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).


Susan Calder's Deadly Fall

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Dennis Oppenheim's " Device to Root Out Evil " was installed in Ramsay, a few blocks away from the murder site in Susan Calder's novel. The sculpture became a landmark during its stay in Calgary between 2008 and 2014. (Photo: Calgary Public Library,  Judith Umbach Photograph Collection ) 

Dennis Oppenheim's "Device to Root Out Evil" was installed in Ramsay, a few blocks away from the murder site in Susan Calder's novel. The sculpture became a landmark during its stay in Calgary between 2008 and 2014. (Photo: Calgary Public Library, Judith Umbach Photograph Collection

Paula Savard notices the crime scene on her way home from work. Yellow tape blocks the entrance to the Elbow River trail by the railway bridge near her house in Ramsay. Police officers in coveralls scour the site. In her renovated clapboard-and-stucco bungalow, Paula listens in disbelief as a reporter identifies the murder victim: Paula’s girlhood friend, Callie Moss. The next day in her kitchen, Paula tells two Calgary police detectives how a summer road trip in 1973 from Montreal to Vancouver ended with both friends living in Calgary. After Callie’s fling with a folk rock musician that summer, she married an oilman and settled into a comfortable life in Mount Royal. For Paula, the decision to move to Calgary happened twenty years later: a fresh start with unexpected turns.

 

Most people assumed they had moved to escape the sour mood that permeated English Quebec after the 1995 independence referendum. The move was more to rejuvenate their personal lives. She was tired of working for a large insurance firm. Gary, her husband, was tired of being a small insurance agent, but couldn’t find anything better due to his lack of fluency in French. Most of their friends had already left Montreal. They decided to hopscotch Ontario and try Calgary. They liked its gung-ho atmosphere. Callie was here; Gary got along with her then husband, Kenneth.

The water jug was empty. She got up to refill it, glad for the opportunity to stretch her legs. With the sun’s movement to the front of the house, the kitchen had grown cool and dark. The unstated reason, even at the time, for her and Gary’s move to Calgary was a hope that the change would boost their stagnant marriage.

 

Susan Calder, Deadly Fall (Touchwood Editions, 2011)