by Lee Kvern
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
HE COVERS THE LENGTH of Marta’s freckled body, from her Wham Bam Glam toenail polish up along her velvet-shaved thighs, lingering, always, too long at her groin, shaved and hairless the way he likes it. In contrast to Corbin’s hairy body that at times Marta finds repulsive. Then up her childless abdomen to her small breasts, her warm neck, her worried, moist armpits, behind her ears to her glossy black hair that hangs loose and thick down to her shoulders like he prefers.
Marta lies perfectly still, not submissive necessarily, though her body is stiff and erect while her husband Corbin performs his animalistic ritual of confirming that she is his, his alone, his only. Luckily she’s had a few drinks, easier to submit than to mutiny and spend their swiftly passing weekends quarrelling with one another, interlocking his and hers horns. She saves the weight of her humility for the other five days of the week.
No scent this Friday night beyond Joey Tomato’s, deep-fried calamari, a couple after-work Crantinis with her colleagues from Save-On-Foods where Marta’s worked her way up to human resources from her many years as human cashier; the reek of Phil perhaps, the Aldergrove store manager’s florid, effeminate cologne—no one that Corbin need be concerned with. The residual odour of nicotine, the cigarettes she isn’t to be smoking but can’t not. Not a trace of sea or strange men as Corbin sniffs her genitals like a dog—though it’s Marta who feels canine.
“Are you smoking again?” he asks, resurfacing.
“No, it’s the girls.”
He looks at her. She looks away.
“Whose godawful perfume?”
“Phil’s,” Marta says, pulling the duvet up over her exposed body, cold now in the late night.
“He could at least smell like a man,” Corbin says, his conversational opener that Marta doesn’t respond to. Yes, Phil’s gay, so what? What business is it of theirs?
“I’ll inform him of that on Monday,” Marta says dryly.
Corbin breathes in the dark, not saying what she knows he’s thinking. Talk to me, for God’s sake, Marta. I don’t see you all week, I miss you like hell, and you can’t come home and talk to me? She knows it like the etched frown on his idealistic face. She doesn’t talk.
“You can be such an asshole,” he says in her silence.
She rolls over. Corbin sighs.
“Going to sleep?” he asks.
“Okay,” she answers.
HE GETS UP EARLY Saturday morning, his Monday to Friday 5:00 a.m. shifts as an urban arborist so deeply rooted beneath his skin that he couldn’t sleep any longer even if he wanted to. He showers, shaves, dresses, then lets out Harold, Marta’s ten-month-old prized Shar-Pei. Harold: the overpriced, exotic dog that some days Corbin would like to throw in the dryer and shrink down its ill-fitting skin and ever-increasing canine largeness to a more manageable size. Harold? he’d questioned when Marta initially brought the dog home. It’s funny, she’d said, cradling the wrinkled pup on its back between her breasts like a newborn. Harold’s blue-black tongue, like a giant bruise, caressing the pale freckled skin on Marta’s neck, beneath her delicate chin.
Corbin helps Harold out the back door with the side of his foot, then turns on the coffee machine. He can hear their orange cat, O.J., in the basement, scratching in her litter box that needs to be cleaned after breakfast. His domestic regime is no different than his professional one as urban arborist—the constant maintenance of it all. The deluge of flowering trees alone—cherry, plum, crab apple, magnolia, dogwood—that line every other street in the area, which require his dogged safeguarding, his careful preservation. He is, he tells Marta, not simply an arborist but a tree guard, not unlike the lifeguards at the beach. The never-ending upkeep is enough to make anyone woozy with the relentless falling branches, the pale pink-frilly blossoms slippery, treacherous even, beneath his feet. Not only is he saving trees, but perhaps, in the process, he’s saving people’s lives. He reads the Province, drinks coffee, moves on to the Sun, eats six slices of cinnamon toast, then goes down to change the litter box. The feline putrid stench of it ... he turns his face aside and dumps the clumped clay litter into a garbage bag.
Out back, he yells at Harold, who, lacking the proper early socialization that Marta neglected, has become distant, remote, if not outright stubborn and strong-willed. Harold is in the unkempt garden that Corbin planted last year for Marta. Her rogue dog pays Corbin no mind, is busy digging for treasure in the fertile soil he imported from a U-pick blueberry farm in Langley, though none of the dried, decaying plants in Marta’s left-for-dead garden seem to have benefitted from it.
