Prosperity

Christmas, 2004 / No. 13
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

Then it was November, and Guy and Sandy had been together for six months. Sandy bicycled over to Guy’s apartment, on Euclid Street, on Tuesday after work. Guy peeled off her clothes in the entranceway, then pulled her onto the futon couch in the living room. Afterward, Sandy smoked a cigarette while Guy stir-fried chicken in coconut curry. They slumped back onto the couch after dinner to finish the wine, Sandy curling into Guy. There was a weekend getaway they needed to plan.

Later, Sandy climbed on top of him when they got into bed. “Whoa,” Guy said. “I don’t know if I can do it again so soon.”

Sandy nuzzled Guy’s neck. “You couldn’t top that performance in the living room, anyway.”

“So you’d say you’re satisfied, ma’am? ”

“Completely,” Sandy said. “You’ve had better sex? ”

“Never,” Guy said, as Sandy kissed his neck. Now he could feel the stirrings of an erection. “I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but I betcha it doesn’t get better than this.”

“Well, it doesn’t,” Sandy said.

Encouraged, Guy turned Sandy over and raised himself over her. But not all of him was ready to go, and he soon rolled off her in frustration. “Sorry,” he said into a pillow.

“For what? We had sex three hours ago. You’re not fifteen anymore.”

“But I need to keep you satisfied.”

“And you were drinking wine, remember? You can’t let these things worry you.”

“Yeah,” Guy said. Sandy sounded amused rather than disappointed. “I wish I’d known you when I was fifteen. I might have had a girlfriend like everyone else.”

“You would have been cute.” Sandy draped both legs over him. “My little math nerd.”

“Pure virgin, too. I only lost it in the last week of high school,” Guy said. Sandy didn’t respond. “She was a friend, in case you’re wondering. Kelly Weatherup, on the couch in her parents’ basement rec room. It was over in seconds.”

“Lucky girl,” Sandy said, after a moment.

“How about you? ” he asked. “Who was your first? ”

“You don’t want to know that story.”

“Sure I do.”

“No, I’m pretty sure you don’t.”

“Come on.”

“You asked,” Sandy said. She sat up and crossed her arms over her breasts. “I was at a party when I was fifteen. Grade 10. I was really drunk and smoked some pot. I passed out in the bedroom with all the coats and some guy came in and forced himself on me.”

“Jesus,” Guy said. “Did you even know him? ”

“His name was Mike something. DeSousa. He was the guy who brought the pot. I think he was finished school. Anyway, he was older.”

“Did you call the police? I mean, isn’t that rape? ”

“That’s the funny part. It was the police who found me. There was a noise complaint from the neighbours and a couple of guys were charged with breaking and entering. Apparently the person whose house we were in, this guy Barry, wasn’t home.”

“So the police arrested this Mike guy, right? ”

“With possession. All I remember is that there was a lot of blood—I mean tons—and everyone was mad at me because I got blood on their coats. My friend Shirley-Anne and a lady cop put me in the bathtub to clean me off, and then the cop drove me home. I was so wasted I passed out again in the cop car.”

“Sandy, I am so, so sorry,” Guy said. He took her in his arms.

“I’m still touchy about it. I blamed myself for a long time. I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t know what you’d say. People even called my parents to have their coats cleaned.”

“It’s O.K., honey,” Guy said. He held Sandy as she sobbed against his neck. When she quieted, Guy stretched her out and covered her with the duvet. Then he lay awake beside her for two hours, glad that she was with him now, safe.

In the morning he drove Sandy to her job as a framer at an art-supply store on Spadina Avenue. She could have rode her bike, but there was a neediness about her this morning. Sandy sat with her bag on her knees, staring at the other commuters struggling through the rainy autumn morning. Guy didn’t know what to say.

Later, stuck in his red Corolla in westbound traffic on the Gardiner Expressway, Guy knew what he’d wanted to say. He dialed her number on his cell. “Hi, baby. Are you all right? ”

“Oh, I was just going to call you. I’m sorry I was so moody this morning.”

