canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


Ticking Love Bombs 

by Dean Serravalle

Not so long ago, Anthony Saputo put his hands around the neck of our little town and shook the breath out of it. His girlfriend, a young, Sears catalogue model named Tara, decided she couldnít be with him anymore. She called him at seven oíclock in the evening. She told him she could no longer talk to him. This was far worse news than breaking up. He complained and cried over the phone, but she expected this response. She had seen and heard him cry before. New Yearís Eve. Holy Rosary Church Hall. Neil Walters had asked her to dance under a net of silver balloons. She refused to dance with him although she felt a pull in her chest when he left the hall shortly afterwards. Anthony had felt the connection from across the room. He had felt it when he held Tara in his own arms. He had felt it in a loveless kiss at the stroke of twelve. Her lips were tight and hard. He dragged her outside, to an ice rink of a parking lot. Her silver dress exposed her back to the wind and the cold night air. She shivered while he explained himself.

"Donít say anything, please donít say anything."

"But I want toÖ"

"No, no, no. Look, look."

He pulled up his sleeve, losing a cufflink in the snow, to show her a long burn mark.

"My father did this to me. He was angry."

"You showed it to me before."

"Did I show you the belt marks on my back."

"Iíve seen them."

"You canít leave me."

She hesitated. A glow of blue moonlight descended upon the parking lot. The snow and ice appeared softer to her while the wind settled down to relax the curls in her hair.

"Iíll marry you, I promise."

She gave in to another kiss, a softer one, but couldnít keep her mind from the dance she had left behind.

About the same time that night, I had snuck away from a New Yearís Eve dinner dance at the Port Dalhousie Yacht club. I had told my wife to go home with our neighbours, the Venneris. I had to call on a patient who was having an episode, or so I excused myself. Instead, I found the parking lot on the other side of Firemanís park. There was a street lamp for this type of meeting. It flickered, burnt out and came to life again. Cars with invisible drivers passed alongside the snowed over childrenís playground. A rusted white truck leaned on a flat tire in a dark corner as if abandoned there for good.

"This is the place of my first kiss," Sarah whispered when I approached her. She was standing alone in the cold. The night had settled to black and the mist from The Falls created white clouds in a winter sky.

"Really?"

I watched her slide away from me on the ice. She was plain in a pair of jeans, a knitted sweatshirt, straight hair and mittens while I felt older in a tuxedo. She took deep breaths before she spoke and I could see them in the air, like fleeting words.

"When we were kids we would sneak here to smoke. But I never tried one," she said.

"Why?" I asked her.

"I was too afraid."

"Of what?"

She held her stomach.

"I donít even know."

She knelt down on the black ice as if to pray, or vomit. I rushed over to her and tried to pull her up. But she pressed her weight down on the ice and wouldnít rise. She crossed her arms across her chest in emergency procedure, rocking. I could smell her hair and vanilla skin.

"I am bursting inside. Thatís what it feels like. I canít even contain it," she said.

"Neither can I."

Her arms released a cold hand that squeezed blood to my fingertips. She leaned back into my chest.

When I returned home that night, my house echoed empty of anyone awake. I wanted to talk about living and dying and feeling like both were happening to me at the same time. But my wife slept diagonal across our bed. A cup of coffee rested on a napkin on the night stand. I ventured into my sonís room. A mixed scent of baby cream with a pungent odor from the diaper genie lingered. The rhythm of his inhaling and exhaling relaxed me. I sat in the rocking chair next to the crib. The Winnie the Pooh clock ticked like a metronome to each breath.

Two weeks later, Tara called Anthony with the scenario of a co-existence based upon temporary separation (i.e. court transcript).

"Donít you have anything to say?" she asked.

"What do you want me to say?"

"I just thought we could be friendly about it."

"Whatís to be friendly about? You didnít even let me have sex with you."

"I told you I wanted to wait."

"Wait for someone else, you mean. Like that guy on New Yearís Eve."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means youíre just like all of them. A bitch before you become a slut."

"Is that what your father says?"

"Yeah, what if it is? Heís right, isnít he?"

"I canít talk to you like this, good-bye."

"No wait, I didnít mean it."

Click.

