nervous and scared. Plus, the temperature was getting colder.
It wasn’t until the clock on my phone read 7PM, that I finally reached a path. And not just any old path. I had come across a picnic area with wooden benches and tables. And then I saw a map nearby. I walked up, and I soon discovered that I was in HIGH PARK! I felt somewhat better, but still scared as fuck. I checked my phone. The Wi-Fi and phone networks were active again. I promptly dialed Brandon’s number. A few seconds later:
It was Brandon, and his voice was shaking in fear. I immediately burst into tears.
“Graziano, it’s going to be alright. We’ll get you home soon.” I continued to bawl, even as the frosty winter air made my tears turn into stinging, frozen balls. “Where are you?” he asked.
Through my tears, I said, “High Park.” I looked at the map. “I’m… scared.”
“Graziano?” This time I heard Mykhaylo’s voice, also rich with fear. “Where in High Park are you?”
“I’m at a picnic spot.” I looked at the map further. “Number 26, at Centre Road and Spring Road.”
“I know that area,” Mykhaylo replied. “Okay, Graziano. Whenever I go to the park, I always like to go to the Dream Site. It’s just up the road. I want you to get there as fast as you can. We’ll meet you there soon.”
“It’s going to be okay, Graz. I love you, buddy.”
“I love you too.”
As soon as he hung up, I began my trek up Centre Road toward the Dream Site. Again, I was growing more and more scared with every step. Plus, my bodily pains were acting up. Every part of my body was in pain, and it hurt just to walk. I had to steady myself against trees along the way, until the pain had subsided enough.
I arrived at the Dream Site, an open-air amphitheatre which I had never been to, even in the summer. By then, the pain was lessening, but not by much. I sat close to the stage alone, freezing and crying. The Dream Site, from any angle, looked imposing and foreboding. I was worried that no one would ever come. And then, I heard someone call out my name.
It was barely audible at first, but then it got louder. And it kept getting louder and louder until I looked behind me and saw Brandon, Claire, and Mykhaylo at the entrance. I immediately got up, and walked to them slowly. They were fast and I was slow. And then, we finally met, and I collapsed into Brandon’s strong and gentle arms.
“I’m so sorry,” I bawled. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Brandon whispered. “You’re safe. The police are on their way.”
And then, suddenly, the lights around the Dream Site turned on with a dramatic flourish. “What the hell?” I replied. My eyes, already red with tears, ached even more under the bright lights. The four of us walked toward the stage, and as the immediate brightness subsided, three figures appeared on stage. And those figures were, dressed in their holiday finest, Joseph, Nadine, and Charlotte Buonfiglio. And all three of them had guns in their hands.
“Oh, shit,” I muttered, my fear turning into annoyance.
MONDAY, 21ST DECEMBER, 2009
I filled in for Deirdre at the 519 Centre. She had a doctor’s appointment and a meeting with her lawyer, and I was the first person that had come to her mind. I didn’t mind coming in on such short notice; I needed a break. The excitement around my family’s arrest was too much even for my own good. I actually planned on going to the courthouse for Joseph, Nadine, and Charlotte’s bail hearing. After my shift, I found out on the radio that Joseph had posted bail for all three of them by putting up the house in Brampton as collateral.
Before I went home, I checked up on Mykhaylo at his apartment. A week after his release from the hospital, he was feeling much better. He was working on some exams. He missed the ones in class, so his professors allowed him to do them at home (with open notes) before Christmas came. A lot of the material was a bit over my head. Mykhaylo was quite the student, however, and knew the material front and back. But then, I wasn’t the one aiming for a graduate degree in communications at York University. Nonetheless, Mykhaylo appreciated my company.
TUESDAY, 22ND DECEMBER, 2009
When I woke up on Tuesday, I again had the sensation that my old neighbourhood was calling me. This time, however, I fully embraced the opportunity to go back. I took one look at Britney and decided that I should show her a part of my life, however painful it was. So, just before lunch, I put Britney into her carrier and we embarked on our journey to Corso Italia.