“No, I should apologize. It was wrong of me to pry.”

“I should have told you, but I didn’t know how to bring it up. What still pisses me off is all the other stuff that happened because of it.”

“Like what? ” Guy asked. The rain was coming down so hard he had to shout above the hissing highway.

“Well, the reputation I got. It was all over school in a few days. And I lost my friend Shirley-Anne. And my best black boots. The police sent me home in someone else’s Nike runners. I had these beautiful full-length leather boots I never saw again.”

“Who’s Shirley-Anne? You never mentioned her before.”

“She was my best friend since public school. She liked Mike and thought I was trying to steal him from her. I remember when Shirley-Anne and the cop put me in the shower, Shirley-Anne turned the water on and put me in before it even got warm. Even the lady cop told her to slow down. She was so mad at me.”

“Doesn’t sound like you lost much of a friend.”

“Yeah, but her parents had a huge swimming pool in their backyard,” Sandy laughed.

Traffic was now stopped. He could have avoided this jam if he’d let Sandy make her own way to work. “So where’s Shirley-Anne now? ”

“Married, somewhere out in the burbs. Markham, I think. Not to Mike, though he took her virginity, too.”

“Well, that’s what she wanted, wasn’t it? And what became of Mr. Michael deSousa? ”

“He’s a mechanic, still out in Etobicoke. I only know this because he worked in one of my dad’s stations a few years ago.”

Guy was inching toward his exit in Mississauga. Driving Sandy to work had cost him forty-five minutes. “You should have got your dad to straighten Mikey out.”

“I doubt it. My dad didn’t speak to me for weeks after the cops brought me home. Then he told me there were words for girls like me. I didn’t speak to him for a year after that.”

“Oh God, Sandy, I’m so sorry.” Guy had liked her father the few times he had met him.

“My mother blamed me, too, though we never talked about it.”

“I would have done something if I’d known you then,” Guy said. He was passing fast food restaurants, used-car lots and low-rise office complexes covered in mirrored glass. His office building, nearly identical, was beyond the next light.

“I could have used a nerdy boyfriend, even if he was, like, four grades older than me. Then maybe I wouldn’t have developed that bad-boy habit.”

“Really? I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know about that,” Guy said. “Honey, I’m just pulling up to the office. Can I call you back later? ”

It was eight forty-five when Guy slid into his beige cubicle on the second floor of the office where he sold photographic supplies. He was ahead of his colleagues, though not early enough in a company that was floundering. Few of his co-workers would survive the impending staff cuts. Guy’s intention, for himself and Sandy, was to capitalize on them.

He worked his hot list for the next two hours, returning calls and E-mails. Customers always came first; Guy had been top salesman for three of the five years he’d been with the company. Could Mike deSousa, mechanic, claim as much?

Taking a break, he got coffee and called Paul, a friend from high school, who now sold real estate. Guy wanted a house closer to work for himself and Sandy. He hadn’t told Sandy yet, but he was sick of the stink and noise of living downtown, of continually worrying about where to park his car.

He had only moved downtown to be closer to the galleries when he’d wanted to be a photographer. Now that he had a real job he needed some living space. But getting Sandy to return to the land of double garages and wide, lush lawns would be difficult. What they saved by combining their rents they could put toward a house of their own. Sandy wanted a real garden, and the only place they would be able to afford that was in the suburbs.

After a lunch of leftover stir-fry, Guy cold-called former clients, then worked on a monthly sales report. His mind wandered: Guy sketched the layout of the house he and Sandy would rent. He wanted the kitchen to overlook a large, shaded back deck and the house to be surrounded by tall hedges. A garage. Soon he was rescuing Sandy from a swarthy, hairy guy at their housewarming party. Her hero, Guy laid Sandy gently across the coats in the spare bedroom and became her first.

