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Victoria needed a place to stay in Nelson, British Columbia as a student at the school for naturopathy and holistic medicine. She intended to study and train in massage therapy, traditional Chinese and Indigenous medicine, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and alternative therapies. But she worried about finding a room in the steeply rising mountainside neighborhood near the school campus in downtown Nelson that she could afford. Victoria felt anxious about her ability to find student housing; she desperately needed a place to live while she was a student. She trusted no strangers but did not want to end up homeless.
Victoria felt as if by moving away from her home in Forest Hill in Toronto she had wandered far outside her own comfort zone. Earlier, the previous year, she abruptly quit her varsity swim team and dropped out of beach volleyball competition. Then she declined the swim scholarship to Stanford University and the beach volleyball scholarship to the University of California, Los Angelos. Her dropouts created exasperation and disappointment for her swim coach and volleyball coach and provoked arguments and ugly scenes with her ambitious, hyper competitive parents. They believed the strikingly tall redhaired young woman with a slender frame and strong build stood a good chance of competing in either sport at the summer
Olympic games. But she complained to her parents about the stress of constant training and endless competition causing her fatigue, exhaustion, and burn out.
After she dropped out of those sports, and engaged in other acts of rebellion, she worried about going too far and becoming more estranged from her parents. Now she feared becoming a
homeless student. She worried the issue might distract her from academic and practical success at the college for naturopathic medicine. Having done a stint at community college and taken
night courses at York University, she felt relieved she found this school, where she expected to learn massage therapy and acupuncture, among other alternative cures, but they had no student residence in Nelson.
After she argued back and forth and fought with her parents, she renounced their values and fortunes and refused to accept their financial support. The hostels and hotels became simply
too expensive for her. She started searching online on the classified ads websites. She finally found what she figured might be a student housing prospect, a place that was listed near the
campus of the college for naturopathic medicine and alternative therapies on Baker Street downtown, near the lakeshore, the airport strip, beaches, and the boathouses of Kootenay Lake
and the Big Orange Bridge. Victoria went to visit the landlord who lived on the main floor of the supersized house.
The proprietor told her that he was a retired police officer. Raising his brow, which had a piercing, he said that he took his responsibilities as a landlord seriously. He also sternly informed
her he would prefer if she addressed him as landlord. He derived a sizable portion of his retirement income renting rooms to students from the nearby university satellite campus of the University of British Columbia in Nelson. But he said dismissively he had only rented to a few
students from her “homeopathic college, or chiropractic school, or whatever it is.”
She explained that she desperately needed housing as a student, so she was willing to take whatever he had to offer, if the room was affordable and the rent reasonable. When she saw that
he remained skeptical, she explained to him that she was a one percenter who had renounced her parents’ wealth, her father’s insurance and investment fortune, and her mother’s lucrative real
“A one percenter? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Adamant about being independent and self-reliant, Victoria insisted she wanted to pay her own way. She had worked her butt off to pay her own bills. She had juggled different jobs over the past several seasons, including as a lifeguard and a swim instructor as well as a volleyball coach and referee at a summer camp during the day and working as a barista and a bartender at night. If she ever fell behind in the rent, though, he could call her parents as a last resort. They would guarantee her rent, a measure, she emphasized, she only wished to take if necessary.
He smiled, and that evening he did indeed put in a long-distance call to her parents in Forest Hill, Toronto. The following afternoon he called her, summoned her, and handed her blank forms to fill in and sign, a lease and contract. Then she noticed he was dressed completely in black leather. He even wore tight leather pants that fit him like a second skin. He said he had a
room that he could rent to her for a reasonable price. He showed the room on the ground floor of the large house, which looked to Victoria like a mansion from yesteryear. A century ago, the
dwelling belonged to a geologist and an engineer who worked for a mine near Nelson during the silver rush, and then belonged to the owner of a lumber mill that went bankrupt. The restored
neo-Victorian house, built in the mountainside, was indeed large; but for those who possessed no enthusiasm for heritage buildings, it was aged, even ancient, a fire trap potentially, and required plenty of maintenance. The numerous windows, she noticed, with a sense of awe, provided a spectacular view of the lush valley, green lake, and the mountains looming dramatically in the distance.
The first night that she slept in the mansion rooming house she thought that she could hear people making love. At first, she assumed the arousing sounds, the gasps and moans, the slapping of flesh, originated in her imagination. As she attempted to read her textbook for her alternative medicine course, she was stricken by the impression that, yes, someone was engaged in passionate romance. It was not one, but two or more people having carnal relations in the
room beneath her. The sounds echoed and bounced through the heating ducts and air conditioning vents. The proprietor had said the several other college students lived in the house, so she supposed she should not find it unusual they were getting frisky. But she became concerned the disturbance would interfere with her studies, so she decided she should simply ignore the noises and enthusiastic sound effects, which might be a figment of her imagination.
