Published in 2008 in Dandelion, Volume 34, Issue 1.
Furthermore, let us ponder the fact that Calgary is becoming sophisticated and edgy. Residents have names like Aidan, Cody, Ethan, Paige, and Avery, and buy cupcakes from stores that sell only cupcakes, and cheese from stores that sell only cheese. Then they carry their cupcakes and cheese to work in lunch bags designed specifically for cupcakes and cheese. They eat cupcakes and cheese throughout the day at two-hour intervals to maintain high metabolisms.
But Carl’s name is just Carl and he drinks instant coffee. He boils the water on the stovetop in a soup pot.
The lava pit surprises everyone. But no one remembers what buildings stood there before the lava pit appeared, so they get used to it. Developers build a subdivision on the island at the lava pit’s centre.
The Ottawa Senators don’t win the playoffs, and Paris Hilton doesn’t say sorry. This troubles Aidan, Cody, Ethan, Paige, and Avery. They request extra icing on their cupcakes. Their metabolisms race faster than ever.
The lava is rising, but slowly; there is no need to panic. Calgary continues to boom and more jobs appear. The ad in the Calgary Sun reads: Jobs for Everyone! Two-thousand lava-shovellers needed immediately! Bring your own boots.
Landon and Jenna receive promotions at Husky Oil and invite Carl to celebrate with them. They choose a Japanese restaurant because they are internationally minded. Landon looks at the wrong picture on the menu and, when his meal arrives, is disappointed to find that soba is not a variety of sausage. “I want meat,” he complains. He takes a baby tomato from Carl’s salad, places it on the cleft of his arm, and flexes. It pops under the pressure. “Nice one, honey,” says Jenna.
When the bill comes, Landon has only Interac, Jenna only Visa, and Carl only MasterCard. The server cannot separate the bill. This disaster confuses and dismays the three Calgarians. Landon and Jenna promise to pay Carl back later.
Carl earns $1800 per month teaching ESL to new immigrants. He teaches two doctors, five engineers, two lawyers, one heart surgeon, and two geologists. On Monday, his students ask him where they can purchase some durable boots.
The lava pit lies on the farthest outskirts of the city limits and is full of lava, but anywhere in the Northwest is viable real estate. Landon and Jenna sell their inner city condo and buy a house in the middle of the lava pit. They pay considerably less than they would have for other houses in the Northwest because most people dislike lava. They tell Carl about the move while enjoying iced tea and Greek salad in a café on Kensington Street. Carl eats slowly, carefully picking around the olives. “All a person needs to be successful is foresight and strength of character,” Jenna tells Carl. “You should be more of a risk-taker, like Landon.” Landon chews spinach and smiles.
The ESL school usually provides pizza at teachers’ meetings but, because the engineers’ meeting two floors above has been cancelled, the teachers eat Moroccan takeout complete with pastilla soup and coconut fudge cakes. Everyone eats their fill and stretches back in their chairs. Carl picks up the extra lunch to take home for later, but the elevator maintenance specialist objects. “I called it first,” he tells everyone in the room. Carl wants to ask why the elevator maintenance specialist is at the teachers’ meeting, but instead he says, “I like your coveralls.” Carl does not take home the extra lunch; possibly he lacks foresight and strength of character.
Landon and Jenna want to have a party but don’t want to meet at the usual downtown restaurant. Now that they have a house, they should have a house party. Carl assumes this makes sense.
The CTrain stops eight stations south of the lava pit. “Due to a mysterious yet serious incident,” says the driver over the speaker, “we are sorry for the inconvenience.” The passengers get off and wander circles on the platform. Nobody looks like they have received promotions from Husky Oil recently. A sour-smelling man whose beard, hair and packsack likely outweigh his body, searches in trash cans. His left hand holds a pile of salvaged bus transfers. Groups of oily teenagers stand in circles watching each other’s dimpled stomachs ooze out the bottoms of their tee shirts. A gigantic woman blocks out the sun. “A shuttle bus is provided,” she tells Carl. Carl blinks and smiles.
Carl takes a shuttle bus from Eighth Street to Sunnyside Station, the train from Sunnyside to Lions Park Station, another shuttle from Lions Park to Brentwood Station, and walks from Brentwood to Dalhousie Station. He calls Landon and asks for a ride from the station, but Landon says he can’t because he is allergic to lava. This makes no sense, but Carl takes a taxi to the lava pit.
Only a suspension bridge connects the island subdivision to the land surrounding the lava pit. Many cars sit in the parking lot Carl crosses to get to the bridge. Carl runs across the bridge quickly because putrid smoke rises from the lava. Perhaps this is what Landon is allergic to.
No one else has come to the house party. Landon calls Ethan and Paige on speaker phone and asks them why they have not come. “Your house is too far away. And you live in a lava pit,” Ethan says. “We just had our Escalade waxed and we don’t want any ash on it.”
They can’t have a party with only three people but, since Carl has come all this way, they might as well work on the basement. Last week some lava rose from beneath the house and seeped into the TV and laundry rooms. It has cooled, but now solidified lava fills the area where Landon and Jenna are supposed to install their new mini bar. Carl uses a pickaxe to smash it into pieces small enough to carry up the stairs while Jenna makes him an iced tea. Landon goes to the hardware store to buy Carl a bigger pick-axe. Carl thanks Jenna when she gives him the iced tea. “Don’t mention it,” she says. “We like to take care of our guests.”
Carl hauls chunks of solidified lava up the stairs and out the back door for several hours before Landon returns with a bigger pick. Landon suggests they take a break. “I bet you’re hungry, huh buddy,” he says, slapping Carl on the shoulder. Landon orders pizza with extra hamburger and olives. “Whole olive, not cut,” he specifies.
One of Carl’s students, the heart surgeon from Morocco, delivers the pizza. Jenna closes the front door between her and the surgeon before punching her pin number into the cordless Interac machine. “Just to be safe,” she whispers to Carl. Even Carl has to admit his student looks a little shifty wearing a Domino’s Pizza uniform.
Carl scrapes all the olives off his slice of pizza.
Landon watches Carl take a bite. “Good huh?” he says. “I told you we’d make it worth your while.”
Jenna picks up an olive from Carl’s plate and shoves it between his lips. “Eating foods you don’t like strengthens your character,” she says, pushing several more olives into Carl’s mouth.
Carl chews carefully so as not to break any olives. Reluctant to be swallowed, they swim inside his mouth, swollen and slimy like bullfrogs. Jenna says they would have got cupcakes, but Carl isn’t a cupcake kind of guy. Not like Landon. Landon plans to withdraw his spousal RRSPS and use them to open a rubber boot store. He will sell thousands of semi-heat-resistant boots. “You can’t buy this kind of intuition,” says Landon, tapping his temple with his index finger.
Carl shifts an olive from right to left cheek and looks at his black-stained hands. Outside, Calgary continues to boom, Paris Hilton still has not said sorry, lava rises, jobs multiply, and metabolisms increase. Carl can feel the weight of thousands of tons of cupcake and cheese stores, oil offices, bus stations and rubber boots compressing around his cranium. All around Carl, Calgary flexes. The olive inside his mouth pops under the pressure.