A subway ride and a bus ride later, Britney and I were at the snowy intersection of St. Clair Avenue West and Nairn Avenue. It was quiet. Either everyone was inside, or they had flown to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic or something for Christmas. I’ve never been to the Caribbean before. Britney was meowing loudly. I took out a piece of salmon jerky from my pocket (I always bring some with me when I’m out with Britney, because she fucking loves it) and fed her some through the carrier’s gate. She snacked peacefully as I, carrier in tow, walked up the street to my old house.
When we got there, I noticed that the house was already decked in Christmas lights and decorations. Growing up, Joseph only strung up a few multi-coloured lights around the front door and that was it. He made a lot of money, but when it came to holiday decor, aside from the tree, he was cheap as fuck. I took Britney out and gently held her in my arms.
“Welcome to the place that I called hell for so many years,” I said to Britney. Even in the cold, she didn’t mind because she was snuggled up against me.
And then, the door opened. It was Carolina Mantovani, dressed in a chic red Christmas sweater. I had done a reverse lookup on the Internet, and that’s how I found her last name. “Graziano!” she exclaimed. “What a surprise.”
“How’s your father?” I asked.
“He’s fine. He’s staying at my sister’s in Barrie. I’m getting the place ready for Christmas.” She approached me. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Britney, my cat,” I said. “You’re not allergic, are you?”
“Are you kidding? I love cats,” she said.
“You can pet her if you like. She’s a bit shy around other people, but she eventually warms up to them.”
Carolina gently stroked Britney’s fur, and my pet purred softly. “Hey,” Carolina said, “would you like to come in and have a look around?”
I nodded, even though I had some reservations about coming in to my old house. I picked up the carrier and with that and Britney in tow, I slowly walked the short path up. The moment Carolina closed the door behind me, I could feel the screams, the beatings, the attacks… everything bad that had happened to me at this red-brick two-storey home, came flooding back to me. Goosebumps spread all over my body like a tsunami.
The living room, aside from the flat-screen television and leather sofas, wasn’t that different from my youth. I could still picture Nadine, draped almost lifelessly on one of them, a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
“I’m just going to check on the cookies,” Carolina said. “Feel free to roam about.” She went back into the kitchen. I set the carrier next to the door, and we went up the stairs to where my old room was. Along the way, I saw pictures of Carolina’s extended family. There had never been those kinds of pictures on the stair walls. Instead, there were icons of saints. As a kid, it was creepy watching Saint Teresa de Avila and Saint Lawrence seemingly watching me climb the stairs.
The upstairs floor had three bedrooms. Ryan and Charlotte’s rooms were to my left, the bathroom straight ahead, and mine to the right. I remember Charlotte’s bedroom being a mass of pink and white and full of dolls, pageant crowns, and so much fluffy things. It was a scary sight. Now, it was Carolina’s father’s room, painted in an austere shade of blue. The bed, the drawers, and even the altar were fucking austere. Was her father a priest or something? Did he try the priesthood and decide that celibacy wasn’t for him, but the decor was? I wasn’t sure. As for Ryan’s room, what had once been full of sports trophies and books had been converted into a cozy guest room. The walls, once covered with posters of Wayne Gretzky and Joe Carter, were now a warm green colour and had framed paintings of flowers.
And then I checked out my former bedroom. Growing up, my room was almost always organized. Everything was nice and tidy, and on my walls were posters of Celine Dion, Madonna, George Michael, and Cher. The room had since been converted into a hybrid sewing/craft room, though a bed had been placed gently into a corner so whoever was hemming clothes or making scrapbooks could take a nap afterwards. I put Britney on the floor, and she went straight for the bed. I opened the closet door. On the top shelf were boxes of sewing and craft supplies, but there were some clothes hanging. This closet was where I spent my nights crying, often bleeding. The day that I moved out of the house, I noticed that I had left enough blood in the closet to merit the cast of “Law & Order” coming over. I cleaned it up minutes before I finally left the place. Now, the room, including the closet, had wall-to-wall carpeting, which we never had. It was wooden floors all the way.