Anthony slammed the phone into the receiver until it chipped. From that point on it rattled every time he raised it to his ear. He sat alone on a musty flower patterned sofa downstairs in his house, next to the laundry room and across from the cellar. This is where he preferred to sleep, in the basement - a warehouse of dusty memories, old trophies, dated family pictures decaying with the humidity and the icy cold mornings that woke him suddenly. He worked out down here. He had his first sexual experience down here. The basement was a place where they celebrated birthday parties and first communions and baptisms. This was the place where he received gifts and wore dressy clothes, a place where everyone was happy before they left with food, or stumbled out drunk. Here, he dreamed over and over again for a freedom he couldnít define, until interrupted by a shout from upstairs or a phone call from his girlfriend. He had to leave. He had to get out and do something. At that moment, he had an idea to force her back.

My wife was talkative the next morning.

"Did you hear about the seventeen people who were killed at a coffee shop in Baghdad?" She applied makeup to the wide eyed woman reflected in the bathroom mirror. A green towel curled upwards from her head, barely containing the weight of her wet hair. Her skin was pale and pocked in places and her legs were unshaven. I wanted to take a shower but I had to urinate first. I felt awkward enough to wait until she left the bathroom.

"What are you waiting for? Heís going to wake up any second. Jump in the shower."

"Are you going to be long?" I asked her.

"I have to get ready for work too. I need some time."

"I know."

"So?"
I ran the shower and pretended to look for a clean towel.

"Your brotherís wife wants us to visit Thursday night. Sheís planning a get together with your mother. Personally, I think sheís simply trying to show off."

She spent a lot of time plucking one eyebrow, I thought.

"Show off? Why would she want to show off?

"Just to say that she could throw a party for a bunch of people."

"Was it a suicide bomber?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Was it another suicide bomber, in Iraq?"

"Yes, it was."

She turned around to face me.

"It makes you wonder what these people are thinking," she said.

"Theyíre like ticking love bombs," I said.

"What?"

"Theyíre like ticking time bombs, I meant."

I grabbed a towel, flung it over the glass door, and stepped into the shower.

"Do you think I throw enough dinner parties?"

I pretended not to hear her. The water was too hot but I let my body adjust to it.

Our township of Thorold is a tightly knit place nestled aside the Canal. Boats slice through the town at a snailís pace. The same can be said about progress or modernization here. It doesnít exist. Or, if it does, it exists as an invisible spirit lingering in the dead spaces between our tiny homes. Quiet. Tranquil. Nostalgic. Trimmed nicely by a weedwacker for the purpose of courtesy. When I drive through town on my way to the office, I notice a history of communal living. The homes are standard brown brick with siding and overgrown city trees whose roots have raised parts of the sidewalk like an underground earthquake would. My patients often walk to my office under the umbrella of branches provided by these trees. They stumble in with ailments already discussed on the way there and passed along to others by the oldest form of communication Ė word of mouth. One time my secretary had already heard about Mr. Boscoís agoraphobia before his first appointment with me. When I decided to return here to work and take care of my mother, the residents of Thorold staged a modest parade for me on Front Street. Thorold never had a psychiatrist before, which made me somewhat of a Messiah to the Thoroldites. I was the little Sacino boy who served as an altar boy at Holy Rosary Church, like Anthony Saputo. I was Joey Sacinoís son, the mill worker who frequented the Summit Tavern every Tuesday and Thursday night, and challenged a team of visiting Sailors at Jerseyís bar on a Saturday night. I was Mary Sacinoís son, the woman who led rosary prayers after seven thirty-mass, a mass that I often served as an altar boy before school, just like Anthony Saputo.

When Anthony Saputo finally decided to do it, he made a trip to the local Canadian Tire, where he had stolen once before. He told himself that if he were to get caught, it would be a sign that he would not go through with it. He stuffed electric tape in his pants, removed a pellet gun from its wrapper, snapped it open and approached a salesman in a red uniform.

"Do you have pellets that fit this gun?"

The young boy walked him over to the sporting goods section. He pulled out a box and handed them to him.

"These are on sale."

"Thank you."

Anthony took the box of pellets in his hand. On his way out, he left them on the counter.