There was a framed photograph on his desk of him and Sandy that she’d taken not long after they’d met. That was at George Brown College, where Guy was representing his company’s line at a seminar on darkroom techniques. It was difficult to imagine Sandy fifteen years old. He’d seen photographs, but couldn’t tell you what kind of person she’d been. Too trusting, he now knew.

That business about bad boys was troubling. Still, it didn’t sound like Sandy had had a lot of boyfriends. One or two in university, maybe a couple more since then. No more partners than himself, really, and that wasn’t many. There had been Sharon in university, whom he had eventually broken up with to become a photographer. He’d been on some dates since then, nothing that had taken.

At four thirty Guy found himself staring out the window at the rain-swept office parking lot as the afternoon light faded. His colleagues in the sales office were chattering around him. He had a sales call to make at a drugstore running a promotion on disposable cameras, though first he needed to make arrangements with Sandy for the evening. He was getting tired of this endless shuffle between apartments. And her roommates.

When he called, Guy was told Sandy was out back smoking. “Hey, baby,” he said, when she finally got to the phone. “How was your day? ”

“Not bad for a rainy Tuesday. I so don’t want it to be winter again.”

“How about we move to Costa Rica? You can take pictures of flowers all year round.”

“Will you be my sugar daddy? ”

“I’d probably be better at it than those bad boys you mentioned,” Guy said. “So what’s going on tonight? My place or yours? ”

“My place, Guy. I want to have a bath and go to bed.”

“Are you not feeling very well? ”

“It’s all that stuff. I don’t know why you forced it out of me.”

“That wasn’t it at all…”

“Hey, settle down. Men like to know these things. I understand. But please keep your ‘bad boy’ comments to yourself. You don’t know what my life has been like.”

“No, of course I don’t. It really pisses me off that this happened to you.”

“That’s why I never talk about it. Look what it can do thirteen years later.”

“All right,” Guy said. “You can talk to me about it if you want, you know.”

“I should go. I’ll call you this evening.”

“I’ll be home,” Guy said, sensing that he’d gotten off easy.

And it was all the fault of Mike deSousa. Guy looked up the name in his telephone book. There were quite a few Michael deSousas, as well as M. deSousas and Mike deSousas, scattered across the city. The one closest to Guy in the west end was on Fifth Street near Lake Shore Boulevard, not far from where Sandy grew up. Guy figured this was the big man himself; punks like that never travelled far from home.

Sandy was touchy for the next few days. Guy couldn’t understand why she was angry with him about something from her own past. The rain ended on Thursday, the day Guy got a call from Paul about a house in Bloor West Village. That was far enough out. He got Paul to hold it until Monday.

Guy and Sandy spent the weekend at a spa in the Caledon Hills, north of the city. For Guy it was simple: they had similar interests and goals, the sex was fantastic….At dinner on Saturday Sandy agreed to see the house even before their entrees arrived.

On Monday Guy picked Sandy up after work and doubled back west along Lake Shore Boulevard. Paul met them at the house on Beresford Avenue. They were shown through it by the elderly owners, who were retiring to a lakefront condominium. The couple were still affectionate with one another, which Guy knew would work well with Sandy.

The house was two storeys with three bedrooms and a finished basement. It even had the kitchen and back deck he wanted. Unfortunately, Sandy demurred: the bedrooms were too small and it was too far from downtown. Yet the manicured backyard, green even in November, was enticing to a woman living in an Annex basement. Still, it was only after he had shown Sandy the shopping and restaurants along Bloor Street, and how close High Park and the subway were, that she agreed to the move.

Sandy didn’t mention her rape again. In the busy, rambunctious days leading up to Christmas—their first together—and the move, she seemed to forget how awfully she had felt after being reminded of it. Guy certainly didn’t bring it up again.

In mid-December, two-thirds of Guy’s colleagues and most of the warehouse and accounting staff were cut on a savage afternoon. Happy Christmas. Kept on over two superiors, Guy was made the regional sales manager of the digital-imaging-systems division. There wasn’t much of a raise, but a better bonus structure was put into place and a secretary was provided to free up more time to get that bonus. Guy could feel himself taking flight.