I’m normally an emotional person, but this time I didn’t react emotionally to the changes in the house. I had goose bumps, but it wasn’t like my heart was pounding in excitement. Nonetheless, as I walked down the stairs with Britney, I felt satisfied having come back to what had been my home for 18 years.
I went into the kitchen, which had been completely fitted with brand-new appliances and painted a bright shade of white. It used to be the ugliest shade of orange you’d have ever seen; it was almost blood-like, and not like a blood orange. In fact, Joseph and Nadine did almost NO reno work in the 20+ years that they lived in the house, nor did they call anyone to do said reno work. It was a miracle that nothing malfunctioned or crashed down on us.
Carolina was at the table, putting the finishing touches on some cheery Christmas cookies. She had already set a plate out for me, along with a glass of milk. “I’m making organic cookies this year,” she said. “Do you think anyone will notice?”
I took a bite of one of the cookies. It tasted a lot different from what I had been used to. They were sweet and creamy, but had a touch of savoury taste, which I attributed to the wheat germ inside. “They’ll notice, but they’ll still eat them up,” I said.
“Thanks. So, how did the tour go?”
“It brought back a lot of memories,” I said. And then, I changed my tone. “Carolina, can I level with you?”
“Sure,” she replied, caressing a cookie with frosting.
“The reason why Joseph and Nadine didn’t tell you about me is that… well, they were abusive to me.”
Carolina put down her knife. “Oh,” was all she could say. A few moments of silence later, and she asked, “How?”
“They beat me up, they called me names, and they did everything short of string me to the fence and allow the crows to pick at my flesh.” I was beginning to boil inside just thinking about what they did to me. “It went on until I left for university.”
“I’m…” Carolina stammered. “I’m sorry. Why did they do those things to you?”
“It’d be easy to say that they’re assholes,” I replied, “and believe me, they are. But I don’t know exactly why they acted the way they did. But we may soon find out.”
“Why do you say that?” Carolina resumed spreading icing on the cookies.
“You didn’t hear the news, did you?” I replied.
Carolina shook her head. “I haven’t even read today’s paper. What happened?”
“Joseph, Nadine, and Charlotte tried to kill my friends over a week ago.” I took another cookie and ate it. “They were arrested Saturday night, and on Monday they posted bail.”
Carolina shook her head. “Oh my God,” she muttered. “Oh my fucking God.”
“And it’s not the first time. I found out a few weeks ago that they killed my grandparents and my fiancé years ago.”
“Why would they do that?”
“You’re looking at the reason,” I replied. “They want me dead.”
“Oh, Graz,” Carolina sighed. She stood up and hugged me. “I am so sorry.” Her hug was strong and comforting.
“Thanks. Look, like I told you last time, if they show up, don’t say that I was here.”
“Well, they have been here,” Carolina said.
“WHEN were they here?” I had half a mind to destroy a cookie at that moment.
“The night before they were arrested.” Carolina got up and paced frantically around the kitchen. “I didn’t say a damn thing about you to them.”
“Did they suspect anything?”
“They only wanted to see how things were going,” she said. “You know, I actually hate it when they pop by.”
This was getting stranger. “They come here often?” I asked.
Carolina sat down again. “Every fucking month, your parents come here. It’s been that way for seven years. They don’t own this house anymore. They don’t even live in Toronto anymore!” She tore into an innocent Christmas cookie shaped like a snowflake.
“What do they do?” I asked, stroking Britney’s fur. Britney was now asleep in my lap.
“They ask ridiculous questions, and they often leave things behind,” she replied, tearing into another cookie. “Before I went to church on Sunday, I found a metal box in my bedroom. I didn’t open it, but I could tell that there was something substantial in it.”
Carolina got up and fetched a tin black box from the counter. It was about the size of a giant tin of Danish butter cookies. It looked weather-beaten, but was otherwise intact. There wasn’t a lock at all; the box had been sealed tightly with electrical tape.
