The Creative Section (Vol. 5, No. 1) is on its way and will be published by the end of May, 2024.

Hypothermia - John Tavares (Canada)




-         John Tavares (Canada)



Ross Moorhead of Maclean Manbridge Moorhead wanted Robert to fire their only African-Canadian employee. “Find a reason, any reason to let him go, and you’re not hiring that other black guy,” Moorhead said.


“That’s prejudice, job discrimination on the basis of race!”Robert’s voice boomed as he shouted his complaint towards the waspish, angular man, essentially his boss. With a pinched expression, and wire-rimmed bifocals, Moorhead wore a tailored suit and polished shoes worth a few months mortgage. “It’s illegal and could get us sued and publicly shamed.”


“I told you and I warned you, Robert. We’re becoming a family office, an exclusive family office, with practices and policies geared towards the retention and the prosperity of our long-term high net worth family clients.”


Robert didn’t want to express dissent, since his attitude might be construed as disrespectful, but he felt strongly most issues of social justice. “Sir, you’re asking me to fire our best options trader and analyst. And you’re also asking me to turn away the candidate I hired—the candidate I consider best for the new advisor position.”


“Robert, we’re becoming a family office, and the Zhang family is our largest account. The family has assets of over two hundred million, and it’s old money, earned from cash cows, radio stations, community newspapers, motels, video arcades, and convenience stores in Northern Ontario. It’s real money, legal money—”


“Video arcades? You mean peepshows and porn theatres?”


“No, I mean pinball machines and video games.”

“I don’t think so. When was the last time you saw someone playing a pinball machine in an arcade?”


“In a Zhang owned pool hall downtown.”


“The one below the porn shop and peep shows, but above the head shop.”


“Robert, they own that strip of buildings along Yonge Street downtown, extremely valuable commercial real estate—”


“Which is rundown and decrepit.”


“Those buildings are being torn down for the development of condo towers in which the Zhang family will have an interest.”


Beyond the range of Moorhead’s vision, Robert navigated the internet to Ontario Human Rights Commission website and read the introduction on the main page.

“Robert, it’s not drug money. The Zhangs, as you guessed, are Old World, Middle Kingdom—”


“No kidding, I’m married to one.”


“I’m sorry, I forgot about Lina, but she’s a second cousin and estranged from the family, isn’t she? And I thought she converted, became a Jew.”


“You’re absolutely right on all counts. She converted for a boyfriend she was supposed to marry. But I doubt she’ll be happy to hear what you say, I’m relieved to say.”


“Regardless, it’s not her money—she’s the poor country cousin—”


“I can’t believe you said that, but you’re bang on again; that’s exactly how she likes to describe herself—the backwoods girl from a remote provincial area in China—the black sheep of the family. And she even went through a Falun Gong phase, to boot.”

“Regardless, the patriarch doesn’t want colored people managing any of his accounts. He says his daughter was raped by a black man, while she did an acting gig in Los Angeles, and his son was mugged during a vacation in Jamaica.”


“How is that relevant to investing money?”


“It’s what he wants! And I’m not going to argue about it. He doesn’t want a black man, any black man, or women, for that matter, managing his money.”


“How can you justify this blatant…racial discrimination?”


“Robert! The Zhang account is our largest by far. I’m trying to explain this to you. We’re now a family office, a family office. We have a legal opinion indicating we’re exempt from current human rights legislation, as a result, based on client cultural preferences.”


“I don’t believe you,” Robert said. “My understanding is human rights law takes precedent.”


“You’re not aneffing lawyer,” Moorhead said. “That’s above your pay grade.”


Robert closed the interactive stock charts and graphs and analysts reports he viewed across dual computer screens and automatically scrutinized the website of the human rights commission for information that might support his position.


“Robert, are you questioning my integrity?”


Outraged, with his face and particularly his cheeks suffused with redness, Robert kept his face concealed, hiding behind the two computer monitors at his desk, since he didn’t want Moorhead to see his expression of anger, ready to blow up into a rage.


“Robert, you have me worried. I’ve never had you question my judgement in the past.”

“Because you’ve never asked me to do something so unethical and inhumane, to say nothing or illegal.”


“Robert, think about your future with the firm.”