Sandy’s bed, which was newer, was chosen for the master bedroom. The remainder of their Scandinavian furniture barely filled the other rooms. The best colander was chosen out of a pile of four and decisions were made as to how many frying pans were required. Guy watched happily as his rusty bachelor-era utensils, castoffs from his mother, were garbaged. It was his first experience living with a woman—Sandy had briefly lived with a boyfriend while she was at Concordia—and he couldn’t have been happier. They took walks through the neighbourhood in the evenings, Guy thrilled by the snow-covered lawns.

Soon their lives had a simple rhythm. After work on weekdays they made love and dinner, the order of which depended on their appetites. On Saturday mornings, Guy usually found himself at Home Depot earlier than when he showed up for work. He let Sandy choose the colours and patterns. There were often visitors on Saturday nights, Guy’s and Sandy’s friends coming harmoniously together.

Sundays were for Guy and Sandy alone. After brunch up on Bloor Street they would walk in High Park. Sandy brought her camera to photograph a new fall of snow in the woods or the skaters on Grenadier Pond. Guy happily carried her tripod and camera bag, confident of her progress under his tutelage. In the abundant winter air he felt he could think again for the first time in years.

They did their weekly shopping at the No Frills on the way home. Here, too, Guy let Sandy lead, following behind the cart as she selected the bran cereal he ate every morning or the apple juice she liked. Sandy wore a turquoise ski jacket, which left her rounded bottom, in faded blue jeans, wonderfully exposed. It was a mild February day, the scent of spring not far off. Guy wanted to hurry home and get Sandy naked on their new living-room couch. On days like this he felt—and this frightened him some—like he wanted to make her pregnant.

It was only when they had turned the corner into the fruits and vegetables section that Guy sensed they were being followed. Or watched. He kept an eye on the path they had just walked as Sandy bagged red leaf lettuce. Soon a man of about his own age rounded the corner and met Guy’s eye. He was an artsy type, with short, curling dark hair and black-rimmed glasses. Guy had no idea who he was, but knew instinctively Sandy would. The man wouldn’t meet Guy’s eye again and instead started to pick through a mound of green beans.

“How about some beans? ” Guy said, steering the cart in the direction of the stranger.

“All right,” Sandy said. She tossed the lettuce into the cart and followed Guy. The stranger looked up from the beans to see Sandy approaching. As Guy watched, the man looked momentarily startled but recovered quickly to nod in Sandy’s direction.

“Hello,” Sandy murmured. She stepped aside to let him past.

The man didn’t look back as he left the section. “That wasn’t fair, Guy,” Sandy said. “You set that up.”

“He was following us. I didn’t know if it was safe to point him out to you or not.” Guy also didn’t like the knowing, sardonic look on the guy’s face.

“It doesn’t matter. He’s more harm to himself than anyone else.”

“Who was he, some boyfriend or something? ”

“Brian Thompson. He played drums in a high-school band called Rockopuluss.”

“Who is different from the boyfriend you had at university who played drums in which band? Jesus, Sandy.”

“I had a life before I met you, Guy.”

“Of course you did,” Guy said. In the checkout line Guy watched Brian leave the store with his single bag of groceries.

On their walk home Guy explained how his temporary jealousy was simply the result of how deeply he loved Sandy. But he couldn’t rekindle his desire when they got in from the cold, and that evening they used the new couch for watching television. Still, he was doing better than Brian the drummer.

That week Guy started a list at the back of his Day-timer of the men—himself included—with whom Sandy had slept. Some of these were legitimate boyfriends, while others were men he could only assume she had been intimate with. He knew more about her time in high school—after Mike deSousa there was Louis and Rory and Mark and Brian—than he did about her time at Concordia, in Montreal. That was when she had lived with a guy named Chris and dated a Carlos and a Dave and a George, all significant boyfriends. Back in Toronto, after university, there was a William and an Ewan and another Mike, plus a Wayne, and Stephen, a fellow she had worked with.