He crouched outside her home, behind a bush under her window. There had to be a sign, he kept telling himself that would make him retreat. He had learned that much from all of the masses he had served as an altar boy at Holy Rosary Church. The important things in life were predestined by a sign. Her bedroom light ignited a nervous pang in his stomach. Her parentsí cars parked in the driveway. He had seen a light in the kitchen at the front of the house. He had never seen the inside of her bedroom. It was a rule. No boys allowed in the bedrooms. He had only waited in the entranceway once, when he met her mother for the first time. She was friendly, cordial and young, with blonde hair and the scent of sweet perfume following her around the house.

When Tara finally closed the door to her bedroom, she talked on the phone and this enraged him. He peeked into her window and she walked about her room, sat cross legged on her bed, stared at herself in the mirror and finally fell asleep. He opened her window. By this time, night had fallen. The kitchen light at the front of the house glowed. The cars hadnít moved. This must be a sign. The cars must be a sign, he said to himself, until he realized that her window wasnít locked. He crawled into her room, expertly; a concern that he would dirty the lavender carpet with the shoes once entrenched in snow and dirt outside. She slept with her head nearly buried in a soft pillow. Not to his surprise, the room expressed a feminine light in yellows and pinks. Stuffed white bears filled shelves next to childrenís books and piggy banks. The desk in the room seemed undersized, as if for a toddler. There were pictures posted everywhere in the room, in various collages. High school pictures with groups of girls, others with groups of guys and girls. She posed the same for every picture, he noticed, matching the framed catalog picture on the wall Ė a birthday gift signed by a proud grandmother. He could not hear her breathe so he walked over to the bed. He wiggled the electric tape from his pants and pulled a sheet slowly so that it wouldnít make a ripping sound. He waited patiently for her to turn over and when she did, he pasted it on her mouth. Her eyes bulged open and she squirmed. He cocked the gun and dug its point to her head. She stopped moving. He sat atop her, with the gun pointed at her head, watching her eyes crease as if about to cry. He put a finger to his mouth.

He proceeded with the plan. He was there, it was happening; her parents were in the next room, perhaps. If they walked in, he would point the gun in their direction and escape through the window.

That night, I made love to Sarah at the Lock Seven Motel.

"If it didnít rain that night, would you have kissed me?" Sarah asked me. The air was dry and the arrival of the day through the curtains lightened the hotel room with a gray tinge.

"I think it rained for that moment."

"Itís changed everything ever since."

"I know."

"I have to take a shower."

She left the bed and I watched her long, slender body curl around the wall. Rushing water from the shower thumped against the bathtub and I rolled over onto her pillow. The scent of vanilla. I got up and followed her into the bathroom. She was tying her hair up and testing a smile in the mirror.

"I have to brush my teeth," she giggled.

I laughed.

"Me too."

"Well, donít look at me. Iím embarrassed."

She placed the toothbrush in her mouth and faced the mirror, smirking at me as I watched her.

"Stop," she giggled. "Youíre making me feel self conscious."

I hugged her from behind and she sighed, and her eyes sharpened at the sides as she stared at our embrace in the mirror.

When I left her that morning, I had wanted to die. I remember the feeling distinctly. It was a cross between being hungry and wanting to throw up, wanting to run out into the street and needing to collapse in front of a speeding car, a series of contradictions not easily swallowed. I realized the consequences. I knew I had a baby son at home. I understood that when the word got out that the whole town would want to excommunicate me. But I couldnít help myself. It felt against my nature not to go through with it. The sound of Sarahís footsteps walking by my office raised a tremor in me. I studied her day in and day out, her hair pulled back, the scent of her vanilla skin when she entered a room. Her skin was a soft white and her hair a straggly red. I imagined the freckles on her face descending to her chest, scattering and fading across her back. She was foreign to me in so many ways, her teeth small and straight and her smile thin and conservative. And yet, I looked forward to seeing her. I melted if she spoke close to me. I broke down when I caught her reading something with her glasses on.

I donít know why I was attracted to these details. I donít know why, one day, as she was about to leave, I asked her to stay. I donít know why I slept in the same bed as my wife that night, hoping she wouldnít smell my guilt. I donít know why I planned clandestine meetings, met in hotels out of town, and felt less sick when I spent time with my son. I knew I would lose everything, but I felt when I wasnít with her that I had already lost everything.

