Chapter 16: “What does this have to do with your conscience?”

SUNDAY, 8TH NOVEMBER, 2009

True to his word, Mykhaylo called me. I was tackling some laundry when my cell phone rang, and we chatted for a few minutes. He had just arrived from church. While Mykhaylo and I were both raised Catholic, we had different experiences therein. Mykhaylo, as long as I knew him, attended church at least semi-regularly. I hadn’t stepped into a Catholic church in almost a decade.

Back in the USSR, the position of the government was atheist and any expression of religion was anathema to the whole Commie thing. Of course, in addition to the repression of religion, there was the repression of any sort of ethnic pride that was not Russian. So, when his family came to Canada, they started going to Ukrainian Catholic services as a way of asserting their Ukrainian identity, which they almost couldn’t do before the Soviet Union dissolved.

I suppose that if I had been in his shoes, I would have done the same thing. But I never enjoyed going to church at all, not even as a kid. It never seemed like something that one was encouraged to do. For all the Roman Catholic Church’s supposed emphasis on joy and happiness, the act of going to church was a fucking dirge. I hated going to catechism classes on the weekend, and I hated my First Communion and Confirmation ceremonies. At my First Communion, I actually could not swallow the communion wafer and choked on it. I remember that this bitch in the front pews actually screamed at me and said that I was going to hell. And I also remember that she looked like a ten-cent whore. Of course, my parents beat me up because of it.

Anyway, it was so nice to hear from Mykhaylo. I was relieved to find out from him that our stint at the Canada Life Building hadn’t gotten us in trouble. As for a second date, well, he wouldn’t say when, but it was definitely in the cards. After our conversation ended, I stood in front of the washer and dryer smiling giddily, until I realized that the washer was not full yet.

MONDAY, 9TH NOVEMBER, 2009

I spent the majority of the day at the YMCA, working out in the gym in the morning and, after lunch and an additional wait of 30 minutes, swimming in the afternoon. Around 4PM, I was walking down Yonge Street, all the way to Dundas Square. Right across from the square, I noticed that my laces were coming undone. I bent down to tighten them.

“Graziano?” A voice called out for me. It was a woman, with a  Brazilian accent. I didn’t know who it was. When I returned to my upright position, I saw someone from the pages of Victoria’s Secret on my left: the same height as me (just under 6 feet), a perfect hourglass figure, and lots of bouncy, chestnut-brown hair.

“Do I know you?” I asked.

“No, but I heard of you,” she said. She was wearing a khaki overcoat, and I could tell that she was completely out of place in it. She extended her right hand to me. “I’m Aparecida Vasconcelhos.”

Out of courtesy, I shook her hand. “How do you know who I am?” I asked.

“This is a rather delicate thing to say, but… I’m your father’s girlfriend.”

I began to boil with rage on the inside, even though I was placid outwardly. I did not want to have anything to do with Joseph, let alone the people he was banging left, right, and sideways.

“I have nothing to say to you,” I said, politely.

“Okay. That’s okay. But I do have a few things to say to you.”

I looked around my surroundings, and there was a lot of space and a lot of people. But I didn’t feel comfortable in this situation.

“I have to get to work soon,” she said. “Would you mind escorting me there?”

“THAT is what you wanted to say to me?” I scoffed.

“No. When we get there, I’ll tell you everything. It’s not far from here.”

“Where exactly do you work?”

I soon found myself walking back up Yonge Street with Aparecida. My discomfort was becoming more potent with each block we passed. And then it became a four-alarm experience, because ten minutes after we met, Aparecida and I stopped at the Brass Rail Tavern, a heterosexual strip club. Now, while I’ve stripped before, it was in the privacy of other people’s homes. I’ve never even stepped into a strip club.

Before I knew it, I was in her dressing room. She was the only one there. In her dressing room were plenty of bikinis, glitter, wigs, weaves, clip-on extensions, and stiletto shoes with five-inch heels that no one, not even the most adventurous of women, should ever wear lest they end up in the hospital.

“Coke?” she offered.

“Diet, if you have it,” I replied, still unsure of what I had gotten myself into.

Aparecida opened a mini-fridge and tossed me a can of Diet Coke, and then she took off her coat. She was wearing her work clothes underneath: a thong bikini, pasties, and nothing else.

I sipped the pop, and looked at the door. There were several names on it: Melanie Globes, Dusty Diamonds, Temptation Island (what a ridiculous name), and Honeysuckle Proxy. I knew that no one would dare use her given name as a professional one in this setting, so I asked, “Which one are you?”

“Pardon?” She was looking through her shoe collection.

“Melanie, Dusty, Temptation, Honeysuckle…”

“Melanie Globes is my stage name.”

Well, that cleared that up. Aparecida, or Melanie Globes as she was known at the club, produced a set of black stiletto pumps that just screamed “WHORE”, and slid them on. “What do you think?” she asked me.

“You didn’t drag me here to be your Queer Eye for the Straight Gal, did you?”

“I thought all gay guys knew fashion.”

“I know about men’s fashion. But I can tell you this much: I don’t know why they make shoes like that!” I exclaimed, pointing at her stilettos. “You’re as tall as me. You could be on a catwalk in Milan right now. Why are you stripping?”

Aparecida was taken aback. “Do you have something against stripping?”