So, Ross Moorhead summoned and sent Lina to do his bidding, Lina the wife from whom Robert was estranged. She called him from her smart phone, while she was listening to Shania Twain, in between psychiatrist visits and doctor appointments. Hear the Shania Twain music on her speaker phone, he remembered how she had fallen in love over his karaoke versions of David Bowie’s “China Girl.” Now the couple slept in separate beds and hardly spoke with each other. Whenever he tried to initiate a conservation with her, the pair inevitably found themselves arguing, so, whenever possible, he tried to avoid communicating with her in person. When he tried to broach the subject of the most rational approach to their broken relationship, which seemed separation followed by divorce, she became passionate and broke into tears or she grew angry. She insisted they didn’t want to separate or divorce. She felt confident he would be unhappy if he left the relationship and their household. When she had been drinking, she warned, if he left, she would destroy his career and leave him penniless. Lina seemed sober when she called him at lunchtime, but her voice had an ominous edge.


“Ross tells me you’re not following his instructions, Robert, and you’re endangering you’re position at the investment firm.”


Robert felt anxious and agitated when she spoke to him about his work because he knew as a Zhang, even though she was a niece, or a cousin, or even a second cousin, she yielded real power at the firm, whose assets were based on the Zhang family fortune. Still, he asked, “Do you know what he’s asking?”


“You know I’m not interested in your shop talk. Just do his bidding or else you might not have a job.”


“You don’t understand.”


“Robert, you’re the most pragmatic person I know. You leave me the impression you’ve nothing to live for but your work, so I’m really surprised you’re being insubordinate.”


Thus Robert found a reason to dismiss his favourite employee, his best options and derivative trader, who had an uncanny intuition for capital markets, and was a genius with derivatives and hadan incredible knack for mathematically calculating the theoretical fair market value of these financial instruments, detecting undervalued calls and puts, for lucrative and sometimes incredible profits. Johnson uttered not a word of complaint, probably because he realized he could easily find a better and higher paying position at another firm, a major chartered bank. His best employee was also a dapper dresser, which left Robert self-conscious and embarrassed about his own humdrum and plain style. Robert remembered what one human resources generalist he met during a conference in the financial district told him: She had so much trouble differentiating qualified candidates, all of whom had the same credentials, she just ended up hiring the best dressed and best smelling in the interview and so far that proved a reliable criterion for her. “Whatever works,” Robert joked. Tittering nervously, Robert worried he was the worst dressed in the boardroom and had used the wrong deodorant and body wash, or not enough, and maybe should have showered longer and doused himself in cologne. Regardless, Johnson also led in that department by a country mile. Robert also managed to find a plausible reason to rescind the employment offer to the coloured person he recruited and wanted to hire. Again, the individual in question said nary a word of complaint and asked no questions.


Robert’s wife was indeed a Zhang, but her parents were not from Hong Kong, but a relatively remote rural area on the mainland. Lina considered herself the poor country cousin and was estranged from the main Zhang family, which, she complained, was dysfunctional and inbred. Later, throwing caution to the wind, he tried to ask Linaif her cousin was sexually assaulted by a black man while she pursued an acting career in Los Angeles and if indeed another cousin was mugged during a vacation in Jamaica, but she refused to talk about them.


Afterwards, Robert’s thoughts became dark and brooding, as he started to feel stressed at work with muscle aches and pains. The doctor prescribed exercise, which he believed would be more effective than painkillers or antidepressants, after he took his patient history.


Then he started to explore and visit the seedy strip of motels near the airport strip and along the boulevard near the Lakeshore. Ross, having ordered him to purge the firm of their only black employee, and to rescind the offer of employment to the other he hired, also had the seediest mind of any boss he met at any workplace. As a student, Robert worked at a variety of part-time and summers jobs, in his hometown in Northwestern Ontario, washing police motor vehicles, tree planting, brush cutting, cleaning in a high school and hospital, working in building maintenance and as groundskeeper, clerking in a grocery store, even working after hours as a radio station console operator and announcer, until he landed a career in financial services and the investment industry. Moorhead seemed to have an intimate knowledge of the workers who plied their trade and wares along the motel strip. He also knew Robert’s personal and after-hours life with Lina left him sterile and bereft. When they went for drinks, during which he drank coffee, since he refused to drink, having observed the chronic effects of alcohol on Lina, he tried to entertain him with stories of his man whoring and how he schmoozed and carousedhot young women in Toronto nightspots. To confirm and corroborate the details he provided, Robert downloaded the Tor browser at home on his company laptop, so Lina couldn’t review his browsing history and the websites he visited. Still, she hardly had the energy to take any interest in anything he did these days, an indifference he attributed to her myriad disorders. He anonymously researched postings and seedy websites, on the dark web, which led to the locales of action, frequented by patrons of the underworld and workers plying their after-hours trade.