I read this article the other day about infidelity and genetics and it made some sense for me. What drives us all, according to the article is not our desires or the conflicts presented by our environment, but the very strength of our roots. Our bloodlines, passed along like word of mouth or whispers, from generation to generation waiting to reveal themselves at the most opportune moment. Those innate mechanisms that shift the gravity of attractions and connections and deviations from what we have learned to understand as guiding principles or ethics. Iíve thought about this lately. Where Iíve come from, where Anthony Saputo came from. Our histories are not much different. Our parents emigrated from the same land, actually, the same village in a southern Italian province, where the mountains are sharp edged with rock, and the natural, weedy environment uninterrupted by modernization or industrialization. In this village, the residents maintain their familial grudges. They murder in the name of family pride, and they pass these bloodlines to the next generation so that they can spit on the same graves their forefathers spat on.

My father was born in such a place, and immigrated to this country with his roots still in tact. When I was a child, I didnít question him enough when he left at night to return to work. I failed to ask why he didnít spend much time at home or why he refused to speak to my mother while she served him dinner at the same time every evening. I simply ate and remained quiet. I suppose I believed he would find another reason to stay away from home at some point returning at an early hour in the morning, sneaking into my bed because his bedroom door was locked by that same mother who tried to salvage some dignity. As a teenager, I started to suspect that something was not right, although he appeared livelier, almost too natural. Above all, I noticed the contextual details. A newer Cadillac he only used when he went out at night, or on the weekend. An insistence on keeping up a cleanly appearance. Shinier shoes, smoother shaves, sit ups in the living room and the criticism of the cook in the house. That tone that says "you cook with too much oil" in the same rude manner as "youíre never happy with anything I do." These observations only graduated to a more profound wisdom when I became an adult and he was dying from a disease that I felt helpless in my educated power to defeat. A disease that ate him up from the inside out, one that trapped him into the need to go under morphine, hallucinate and repeat, against the locked vaults that had stored those secrets, admissions of guilt, trysts in the park, clandestine weekend getaways and promises of a more romantic future. I overheard her name, repeated. A foreign name but harmless when he said it. Carol. Carol. Carol. I stood there amidst his wife, my mother, and she listened to it in my presence, embarrassed, relieved, upset, and murderous. She stared at me and begged me to leave the room for my sake, not hers.

It was only afterwards, when I talked with a friend at a coffee shop, whom I spent a lifetime growing up alongside, that I had heard similar stories.

"You see, I have this problem," my friend Jerry spoke. I had met him for a coffee but Jerry preferred to stand outside the coffee shop. He was wearing his old high school football jacket. He hadnít smoked in a long time and he refused to see me in my office, where he had to pay for therapy.

"I want to have sex with every girl I meet. Iím serious. My appetite is insatiable," Jerry opened up.

"Every guy is like that," I tried to assure him but he was adamant.

"No, Iím serious. I lay in bed with my wife and all I can think about are scenarios."

"Scenarios?"

"Yes. Like me with two of daughterís friends, or me with three Asian women. And it doesnít matter who they are, or what they look like, how old they are. You see that old lady inside?"

She hunched over a coffee cup like she was inhaling life through the vapor.

"Yeah."

"Iíve thought of older ones than her doing dirty things to me."

"Are you watching porn?" I asked him.

"Not since the satellite bugged out."

"Maybe youíre in withdrawal since you had the kids?"

"It just snuck up on me all of a sudden. Do you think itís genetic?"

"What do you mean?"

"I found out that my fatherís been cheating on my mother for twenty years now," Jerry admitted.

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"I donít know. I just canít stop thinking about it all of the time. The bad thing is, I feel like Iím about to explode one day. Like if somebody asks me to go through with it, I know what Iím going to say. And worse yet, I wonít feel bad about it."

"Do you want me to prescribe you something? I asked him.

"No."

"Why not?"

"Iím afraid itís going to fix the problem."

Jerry took a sip of his coffee and stared into the coffee shop. A few kids had strolled in from the hockey game at the local arena. Two young girls in tight, acid bleached jeans, their bodies straight and thin, practiced dance steps while they waited for their hot chocolate. Jerry observed them before he lit another cigarette.