“No. I did bachelorette parties back in the day, but I’ve never done the strip club circuit.”

She sat down in front of her mirror. “Too bad. You could make a killing with your body. Have you ever been to Remington’s?”

I shook my head. I had never set foot in that place.

“I know a few people there,” Aparecida said, “and I could put in a good word for you.”

I got tired of us talking about stripping, so I changed the subject. “Aparecida, what the hell do you see in Joseph? How long have you been seeing him?” I asked.

Aparecida sighed. “I’ve been dating him for the past six months. He came into the club with some friends, and we hit it off. You know what I see in him? He pays well.”

I rolled my eyes. “Well, duh. He’s a lawyer.”

“But it’s not like we have sex or anything.”

This surprised me. “You’ve never slept with him?”

She shook her head, and began applying makeup. “Company policy,” she said. “They can wine and dine me all they want, but I don’t put out.”

“So, basically, my father is having an emotional affair with you,” I replied, still not believing what I was hearing. Aparecida nodded. “And this doesn’t bother you?” I asked.

Aparecida applied some Chap Stick to her lips, and then put on a coat of red lipstick.

“I’ve seen commercials for lipstick with balm in it,” I said.

Aparecida puckered up her lips and smacked them. “I can’t afford that shit!” she said. “Besides, I’m not the only person that your father’s been seeing.”

“Excuse me?”

“You didn’t hear this from me,” she said, working on her mascara, “but Joseph has 10 lovers; all of them are the kind of bitches you see in the society pages. Glamorous, well-bred, married to powerful men. Have you ever cheated on anyone?”

I shook my head. I’m a very sexual person, but I would never cheat on my partner, not even if he gave me carte blanche to do so. The whole time I was with Evan, I never strayed. He didn’t, either. There weren’t many attractive guys at the National Ballet of Canada, but in the bodybuilding circles, it was a veritable candy land, and yet I was able to keep everything in check. Well, we had three-ways, but only when we both found it acceptable.

“Look, Graziano,” Aparecida said, “the reason why you’re here is because of my conscience. Joseph has been ranting and raving about how bad you’ve been to him and his family. He says great things about Nadine and Charlotte and other members, but when it comes to you, he doesn’t mince words.”

“What does this have to do with your conscience?”

“I’ve kept silent about what I’ve heard. But lately, it’s been eating me inside. I fear that something’s going to happen, and I should give you a heads-up.”

I could not believe my ears. “A heads-up? What is he planning to do?”

“I have no idea, but I know in my heart of hearts that something’s going to happen. And that’s not all.” She reached into a dresser drawer and produced a set of photos, and handed them to me.

“What are these?” I asked.

“A few nights ago, I dropped by the house in Brampton. No one was there, but I had a key. Anyway, I noticed a lot had changed. See for yourself.”

I leafed through the photos carefully. In one photo, my bedroom had been converted into not a mere guest room, but a veritable fucking palace of, well, fucking. Red velvet, candles, and other romantic trappings… not one scrap of my existence was present. A few more photos revealed how unbalanced life had become: bottles of wine strewn all over the kitchen counter, and how long they had been out on the counter was anyone’s guess; the pool, which I had never swam in nor did I care to, was covered in algae and leaves; and those were the more palatable photos. And then, I came across a series of snap-shots that confirmed, to my horror, that they had purged the house of anything and everything that had anything to do with me. Every framed photo in the house that had me in it, no longer had me in it, thanks to a pair of scissors.

I didn’t expect Joseph and Nadine to be reverent about me, but this was just uncalled for. It reminded me of that scene in Mommie Dearest, where Joan Crawford’s boyfriend Greg dumps her drunk ass and she responds in kind by cutting him out of every photo at her disposal. Christina Crawford said it best: “If she doesn’t like you… she can make you disappear.” I knew that they didn’t like me one iota. I knew that they wanted me to disappear. I was surprised that they did it so quickly.

“I’m sorry, Graziano,” Aparecida said.

I handed the photos back to her, and let out a “GODDAMNIT!” At that moment, a burly security guard appeared in the doorway. He had been nearby all the time.

“Joey, it’s okay,” Aparecida assured him.

Joey nodded. “You have five minutes.”

I sat back down. “What do you do when you’re not stripping?” I asked.

“I study medicine at George Brown College,” she said. “You know, I used to be a model back in Brazil. When I was 12, someone spotted me at a beach, and I was on the path to being the next Gisele. But when I was 18, my parents were murdered. I couldn’t function after that. I put on weight, I lost job after job, and no agency in Brazil wanted me anymore.”

“When did you come to Canada?”

“Seven years ago. I needed a change of scenery. Plus, I have relatives in Toronto, so they helped me come and get settled.” She finished applying her makeup. “I know that people question the things that I’ve done in my life, but all things considered, I like my life now. I feel more empowered.”

I stood up, ready to leave. “I think I should go.”

Aparecida stood up, too. “Graziano,” she said, touching my arm, “You’re a good man. I’m sorry that your family has put you through all this shit.”

“Thanks,” I said. “If you see Joseph, don’t say that you saw me.”

She nodded. We shook hands, and with Joey escorting me, I exited the building through the back door. As I made my way back to Yonge Street, I was still confused by the situation. However, I bore no ill will toward Aparecida.

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