Field notes on the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original."It’s a weak word, 'trouble.' But that’s what came to mind when someone finally bought the Wong-Campeau place at the south end of the cul-de-sac. Stefan Brandeis took one look at the silver Camaro Z28 in the driveway and said, 'Vroom-vroom. Here comes trouble.' He was kidding, of course. Who could have believed that a barbarian was at the gates?"
About the author
Zsuzsi Gartner is the author of the critically acclaimed story collection All The Anxious Girls on Earth. A former senior editor at Saturday Night magazine, she is currently creative director of Vancouver Review's Blueprint B.C. Fiction series. She is the winner of a 2007 National Magazine Award for Fiction and the recipient of numerous awards for her magazine journalism. Her stories have been produced on radio in Canada and the U.S. Gartner has lived in Winnipeg, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa and now lives in Vancouver, a utopian dystopia.
Excerpt: Summer of the Flesh Eater (by (author) Zsuzsi Gartner)
He moved in onthe Canada Day long weekend. As the children circled the cul-de-sac on their Razors and Big Wheels, like planes stacked in a holding pattern, he arrived with a U-Haul hitched to the Camaro and started unloading. No moving company, just him. He wore what’s commonly referred to as a “muscle shirt,” but some would call a “wife beater.” Stefan Brandeis noted that he hadn’t seen a grown man in cut-offs that tight since Expo 86. We later had a spirited debate about whether his was in fact a conventional mullet or ersatz “hockey hair.” The first thing he wheeled out of the U-Haul was a hulking, jerry-built barbecue. He seemed friendly enough. He flashed what Trevor Masahara called “a big, shit-eating grin” at those of us who’d gone over to welcome him with a pitcher of iced matcha tea spiked with Kentucky Gentleman.
“Shake hands with the Q,” he said, patting the hood of the barbecue as if it were a loyal hound, the half moons of his prominent cuticles edged in grease. Karlheinz Jacobsen’s wife later commented that he smelled a bit ripe and the other women made a show of fanning the air in front of their faces. Kim Fischer’s wife even enthusiastically snuffled Kim’s exfoliated pits like a truffle pig. At the time, it seemed they were being a trifle judgmental, but one thing we’d always appreciated about our wives was that they spoke their minds.
It bears mentioning that he did something else that first day as we gathered around his “Q” trying to make small talk. Without missing a beat, he reached down to rearrange himself inside his cut-offs. This is something we’ve never talked about, not even Stefan B. Some things are better left unannotated.
Afterwards, he sat down on his new front steps and drank beer straight from the can, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, exaggeratedly rotating his shoulders as if attempting to recalibrate himself. It had all been amusing at first, some kind of sideshow. Like having a Molson ad shot on your very own street. This was before the dog and the Dodge one-ton arrived.
That day is easy to recall with a great deal of clarity for another reason. We’d always been spared the smell from the rendering plant across the Burrard Inlet. But on July 1, there occurred a shift in the wind that continued unabated throughout the summer. The congealed odour of pyrolyzed animal parts would enter the cul-de-sac and then just hang there, as if snagged on a hydro line. It came and went, some days thankfully better than others. Can you smell it, we’d ask hopefully at the gelato shop two blocks away on Mountain Highway. Didn’t you smell it on Albermarle Drive as well, we quizzed our letter carrier, who took to pelting through her rounds on the cul-de-sac as if Cerberus were at her heels. It was difficult to believe we were the only ones in our North Vancouver enclave saddled with the almost gelatinous stink. There were days when even the leaves of the silver birches that edged the ravine behind our properties appeared to curl back from it. The cedars and the Sitka spruce, more stoic trees, stood their ground.
Praise for Better Living Through Plastic Explosives: “Gartner’s attentiveness to the artificial gives her prose a laser-like sharpness and precision that nothing organic is capable of.”—Jeet Heer, National Post