Lloyd had been trying to contact his older brother, but each time he called him on his vintage landline telephone, he hung up the receiver before Ernie or Brechtje at the other end of the line could answer. Lloyd hadn’t spoken to his oldest brother, a retired long-haul truck driver,
who transported chemicals, gases, cargo, and hazardous waste in an eighteen-wheel transport truck across the country, in at least ten years. He remembered a time when his sibling and
extended family, including his brother’s wife, Brechtje, who came to Canada originally as an
exchange student from the Netherlands, got along fabulously, at least until their mother died. Then the disagreements and disputes about their mother’s estate, extended family finances, and
trust funds arose between the siblings. Eventually, Lloyd grew tired of the arguments, and he decided he didn’t want anything, money, heirlooms, souvenirs, mementoes, artwork, military
medals, portraits, pictures, anything, from his mother’s estate, or from his brother. He simply wouldn’t answer the letters or return the calls from his brother Ernie, who also acted as executor
of their mother’s estate. In fact, Lloyd just returned from the post office where he returned a cheque from his mother’s estate to the executor, unopened, uncashed.
Lloyd answered the door with some reluctance and trepidation, thinking that perhaps it was the young men from the Church of Latter-Day Saints. He didn’t mind speaking to the well dressed, finely groomed young men from the church, except today he felt weary, pained, and
even grumpy, after he volunteered at the homeless shelter, where a man, intoxicated, under the influence of industrial alcohol, had pulled a knife. Earlier in the week, Lloyd put in a shift as a volunteer at the food bank, where the executive director asked him to confront a single parent, pregnant, about the fact workers suspected she was stealing cans of soup and sardines. Lloyd
refused to do the big boss’ bidding, so his supervisor sent him home.
The persistent and loud knocking at the door caused Lloyd to believe somebody might be in trouble. The young pharmacy technician, whom Lloyd regarded as pretty, knocked at the door.
She had been giving him trouble and problems since the day she started working at the pharmacy where he was a long-time customer, a patron for as long as he could remember. But what was she doing at his door, he wondered; he always went to the pharmacy for his prescriptions; he never accepted deliveries and liked using an errand to the drugstore as a perfect excuse to leave his apartment.
“There’s a problem,” Annika said, gazing intently into his eyes. “I gave you too much oxycontin the last time.”
“You didn’t give me enough,” Lloyd said. “You never give me enough.”
Annika acted as if she didn’t hear him, as she urgently pressed her case. “And the lorazepam, the same—I gave you too much meds last time.”
“This is outrageous,” Lloyd said. “You’re coming to my door to tell me you dispensed too much medication when you’ve been shortchanging me for the last two years since you started working there.”
“Mister Fikus, if I’ve been shortchanging you, why haven’t you complained?”
“I think it has something to do with the fact that my parents always went to the same pharmacy, and I merely continued with the family tradition. I didn’t have any problems until you started working there. Then I started noticing I was constantly short of pills whenever you served me.”
“So why didn’t you complain?” Annika asked.
“Because it seemed like such a serious matter to complain. Because I didn’t want to be accused of being a liar. Because I didn’t want to get you fired, or ruin your employment prospects.”
This was a disconcerting conversation for him to have with this young woman, but here he was engaged with this pharmacy technician, whom he found attractive, with a quirky charm
and hair colored blue, purple, and pink, at the door to his apartment on the nineteenth floor of the Bloor Street building. Lloyd didn’t even feel comfortable being seen with her, but the hallway of his apartment building in the Annex neighbourhood, was quiet, abandoned.
Then he did something else he would have never done, under normal circumstances, and
he invited her inside his apartment. She certainly had no compunction about accepting his
“You’re a user, aren’t you?” Lloyd asked.
She nodded, as she made herself comfortable, folding herself into a position like a contortionist. She usually felt most comfortable in black leggings or cargo pants, but now she wore a short denim skirt, and had even taken off her thong before she visited. Making small talk, Lloyd was distracted as she shifted and unfolded her ankles. When she stretched her legs and spread her thighs, as she abruptly assumed a yoga position, he decided not to mince words, even though he didn’t want to offend her, and thought she needed nurturing and protection.
