This Great Society - Contents

 

This Great Society

 
 

Illustration: Mark Gunderson


"Comparative Nutritional Value” Short Story  by Caleb Zimmerman
Illustration: Mark Gunderson



The comparative nutritional value of bananas versus that of ladybug corpses
(A love story)

1. Falling in Love

Steven and June sit on the balcony of Steven’s top-floor corner suite. Steven refills June’s glass with British Columbia Wine Magazine’s top pick of 2010.

“Really? You’ve been to Brazil?” says June.

“Yes, I’m there now and then. It’s a big country, so it’s hard not to end up there at some point while traveling.” Steven puts down the bottle, making sure the label is facing June.

“I always wanted to go to Brazil.”

“Well, if you do, don’t take one of those tours. Go local.” Steven leans back in his chair and swirls his wine.


2. Temporary postponement of love

From the balcony, Steven and June watch a burbite couple and their dirty children move furniture in through the front doors of The Manhattan. The children’s sweaty little hands smear wet streaks across the leather of over-puffed sofas. Their faces are wild and hungry, and Steven can easily picture them running through fields with tiny axes, chasing down the cow that the sofa is made of. Steven rubs his eyes; are there indeed three children? To have even one offspring was immoral with such food shortages and overpopulation in the world, but three was just disgusting. Why must it always be the least intelligent among us who multiply like cockroaches?  

“Well, that’s quite arrogant.” June puts down her glass, crosses through the suite and leaves Steven wondering when he had begun speaking out loud. Steven goes inside, closes his fair trade hemp blinds and makes himself a spinach salad.


3. Investigation

Steven checks his mail at the same time as the burbite mother in order to examine her. She wears cross trainers, jeans and what appears to be some sort of jogging suit top.

“A lot of good little places in this area,” says Steven.

“Yes, I saw a White Spot somewhere around Cambie Street.”

“Cambie? Oh, that’s not this area; that’s outside our area. I don’t eat anywhere outside walking distance and I don’t buy any food produced outside 100km of my home. I try to stay local. You know, stay responsible.”

“So you never eat bananas?”

“No, never.”

A sharp pain pricks Steven’s neck. He twitches.

“Are you okay,” asks the burbite mother.

“Yeah, I don’t know what that was.”

“Maybe you need more potassium,” says the burbite mother. 


4. Mandatory reflection on protagonist’s childhood

When Steven was a child, he ate lots of bananas—bananas sliced up on top of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. On Saturdays, he ate bananas and Frosted Flakes and watched Star Wars or The Karate Kid, or Beverly Hills Cop II, or MacGyver. Steven gets the shivers when he remembers his childhood Saturdays. Now he only watches intelligent movies that have been validated by his intelligent friends, mostly documentaries.


5. Tiny green bugs

Steven’s friends are great because they are exactly the same as Steven except that their names are different and about half of them have breasts. They enjoy poetry readings, wine tasting parties, and mass bicycle rallies to protest against cars. After a long day of buying and selling industrial steel over the internet from his living room, Steven enjoys a good night of socializing at one of the little character restaurants in his neighbourhood. He loves discussing how smart he is over a glass of a lesser-known German beer and a plate of sushi (if he is having a non-vegetarian day). This is why Steven’s mood sours when he becomes confined to his bathtub to sooth the itchy little red welts all over his body.  

The burbites have not only brought with them their ugly offspring, the stench of barbequed cow flesh, and their too-wide-for-its-parking-space Chevy SUV, but also their vermin—specifically, tiny green bugs. Red welts cover the residents of The Manhattan.


6. Steven and the exterminator: first conversation

For The Manhattan, only the best suffices; in this case, Synergy Pest Removal. As head of the strata council, Steven sits at his kitchen table with the Synergy exterminator. The exterminator leans back in his chair and adjusts his cufflinks.

“So why don’t you give me the general run down of the project,” he says.

Steven places an empty glass bottle on the table. The exterminator peers into the jar until he sees the small green insect trapped inside.

“Aphids.”

“What?”

“You have aphids.”

“But aphids don’t bite.”

“These do. Tuscan horned aphids, the only biting aphids in the world, only found in Papa New Guinea. But don’t worry, luckily for you, we have the perfect solution.”