According to the investigation, Anthony Saputo climbed in to his girlfriendís bedroom through her window. He managed to silence her with a piece of electric tape. He taped her hands together over her head. He stripped her of her clothes. He raped her at gunpoint, keeping quiet while her parents watched television in the living room. They rarely checked up on their daughter. Her room was her space and they respected it always. After he raped her, Anthony walked over to the window to escape the scene until he saw the sign he had been looking for all along. A letter left on the tiny desk in her room, crumpled open. The penmanship was not one he recognized to be female. It was scratchy and signed with a sharp line at the end. He turned around and she lay supine on the bed, whimpering, and her legs in an open position as if to suggest that the bones had been broken.

He turned around , dropped the gun, grabbed the soft pillow and covered her face with it. He pressed it down and down and down until the bed resisted the pressure and she had fallen asleep again. When he left, he stepped in the soft soil outside her bedroom window, leaving an imprint that matched his sneakers. He refused to enter a guilty plea, despite the advice of his lawyer, one of my best friends. Instead, he pleaded his innocence until the very end, until the judge ordered him the maximum sentence in a maximum security detention facility in Kingston. He came to see me many times during the trial and before he left. He asked his father never to visit, but he visits then and again. He is also a patient of mine and was fired recently from his janitorial duties at the school board for spraying too much bleach on toilet seats.

Thursday night dinner party.

"They say the love you have for your grandchildren is stronger than the love you have for your own kids," my mother explained as she squeezed my son to the point of breaking him.

"Heís so skinny, are you feeding him?" she asked.

"Heís eating, Mom."

"But is he eating enough?"

My sister-in-law bustled about in the kitchen. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail and she wore an apron. Pots boiled on the stove to the point of visible bubbles, while a scent of baking apples emanated from the oven.

"Iíve almost got everything ready. Have a seat everyone."

"What can I get you," my brother asked, "a beer?"

"Can we talk?" I hinted.

"About what?"

"In private."

"Weíve got to eat first."

"Oh, what would I do without you? What would I do without you?" my mother repeated to my son and he seemed to understand her English. She squeezed him harder this time and he smiled.

"I could only live for you. I swear, I could only live for you," she swung him around in her arms.

"I think your mother is competing with me," my wife whispered as she passed me.

"What do you mean? She loves her grandson."

I found her later by the sink, mixing the salad, the fork scraping the bowl.

"I feel it. A mother feels when someone else is trying to replace her. You should say something."

She walked by my mother with a cold look. As if sensing the breeze, my brother raised the heat from the gas fireplace. The bottles of wine perspired on the table. I walked by and picked at a few olives on a platter, every once and a while checking my cell phone for a missed call. My son chased his grandmother around the kitchen island. My wife stood with her arms crossed watching the news on the television. Another seven people had died in a suicide bomber attack. I thought about destiny and place and time and innocence and sin and moving to another room to make a phone call. My brother watched me fidgeting with a dirty fork, concerned. At the table that night, just before the decorative plate of fruit was presented, my brother announced that they were expecting their first child.

My phone finally rang upon the announcement and I rushed to another room to answer it. It was Jerry, not Sarah.

"Youíve got to come with me tonight," Jerry begged.

"Iím at my brotherís house."

"Iíll pick you up, I need company," Jerry insisted, sounding desperate over the phone.

I glanced over to my wife trying to feed my son, who pushed the spoon of mixed vegetables away with his hand. My mother stepped in and he ate with her. It would be a long ride home.

"Iíll be ready. Where are we going?"

"Youíll see."

We parked outside an apartment building by the church.

"Why are we here?"

"Sheís in there."

"Who?"

"My wife."

"Your wife? What is she doing in there?"

Jerry lit a cigarette in the car but didnít roll down the window.

"Am I being punished for my thoughts, you know, the ones I told you about?" he finally asked.

"Iím not sure I know what you mean?"

"What comes around goes around. You donít believe in that?"

I checked my phone again for a missed call. There wasnít one.

"You know, maybe thereís a clock inside all of us," Jerry explained. "After a while it stops ticking and we dud out. We donít feel inspired anymore. We just walk around feeling like we have this weight inside of us that was supposed to ignite but wonít do anything but rust and bring us down."