And these were just the men Guy knew of. By his own reckoning, for every person Sandy had had sex with there must be two with whom she had just fooled around. He was careful not to ask direct questions, instead waiting for the names and dates to come up in conversation. Twice he ran out of space and had to start the list again.

One afternoon in March the muffler fell off Guy’s Toyota. Rather than get on the highway, he drove to a Mr. Muffler outlet on the Queensway, cringing at the sound of the metal dragging. Settled into a stacking chair in the dusty waiting room with a copy of the Toronto Sun, he called Sandy and explained he’d be late getting home.

Half an hour later a man in a Mr. Muffler uniform told him his car was ready. He was a little younger than Guy and smelled of cigarette smoke. His nametag introduced him as “MIKE,” and Guy immediately wondered if this was the famed and dreaded Mike deSousa. He felt sick to his stomach, like he did the night Sandy told him about her rape.

As Mike explained which parts had been replaced, Guy realized everything about this guy fit: his name, his age, his job. Driving home, Guy’s nausea became a nervous energy. He felt guilty all that evening, like he’d cheated on or lied to Sandy.

The next day, at the office, he dialed up the Mr. Muffler outlet on the Queensway, asking for a Mike DiMarco. “Do you mean Mike deSousa? ” a man asked. Guy hung up.

Arlene arrived two weeks later. She was a friend of Sandy’s from Montreal who needed a place to stay for a couple of weeks before moving on to Vancouver. She was short, mousy, and a little heavy. Arlene moved into the spare bedroom and was so quiet Guy sometimes forgot she was there. He hadn’t met Arlene before, but there were many of Sandy’s friends from Concordia he didn’t know. This sometimes worried him.

On Friday evening the girls went out downtown with some of Sandy’s girlfriends. Guy invented a reason to work late, thinking the girls might like some time alone. The house was empty when he got home around nine. Guy nuked some leftover Greek food, opened a beer, and watched the Leafs get a lucky win in Buffalo. He dozed in front of the news before going to bed. There was a lot he wanted to get done the next day before some of Sandy and Arlene’s friends came over for a dinner party.

When Sandy came in a few hours later Guy was still awake. He could hear the girls giggling in the living room. While he feigned sleep, Sandy undressed in the dark, slipped into bed, and fell asleep quickly beside him. His insomnia had been especially bad since Arlene’s arrival. Guy disliked Sandy teasing him that all the men on the street were jealous that he had shacked up with two beautiful women. He wondered if she mistrusted him.

Guy could smell the halo of cigarette smoke around Sandy. Now she’d have to quit all over again. He got up and wrapped himself in the white terry-cloth robe that had been her housewarming gift to him. Guy took a leak, then stood outside the spare bedroom listening to Arlene’s heavy breathing. Arlene had been flirty with him, but Guy thought she was simply being friendly. Perhaps that’s what Sandy had misinterpreted.

He settled into his new living-room chair with the Jane Urquhart novel Sandy had wanted him to read. What he had to realize was he would never know, or be able to control, the kind of person Sandy had been before he met her. Guy finally dozed off but woke dreaming of Sandy and Mike deSousa having sex on the new couch. Mike wore his Mr. Muffler uniform and Sandy’s hair, long and curly, like in her high-school photographs, lay across the cushions of the couch.

He slipped quietly back into bed, but sleep still wouldn’t come. Minutes passed. Then hours. Guy listened to the patterns of Sandy’s breathing change as she moved through various stages of sleep. He felt the return of daylight before he saw it. Beside him Sandy rolled over and muttered something in a dream. She sensed it, too. Guy got up and dressed in yesterday’s work clothes: beige chinos and a powder-blue shirt.

All he had wanted was a good night’s sleep—just like everyone else he knew got—in expectation of a very full day. Included with that evening’s guests was some guy named Kevin Sandy had known at Concordia. It sounded like Kevin and Sandy had been more than friends, but Guy had to let the asshole into his house because Arlene was visiting and everyone was friendly now.

