THE LANDLORD by Raymond Fraser

Yesterday, June 9, the landlord cut down both trees on his property, the elm in the backyard and the maple out front.
I could have killed him – him and his fat brother, the one who lives upstairs and goes to Florida in the winter for his arthritis. His brother had nothing to do with it, but I was ready to wipe out the whole family.
The elm was outside my bedroom window, a great glorious tree in full leaf, and now there’s nothing to see but the backs of old buildings and a garbage-littered alleyway.
The brick buildings are almost black with years of grime, and the kids on the back balconies and down in the little walled yards never stop screaming. I live on the first floor and have a little balcony wedged into a corner but the sun never touches it. The only thing at the back that wasn’t depressingly grubby was the tree. And yesterday the landlord hired two men to cut it down.
He’d warned me the day before that he was going to do it. He’s an old man almost eighty and he’s proud of how he gets around so well. When I rented the apartment he asked me to guess his age. I said, “I don’t know, about sixty-five.” I didn’t have any idea how old he was, he could have been anywhere from fifty to a hundred. Old people all look the same, they just look old. I’m not some carnival clairvoyant, I can’t tell people’s ages.
“I’m seventy-nine!” he said.
For all his pride in not showing his age, his memory was getting a bit frayed, because the next time I saw him, about two days later, he asked me again to guess how old he was.
“Seventy-nine,” I said.
It took him aback. There was such a crestfallen look on his face that I laughed. “I already knew your age, you told me the other day.”
“Oh,” he said. But he still looked disconcerted. He couldn’t win on that one, he either looked his age or was losing his memory.
I’d moved in the first of April and now it was June and he came to my door and said, “Tomorrow morning I’m having men come to cut down the tree in the back. It will let more sunlight in your window.”
I told him the sun never reached my window so the tree wasn’t keeping it out. I said I liked the tree.
“Well, I have to cut it down because it drops leaves on the roof and they plug the drain.”
“You shouldn’t cut it down,” I protested. “It’s been around a long time, maybe for centuries. We should respect that. It’s still strong and healthy… It’s like you, it doesn’t look its age…”
Next morning a horrendous roar woke me. I jumped up and ran to the window. It was a sunny morning and there was a man up the tree. He had a chain saw in his hands and it was screeching like an enraged wild beast as it sliced through a large limb and sent it crashing to the ground.
They took the tree apart like that, not all at once but limb by limb. As though to torture it before finishing it off.
I didn’t know they’d cut down the tree at the front of the building as well until later in the day when I came back from the post office and saw the two workers with a rope tied around it and the saw poised to cut it at the base. It was a much smaller tree, a slim maple about twenty feet tall. It too was adorned with leaves and shaded the tiny lawn out front.
I was dumbfounded. I said to them, “You’re cutting that down too? Why? There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Out of the way,” they said. “Stand clear.”
As the tree began to topple slowly I turned away and went inside. The landlord was nowhere to be seen, but when I saw him next I said, “Why did you do it?”
“I had to, I had to!” he replied. “It was too small, its trunk was too small. It was dangerous. A big wind could knock it over and damage the house.”
It was a strong, supple young tree, not likely to blow down even in a hurricane. And how could it harm his solid stone building with its walls a foot thick?
“Do you think I like to cut trees down?” he said angrily. “Do you realize it cost me a hundred dollars to have those men come here?”
So that’s what it was. It must have been a hundred dollars to hire the men whether they did one tree or two, and he couldn’t pass up getting two for the price of one.
I gave him a look of exasperation.
“There are lots more trees around,” he said.
He was bent over, cleaning up tiny branches and leaves that were left on the lawn. It took all my willpower to keep from stepping behind him and giving him a good kick in the arse.

RAYMOND FRASER is the author of ten books of fiction, two biographies, five poetry collections, and a book of memoirs, essays and stories. His work has appeared in anthologies such as “Stories of Quebec”, “Stories of the Maritimes”, “Toronto Short Stories”, “New Brunswick Short Stories”, “The Maple Laugh Forever” and “The Maritime Experience”. He was a founding member of The Montreal Story Tellers Performance Group which popularized the public reading of fiction in Canada. A native of Chatham, New Brunswick, he currently resides in Fredericton. Most recent book: THE MADNESS OF YOUTH (novel, Lion’s Head Press, 2011).

This story is set in Montreal. When writing it I was thinking of an $85 a month apartment I once had on Esplanade.

RAYMOND FRASER is the author of ten books of fiction, two biographies, five poetry collections, and a book of memoirs, essays and stories. His work has appeared in anthologies such as “Stories of Quebec”, “Stories of the Maritimes”, “Toronto Short Stories”, “New Brunswick Short Stories”, “The Maple Laugh Forever” and “The Maritime Experience”. He was a founding member of The Montreal Story Tellers Performance Group which popularized the public reading of fiction in Canada. A native of Chatham, New Brunswick, he currently resides in Fredericton. Most recent book: THE MADNESS OF YOUTH (novel, Lion’s Head Press, 2011).

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