Then she took the sedative that her Forest Hill family physician in Toronto had prescribed for her when she complained about anxiety and sleeplessness.
The following day, Victoria felt incredibly thirsty. She drank all the sugar free diet colas she kept in the beverage compartment of the refrigerator in the common kitchen. There her hipster roommate offered her a smoothie. She complimented the young man, who had a petite physique, on his massive beard, neatly trimmed and groomed, and his toque. She genuinely thought that his toque, hair, beard, and his fit compact body looked handsome and awesome. She accepted the smoothie, but she did not drink from the concoction. She did not feel as if she could trust the young man sufficiently to accept his nutritional drink. Nonetheless, Victoria took the frosty drink to her room. Tired, she lay down on her small bed, and fell asleep, and during her nap she woke. Still feeling thirsty, and forgetting her anxiety and trepidation, she took sips from
the smoothie. Victoria continued to drink from the kale smoothie, which tasted delicious. Feeling energized, she took notes as she studied herbal and naturopathic cold and flu remedies from her course on traditional and indigenous medicine, searching for definitions of terminology in her textbooks.
Afterwards, Victoria remembered how free of concern and worry, how she could simply accept everything for the way it was. She felt bothered by her lack of progress in life and her estrangement from her affluent parents, who originally became hostile and argumentative
towards her when they suspected she was a lesbian. She had, in turn, renounced their values, including her mother’s real estate agency and her father’s wealth management and insurance business. She even abandoned their goals for her athletic career in swimming and beach
volleyball. Now, she did not need to fight the ideas she did not agree with or people she did not like, like those represented by her parents.
Victoria felt she could simply and truly accept them for the way they were. Then she did some writing for her assignments; but instead of being annoyed by how long her laptop computer needed to boot up and load the programs, and how slow the apps worked, she admired the clarity
of the screen and how the data and computer code flashed, scintillated, and flew past on the dusty monitor.
Victoria felt tired before she could even start writing for her course on meditation. She fell asleep on the small single bed beside her wooden desk. Then she was awakened by a
knocking at her door at four in the morning. Her hipster roommate who had offered her the smoothie stood before her completely naked, except for his toque, his coral bead necklace, his
massive beard, with his large genitals hairless, shaved, at the forefront. She wordlessly invited the short, slender young man inside her room, and he slept beside her. She dreamt that she had
sex with him, but when she awoke at 7 am, he was gone. Her sheets felt sweaty. Victoria detected somebody else’s body odor and noticed beads and droplets of fluids she did not believe were hers.
The following night, Victoria worked on preserving the samples of herbal remedies she collected during a field trip into the lush fields of the mountainside above Nelson. Meanwhile, from her room on the ground floor she heard noise emanating out of the basement. Late at night, she thought she heard whips and chains, paddles flogging, and people moaning, groaning, and gasping, as if they were engaged in carnal relations. She found during her last year of high
school that she was most academically productive during the late hours. So, she continued to work on her research project for her acupuncture course. She ignored the sound of what she
perceived to be a group of people having intimate relations. She inserted wireless earbuds into her ear and listened to opera, but the music aroused her passions.
After she took a quick shower in the ground floor washroom, she put on her housecoat and headed downstairs on the rickety wooden steps into the basement that reminded her of the dungeons she saw in gothic films. She explored the dark, dingy basement, whose walls were
partially carved into a massive boulder, built deep into the side of one of the numerous mountains that surrounded the town. The door to the furnace room and the other entrance to yet another partition of the basement, a room with a tall and heavy oak door, was locked, leaving her confounded and mystified and filled with unsavory desire.
The following evening, after she returned from her evening course in herbal medicine, her hipster roommate offered her another of his delicious smoothies. She remembered how
superb the other smoothie that he previously offered her tasted and the calm, peaceful, and accepting feeling that warmed her afterwards. She drank the smoothie in front of him, so he
could observe firsthand she appreciated how good the smoothie tasted and how nourishing she considered the beverage. He finished his own smoothie and offered her the leftovers in the high-
speed blender. Then he said he needed to study, and she heard him climb the stairs to his room. She herself fell into a deep, fitful, restful asleep. When she woke, she felt blissful. She thought she
heard chains and whips and perceived screams of pleasure and ecstasy. She regarded the sounds as a summons. In her bikini bottom and sports bra, both of which she wore as a keepsake from
the summer when she was a lifeguard and a swimming instructor and beach volleyball coach at summer camp, she decided to eschew the flip flops or plastic clogs she normally wore around the
house and to trod bare foot. She crept downstairs to the basement to the source of the sound at the heavy wooden door, which guarded the entrance to two separate rooms, one which held the
antique coal furnace and wood stove. She slowly inched the door open and found several roommates having intimate relations on a black leather couch and a bed, which resembled the beds she rested upon in the examining rooms of the medical clinic she visited in Forest Hills.