It was a drizzly morning, the grey half-light still uncertain. It had been a mild winter, and early March felt like late April. Guy started his Toyota. His first stop would be Home Depot, where he’d get some lumber for shelves in the tiny bedroom he was converting to a darkroom. Sandy appeared in the front window of their house, wrapped in Guy’s bathrobe. He pretended he didn’t see her and turned his cellphone off.

Instead of driving north toward the lumber store, Guy found himself going south along Parkside Drive. On Lake Shore Boulevard he pulled into the parking lot of Sunnyside Park, where he spent forty-five minutes trying to determine where the grey sky met the grey lake. A few early joggers and rollerbladers passed.

Further west, beyond the fifties-style motels being bulldozed to make room for more condos, Guy pulled into the parking lot of a Coffee Time. He took his medium regular and raised chocolate to a table in a corner and watched as four burly City of Toronto public works employees entered. Guy had always hated that meatheads like that could drop out of school and earn more than he did without ever having made an effort in their lives. They were dead weights, the Mike deSousas of the world.

He checked his cell for messages. There was one from Sandy, sounding worried. He now felt anxious, like he used to before university exams. He wanted to call Sandy but was worried he would say something stupid. Then he remembered Mike deSousa didn’t live far away. He took his coffee over to the pay phone. According to the phone book there was a Michael deSousa at 27 Fifth Street, just a few blocks away.

The rain now fell steadily. Hot coffee spilled across Guy’s knuckles as he climbed back into his Toyota, though he scarcely felt it. He had a sense he was about to make a mistake he’d spend years regretting. But he was confident that what he was about to do should have been done a long time ago.

Through his flapping windshield wipers, Guy watched the last few rain-streaked blocks of Lake Shore Boulevard pass before he made a left, back toward the lake, onto Fifth Street. No. 27 was a bungalow not unlike his own. Did deSousa own or rent? There was an old Hyundai in the oil-stained driveway, as well as a muscle car, a Duster or a Nova, up on blocks. The brown, ragged lawn was strewn with shopping bags and empty cigarette packages—the red kind that Sandy smoked—while the blackened remains of a snowbank ran alongside the driveway.

Guy walked up the driveway between the cars and the snowbank. There was a blue-green light, like the glow of a television, coming from the living-room window. He passed this window on the way to the front door but couldn’t see anyone inside. Guy rapped quickly on the wooden front door. It was almost eight. One could reasonably expect people to be up by now.

What he didn’t count on was the door being laboriously opened by a little blond girl, about three years old, in a pink flannel nightgown. She stood blinking, unsure of what to make of him.

“Is your father home? ” Guy asked.

Before the little girl could answer, both she and Guy heard footsteps approaching from the hall. Then a voice boomed out of the darkness, “Who’s there? Christy? Where are you, honey? ”

“I’m here, Daddy,” the girl said, before slipping behind the door again.

When Guy saw her next she was wound between the striped pyjama-clad legs of the same Mike who’d replaced Guy’s muffler a couple of weeks before. “Who are you? ” the man demanded.

“Are you Mike deSousa? ”

“I asked you a question first, buddy.” The man was barefoot and bed-headed, sleep still hanging on his face. He turned the girl around, saying, “Christy, go inside, please.”

“My name’s Guy Kwan,” Guy said, after the girl had left. “I’m a friend of Sandy Ewart.”

“Who the hell is she? ”

“Oh, I think you know,” Guy said. He pulled Mike deSousa onto the sloppy lawn while making a fist of his right hand. Stunned, Mike grabbed at Guy’s left hand. As Guy wound up for his first punch he could see the little girl in the living-room window.

Andrew Daley works in the film industry. His second novel, Resort, was published in 2017. He was Taddle Creek’s associate editor from 2004 to 2009 and has contributed to the magazine since 1997. Last updated summer, 2020.