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
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
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.
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
A small-time internet scammer is shaken from her somewhat safe new life when an investigator arrives with questions to do with her erstwhile "period of moral decline" — specifically, the whereabouts of a young woman whose brief, bright friendship nearly steered her from the stability she now craves.
Saxophonist Metche Hufu and his band are the talk of Addis Ababa, filling nightclubs and packing dance floors. But the precarious existence of this golden age of culture depends on an emperor’s benevolence - and when his power begins to wane, Metche Hufu's music threatens to be silenced by the sounds of a country torn apart.
“How do you give voice to a sax player silenced by the politics of his country? If you’re a jazz singer like Kurt Elling, you take Dexter Gordon’s solo on ‘Body and Soul’ from his Homecoming album and you turn it into vocalese. If your name is Andrew Forbes and your tenor sax player is Ethiopian and it is Addis Ababa 1973 and his musical idol is King Curtis, you write The Expansiveness of My Sound and what you write is wider, more straight-ahead, stronger with political fervour, sadder than Elling but every bit as smart. Forbes is doing it solo and you have to imagine the quartet behind him. Read it with your fingers tapping and you’ll catch the beat. Read it with your ears open and you’ll hear Metche Hufu’s body and soul. Dig it!”
— T. F. Rigelhof, author of Hooked on Canadian Books: The Good, the Better, and the Best Canadian Novels Since 1984
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.
The Psychology of Animals Swallowed Alive:
by Kirsty Logan
Embark upon these twenty short, scrumptious flights of fancy from the unmistakable pen of Scott Prize-winning author Kirsty Logan, and you will be astounded, titillated, disturbed, amused, heartbroken, and above all, astonished.
“Logan crafts an exquisitely wrought diorama full of tenderly compelling characters; observations about grief, worship, social order, and human nature, and a love that transcends definition.”
– NPR on Logan's debut novel The Gracekeepers
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