“You’re transparent—you’re an addict,” Lloyd said.
“Yeah, I guess I am,” Annika said, as she sniffed, sniffled, and wiped away a tear.
“You need a fix?” Lloyd asked.
“Yeah, I need some oxy,” Annika said.
Lloyd went to his bottle of oxycodone, in the washroom medicine cabinet and returned with a single tablet. He set the tablet on the coffee table in front of her. Annika started to chew
on the tablet, and she intently watched him frowning, stern faced. Then she scooped at the fragments stuck in between her teeth and between her gums, licking the mushy goo in her mouth, picking at her teeth with her fingernails, wiping the gaps and surfaces of her molars and incisors with her tongue. She gave him the impression she was hungry as well, but she said she didn’t want any food. He felt relieved because he had no fancy exotic entrees, like sushi, to offer her.
“I look at your records, and you’ve been taking these meds for a while. Aren’t you an addict, too?”
“I only take my meds when I need them, and what I have left over, I flush down the toilet,” Lloyd said.
“That’s not what your script says. It says you’re supposed to take them twice a day.”
“But because I’m not an addict,” Lloyd said, “I only take them when I need them.”
“But you’re not following doctor’s orders,” Annika insisted.
Because of the poor prognosis Lloyd decided not to inform her of his prostate cancer diagnosis, nor would he admit he opted for no chemotherapy or surgery, no treatment beyond
medication to treat his symptoms, like pain, anxiety, and insomnia—to say nothing of his tremors, which he feared might be a form of petite epilepsy, or even the early onset of Parkinson’s disease. He wasn’t certain he could tolerate the young woman, but he had to admit he found her refreshing, quirkily charming, and attractive. She even reminded him of a college classmate from countless years ago upon whom he had a crush. She said she was working under a new pharmacy manager, who watched her like a hawk. She could no longer steal pills. Lloyd replied her bind made him think the time had arrived for her to get help for her addictions.
“Why don’t I pay you for the pills?” Annika said. “Actually, I don’t really have that much money. I’m a student, I’m working part-time, and my parents aren’t helping put me through college.”
“You’re a student?”
“Art college, as in the Ontario College of Art.”
“You’re an artist?”
“I pretend to be, an aspiring artist might be a better term.”
Lloyd scrutinized her hair, dyed pink, blue, purple, and now, he noticed, even streaked with yellow. Art student persona might explain her style.
“I could give you a blowjob, or a hand job. I could even give you one, say, once a week, and you could swap me a certain number of pills. Most guys I know really like blowjobs.”
In his middle age, Lloyd started to read vintage Playboy magazines, purchased from his favorite used bookstore on Yonge Street downtown. Aside from reading the articles, he even
perused with curiosity the pictures. Annika’s build and body reminded her of the models he observed in those magazines. She didn’t know he was still chaste, celibate, after he spent time in
the seminary, as a young man, and then he left, not because he was defrocked, or succumbed to temptation, but because he lost his faith. He was also socially awkward, and the newly acquainted found him strange, eccentric, and a loner. Lloyd found her offer dangerously
appealing, a taste of forbidden fruit, but she appeared vulnerable to exploitation and predation.
“I could sell you my art, my paintings and drawings,” Annika said.
After they talked further and deeper, he asked her if he could visit her place to view her art. He discovered she lived in the same apartment building, except she had a studio apartment.
“If you live in the same building, why haven’t I seen you before?”
“I always come through the wing entrance or the back doors, the emergency exit—me and the rats and racoons. Ha, ha. Most of the regular people who live in these apartments think I’m riff raff.”
“They don’t think you’re riff raff,” Lloyd said.
“You’d be surprised,” Annika said.
Annika didn’t bother to tell him her neighbours and fellow apartment residents had even called the cops on her. Then again, she supposed she gave them reason enough when she entered their unlocked apartments, trespassed on their premises, and rifled through their medicine cabinets. Lloyd followed her downstairs via the elevator and then a service stairwell and went to another wing of the building on the ground floor. In her studio apartment, he scrutinized and examined her paintings and drawings closely and admired her talent and technical skill.
