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
by Andrew Forbes
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.
of My Sound
by Andrew Forbes
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
by Andrew Forbes
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
Everything Must Go
by Jeff Dupuis
A man in the throes of a breakup is selling all of his possessions on Kijiji and Craigslist. Greg’s couch, his VHS tapes, obsolete desktop computer, and cow-shaped clock – it all must go. Between pot smoking, pizza eating, and watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, he meets with would-be buyers, taking his old life apart piece by discount piece in order to figure out what went wrong.
Off the Main Highway
by Courtney McDermott
At the Chickasaw Motel, three generations of the McGuinness clan are led by their elderly and overbearing patriarch. Only little Riley, “the smartest f-ing kid”, is spared the brunt of Grandpa McGuinness’s cruelty; ironically, it is his encouragement that provides her with a way out.
If You Waited Here, You Would
See Almost Everything
by Danny Goodman
After Ray collapses on the sidewalk outside a New York coffee shop, the bittersweet vagaries of his long marriage come into focus, one heartbeat at a time. From his new vantage point, flat on his back, all their conflicts are laid out against a canvas of sky, contrasting miscommunications and infidelities against something slower, steadier, and ultimately much vaster than he ever realized.
Hansel, Gretel and Katie
by Seyward Goodhand
The depredations of a corrupt local government and the ravages of a harsh prairie winter force an ostracized but self-sufficient widow to open her home to innocents with nowhere else to turn. Journey Prize finalist Seyward Goodhand's effortless storytelling allows the humanity to shine through in this grim take on a classic tale.
by Lana Storey
Some time after the incomprehensible death of his son, Joan Miró has settled into his new job working the overnight shift at a Hasty Market in Toronto. He has plenty of time to think beneath the fluorescent lights of the convenience store: of ghosts and late nights, of downtown living and dying, of customer service and self-preservation, of the beauty of the night sky, and of the attempts people make to connect with one another despite seemingly insurmountable distances. These fragments of life prove as difficult to make sense of as any code—until one night, when an extraordinary series of events suddenly teases a pattern from the dark.
“In this graceful, dark, and nuanced piece, Lana Storey reveals a private man unhinged by grief. These are events—and this a narrative—that will stay in my mind for a long time. Never one to shirk from difficult truths, Lana Storey writes in the tradition of George Saunders: an original, at times disturbing, but ultimately transformative worldview.”
— Carolyn Smart, author of Hooked: Seven Poems and At the End of the Day
“Cross Yourself is Lana Storey’s gorgeous swirling image constellation, a story about a man becoming unhinged from the universe and finding redemption in a downtown Hasty Market convenience store. A vibrant, beating heart of a short fiction, Cross Yourself is a vortex worth being pulled into.”
— Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, author of the 2005 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award finalist The Nettle Spinner
In the Afternoon
by Laure Baudot
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