by Andrew Forbes
An electrical engineer who has lost almost everything - his marriage, his job, his father - retreats to his garage to re-evaluate and reorganize the various loose ends of his life, and ends up assembling a thermonuclear device instead.
WHAT HAD HAPPENED WAS that I more or less accidentally assembled a thermonuclear device in the garage. I mean, I guess I knew what I was doing, but it wasn't some grand master plan, it was just, And what if I put this here? Sure, there may have been instructions downloaded from the Internet, a couple of library books checked out, but it wasn't my intent to have it become a big deal. I certainly didn't have a List of Demands, like they kept asking me.
In the moment, I had several main concerns, but one of the biggest had to do with the damage their Mobile Command Centre—really a tricked-out RV—had done to my lawn when they rolled up. I was thinking about the levelling and reseeding I was going to have to do.
It was embarrassing, too, I have to say. It felt like an unwarranted level of scrutiny. They'd managed to evacuate the neighbourhood, but not before that awful half-hour or so where all the neighbours were standing around in a tight arc that cut across the street, which I guess they'd closed, and onto the sidewalk in front of Jerry's house. There was a whole lot of milling about and, I don't have to guess, gossip. They were probably saying this had to do with my being laid off, but it really didn't. Springer Electric had dumped a nice severance in my lap, and I was kind of enjoying my time off. It gave me time to putter, fix a few things that had been bothering me, reorganize the tool room, and, yes, okay, to build the thermonuclear device, which I had nicknamed Fat Albert for the sake of avoiding clunky monikers like “The Device.”
My only motivation, if I had one, was to prove to myself that it could be done with simple household materials and a well-stocked toolbox. And guess what?
When I realized that I'd done it, I began to think that I ought to write it down somewhere, so I didn't forget how I'd done it. Then I thought, This might be useful, or at least impressive, to others. Maybe I should start a blog?
There was no cause. No Cause. No political statement, save my belief in self-reliance, a can-do, DIY streak that is related to changing your own oil, performing your own renovations with or without the proper permits, and not expecting government handouts to see you through life's rough patches. That, and the feeling that what happens in my garage is really only my business and nobody else's.
But one stray comment to the mailman was all that was required to let the world in on my secret, as it turned out. I was working one warm, spring morning with the garage door open, just putting some finishing touches on Fat Albert, a bit of paint, and he came by with a handful of junk mail. He usually doesn't say much, just a curt hello, but he saw the box and the wires, and he stood puzzled for a moment, that floppy hat on his head, his twin saddlebags full of envelopes and flyers bulging from his sides, and he said, “What on Earth is that?”
And I, feeling prideful, had to boast, “It's a bomb. A nuclear bomb. Crazy, right? I just figured I'd give it a shot, and Fat Albert here is the result. Just a thing to see if I could do it.”
“Jesus,” he said.
“Yeah. A thermonuclear device.” I said thermonuclear kind of slow, like ther-mo-nu-clee-yer.
“Really?” he said. “Like, really?”
“It was pretty easy, actually. You could do it yourself, I'd bet. With stuff you have lying around the house. Old smoke detectors, for instance. And a couple hours on Wikipedia.”
“Right,” he said, and he kind of laughed, a thin, nervous laugh.
“I mean it,” I said, but he was already halfway across the lawn to Mrs. Gale's house, and, I'd bet, by the time he reached the corner, by the time he figured he was out of earshot, he was digging his phone out of his pocket and notifying the relevant authorities.
At that same moment, here's what I was thinking: It's the kind of thing he'll laugh about later.
about the author
ANDREW FORBES was born in Ottawa, Ontario and attended Carleton University. He has written film and music criticism, liner notes, sports columns, and short fiction. His work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, and has appeared in publications including VICE Sports, The Classical, The New Quarterly, and This Magazine. What You Need, his debut collection of fiction, was published by Invisible Publishing in 2015 and was nominated for the 2015 Danuta Gleed Literary Award and the 2016 Trillium Book Award. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario. www.andrewgforbes.com
by this author
In a suburb that is nowhere and everywhere, Jorgen deals with the feelings of alienation and frustration from his collapsing relationship by getting into his car, putting on Patti Smith, and searching for meaning and belonging anywhere he can — regardless of whether he is welcome or wanted.
Saxophonist Metche Hufu and his band are the talk of Addis Ababa, filling nightclubs and packing dance floors. But the precarious existence of this golden age of culture depends on an emperor’s benevolence - and when his power begins to wane, Metche Hufu's music threatens to be silenced by the sounds of a country torn apart.
“How do you give voice to a sax player silenced by the politics of his country? If you’re a jazz singer like Kurt Elling, you take Dexter Gordon’s solo on ‘Body and Soul’ from his Homecoming album and you turn it into vocalese. If your name is Andrew Forbes and your tenor sax player is Ethiopian and it is Addis Ababa 1973 and his musical idol is King Curtis, you write The Expansiveness of My Sound and what you write is wider, more straight-ahead, stronger with political fervour, sadder than Elling but every bit as smart. Forbes is doing it solo and you have to imagine the quartet behind him. Read it with your fingers tapping and you’ll catch the beat. Read it with your ears open and you’ll hear Metche Hufu’s body and soul. Dig it!”
— T. F. Rigelhof, author of Hooked on Canadian Books: The Good, the Better, and the Best Canadian Novels Since 1984
A recruiter for a Division I college basketball team travels to a town in hopes of finally convincing the year's prize high school prospect to play for his team. Over several days, he reflects on his love of the sport, his respect for the kids, and a job that forces him to sweep sentiment aside in order to get results.