Alongside some abstract paintings, which Lloyd assumed were impressionist or expressionist and surreal works, and which he didn’t understand, and some woodland caribou art he liked,
presumably inspired by Canadian indigenous artists from northern Ontario, she had black and white photos and painting of homeless youth and panhandlers on Yonge Street, and other
downtown street scenes and tableaux, including Dundas and Queen Street West. Even though he did not appreciate the subject matter, which he found rather depressing, he did like the gritty
realism and her style, execution, and what he perceived to be her skills and talents.
He also thought her paintings of street people in downtown Toronto might her most authentic and honest work. These works of art made the most sense as an investment. So, he agreed to buy the one of the bearded, wizened elderly man panhandling in the doorway of a
flagship music store on glitzy downtown Yonge Street.
Lloyd was ready to offer her cash, but she said, “You don’t understand. I need the pills.”
Yes, of course, Lloyd said, trying to strike a note of sympathy and firmness. They both returned from the wing to his apartment, several floors above in the main building of the complex. He allowed Annika to count off pills from both translucent prescription bottles.
Throughout the summer, Annika visited him and during their trysts, she bartered some of her paintings, drawings, and photographs for his prescription medication. Sometimes she visited
his apartment more than a few times a month. They would have long intimate conversations during which she crept closer to him on the sleep sofa until she fell asleep against his chest or shoulder. Lloyd usually tried to nudge her awake, in vain. Their awkward relationship stood the test of time that summer, even after Lloyd insisted she seek help for her addictions.
After they argued, and Annika scratched and slapped him, she promised him she would enter rehab. Lloyd said he would not allow her to visit him if she didn’t seek professional help
and counselling, but her promises eventually proved empty, as her addictions motivated her behaviour, fuelled by her urgent need to self-medicate.
Lloyd could never live up to his vow to banish her from his abode. A few times a month, Annika made unannounced, random visits to his apartment. They had long intimate
conversations during which she got closer to him until she fell asleep in his arms, but her physical intimacy made him uncomfortable.
She persisted in offering to perform fellatio on him or to masturbate him. When he told her that he was still chaste, Annika didn’t believe him until finally he managed to convince her: he revealed more about his personal history, and showed her snapshots and pictures, the
seminary, the aborted priesthood, the unexpected private lives of the religious brothers and sisters, the nuns and deacons, the mother superiors, the friars and monks, the consecrated virgins and the hermits. His own revelations made him uncomfortable, and fascinated her, causing her muted titillation.
Afterwards, Annika became even more insistent about offering him sexual favours, believing, he suspected, she would be providing herself with some modern form of repentance and him with some form of deliverance. So, he told her about his prostate cancer diagnosis. Any
stimulation resulting in orgasm would likely be more painful than pleasurable. He insisted the pain would exceed the pleasure at climax.
“You mean la petite mort,” Annika said.
“La petite mort? I know that expression. What are you talking about?”
“You should just let go,” Annika insisted. “I see the way you look at me. Those elevator eyes—I know what you’re thinking.”
“You underrate your own...magnetism.”
Annika gave his personal library collection a prolonged perusal. “You read too much,” she said. “Just let go.” Lloyd insisted she help herself to books from his library bookshelves, but
she declined and departed.
Even though she continued to work at the pharmacy, she no longer short changed his prescription refills of pills, as the manager continued to watch her like a hawk. After head office pressured the pharmacy manager, sending an executive from head office, who confronted her with order records and receipts, she implemented a new tighter inventory control system. In any
event, Lloyd continued to buy her paintings and even some of her street photography, offering her cash and since she continued to demand and insist and pressure him, oxycontin and sedatives or sleeping pills, from his prescriptions in return.
Several times he found evidence she entered his apartment without his permission. He discovered her muddy footprints on the bathroom floor tiles he always tried to keep immaculately clean. When he came across her skimpy bra and panties, which bore a fresh
feminine scent, in his laundry hamper, he realized she was making no attempt to conceal her surreptitious visits. He also noticed missing cash, and, of course, missing pills, tablets. He said nothing but he constantly reminded Annika of the need for rehabilitation, for her to meet with counsellors. Annika grew silent, sultry, and started to sob.