The woman who became his favorite was of college age. He became attached when he first met her; she seemed perky, optimistic, and hopeful, full of energy—traits he admired. He recalled when he was an aspiring journalism student in college, he was full of dreams and ambition, although then he was abstinent. Indeed, he believed he never lost his dreams, particularly to succeed in photojournalism, until he met Lina.

When Lina was an active member of the workforce, he merely had to show up in business attire at the board meetings of one of the various companies her uncle owned, an odd conglomeration of radio stations, motels, conveniences stores—there had even been pool halls and amusement arcades, with pinball machines and video games mixed in the blend—dotted across the Canadian Shield landscape of Northern Ontario. This empire business empire started decades ago with a small cleaning business, which maintained the post office and Indian Affairs building, in the Northwestern Ontario town of Sioux Lookout. She collected several hundred thousand dollars in salary each year, to say nothing of travels expenses and lucrative stocks options.


Somehow, he was persuaded to stay by Lina’s side, if only for her own health and well-being. After all, several months after they married, he again attempted to initiate relations with Lina. She literally flipped out, started shrieking and crying, and he was mystified and alarmed.


“Can’t you just go online and watch porn videos and stroke yourself? Isn’t that what you do?” Lina said, between tears.


Lina seemed happy when he never tried to initiate intimate or sexual relations again. Indeed, Lina seemed to prefer a marriage of passionand arguments, bereft of touch and earthy, earthly love. Once he realized this was unlikely to change and once Ross had offered him an entrée into the world, he started to use money from stock and options trading profits to pay for sex at a seedy rundown motel on the strip of motels and cheap hotels, which ran along lakeshore strip and boulevard, along the shoreline of Lake Ontario, a broad inland fresh water sea.


Meanwhile, Lina talked about her latest medical appointments. Robert tried to ask the right questions provide helpful feedback. She even wrote down questions he suggested she ask the doctors and specialists the next time she visited. They continued to not have marital relations. When she said she didn’t want to adopt children, he began to wonder if she had been abused as a child.


Robert thought none of this mattered anymore, as he found solace and comfort in escorts and exotic dancers in general and in Gaia in particular. He never imagined he would have paid money to become intimate with a woman; it would have seemed wildly implausible in earlier times. Gaia – the young woman upon whom he settled talked about her problems, school, boyfriends, describing them in intimate detail. He loved to listen to Gaia, but she often turned the tables around, but then he felt uncomfortable. Robert suspected the motel where he continued to meet Gaia was owned by the Zhang family, since they owned several rundown commercial properties and hotels and motels around the lakeshore and the Queensway in Etobicoke and the address matched that he saw in their annual report and listing of properties.


When Gaia asked Robert about his personal life, she couldn’t believe he was locked in a marriage where he and his wife seemed content not to have sex. The nature of their relationship left her mystified.


“She’s your wife—you need to know.”


“We have a very unusual relationship. I think we’re both comfortable with the status quo.”


When Robert discovered Gaia had been a lifeguard, he asked her for advice about swimming and where he could find the best swimming pool in the city. Gaia thought he would prefer the outdoor pools; the indoors pools were small and confining, and friction sometimes developed between fun-loving adolescents and stodgy mature swimmers, intent on monotonous physical exercise and an uninterrupted routine. Gaia recommended the outdoor swimming pool at Woodbine Beach, a huge cement and concrete structure, with a diving tower, across the city on the lakeshore. The pool became his favorite. After parking his car in the basement garage of the office tower in the financial district or in the motel parking lot, he boarded the streetcar along Queen Street to Woodbine beach and the landmark outdoor pool. He rode the streetcar, relaxing, reading books resting unread on his bookshelves, viewing the urban and lakeshore boulevard scenery. Robert even offered to pay Gaia for swimming lessons, but she refused, although she was tempted when he upped the ante and increased his proposed fee. Still, Robert became a regular at the pool near Woodbine Beach, visiting the huge pool complex, the Olympic-sized pool for lane swims in the summer evening. The swimming pool became a cleansing site, a purification ritual. He always took showers in the motels, but he still felt dirty and unclean afterwards. He remembered someone saying dermatologists recommended swimming in well maintained pools to cure and alleviate certain skin conditions—something to do with the disinfectant effect of chlorine; of that he wasn’t certain, but the ritual relieved him, massaged his body, soothed his mind.


