Read Runner-Up Karen Armstrong’s Short Story on The NUB App!

Smith Avenue by Karen Armstrong

Because I don’t have dreadlocks, tattoos, or piercings, and because I use non-crystal deodorant, shave my legs, and eat meat, I fully understood everyone’s surprise that I lived on Smith Avenue.

In my accounting program, we called Smith “Enviro Ave”, or “Grow-op Co-op” or even, depending on the audience, “The Kibbutz”.  But, when my roommate dropped out two weeks before classes started, breaking our lease, I toured one too many expensive, mildewy basement apartments without windows or usable internet, and started calling numbers on the Student Lounge Housing Board for shared accommodation, no matter what the address.  And Spike, when he showed me around the house, really didn’t seem that unusual to me (other than the obvious combination of one hundred forty pounds at six feet three inches).  He didn’t ask me about any of the topics I had researched: winter cycling, benefits of agave syrup over sugar, or nontoxic household cleaners.  He did seem very interested and supportive regarding my family background: Mom’s early Alzheimer’s, Dad’s subsequent departure from the family, and my brother’s teaching internship in Hong Kong.  It seemed like a lot of personal questions just to split the rent, but it was Smith Avenue, and I told myself I was learning a new culture.

In the same spirit,  I put up with the rows of laundry hanging overhead in my bedroom, dripping onto my furniture, creating the humidity of a rain forest; it was decided at the house meeting that we were no longer using the dryer (too much electricity), and the municipality—which “we” were fighting—forbade outdoor clotheslines.  I put up with the toilet, which was not actually a toilet but a bucket, and I put up with the sawdust bin, and poured the sawdust onto my own excrement to reduce the stink, and I took my turn pouring the buckets down the chute into the basement where apparently there was some kind of composting arrangement.  I put up with the odour, a concerning blend of perspiration, curry, and another, less definable smell; that of decay, or rotting meat, despite the household crawling with vegans.  But it was the chewing that I could not stand.  It was the endless, relentless, sound of chewing……


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