The last time he spoke with her, they had a furious argument after he told her he would no longer barter pills for paintings, drawings, and photography, and other pieces of her artwork
unless she agreed to treatment and entered rehabilitation. Lloyd was so adamant and insistent he worried he would never see her again, that she would never visit his apartment again.
The next few times he went to the pharmacy, for over the counter medications he didn’t really need, since he didn’t need refills of his prescription anytime soon. He needed a reason to
see Annika, but, as he paced the aisles, fidgeted, and kept checking over the counters in the drugstore, Lloyd couldn’t find her, even in the place he most expected, dispensing, at the
pharmacy behind the prescription counter.
When he pressed another pharmacy technician, whom he knew for at least two decades, and asked the grey-haired woman about Annika, she appeared alarmed and distraught. She took Lloyd aside, looked askance, and quickly told him her apprentice had been fired.
Then one day Lloyd returned to his apartment to find her unconscious and insentient on the reclining chair upon which she usually twisted herself, like a pretzel, and offered him sexual
favours. Surrounded with the paraphernalia of intravenous drug injection, hypodermic needles,
syringes, needles, a cooker, a blue elastic tourniquet, she was cold and lifeless. He sadly thought she appeared serene and tranquil, and pathetically beautiful.
Lloyd called his brother on his telephone, a worn and weathered landline telephone, with a receiver and a braided cord. Somehow, even though he was estranged from his brother and
hadn’t spoken to him for a decade, Lloyd talked cordially with Ernie for almost an hour. Ernie listened carefully to the story of Lloyd’s relationship to the young woman on the telephone. Her interest piqued by the surprise of her brother-in-law involved in a relationship with a
woman, whom initially she thought had a Dutch sounding name, Ernie’s wife Brechtje, who immigrated form the Netherlands as a teenager, listened to snippets and patches of their telephone conversation, as the brothers, struggling to be heard, shouted back and forth at each other over the telephone, in the background.
As she shouted impatiently from the kitchen where she prepared her favorite Boterkoek, a Dutch butter cake, Ernie agreed to come over to Lloyd’s apartment from his house in the suburbs
of Oakville. He thought he’d help Lloyd return Annika’s body to her own bachelor apartment.
When Ernie arrived at the apartment, he said he brought the old Sears trunk he had inherited from their mother in the back of the pickup truck along with a push cart they could strap the chest onto with bungee cords. Ernie said he even thought he would help Lloyd dump the body into Lake Ontario, if he was that embarrassed by the predicament. But the siblings had an
originally muted discussion that grew heated. Ernie didn’t seem to want to leave the kitchen, and he wasn’t certain now he even wanted to see the body.
Offended by his insinuations, Lloyd tried to control his emotion, as he protested there was no foul play on his part: he played no role in this young woman’s death. Lloyd insisted he
was not even in his own apartment to witness the overdose when that cataclysmic event occurred. But Ernie protested his brother provided the young woman with drugs. Then Ernie
finally saw her body, touched her bare forearm with his fingertips, and noticed the coolness of her skin, and thought he detected rigor mortis. This was a frightening situation, Ernie thought.
Ernie feared he left fingerprints where he touched her and gently wiped any potential evidence from her skin with paper towel. He had never handled a dead body in his life, even though he
had worked for four decades as a long-haul truck driver who shipped hazardous chemicals and gases across the country. The more Ernie thought about the unfortunate young woman’s fate the
more he simply believed he and his brother should call the police.
Ernie said he needed to leave. Brechtje would have questions, and he could not lie to his wife. After his brother departed abruptly, Lloyd saw the key Annika left behind on the kitchen
table. He remembered the social sciences concept he recently read about in a magazine article, and he wondered if she was the victim of parasuicide. He checked this second key on the chain;
the key opened the lock to his own apartment unit door.
