by Devon Code
A landlord's disturbing eccentricities put him at odds with his tenants. A disgruntled barber's assistant endures his last day on the job. An aspiring painter combats an ongoing series of distractions.
With a generous spirit and keen eye for minutiae, Journey Prize winner Devon Code teases moments of clarity from the chaos of the everyday grind in these three thematically-linked microfictions.
THREE STUDENTS LIVED IN the three-bedroom house; their landlord lived next door. There was a firepit in his backyard, which adjoined the backyard of his female tenants. In this pit he would regularly burn all manner of synthetic substances, taking great pleasure in their incineration. When the flames were at their highest and the fumes at their most noxious, he could be seen standing before the fire, almost at attention, singing in an ardent, stentorian manner. He sang in a foreign language the tenants did not recognize, his lyrics entirely indecipherable, the tunes growing increasingly familiar with each fire.
The fumes would permeate the tenants’ home, making the rear rooms unlivable, causing the tenants to suffer headaches and other ailments as they speculated as to the origin of their elderly landlord’s mania. One of the tenants had learned from the landlord, in that brief mid-summer period before the fires had begun, that during the war he had been forced to work in the camps. In accented but articulate English, the landlord had spoken eloquently about the trials of this horrific time in his past and the lasting impressions they had made upon him. When, several weeks later, the same tenant to whom the landlord had spoken lodged a complaint about the fires, the landlord did not seem to understand, nor could he articulate a coherent response, his facility for English having regressed to a state of complete incomprehensibility, as if the fires’ fumes had a deleterious effect on his faculties. On subsequent occasions, other tenants would confront him, sometimes two at a time, the landlord’s inability to distinguish one tenant from another — along with his unwillingness to look them in the eye — becoming increasingly apparent.
Despite the tenants’ protestations, the fires did not abate. By early autumn they had grown so regular as to cause the tenants to consider breaking their lease. They were reluctant to do so given the reasonableness of the rent, their proximity to the university, and the spaciousness of their accommodation. Their determination to stay gave rise to a variety of measures to curtail the fires, the first of these being the protection of their recyclables. By mid-October, the landlord, having run out of synthetic objects, began to search for plastics in the recycling bin stored on his tenants’ porch, claiming, when questioned, that he was collecting refundable items, the deposits for which would otherwise go unclaimed. His tenants, who were not fooled, firmly forbade him access to the porch. The landlord took to conducting his searches at night, flashlight in hand, waking his tenants with the noise of his rummaging, as if he were a raccoon. In desperation, the tenants began storing their recyclables in their front hall, waiting on Wednesday mornings for the sound of the approaching sanitation truck, so as to prevent the bin from being intercepted.
about the author
DEVON CODE is a fiction writer. He is the author of In A Mist, a collection of stories. Involuntary Bliss, his debut novel, was published by BookThug in October 2016. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Writers' Trust Journey Prize. Originally from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, he lives in Peterborough, Ontario.
from the library
Toronto in the twenty-first century: At night, a beacon on a lonely ancient lake, a drainage pond from the last ice age. In the daytime, a bulwark of glass, glinting in the radiant sun. Joe, Mary, and her cat, Sam, sit in a lakeside condo, trapped by a crazed, mysterious sniper. What has become of their lives? What has become of their city? What has become of their century? As the situation begins to unravel, Mary finds herself wondering, “What would Margaret Atwood do?”
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
Decades ago, when bands like the Everly Brothers rode the airwaves and vacancy signs shone like beacons in the night, a young man gets his first taste of love, loss, and the ethereal satisfaction that comes with knowing that the world is turning and life is being lived.
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
People grow in dimensions other than those we perceive. The teenage narrator of award-winning author Daniel Karasik’s latest story must deal with the fact that his older sister is now a grown woman, and Lucy, his crush-next-door, has become a mystery, with depths beyond his comprehension. Has he been coasting all this time, school and television his life’s only sources of momentum?
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.
The anarchic relationships holding together a group of teen girls - whose lines between love and hate, jealousy and loyalty, are not so much drawn as they are furiously scribbled - are put to the test at an unforgettable birthday party. This story captures all the angst and uncertainty of adolescence, with prose as sharp and jarring as a smashed kaleidoscope.
“Rarely an author comes along whose work hits you with the impact of a slap. I have had this experience with the work of Jayne Anne Phillips, with Lorrie Moore and Mary Gaitskill; most recently I have felt this on discovering the writing of Kirsty Logan. Her work is elegant, minimal, and innovative, but underlying it all is a great passion. If the world is a place where talent is recognised—in time, I believe, we may come to say her name alongside the aforementioned.”
— Ewan Morrison, author of Swung