7. It seems like the perfect solution as Steven:

     -  stares at the exquisite stitching of the exterminator's shirt collar

     -  lifts his latte glass in a gentle good morning to one cute ladybug perched on his balcony railing

     -  says, “Let me get that for you,” allowing a ladybug to crawl from June’s shoulder onto his finger

     -  gently releases said ladybug to freedom from his balcony and feels the warmth of June’s carefully watching eyes  


8. It no longer appears to be the perfect solution as Steven:   

     -  tries to fry his lentils with a cloud of ladybugs swarming around his head

     -  wears ski goggles to prevent ladybugs from getting into his eyes as he walks

     -  eats his salad with a blanket over his head to keep ladybugs out of his baby spinach

     -  moves his furniture away from the walls to avoid the reddish-black, dripping gobs of ladybugs congregating on the walls of his suite     


9. Steven and the exterminator: second conversation 

“You gotta get rid of these ladybugs.”

“Not sure how to do that, Steven.”

“Spray them or something. You must have something for ladybugs.”

“Can’t do that. You know that at Synergy we only use natural methods. No chemicals.”

“You’re an exterminator; put on boots and crush them yourself if you have to, just get rid of these bugs.”

The exterminator looks at his Gucci shoes. “You want me to go near the bugs? That’s disgusting.”

“You brought them here.”

“I’m just the exterminator. We have people who have people who bring the ladybugs. Why don’t we start working on a new project proposal, to develop a list of collaborative next steps.” He pulls some forms out of his leather bag and places them in front of Steven. “Let’s start by listing your core goals.”  

Steven calls every extermination service in Vancouver, with the same result. “Kill ladybugs? Are you kidding? Those cute little ones with the spots? Next you’ll want me to kill a cow, barbeque it and eat its flesh off a disposable plastic plate.”


10. Steven becomes a hero

“Thanks for lending me those goggles, Steven.”

“No problem.”

“You’re not really an arrogant jerk, are you?”

“Not really.”


11. Steven becomes a hero again

Clouds of ladybugs obscure Steven’s view of the other members of The Manhattan strata council.

“As head of the council, we hold you responsible,” says a voice out of the cloud.

After the meeting, Steven goes to June’s suite. Ladybugs fly in and out through her half-open entrance.

“June? Are you in here?”

Silence. Steven enters the living room. June sits on the floor in the middle of the room, staring at the open screen door to the patio. The ladybugs in this room fly faster than Steven has seen anywhere else in the building. They zigzag unpredictably and crash into walls, windows, and June.

“June, are you all right?”

“The door is open, but they don’t fly out,” says June, not taking her gaze off the patio entrance.

“That’s because they’re stupid insects,” says Steven.

“The door is open,” she mutters.

“I know.”

“Help me, Steven.”

“I will.”

Steven goes to June’s fridge and opens it. There is nothing inside but bananas and a box of Kraft Dinner. “None of this stuff is supposed to be refrigerated,” he says.

June doesn’t answer.

A shiver runs up Steven’s spine as he picks up the Kraft Dinner with on finger and a thumb and places it on the counter. Then he takes out the bananas and sets them on the floor in front of June.

“I have to go into the burbs, June. I’ll be as careful as I can, but I may not come back.”


12. Steven continues to be a hero by borrowing a friend’s Volkswagen Rabbit

Gigantic houses tower over Steven as he travels toward Best Pest Exterminators. He stays in the slow lane with both hands on the wheel and his eyes straight ahead to avoid being fooled by the maze of curling roads and cul-de-sacs.

“They’re designed to cover maximum surface area with minimum efficiency,” Steven explains to the one stowaway ladybug sitting on the passenger seat.

“But don’t worry. Intelligence always wins in the end. I won’t be lost forever in the suburbs and soon you and all your evil little friends will be dead.”

The ladybug just sits there silently, looking at Steven.

“Sorry, buddy. I didn’t mean it to sound like that. You’re not so bad when there’s just one of you.”

Or possibly it is actually standing, or yelling in some inaudible ladybug language, or not looking at Steven at all. Steven finds it impossible to tell if a ladybug is sitting, standing, silent, yelling, or looking in any one definitive direction. It can be very difficult to discern what a ladybug is doing in any more detail than flying or not flying, which is why it is impossible to know whether any one ladybug it is a good or evil ladybug. This makes Steven uncomfortable.

