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.
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