Lina started to notice he seem more muscular, toned, and tanned; most of his trousers and pants were too large in the waist for him now. His co-workers started to compliment him on his looks, appearance, and physique. When they pressed him for his secret, he told them he was swimming lanes at the big outdoor pool on the lakeshore of the eastern beaches. He didn’t tell them about the lakeshore motel, or the sex for which he paid, which motivated and drove his exercise, his need to swim and purge and cleanse and wash himself. He didn’t tell them about the long conversations he had with Gaia afterwards. He became a regular client for Gaia, whose long dark hair he liked to stroke and caress.


Gaia amused and regaled him with stories about the two summers he worked as a lifeguard. One cloudy June morning, as part of their exercises, drills, and training the head lifeguard ordered the crew of lifeguards to swim, escorted by a speedboat, a half kilometre into Lake Ontario. The water was cold and frigid. When Gaia waded and stumbled ashore she was confused, disoriented, staggering, and her lips and nails turned blue. The head guard initially thought she suffered a mild case of hypothermia. When her face and hands turned blue and cyanotic, the supervisor feared she might suffer a cardiac arrest. An ambulance and paramedics were summoned, and he was sent to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.


After that hospitalization, the head lifeguard assigned Gaia to the nearby outdoor pool, a huge concrete structure, with three pools, including a diving pool, a wading pool, and the Olympic swimming pool, where, following Gaia’s recommendations, he later swam his laps regularly. As a pool lifeguard, Gaia would never have to swim in the cold and sometimes frigid water of Lake Ontario again. Lifeguarding at the outdoor pool was boring, though. Soon, tired of wolf-whistles and crude talk from adolescent boys, supervising screaming brats, coping with the demands of amateur athletes, eccentric swimmers, and trying to be nice to doting seniors, she grew weary and simply quit.


Robert liked Gaia’s personality and her voice, her formal way of speaking, and her intelligence, which he believed possessed potential. He also believed she should be in university, studying a subject like neuroscience or astrophysics. She laughed when she heard this because when she thought of all the overqualified, overeducated deadbeats in her family she didn’t believe in the value of a postsecondary education any longer. She was turned off by his can-do attitude and his talk of education and personal advancement and progress.


Meanwhile, he thought about divorcing Lina and fantasized about eloping with her, or at least sponsoring her college or university education. He even drove her for a cruise to Humber College and York University, where he had been a student, and took her on a tour of the campus during the summer. Bored by even the prospect of community college or university, she thought he needed to be realistic.


He still loved Lina, but in a different way, without physical intimacy. Lina continued to remind him of his mother: while his mother was hard working and devoutly Catholic, Lina preferred reading and meditation; but, like Lina, his mother shunned all warmth, intimacy, and physical contact.


One evening Robert showed up early at the motel, after he explored the lakeshore beyond the parking lot and parkway for a short walk. In high spirits, he took leaps and bounds up the stairs and through the foyers and hallways to the single room he booked in advance. He showed up for their liaison and tryst at the dingy, spare, room, which remained unrenovated since the motel was constructed in the forties.


He found Gaia, slumped, bent over from a sitting position on the edge of the motel bed, with a hypodermic needle stuck in her arm, upon which he never wanted to any tattoos inked. Gaia’s fingers and face were blue, a bubble of whitish fluid and salvia oozed around her lips and her skin was purplish and blue in pallor. She appeared unconscious but he suspected the worst. When he touched her, she felt cold and lifeless. When he pinched her other arm, the stimulation failed to evoke a physical or reflexive response. Her breathing was absent and the bed sheet around her body and bottom was damp with moisture. He walked out of the motel room, and left the motel through the back doors exits, which led to the moonlit shore of Lake Ontario, feeling grief but also disappointment, since he never expected his Gaia would be an intravenous drug user.