“Andrew Forbes' The Gamechanger is a powerful work from a point-of-view — that of the scout, the talent evaluator — which is not often seen or done convincingly, as it is here. A story about fathers and sons, about fate, and about the implicit savageries that lurk at the heart of the sports we love and the teams we cheer for. This is wonderful, raw writing.”
— Craig Davidson, author of Rust and Bone and Cataract City
“A fascinating look at the relationships a recruiter has to manage, from the sacrifices of being away from their family, to dealing with rival recruiters, prospects and their friends and family ... a very nuanced and layered approach that goes beyond just a man with a job to do at a gym.”
— Alex Wong, stevenlebron.com
from the library
After twenty years of running, Betty quietly returns to her hometown of Arbford, thinking it a solid place to finally put down some roots. But the adage 'you can't go home again' proves true, as Betty finds that her mere presence is more than enough to disrupt the stagnant lives of everyone around her.
“In this cautionary suburban fairy tale, a big-city refugee searching for home finds herself in a nest of multiple Mikes and Pyrex-wielding vipers. With enchanting style and snort-causing wit, Grace O’Connell does casserole-studded claustrophobia like nobody’s business.”
— Jessica Westhead, author of And Also Sharks and Pulpy & Midge
Marta is a human resources employee at a grocery store chain. She moves through the days passively, always taking the path of least resistance, until a case at work - that of a hijab-wearing woman, in defiance of a strict no-hats policy - awakens her to the injustices of her own life.
“This Is a Love Crime by Lee Kvern is a cunning and intensely human look at one of the central issues of our time. It negotiates the space between belief, racism, liberty, and sexuality with curiosity and compassion.”
— Todd Babiak, bestselling author of Toby: A Man and The Garneau Block
“Lee Kvern paints with a scalpel. With characteristic unflinching honesty, she peels the relationship between Marta and Corbin back to quivering nerves in This Is a Love Crime and juxtaposes it against veiled assumptions about cultural oppression. The narrative leaps crackle with energy and empathy. When I read Kvern’s stories, I’m seduced by exquisite detail and—love or loathe them—left with the scent of her characters long after the last page.”
— Betty Jane Hegerat, author of Delivery and The Boy
“In This Is a Love Crime, Lee Kvern uses the intricately drawn characters of Corbin and Marta to explore the charged topics of ethnicity and Western modes of submission and control. Written in Kvern’s distinctive, poetic, and multi-layered style, the story leaves us with warm insight into all the characters—and challenges our hearts and preconceptions.”
— Barb Howard, author of Whipstock, Notes for Monday, and The Dewpoint Show
At Georgetown University, a music student and part-time nude life model becomes involved with the first true passion of her life, a man who awakens her to the weight of experience she already possesses - as well as the ups and downs yet to come.
Polly knows what she wants: to be in the greatest band in the world. Oliver knows what he wants: Polly. Together they are The Oughts, a duo trying to attain the unattainable, one basic chord at a time.
“Richard Rosenbaum’s The Oughts jabs its sticky little fingers right into your heart and swirls them around in there for a long, long time. Its characters unfold in pitch-perfect awkwardness and tender apathy, and readers will be struck by the surreal hinges and twitching imagery that Rosenbaum flawlessly weaves in. Writers in the audience should take note: Rosenbaum has created a writhing work of fiction that any scribe would aspire to be capable of pulling off.”
— Liz Worth, author of Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond and Eleven: Eleven
In this unexpectedly dark character study, Jessica Westhead puts you in the shoes of an apprentice forced to listen to a seasoned wedding DJ as he lectures on the tricks of the trade. Emboldened by the captivity of his audience, the DJ's 'humorous' observations and grievances claw deeper and deeper, betraying ugliness at the core.
“In the still-frothing wake of And Also Sharks, here’s another sadly hilarious and hilariously sad Jessica Westhead story with bite. The self-deluding wedding DJ in The Lesson is a perfect addition to Westhead’s bent gallery of sympathetic sad sacks blustering their way through work and love ever after.”
— Zsuzsi Gartner, author of All the Anxious Girls on Earth and the 2011 Giller Prize–shortlisted Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
When Blanche first began singing, she was humble, eager, willing to work, willing to learn. Now she is headstrong, condescending, unprofessional, and just a tiny bit full of herself. She is also the closest to genius that Antoinette, her accompanist, may ever have a chance to work with.
Catherine wants what Richard has: a richly decorated house, and a perfect, lavished-upon baby. Catherine also wants Richard: a disaffected diplomat whose true passion is for cinema. But Catherine is only the babysitter, and her envy—and its fallout—come to the fore when Richard is accused of a crime, and she must decide whether to help exonerate him.
“Laure Baudot’s prose is exquisite, patient, and sophisticated. In the Afternoon immerses you in the fascinating and complicated mind of a babysitter who is wise beyond her years, yet dangerously impulsive at the same time. This story is irresistible and heartbreaking.”
— Sarah Selecky, author of the 2010 Giller Prize–shortlisted collection This Cake Is for the Party
An imaginative and resonant work of speculative literature from ReLit Award-winning author Darren Greer. Twin brothers, born on an oppressive family farm, discover a miraculous way to escape the dreariness of their lives, charting a course that promises equal measures of wonder and heartbreak.