Steven passes three Boston Pizzas, two Red Robins, a Costco, a tennis court full of people wearing khaki shorts and oversized t-shirts, and fifteen women power-walking in Lululemon pants with ear buds in their ears and fleece sweaters tied around their waists.

Forced to stop for gasoline, Steven treads lightly so as not to get any burb dust on his new Toms. All around the Volkswagen Rabbit, pickup trucks block out the sunlight, hundreds of litres of gasoline pumping into them through oil-based rubber hoses. Beside the pickup trucks, large men with shaved heads, Oakley’s, wrist jewellery, and necks wider than their heads speak on iPhones.

Across the street, at Brown’s Social House, young men smoke and eat steak on the patio. Their spiky hair bristles with energy. Their muscles flex under bootcut jeans and un-tucked dress shirts. Steven tries not to make eye contact.

The address for Best Pest Exterminators leads Steven to a house. “Yup, I’m the guy you’re looking for,” says the man at the door. “I’m Best Pest, but you can call me Tony.”


13. Steven ceases to be a hero

Inside Tony’s home, family photos are in displayed collage picture frames. Nintendo controllers on the coffee table tell Steven that children must not be far off. “Let’s get right down to business,” he says. “We have a major ladybug problem.”

“When did it start?”

“Four weeks ago.”

“Then you don’t need me. They don’t live much longer than that. They’ll be dead on their own very soon.”

Steven sits in the Rabbit several minutes before turning the ignition. “I have some sad news for you,” he says to the stowaway ladybug. “Brace yourself.”


14. At the front door of The Manhattan

The burbite mother now wears grey slacks and a white top. She inspects Steven from the inside of the glass front doors.

“You look different,” she says.

“It’s me, Steven. I’m back from the burbs.”

“You look like you’ve been out in the wild or something. And you smell like Tim Horton’s. How do I know you don’t have any pests on you? We’ve just finally gotten rid of a terrible pest problem.”

“How can you smell me through this glass? Just let me in. My key isn’t working for some reason.”

“I can smell you, alright.” The burbite mother shakes her head and walks away.


15. Bananas exceed ladybug corpses in nutritional value

Steven stands under June’s patio and yells up. A small black cloud flies off the edge of the deck and hits him in the face. He spits most of the dead ladybugs out of his mouth, but accidentally swallows one or two.

“Sorry, Steven.” June’s head pops over the railing. She holds a broom.

“I didn’t see you there. I was just sweeping out ladybugs. They all died since you left.”

“Yeah, I know. My key won’t work.”

“Oh, that’s because you’ve been kicked out of the building. You know, since you caused so much trouble with the ladybugs and all. Also, people say you’ve been looking and acting a little strange lately.”

“Since when?”

“Since that time you were yelling at Sandra through the front doors.”

“But that was five minutes ago.”

“Hey, don’t blame me. It’s just what I heard. I’d let you in through the front entrance but someone might see. You’ll have to climb up.

Steven tries to pick out a good climbing route to June’s third-floor balcony. “It looks a little high, June. You got anything to eat. I’m starving.”

June tosses Steven a banana.

He peels the banana, exhales deeply, and takes a big bite.

Steven feels potassium permeating through his cells. His calf and thigh muscles flex against the denim of his slim cut jeans. He climbs up to the third floor without even dirtying his shoes. One small bead of sweat forms on his forehead, which June wipes off with some paper towel when he reaches the balcony.

The suite smells of burnt egg. June has swept all the dead ladybugs into neat piles.


16. Steven and June sit among heaps of dead ladybugs and look into each other’s eyes lovingly as they eat June’s last box of Kraft Dinner and talk about MacGyver, unaware that this moment is the beginning of a new life together outside The Manhattan that will involve three children, a dog with occasional fleas, friends who use terms like hoser and homo milk and who say thongs instead of flip-flops, and a house with old carpet, a broken-down greenhouse and woodstove heating.

“This is good Kraft Dinner,” says Steven.

“I added extra cheese,” says June.

“Thanks. I like cheese.”

 
 

 

 
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