As the summer nights bled one into another, and grew shorter, he no longer felt compelled to visit the lakeshore strip of night clubs featuring exotic dancers and motels with sultry women in tight, revealing form fitting outfits. He continued to swim lanes at the outdoor swimming pool. As his exercise routines became longer and more rigorous, Robert grew hard and lean, with raw sharp chiselled looks and washboard stomach muscles. Later that summer, Moorhead volun told him to compete a member of the investment company’s triathlon team in the charitable Ironman competition on the Toronto waterfront. Ross wanted Robert to compete in the swim portion for the team Maclean ManbridgeMoorheadwas fielding for the Ironman competition. Robert reluctantly and grudgingly volunteered.


The previous evening he had a deeply disturbing dream, which he remembered vividly. He dreamed that Ross Moorhead had met with Gaia in the motel room before he arrived and injected her with an overdose, a hotshot. The dream or nightmare he might have dismissed if it didn’t seem so plausible and realistic. He didn’t consider himself a conspiracy theorist, and his judgment was sound as his investment success showed.


During the start of the race, he took off ahead of the crowd for an early lead from the harbour beach as he swam through the cold water towards the Toronto Islands. He managed to provide the triathlon team an early lead in time and standing during that first portion of the race. As he swam through the cold dark water, he grew tired and felt lost, distracted, with his brooding thoughts turning gloomy. As he swam, his thoughts and attitude turned negative. He thought he was trapped in a terrible life, where people were motivated by greed and profit and others faced discrimination because of their skin color. He thought the world cruel, mean, heartless, its people behaving badly towards one another—colder than the deep lake waters. Earlier, at the start of the race, he noticed all but two of the swimmers were white, pale, light-skinned, untanned, wan looking. He had become dark, tan, through prolonged exposure to the sun and outdoors activities. He thought he could relate to the discrimination faced by others, after a cyclist called him a spic on the jogging trail which ran along the lakeshore, but the remaining swimmers looked as if they would become badly sunburned if they lingered for even a short while in the bright hot summer sun. Did these people properly represent the diversity of the city, built by immigrants, populated by every ethnic group in the world.


Then, as he swam through the choppy waves of chilly Lake Ontario, he saw another triathlete swimming alongside him. She looked exactly like Gaia. She smiled, and the gesture struck him as beatific. He felt comforted and reassured by her presence, swimming alongside her in the frigid water of the inland sea. Everything would be all right, everything would turn out well in the end. He felt strong and energetic in her presence, as his swim strokes grew in speed and intensity. Then she ploughed ahead with faster swim strokes. When she turned and faced him, her healthy summer tan and enthusiastic glow turned a purple and blue hue as she glared with bared teeth. Her long red hair beneath her bathing cap turned to squirming water snakes. Robert’s body felt cold and numb, and he felt breathless, as he hyperventilated. His body and sensorium was affected adversely by the cold water. His mind grew cloudy as the storm clouds approached over the horizon across the broad expanse of Lake Ontario. Contemplating his distance from the shore and the depth of the water, beneath his kicking feet, in Lake Ontario, he grew afraid and panicked when he saw no lifeguard paddling or riding in a motorboat or jet-ski nearby. He no longer observed the beatific vision of Gaia—or the swimmer who resembled her, since he couldn’t see her ahead or behind—he had lost sight of her position. His thoughts jumbled, disoriented, he could not even raise his arm or voice to summon help. With his sensorium distorted, he thought he wouldn’t be noticed by potential rescuers; his darkly tanned skin blended with the deep lake water. He lost control of his pace and swim stroke and his cognition lost rationality. He swallowed water, coughed, choked, flailed, and struggled as he sank beneath the lake surface.


Later, police patrol boats failed to locate his body. Scuba divers and triathlon race volunteers and lifeguards gave up the search of the harbour and lakeshore after several days. A few co-workers from Maclean Manbridge Moorhead, in their luxury sportswear and fashionable rubber boots, rode friends’ yachts, surveilling the lake surface, and combed the beaches, wading through the mud, driftwood, and sand of the shoreline, but failed to locate him or his remains. The emergency services boats used dragging hooks, barbed like stainless steel fish hooks, to try to snag his missing body, but these police vessels failed to find any human remains or clues. A jogger along the lakeshore found his bloated, decomposing body in a swimsuit washed ashore, amidst the rocks, gravel, sand, discarded beer cans and liquor bottles and cigarette butts near the motel on the lakeshore boulevard where he met Gaia regularly.