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
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.
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.
This Is a Love Crime
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
In New York City, Ben smokes too much and sleeps with women as a way to deaden his insecurities. With every indiscretion, he fights off adulthood for one more day, until the return of an ex-lover leaves him unsure of everything. Ben’s best friend, Josh, struggles to find the good in his marriage to Maddie, even as he searches for a way to keep from losing her. Ben’s neighbor, Mrs. Aguilera, looks to make peace with those she has already lost. Gripping tightly to one another like the oddest of families, Ben and his friends embody the place in which they live: a city where everything combines, with a touch of perfect madness, into something more than the sum of its parts.
“I love this story because it’s just plain good. The characters are broken and unsure, but the love they have for each other and the humor that carries them along is genuine and lovely to behold. This story made me laugh even while it was hitting me in the gut, and I’d like nothing more than to sit down and drink a beer with everyone in it. Mr. Goodman, thank you for rocking my literary waffle.”
— Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
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
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
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.
A hybrid travelogue and memoir that pieces together the fragmented recollections of one woman’s rocky journey toward vegetarianism. From her rural upbringing in francophone Northeastern Ontario to exotic locations, outlandish adventures, and bizarre meals, Julie relives her struggle to make the right food choices for herself and examines the consequences of her decisions.