Harold bounds over to him with a mouldy potato in his black mouth—the desiccated prize he has unwittingly found. The rank odour is a scourge in the early morning air. The dog flips the rotten potato in the air, then crouches down on his sable haunches as it lands in a pulpy mess on the hardened earth. He barks wildly at it. Corbin doesn’t know why. Perhaps trying to play with it? Make it whole again? Good flipping luck with that. Corbin kicks the potato shrapnel with his purple Crocs, tries to distract Harold from it, but the Shar-Pei doesn’t budge. Corbin leaves him to it, goes back into the house.
After what seems like hours of numbing silence in their stagnant house, he goes to the bedroom door.
“Marta, get up and come talk to me.”
Marta opens her eyes to the murky light and sees Corbin standing at the foot of their bed.
“What time is it?” she asks.
Corbin checks his watch.
“Okay,” she answers, easier to give in than to start the day in a snarl.
about the author
LEE KVERN is the award-winning author of short stories and novels. Her novel The Matter of Sylvie was nominated for the 2011 Alberta Book Awards. Her novella Afterall was nominated for the 2006 Alberta Book Awards. Her short stories are also well celebrated: “White” was the winner of the 2007 CBC Literary Awards, and “I May Have Known You” was nominated for the 2010 Alberta Literary Awards. “Detachment” was a finalist in the Malahat Open Season Award 2010. Her work has been produced for CBC Radio, published in Event, Descant, enRoute, Joyland.ca, and New York. Her website is www.leekvern.com.
from the library
When I'm Old, When I'm Grey
by Andrew Wilmot
After an unexpected malfunction, the technology which enables humanity to cross vast distances has separated an interstellar traveler from the love of her life — not in space, but in time. Now, while her companions remain in stasis, she must endure the loneliness of the journey until the moment her lover wakes.
Winner of the 2015 Friends of Merril Short Story Contest, When I'm Old, When I'm Grey imagines the strange — and strangely familiar — forms that fear and longing can take, as we venture forth into the unknown of the future.
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.
by Marielle Mondon
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.
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
by Nicole Chin
In a world terrorized by a mysterious criminal organization that recruits children as its foot soldiers, a boy reflects on the journey - steeped in a cocktail of friendship and fear - that has drawn his life past the point of no return.
by Nancy Branch
In the rugged Nepisiguit River region of northern New Brunswick, two hunters face off. One is local sports lodge employee Danny Knockwood, a Mi’gmaw guide with a withered hand. The other is Mui’n, a one-eared black bear battling his inexorable hunger. When Danny is charged by the lodge owner to hunt down the bear that is frightening guests at the salmon pools, his personal values come into sharp conflict with his commitment to the task. The resulting confrontation tests both his physical strength and his beliefs, as Danny begins to recognize a kindred spirit within the fiercely determined bear.
by Jack Bootle
On an isolated English beach a man looks back on his school days, recalling the joy and torment of a secret love affair with a boy full of strange ideas, a boy obsessed with the language of the King James Bible. Moments from their relationship return to him: the hidden meetings on the beach, the first attempts at sex, the boredom of a school assembly in summertime, the cruelty of a young English teacher. But most of all he remembers the boy’s words. They’re words that, years later, will haunt him as he tries to come to terms with the person he has become.
“Psalm 77 is the type of story that one wants to read over and over, searching for meanings previously unseen. It is laced with the hidden, the secret, the sacred. From the sand dunes and their private longings in school to the verses, the imagery, and the final paragraphs, there is so much to uncover . . ." (Read full review)
— Amanda Miller from shortsundone.ca
by Pauline Holdstock
Inspired by true events, this story by Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated author Pauline Holdstock tells of the incredible bond between a mother and daughter, and with gut-wrenching poignancy reminds us of the little things that make life worth living.
“Hers is the kind of prose you get lost in.”
— National Post on The Hunter and the Wild Girl
“Holdstock’s writing manages to be both heartbreakingly poetic and densely detailed ... sad passages, ghostlike recollections, written almost from the vantage point of the present, establish the book as a great work of fiction.”
— The Globe and Mail on Into the Heart of the Country, longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize
“Holdstock, with a few deft strokes, pulls the reader into the tumultuous life of an alluring rabble of characters: painters, sculptors, patrons, fools, and slaves ... In Beyond Measure, she proves herself a master of pacing. Her lively, macabre plot trips lightly along in spite of its dark elements.”
— The Globe and Mail on Beyond Measure, finalist for the 2004 Giller Prize and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize