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.
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