Susan Calder's "Adjusting the Ashes"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

View of Calgary from Scotsman's Hill circa 1906 (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

View of Calgary from Scotsman's Hill circa 1906 (Photo: Calgary Public Library Postcards from the Past)

Carol, an insurance adjuster, is wide awake at 4 a.m. Her doctor tells her perimenopause is making her restless. In her den in West Hillhurst, she glances at the line of cards celebrating her 50th birthday. CAROL BEFORE… reads one. CAROL AFTER? She turns her attention to the insurance claim on her desk. Harvey Ashe swallowed a mouse in his beer. She’s arranged a meeting at the claimant’s house in Ramsay. Little does she know that during her visit, this working-class couple’s insurance claim will not be the only thing that will be adjusted.

 

Two-storey cottages with porches and peaked roofs slope up the street toward Scotsman’s Hill, where Carol and Andy used to bring the girls to watch the Stampede fireworks. A trio of brightly painted homes, with neat flower boxes, suggest that the neighbourhood, like her West Hillhurst one, is moving upscale. But it’s far from there, Carol thinks, as she parallel parks behind a beat-up Civic. A Handi-bus rumbles past the claimants’ house, which looks in desperate need of new siding and windows. A plastic sheet covers the upstairs dormer. Carol grabs her briefcase and clacks up the sidewalk and uneven front steps, thinking, if she falls, she’ll file a countersuit against the Ashes. After scanning the chipped paint for a doorbell, she knocks and waits on the porch, where the mouse eating incident occurred.

 

Susan Calder, “Adjusting the Ashes,” Alberta Views (Nov/Dec 2003). A revised version of the story appears in Writing Menopause (Toronto: Inanna, 2017).