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Why Vancouver? Why You?

Thank you to all entrants. Please visit the semifinalist page to view the top ten essays as determined by our panel and the public voting. Click here to view the top ten

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The Landlord

By Zuzanna Juszkieweicz

The old see visions and the young dream. My new apartment is painted in pink with ornamental decorations, colour representative of the pinkest flesh or salmon.
“Thank god you got here early, usually you would not be able to catch me until after eleven, but last night I slept like Jesus on the Cross.”
Vera grabs my hand, leads me through the heavy green door and into a carpeted foyer,
“I made some visceral renovations to your room, you know, white paint. Shall we take a look?”
I nod.
“Hang on dear, I will take you around the back.”
In order to get up to my new suite we elevate on a disjointed stair exterior walkup. We could use the interior staircase but Vera decides to take me through the private impasse of rich tones edible stair by stair, where steps moan in an unruly gasp. When they fall silent, I imagine that I had just stepped into an old soul of that stair, in that hall, who sits bizarrely within the faded blue carpet bits guarding the tops of those platforms. The ghost stapled at his feet.
Vera guides me up the fire escape,
“Use this entrance if you can, I know it is a bit unconventional, but this way you won’t wake me.”
Like two teenagers coming home from a late night wander, my landlord and I land in my kitchen. Indeed, my suite is beautiful. I peer through the top balcony and I feel left hanging. All gravity looses meaning and with an indescribable assurance I decided sign the lease,
“A work in the making for seventy years!” I exhale good air, something to move in timed pace with a new chapter, my new history. Vera eagerly hovers over my shoulder, so much so I can smell the sleep on her breath. She grants me a split moment to skim the lease,
“So you just have to sign this,” impatiently she moves her fingers over the dotted lines on the document,
“And do it fast, because I want you to have it.”
“Excuse me, Vera,” I lift my head to face her, “Did I sign this right?”
We look at one another. Vera grabs the papers from the kitchen counter.
“Wait until you see the bedroom!” A dull proclamation leaves her, and she leaves too, clutching the papers raw to the sound of her scatter. I begin walking down a cold hallway leaving the kitchen window, a few hanging wires, two shared garden plots guarded by aged pine slates and the three crowns of Workers Memorial Bridge. The buoyant tankers are a sheer elemental necessity of the view, simply because they obstruct it. They remain obediently still with months ahead of them dedicated to waiting and they dwell with dreams to resurface from the darkness of their sleep into a waking world unaware of their reincarnation. They enter a passage that will bring them to encounter the same revolutions, bringing forth the same results and pack their carriers with the same goods.
“Wake the keep! Some one needs to head through the gate and reload the truck with bread for the revolutionaries!”
Vera yells at a passing stranger.
Later, I find out that the man, Sam, was a former baker, as well as a former revolutionary. Vera did not tell me much more. The strike in The Port left him chronically disfigured, he still walks with at an undeniable limp and sings Arias begotten to him by his late great grandmother.
“Come up for some coffee before I move my boxes?” I yell up at Vera.
Vera rolls over the palette sounds of the steps with my copy of the signed lease and her espresso maker. She makes herself at home.
“I saw your bakery,” I explain plainly.
“Impossible!” Vera paces the linoleum, “How did you know?”
Earlier that morning, I noticed a sign reading, Palm Vacation! The billboard promised me a happy escape and my eyes wandered alongside the tempting sensation of the palm, lifted upwards where instead of encountering incandescent, tropical warmth, I spotted the old foundry. Further on, a metal scrap yard and a parking lot for construction vehicles with reflective yellow pipes. The hard hats were meandering in a pen busy stripping the plaster façade of a new warehouse. Was that brick? I walked over to the demolished façade and indeed, part of a brick wall was sandwiched in between the dissembled warehouse and an adjacent newly renovated row house. The painted sign read Veras, the bakery sign beamed like an eternal smile stitched to the brick in its predictable warmth of rising dough, off-yellow fullness against white flat walls, ritually cleaned, without a stain of grease.
