Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fiction #78: Chelsea La Vecchia

Antonina

Antonina lived on high volume. She talked as though she always fought to be heard, because no one listened to the valid points she made. The kind who talked so intensely with her hands driving with her felt like you would veer into oncoming traffic any moment, her story a wayward cliff. The kind who burned as bright as a welder’s torch but worked with wood, incinerating every inch.

I knew her as a girl. We grew up at the cross section of Mortimer and Coxwell or Woodbine, depending on how “street” or “classy” we wanted to be. Woodbine was where the poor kids lived, the ones who hung around in the high-rises and lit firecrackers in port-o-potties at Stand Wadlow Park’s Canada Day festival. The Coxwell kids would snicker under their breaths, turning away from their parents who shook their heads and claimed their children would never do something like that. The kids who could afford to go beyond select hockey at East York Arena, who played ball hockey at Withrow and baseball at Topham and soccer at Dieppe all in the same year.

We were sandwiched in the middle.

I was 13-years-old when I learned Antonina played with fire. It was Canada Day in East York, a working-class town-turned-neighbourhood in Toronto, and I was staying with her while my parents went to their friend’s cottage up north.

That day I remember she stared out the window, wearing the red shirt her mother forced her into. “We’re proud Canadians,” her mother said, avoiding an envious look at me as her olive-skinned daughter pulled at the snug red shirt that was probably a hand-me-down from her Zia.

I was the Canadian friend. The one born at East General Hospital to parents who could trace their lineage as far back as the original settlers. Antonina’s mother had escaped an abusive marriage back in Italy, her chubby daughter a tiny babe at the time. I didn’t know all this then. I only knew that my friend’s mother stayed silent each time Antonina brought up her father.

“Mama, look!” Antonina pointed out the window of their apartment above the corner store. I heard the sound of laughter, people talking loudly and children joyously yelling the parade was coming.
The two of us raced outside, ignoring the hurried calls of her mother, dashing down the stairs as though we’d fallen and pushing through the wall of parents on the outskirts of the festivities.

The parade felt magnificent to my childish eyes. It was led by a marching band dressed in red, a group of five people holding a Canadian flag in the middle. Each float seemed to surpass the next in beauty; every community group from the school board to the police, organizations like the Shriners and the Greek Canadian association all sought to surpass each other in flagrant nationalism, red streaming from every surface imaginable.

As the float for the Irish-Canadian society went by I looked beyond it and saw Tia Rubinovic across the way, nestled into the arm of her much older boyfriend. “Look.”

Antonina took her eyes off the parade and saw her. I expected my friend to make a snide remark, to loudly state something about her appearance or the older boyfriend. She would with anything else. But Antonina—my loud and boisterous friend—stayed silent.

Tia had come back from summer holidays the year before with a new look. Before she wore regular t-shirts and oversized pants, but when she entered grade eight it was all tight-fitting jean onesies and such grandiose gold hoops they looked as though her arms could fit into them. Everything was meant to accentuate her petite developing frame, plunging into a pool of hormones and growing quickly.

The girls in our school gossiped behind her back, while the boys made rude gestures and called out to her in the halls.

Tia looked comfortable with the guy. I recognized him from lunch break. He was one of the ones who hung around the pizza place across from East York Collegiate, his face almost a pizza itself. You’d never tell him that. The guy fought like an animal, and I’d definitely seen him carted away by the police who patrolled the area once or twice.

He had his arm around Tia. She smiled up at him when she saw me looking, and I squirmed, embarrassed to have been caught. Tia looked back at me with sharp eyes, boring into my vision and making my face redden.

When the parade was done Antonina and I went back inside to cool off before heading to Stan Wadlow Park for the carnival.

*

The place was alive with music and laughter, the creaking sound of cheap rides and auto-tuned carnival game music a symphony to my ears.

Day waned, and the sky turned a soft cerulean. The whole neighbourhood flocked from the rides to the shallow hillside, awaiting the fireworks that would come as soon as it was dark.

Antonina liked being further back, closer to the arena and sloped on the hill. I followed her, and we found a spot and put our blanket down.

The sky got darker, and the crowd buzzed louder. The fireworks were coming.

I turned to my friend, but she looked down, her head tilted to expose her ear to something in the alley behind us. The smile dropped from my face as I tuned in as well.

There were voices speaking hurriedly, and then the sound of a muted cry.

Antonina got up in a flurry. She waited a moment, then we heard another cry and she was gone, red shirt tearing slightly at the seams. I could hear her footsteps on the grass.

I followed her around the corner and ran right into Tia and her boyfriend. It took me a moment to see what was happening. Tia was pushed up against the wall, mascara lined down her cheeks from crying, while her boyfriend stood a little further away with his pants undone.

“Get the fuck out of here.”

Antonina didn’t say a word. She walked up to Tia and grabbed her arm. I watched, mouth agape, as the boyfriend grabbed my friend and shoved her away from them. Antonina stumbled, but got right up and pushed the guy so hard he fell on his ass.

The guy’s face paled, his oily acne leaving red dots on a blank face. I could see the rage boiling from below him, a flame to the pot. Antonina grabbed Tia by the arm and pulled her towards us as he rushed up.

But he was dealing with welders’ fire.

She turned to him before he could strike her. He froze in his steps, Antonina’s gaze bearing down at him like sunlight through a magnifying glass, and him caught in its blaze. His rage subsiding into a softened embarrassment, anger tucked away for another time.

Behind us, the fireworks began.

Antonina led Tia out of the alley and onto our blanket, where we calmly watched the show, Tia clinging to Antonina’s arm like a buoy, her mascara crusted onto her cheek and flaking off.

*

Chelsea La Vecchia is a writer living in Toronto, Canada. She has been working on her debut novel since graduating from the University of Toronto Scarborough in June, 2017, where she studied English literature and creative writing. Her articles can be found in Torontoist, SickNotWeak Society, and dandyhorse magazine. When not reading or writing, you can find her cycling from A to B, cooking, or taking a dance class.

Twitter: @ChelseaLaVecch 
Instagram: @cheldawg7 

Photo credit: Leanne Simpson

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