But I woke up one day with an almost-fully-formed story in my head. On May 1, 2019, it will be released by Guernica Editions.
Like his three siblings, 32-year-old Alfredo “Freddy Flowers” Falconi has led two lives: the idyllic one before “The Incident”—his mother’s 1984 death—and the complicated one afterward. He was just eight-years-old when his father abandoned the family, and nine when his oldest brother, “Small Carm,” covered up the circumstances of Rosa Falconi’s demise to keep the family’s honour intact.
Twenty-three years later, that lie has become a black hole: hidden at the centre of all of their lives, it’s a supremely powerful force that, when uncovered by Freddy, threatens to tear them apart.
Set against the backdrop of the Falconi family’s shuttered tractor showroom on Toronto’s pulsating and ethnically diverse Spadina Avenue, FALCONI’S TRACTOR explores the Italo-Canadian experience, Catholicism, family dynamics, the fall of a family business, infidelity, and mental health—all with a red Falconi tractor and a Ferrari sports car as bookends to the action.
Dom knocked on my door and asked me to come downstairs. It was the first time I’d heard him speak that day.
He led me down to the showroom, but I almost tripped on the last stair because the overhead lights had been turned off; only the red tractor in the window had light on it (and I noticed that the blinds had been drawn, something I’d never seen before) and there was candlelight coming from the middle of the showroom. Both desks had been pushed to the walls to make room for the four of us to gather around the candles.
I thought we were going to say some prayers for mom, but that’s not what happened.
“Dom and Gina, you already know about this, but Freddy, we wanted you to be part of this ceremony too,” Small Carm said, his voice steady despite the flickering light giving him two sets of fish-lips. “Well, it was Dom, actually, who said you are old enough to take part and understand how serious this is.” Dom nodded gently, like he was in church.
“Today has been a real test for our family,” he continued, “but I know we are strong enough to get through it.” He then pulled out four items: a pin, a small paring knife, a wooden handle with three beaded strings attached to it, and an odd, rawhide necklace with two brown squares on either end. One square had old-looking script on it, and the other had a picture of what looked like a saint. He placed the necklace around himself so that one square lay on his chest and the other was on his back, and then said to me: “You ever have a friend that you liked so much you pricked each other’s fingers and became blood brothers, Freddy? Well that’s what we’re going to do here, and then we’re going to promise something to each other, okay?” I just nodded dumbly.
He then took the paring knife and cut X’s into the palms of both his hands. He flinched but didn’t say anything. Almost immediately, a little string of red pearls appeared on the clean tile floor, which soon turned into a puddle. Dom then held out his hands, but Small Carm cut an X into only one of his palms. He must’ve gone deeper, however, since Dom quickly sucked in some air as he watched the blood quickly curl around his forearm. Before I could protest on Gina’s behalf, Small Carm switched to the pin and produced a tiny dome of red on one of her palms. He did the same to me: one little prick right in the centre.
“Now hold hands, everyone,” he said, scanning all of our faces. He took Dom’s bloody hand with his dripping right hand, and Dom took Gina’s, and Gina took mine, but it was what he did with his left that was really weird. He picked up the wooden handle with the beaded strings and began striking himself on the back with quite a bit of force. Droplets of blood from his open wound were flinging through the air, hitting walls, windows and furniture.
“Our mother, Rosabella Falconi, is gone,” he said in the same kind of tone I’d heard in horror movie séances. “But her love lives inside all of us, and we must protect and cherish that love. There has been scandal, and disrespect, but we must protect our proud family name. FALCONI.”
Thankfully, his voice then changed back to something more normal. “And the way to do this is by keeping her death a secret. Dom, Gina, again, you already know this,” he said, then turned his gaze to me, “Freddy, if anyone asks about our mother, you tell them that she has gone missing, and we are doing everything we can to find her….capisce?"
On page four of the August 19, 1938 Globe and Mail, beside a story titled “Text of Address Given by Roosevelt at Bridge Opening”—the American president had given a stirring speech in Kingston, Ontario about the friendship between Canada and the U.S. and promised that he would “not stand idly by if domination of Canadian soil is threatened by any other empire”—was the headline “RIBBON CUT AT ITALIAN TRACTOR SHOWROOM.” Underneath that was a three-column-wide photo of two men in fedoras shaking hands in front of a sleek new storefront with a big curved window; behind the glass, a pair of headlights and a grille was just visible. The caption read: “Smiles all around as small crowd gathers at 413 Spadina Ave to-day to witness opening of flashy Massey competitor Falconi Farm Equipment. Red tractor will be ‘permanent fixture’ in window, says owner. Picture shows, left to right: Joe Falconi, owner, and Mayor Day.—Staff Photo.”
That wasn’t completely true. Had the reporter or photographer asked a few more questions, he (or she, yeah right!) would have learned that Falconi had come to Toronto in large part because of Massey-Harris, the behemoth manufacturer that had been belching smoke into the Toronto skies and tractors into its massive parking lot since 1879.
Peeking out from behind Mayor Ralph Day’s shoulder—two years later he’d announce that families of interned Italian breadwinners wouldn’t get welfare because they shouldn’t “expect us to spend money for war purposes for the purpose of maintaining alien enemies”—was the part of the Falconi building façade that was long gone when I was growing up. The first floor of our building had been outfitted in large, glass panels called “Vitrolite,” an ultra-modern, high-gloss material that was immensely popular in the 1930s, 40s and early 50s. The original twelve stations of the Toronto subway, which opened in 1954, were covered in the stuff, actually, with the station names sandblasted right into the glass (Eglinton station, actually, is the only one that still has it).
Luckily, our family has photos that show the façade in great detail, since a lot were taken in those early years. The really cool ones are part of a clinical series Nonno Joe had done for the insurance company: A professional photographer took multiple shots of the front and back of the building, and the office space inside, with close-ups of the streamlined counter, rolling stools, and high-tech equipment like the telephone and wax cylinder Dictaphone. Then there are the family photos of various relatives who came over from Italy, like great-uncle Tom, who did the obligatory pose out front on the sidewalk a dozen times. Unfortunately, all of these are in black and white.
By the early 1960s, however, when colour film got cheaper (and just before dad took over the business), there are photos that finally show what all those sidewalk gawkers witnessed that big day in 1938. Even though it was almost twenty-five-years-old by then, the Falconi building was still a beautiful thing to behold. While the top two floors looked original to 1890, the ground floor looked as modern as a Raymond Loewy-designed “S1” locomotive speeding through one of those Art Deco travel pos