Jerryís wife strolled out of the apartment building digging into her purse for her car keys. She glanced back to the apartment light on the second floor and then she stopped as if to steal one more breath of fresh air before she scampered to her car. It was then that I called Sarah and asked her to meet me at the Lock 7 motel.

After Anthony Saputo murdered his girlfriend, he found himself on a bench by the Canal watching the freighters float by. I saw him there as I gazed out of the window of the motel room. The ships were rusted and long and slow. He felt he could breathe again outside, and he wasnít cold. He hadnít thought about anything but relief, which is what he told me in our interview following his sentencing. He felt lighter, like all he had carried with him, his fatherís abuse, his sexual frustration, the jealousies, and most importantly, the love, had vanished. He was pleased with himself that it had been released, most especially the love. It had been such a burden for as long as he could remember. The love he bore for his dead mother, his father, and Tara. Love, he had determined for himself, would never be something he would ever seek again. He could never equate it with happiness. He told me he would much prefer to be locked behind bars where the possibility never existed than live life knowing it could hurt him again.

When I returned home that night, my wife was flustered and my son was still awake.

"Do you realize Iíve searched the house for pills to take?"

I stared at her to notice her lips quivering. She was pale and her hair was tied back in a tight knot. Our son sat in front of a yellow dump truck, watching. My neck throbbed. A commercial advertising oven cleaners blared on the television screen.

"What are you talking about?" I asked her.

"You think Iím not fit to be your wife, or the mother of your child."

"Where did this come from?"

"You think I canít make him eat and Iím not as good as your sister-in-law because I donít throw fancy dinner parties with fancy fruit platters and baked desserts."

"I donít understand."

"Why donít you just leave me and get it over with."

"I donít know where this is coming from."

"You donít see anything. Youíre blind to everything."

"Stop it before you scare him."

"Iím his mother, me. Heís not scared of me."

"Iíve got to get out of here."

"Youíre not taking him. Heís staying with me."

I left and drove down a concession road trying to find a numbered sign to park by. I unburied my phone. Sarah answered on the first ring. Her voice was my favourite whisper.

"Hi. Iíve been waiting for you."

"Are you still in love with me?" I asked her.

"Of course I love you. I canít say it enough. Iíll explode if I hold it in any longer. Where are you?"

"In my car."

"Where did you go? It feels like forever since you last called."

"It was."


*

That night, when I left the Lock 7 hotel with Sarah one of my patients saw me. She was a church lady who had lost her son in a boating accident. He had drowned and she refused to let him go. She had also watched me grow up as a young boy. She gave me extra candies every Halloween when I trick or treated her house, only because she believed one day I would become a priest. She was the only one disappointed in me when I returned to Thorold to start my practice. By the time I reached my home, the news had spread along the hanging electric wires from wooden pole to wooden pole and from suburban village to suburban village until my mother called a few days later asking me to come over.

She was sitting upright on a wooden chair and the nurse I had hired to take care of her was taking down the bed. I lived next door to her and the interior lights glowed from my house, bright as those that reflected through the stain glasses at church. I knelt before her and she managed, despite her age and the many wrinkles on her face, to recreate that face that I remember from my youth. The one that made her look like she was holding the breath of life in her mouth to keep it in because it had already departed her lungs.

"Now you did it to me," she said and turned her face to the side.

Before I left her house, I grabbed the newspaper that the delivery boy often misfired into the flower garden. On the front page was a picture of Anthony Saputoís girlfriendís parents, holding a picture of their daughter and with faces as if to say that they should have checked up on her to say goodnight. It was then that I realized that I had sacrificed the feeling of coming home again, and unlike Anthony Saputo, felt no relief for it.

 

 

Dean Serravalle's work has been nominated for the Journey Prize in Canada (2006/2007). It's also been published stories in The Fiddlehead, Event, The Dalhousie Review, Lichen Literary Arts Preview, Zygote Magazine, The Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, The Del Sol Review, In Posse Review, Urban Graffiti, Transverse , The Arabesques Review, Dime and Versal. 

 
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TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

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ISSN 1494-6114. 

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