She handed me the box, and I shook it. I didn’t hear anything except the sound of rustling paper. I set it down and peeled off the layers of tape, and when I took the lid off, I discovered two bags filled with what appeared to be money. Tucked in between them were two folded pieces of paper. I took out one of them, and I immediately recognized the handwriting as that of Nonno Pietro.
“This is from my Nonno Pietro,” I told Carolina, who was enraptured by what was going on. I then read the letter aloud:
“My dear grandson Graziano, your other grandparents and I have been saving money for you ever since you were born. Your parents have obviously provided well for your siblings, but not for you. That is completely unfair, not just to you but to everything that is good and decent in the world. So, on the occasion of your graduation from secondary school, here is something that we hope will set the foundation for a successful, fruitful, and ultimately stable life. On behalf of your Nonno Raimondo, your Nonne Annunziata and Maria Grazia, I wish you love, health, and success from here on out. Ti amiamo, carissimo Graziano.”
I started to cry. The letter was dated the 1st of June, 2000, weeks before Nonno Pietro and Nonna Annunziata were murdered. Carolina squeezed my hand. I put the letter down and opened one of the bags. Inside, I found wads upon wads of slightly crumpled and aged, but still legal tender, $100 bills. Each wad had $2500, and by the time Carolina and I had counted the money, the total was $250,000. My heart stood still for a moment after I realized how much was in that bag. I didn’t think that anyone, much less four immigrant grandparents from southern Italy, could have saved up that much money over the course of 18 years just from running a deli and a bookstore. That they did this for me was even more special.
And then I saw the other letter. I opened it, and it was printed on stationery belonging to Joseph. It read, “The contents of these bags are only to be used in the event of the death of Graziano Buonfiglio.” My mouth dropped. Those fucking bastards! I opened the second bag, and there was at least $300,000 in it! And the bills were more recent, meaning that Joseph and Nadine had not only stolen what was rightly mine, they were adding to it! Over half a million dollars were in this giant tin. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.
Neither could Carolina. She had probably never seen this much money in her life either. “What are you going to do with all this money?” she asked.
I thought about it for a few moments, and then took out $50,000 from the second bag and gave it to Carolina. I figured that since the money was found on her property, she should get a share, and $50,000 seemed like a fair amount. Carolina’s eyes lit up. She screamed in delight and hugged me so tight that I almost couldn’t breathe. But it was the least I could do after she was so nice to me.
When she had calmed down, she said, “Thank you.”
“No, Carolina,” I replied. “Thank you.”
“And don’t worry, honey. If they show up next month, I’m not telling them shit.”
After we finished off the plate of cookies, I bid Carolina a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and soon I left my old house at the intersection of Ascot and Nairn, with Britney in her carrier and half a million dollars in my backpack. I had decided to keep both bags, however heavy they were. I figured that Joseph and Nadine had stolen too much from me for too fucking long. Turnabout’s fair play.
The sun had peeked out of the clouds by the time we arrived on St. Clair Avenue West. I noticed Scavotto Fine Foods, which had been my paternal grandparents’ deli, across the way. The last time I was in the neighbourhood, I couldn’t bear to step foot in it. This time was different.
I walked right into the deli, and it felt like old times. The cheese, the meats, the side dishes… they all looked and smelled just as fresh and delicious as they were when I was a kid, helping out after school. Of course, there were plenty of newer items, but the essential items that I had grown up with were still there. The walls were painted a rich, deep blue, and those that were having their lunches, were savouring every last bite. The workers were much younger than my grandparents, but they were working as hard and diligently as those who came before them.
After purchasing a platter of holiday meats and cheeses, along with some other things, I walked up the street to A Confeitaria Betancourt, the Brazilian/Portuguese bakery that had sprung up after arson had claimed my maternal grandparents and La Libreria Dante Aligheri. Inside, I purchased a box of pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts), but not before introducing myself as the grandson of the former tenants.
Despite the seemingly heavy load, I managed to carry a cat, a holiday platter, a box of tarts, and half a million dollars all the way home. When I got back to the apartment, I put everything away, gave Britney her lunch, and soaked into a nice and warm bath, listening to Kathy Griffin’s Suckin’ It for the Holidays.