Her landlord caressed and massaged a young woman. With a muscular torso and a toned body covered with greying body hair, he was naked except for a leather jockstrap, studded with chrome spikes. He also wore a peaked cap like the police officers in her hometown of Toronto, except his peaked cap was made of studded black leather. She remembered he mentioned he was
a retired police officer. Meanwhile, one of the women performed orally on him. Another female roommate beckoned her towards the leather bed. She lay on the couch while the woman kissed
her mouth. The roommates took turns sharing deep physical intimacy with her.
When Victoria awoke in the morning, she could not in her mind satisfy herself whether the experience was real or the subject of her vivid imagination in the form of dreams during a restless sleep. The only regular aspect that she could note was that these experiences only
occurred when she drank the kale smoothies that her bearded hipster roommate, in his toque and dashiki, offered her. She had yet to decline his offer of his nutritional drink, but it was not as if he forced the smoothie on her.
Victoria walked across town to a medical clinic and went to a contraceptive workshop for a hassle-free prescription of oral contraceptives and testing for transmittable diseases and
infections, of which she felt confident she was free. But she felt the need to verify her interpretation of reality with laboratory evidence. The results returned negative, and a subsequent campus clinic physical examination revealed she was in excellent condition.
During Victoria’s first semester she made the Dean’s Honor List. She thought the fact that she lived in a student rooming house near the campus and that her room was affordable
made life easier. She also appreciated that her roommates accepted her for who she was. Her dreams about romance and fantasies of physical intimacy enlivened the boredom of academics
and dreary student life. The kale smoothies, which her hipster roommate occasionally offered her, helped.
When she stopped having her period, though, Victoria feared she might be pregnant. She made an appointment to see the family physician at the local medical clinic. The doctor ordered a
pregnancy test and happily informed her she was not pregnant. Then he ordered tests for sexually transmitted diseases when she again became concerned about those risks. All the tests from the
blood and urine samples returned with negative results.
Victoria received a referral to a gynecologist who found nothing pathological with her organs, although she too shared her concerns about her menstrual cessation. The specialist told
her she thought the origins of the disorder might be psychosomatic. Victoria told the gynecologist that she was confused about whether she was having sexual experiences with her
roommates or whether they were the objects and subjects of her dreams.
The gynecologist had experience with mental health counseling. She asked her a battery of questions, but she concluded that, overall, Victoria’s perception and conception of reality was intact. Nonetheless, she referred her to a psychiatrist. Doctor Bald asked her probing and intimate questions that she felt uncomfortable answering. So, she skipped her next appointment
and refused to see him further. The psychiatrist believed that she suffered from psychosis and schizophrenia. Doctor Bald, hypothesizing she might pose a danger to herself, kept her file open and active.
Victoria took a long leisurely ride on her bicycle after an early afternoon lecture,
appreciating the solitary ride through the hilly terrain of the mountainside town. As she rode towards home, she saw a slender, shirtless young man climb onto the guardrail of the Big Orange
Bridge over the west arm of Kootenay Lake, which her landlord earlier informed her, correcting her, was part of Kootenay River. Before he could leap off the bridge, landing on the cement of
the underpass, or the sandy and rocky shoreline of Kootenay Lake below, she struggled with him around the guardrail. She managed to wrestle him down on the safe side of the bridge, beside the
walkway, before an ambulance and police cruiser arrived.
Victoria noticed the young man’s thumbs were missing. To distract him, even though she believed the question rude and intrusive, she asked him what happened to his thumbs. He said he
was a musician, a lead guitar player in a rock and roll band. He amputated his thumbs with a bandsaw at a night course in woodworking.
Before the police officers and paramedics could take him into custody, she listened to a man in a broad-brimmed hat, with a skateboard, in board shorts and a muscle shirt, who kept
calling her “dude,” hector and lecture her. Her actions and intervention were interfering with the young man’s freedoms and liberty. His words emboldened the young man.
