In the Quiet After Slaughter
stories by Don McLellan
They chuck bean balls in the Mexican League, join a tour group to the Orient or serve time in a Prairie prison. They nurse divorce wounds on a Caribbean isle, search for a runaway, cultivate a grow-op in the basement. The characters populating Don McLellan's debut fiction collection–young and old, male and female, from the 1940s to the present–have all passed through East Vancouver's Renfrew Heights, a housing project for returning Second World War veterans. Though their circumstances are diverse and their fates disparate, each learns that wherever one wanders in this world, the baggage that never gets lost is where one comes from.
The first hippies in the Project did not like to be reminded of their previous identities. They had been grease monkeys and jocks, street fighters and honour-roll bookworms, the sons and daughters of war veterans at a time of fierce anti-war protest. In the 1960s they shed these lives like mollusks dumping their shells and began smoking dope and listening to the new music. All hair and beard, it became hard to tell them apart.
Falaise Park, two blocks from our house, became their meeting spot. It was a curious place to inspire peace. Falaise, a village in France, was the birthplace of William the Conqueror and the burial ground during the Second World War of too many Canadian soldiers.
At park gatherings male and female answered to the same moniker, although neither qualified:
- Far out, man.
- Right on, man.
- Toke, man?
Long hair and smoking dope were not the freedoms our fathers hoped to safeguard when they went marching off to slaughter. I overheard a couple of old vets chatting as they looked out over this assemblage in the park, the pot fumes thick as campfire smoke, a monotonous bongo beat audible till after midnight most evenings.
- If I hada known about all this, said one, I woulda fought for the other side...
Some of the older teens would hitchhike to places like Alberta or Prince George whenever the weather permitted. On their return they'd share their tales with whoever would listen, the exaggerations craftily disguised, the re-telling, for a few, more enjoyable than the experience. Mileage was tallied like cereal box tops. Distance hiked became the measure of one's hipness.
Someone was circulating a paperback novel, On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, about a couple of friends thumbing across the States. The pair was experiencing all kinds of great adventures and discovering salient truths about themselves. Hipsters read favourite passages aloud, a new breed of evangelical reciting a funkier version of the Psalms.
From the Prologue
At the conclusion of the Second World War, Canadian combatants returning from Europe exacerbated an already-chronic housing shortage. In Vancouver, veterans and their families were billeted in downtown hotels. Hallways served as playgrounds, lobbies as nurseries. Indignant returnees halted traffic with their chagrin, prompting authorities to borrow an untested solution from the United States: public housing. In a single summer a forested hillside on the city's eastern periphery was cleared and the first of hundreds of look-alike bungalows constructed. The newspaper ran a photo of a bulldozer felling the first sacrificial tree. Demand for the rental units outstripped supply, so the coveted homes were let to those who'd endured considerable frontline action. Successful candidates were also required to have at least two children, encouraging action amongst hopeful applicants of a more welcome sort. An appropriate moniker for the residential development suggested itself nine months hence: Diaper Hill. Streets were named after memorable battle sites from both world wars, villages such as Normandy, Vimy, Dieppe, Anzio, Mons. Each narrow corridor had several homes fitted with a wheelchair ramp extending to the sidewalk – at least to where the sidewalks were meant to be. (Homes tenanted by the shell-shocked, of which there were many, featured no telling characteristic.) Until financing for paving was secured, rainfall turned roadway and footpath into muddy fjords. Postal workers refused delivery, a slight later avenged by a parliament of snappy canines. By the new millennium few of the bungalows or their original inhabitants stood erect. Folks began referring to the development as Widows' Hill. To many who live there these days, the Renfrew Heights Housing Project for War Veterans, where many of the following fictions are set, is remembered, if at all, as a quaint municipal curiosity. To original residents, however, the Project was more than a home. This modest neighbourhood was a sanctuary, a place to reassemble war-weary lives in the quiet years after slaughter.
Paperback 5.5 x 8.5 in
- Don McLellan shortlisted for 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize
Commonwealth Writers – Apr 3, 2016
- From Diapers Hill to Widows' Hill
BC Booklook – Oct 5, 2015
- McLellan's book shortlisted for the ReLit Awards
The ReLit Awards – Sep 1, 2009
- An Informative Blend of History and Fiction
The Danforth Review – Oct 6, 2008
- "No escaping their roots"
Renfrew Collingwood Community News – Jun 11, 2008
– Matthew Firth
About the Author
Don McLellan has worked as a journalist in Canada, South Korea, and Hong Kong. He currently edits Insurancewest, an award-winning trade magazine in Vancouver, B.C. In the Quiet After Slaughter represents his fiction debut. Twelve of its 17 stories have previously appeared in Canadian and U.S. literary magazines.