Lloyd assumed she found and took his own key and had the key duplicated, which allowed her to visit his apartment whenever she liked. He speculated she visited his apartment when he was gone, taking a walk along Bloor Street, or shopping at the supermarket for
groceries, or lounging in the library, reading newspapers and magazines, running an errand to the pharmacy for a refill of prescription medications. Now Lloyd couldn’t help thinking she left the spare key exactly where he was most likely to notice it, as some form of reproach. He couldn’t bring himself to call the police.
The summer night was warm and humid, as he drifted out of his apartment building. He walked along Bloor Street for countless city blocks until he was aching and exhausted. Recently, he had been in so much pain he carried his prescription medication everywhere he went. He continued to walk for countless kilometers west along Bloor Street West until by dawn he reached Old Mill Station, where he found a bench in the park beneath the picturesque bridge,
which crossed Humber River. He spotted a whitetail deer on the walkway and, distracted, marvelled at the cluster of mosquitoes or fleas that covered the deer’s muzzle.
Although he usually carefully measured and regulated his medication dosages, he lost track of the pills as he swallowed them two or three at a time. In fact, he ended by gulping down
a handful, far more than necessary. He lost consciousness on the bench near the Hurricane Hazel Memorial Plaque as the sun rose. Initially he dreamt he had reconciled with his brother. They were riding in his big boat speeding across Lake Ontario on a bright summer afternoon, the sun gleaming on the rippling waves. Finally, there was white noise and blackness. Then Lloyd woke to the sights and sounds of an ambulance, walkie-talkies, and paramedics, measuring his vital signs, feeding him oxygen. From where he slumped on the park bench beneath the road and subway train near Old Mill station, Lloyd was lifted onto a gurney and loaded into the back of an ambulance. Meanwhile, across the city in his apartment,
paramedics were summoned to attend to Annika’s cold lifeless body.
Brechtje, hearing what her husband told her about the young woman who had met her unfortunate fate at his brother’s apartment, initially thought women needed to look after women
and departed in her mini-car. After she arrived at her brother-in-law’s apartment, though, she was filled with outrage, fuelled by her severe old-World sensibilities and harsh Christian
judgement. She found the door to her brother-in-law’s apartment open and the young woman dead on the reclining chair. Like the obsessively clean housekeeper she remained, she picked up the needles and drug paraphernalia and dropped what she referred to as “junkie’s junk,” muttering angrily beneath her breath, into the apartment building’s garbage chute at the end of
The young woman through her death—indeed by her mere presence alone—offended Brechtje’s conservative sense of propriety and what she construed as her traditional Dutch
values, of which she was proud. She called the emergency number and told the dispatcher a drug addict, a junkie, a vagrant, had broken into her brother-in-law’s apartment, stole his prescription
medications, and overdosed. The bartered artwork, the photography, drawings, and paintings, which Annika gave to Lloyd in exchange, also grated her, rubbed her the wrong way, and
offended her ingrained sense of good housekeeping and propriety. Although middle school in Amsterdam taught Brechtje to consider Vincent Van Gogh a national hero and a cultural treasure, she contemptuously regarded him as a scofflaw, a scalawag, and an unemployed vagrant. She considered Van Gogh’s paintings childish and the signs of a severely disordered mind and personality, and his art also offended her traditional values and sense of decency.
Brechtje took down Annika’s bleak paintings of buskers and chess players on Yonge Street and grainy black and white photos of panhandlers, homeless youth, drug dealers, and inner-city dwellers from the walls of Lloyd’s apartment. She heaped Annika’s artwork into the trash, which she afterwards stuffed into the building garbage chute and dumpster in the parking lot. She started to clean and sweep the apartment, which Annika earlier told Lloyd she considered the cleanest apartment among all her friends. Brechtje finished scrubbing tables,
countertops, and the stove, and, when the paramedics arrived, she was wiping down the toilet and sink in the bathroom until the surfaces were sparkling clean. After she polished the mirror on the bathroom medicine cabinet, Brechtje could see the crumbs from Poffertjes, leftover pancakes from breakfast, in her dentures.
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. https://www.facebook.com/John.Tavares.Jr/ https://twitter.com/JohnTavaresJr https://www.instagram.com/johntavaresjr/