Victoria struggled with the musician one last time. Heroically she attempted to rescue the man, while the interlocutor berated her. Her attempts to restrain the desperate man failed as he toppled over the guardrail and dropped hundreds of feet down onto the service road beneath the bridge. The bystander, holding a skateboard at his side, accused her of pushing the man.
Later, Victoria learned the police were skeptical of this skateboarder’s account because he had a history of self-aggrandizement with authorities. Still, Victoria was detained and subjected to an interview with a police officer who said she was recently promoted to detective.
Then, Victoria was driven to the precinct where another police officer, who said she had worked as a social worker and a counsellor, questioned her. They agreed a psychiatric examination to determine if she was at risk of harming herself was in order; the facts surrounding the incident were indeterminate and vague. The authorities they consulted feared there was a risk
of further casualties. They surmised her attempt to rescue the young man imprudent and potentially self-destructive, so they concluded she needed a psychological assessment, and
mental health professionals should be involved.
Then the gap in her memory for events surrounding the encounter with the young man, the bystander, and the police and paramedics on the Big Orange Bridge blurred her recall. As she
waited in the psychiatric ward, in a hospital gown, Victoria replayed the sequence of events that occurred around the time she encountered the man on the Big Orange Bridge. She agonized over
potential outcomes. Had the man fallen over the guardrail? Had he fallen off the bridge and landed in the chilly water of Kootenay Lake, where he stood a far better chance of survival, if he
managed to dive properly or land safely and swim to shore or the dock. Had he fallen or landed on the shoreline or the paved underpass?
Victoria vaguely remembered her struggle with the man. Then she started to wonder if she was the person who ended up falling and crashing over the guardrail of the Big Orange Bridge, particularly as she felt how her body ached. She also realized her memories of the struggle with the desperate man were vague. She remembered how she had suffered panic attacks when she crossed the Big Orange Bridge on foot and how she envisioned throwing
herself over the walkway guardrail into the Kootenay Lake. But she also remembered she told herself that, if that scenario ever arose, she would tense up her body and assume a feet first
diving position, so her body knifed through the depths of the cold green waters.
Victoria sketched diagrams, mapping out scenarios, on the blank backs of a hospital meal menu, where she was supposed to choose different snacks and meals like tuna salad sandwiches,
cream of mushroom soup, ice cream, chocolate pudding, sliced pears, or apple sauce for dessert.
She tried to ask the nurses and doctors about the fate of the young man on the bridge, but they said because of patient confidentiality rules and laws they could not say anything or risked losing
The psychiatrist who examined her was Doctor Bald. Thinking she was delusional, he asked her about hallucinations. He was not certain whether she pushed the man, but, he wrote in his assessment and report, her willingness to help with a rescue, as witnessed by the passerby with the skateboard, showed a dangerous degree of risk taking and potential self-destruction.
Victoria was transferred to a psychiatric ward of the Kelowna hospital where they housed patients with schizophrenia and severe depression. The doctor and psychiatrist in the Kelowna hospital prescribed her anti-psychotics. A nurse, built like a bodybuilder, watched her swallow
the pills and wash them down with the awful tasting tepid water they insisted she drink.
Her hipster friend, with a petite build and a massive neatly groomed beard, his long dark hair combed into a man bun, for whom distance and lack of information seemed no obstacle, came to visit her on the ward. Slightly awestruck, she gazed at his clothes, Shalwar pants and a kameez tunic, an outfit that reminded her of the traditional apparel she remembered from a childhood family vacation to India. She was not certain how he managed to find the psychiatric
ward or why they allowed her to have him as a hospital visitor. He had found the hospital, the wing, and the ward where she remained a patient, after she called to ask one of the residents of
the rooming house if someone could somehow bring her her textbooks, including a brand new spiralbound workbook on reiki touch therapy, so she could study. But she had forgotten to give her mansion rooming house housemates the address, never mind her room number.
Alongside these textbooks from the college of holistic and naturopathic medicine, he also smuggled in his kale smoothies. And she was grateful for his thoughtfulness and consideration.
She sipped the kale smoothies while she expressed concern for her fellow rooming house residents.
She slept fitfully that evening. In the morning she could not help noticing that she had none of the vivid dreams she normally associated with his kale smoothies.
Born and raised in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, author John Tavares is the son of Portuguese immigrants from Sao Miguel, Azores. Having graduated from arts and science at Humber College and journalism at Centennial College, he more recently earned a Specialized Honors BA in English Literature from York University. His short fiction has been featured in community newspapers and radio and published in a variety of print and online journals and magazines, in the US, Canada, and internationally. His many passions include journalism, literature, economics, photography, writing, and coffee, and he enjoys hiking and cycling.