“I saw it a few blocks away, it read Veras, I assumed you were the owner since you are the only Vera I know. Funny enough, I imagined the clerk who once served the counter. He was slender, polite with short chopped hair. He ushered me in with a smile invited me to taste the bread.”
Vera heaves a laugh.
“And who are you child, a visionary?”
“I wish I were a revolutionary,” the fridge concurs with a stale rattle and I continue,
“Yes, Vera, it is as if I saw his smooth complexion through the windows of your old bakery. His dark eyes sparkled against the fabric of a cleanly pressed, blue shirt with navy stripes – crisp and starched, a club-blended-cotton. He looked eager to hit the club post shift to take in the dazzle of energy. He never bought a woman a drink; it was not that, I got a sense he could afford it but was not accustomed to sleazy chivalry.”
Vera scratches her head, bemused by my amplified projection,
“That sounds like my son. He was a talented boy, good with people and very good at portioning out the walnut cake. He was the youngest boy to start working at the bakery. Yes, well he was good at directing the crowd from the other side with his knife.”
“So the customers would behave?”
“I am the man with the knife! He would say. But that was always a joke.” Vera chokes on her laugh and behind the eyes a past disappears into informal recount of sadness that only makes itself present in the waves I cannot explain,
“In the bakery,” she continues, “all customers lined up politely for the walnut cake and to flirt with my boy. How did you guess?”
Vera pauses, and darts to the stove.
“Child, where are your cups?”
I walk over to the boxes of unpacked kitchenware and pull out two cups from my hometown of Port, one with a picture of Neptune and the other with a medieval pulley system in the old shipping yard.
“Where is your son these days?”
“My young prince, yes, little Marco. Little babe, he, died, god bless.”
She pours out the coffee evenly into the two cups and walks back to the kitchen counter. “This coffee will be like a canon to our day!”
“Sugar?”
Vera shakes her head at the sight of sugar
“How did your son die?”
“Died in a fire, the bakery burnt down. Marco choked on the fumes right in the place where he felt most at home.”
Vera pauses with a nagging persistence of a stubborn soul and walks over to the stove again,
“Did I turn this off?” She picks up the espresso maker from the element and attempts to give it a rinse. She still feels the pulse of the customers who fled the flames. She hurried forwards and for a second everything was equilibrated into an unknown forward movement. It seems like we all assume that moving forwards is to move decisively, but as soon as Vera remembers moving ahead she simultaneously desires the chance to return into the burning inferno, back through the panicked crowds and into the ash. The moment of the disaster is an element in her memory that moves cyclically at erratic speeds. Vera wants to remember Marco’s death. But all she remembers is the smell of dough, that scent ciphers her awareness so much that her ability to recount the trauma has been suppressed for years.
“I have come to peace, I guess, sometimes life takes on an anti-directional course. You know I still make that walnut cake,” she scratches at her white, wiry hair damaged from years of sun bathing by the radiant ovens. I approached her and she gestures me in closer to give her a hand with cleaning out the espresso pot,
“Here help me with this cream-colored twist off bit. You know, I will make you a sweet honey soaked walnut cake.”
“Will you really?”
“Yes, a welcome gift like in the old days! My skin will touch the sweet dough leaving a trace of the salted sweat, the pain, and this heart will form you a perfect cake! But I really needed some honey, you got some?”
I nod and walk over to the box that reads – kitchen II,
“Here Vera, no rush.”
“Child, I have nothing but time.”
She makes some notes on the back of a receipt slip in my kitchen,
“A quart of the jar ok? I will record how much I use, fine?”
I let her take the whole jar. As she exits across the haunted pine planks, I imagine the customers following her. She remembers the diverse voices talking enthusiastically about the potency of the flavor, the walnuts, the texture, the honey but most important the value for its size.
Unenthused that the visit was over she yells up one more time,
“Come down and visit, anytime!”
“Will do Vera,” there was no way out of this situation; we were becoming friends.
In that moment, I was force to find myself facing a different woman altogether from the one I had just met; the one who made me sign the lease in a hurry; the one who viscerally renovated this unconventional suite.
“Oh, I am not Italian,” Vera yells over the croon of the dreadful steps as she walks down to her suite, “I am from Moldova, remember that.”

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