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Trouble and Strife

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Sometimes the smallest voices make the deepest impact. Josephine Hadley, a 1930s Canadian housewife, fills her days looking after her children, her indifferent husband and a stream of Depression-era visitors. Her contribution to her guests is a bowl of stew and an open heart. Her small world, however, is soon shattered by a tragic event which forces her to become the breadwinner. Can she run a business without sacrificing herself? And is it possible to act on a long-buried desire without remorse?

Johanne Levesque’s first novel, "Trouble and Strife," is a poignant and heartbreaking look at a woman’s life in a fast-changing time. With intimate details and a deft poetic touch, Levesque has captured the spirit of an age where war and economic hardship altered the workplace, home and women’s lives forever.


In the afternoon, Warren arrives unannounced. He takes his hat off. “How’s Eugene?”
I can’t look him in the eyes because it would be like looking into the sun. They are so beautiful.
“Come see for yourself. He’s in his bedroom. He’ll be glad to see you. He doesn’t get many visitors.”
“Hey Eugene old pal, how are you?”
Eugene makes an effort but his reply is gargled.
Warren turns to me, “How’s business?”
“We are surviving. Every day, I hear tenants’ bad news like death in the family and someone sick and I count my blessings.”
“Yes, they do have a way to pull your heartstrings, don’t they? Eugene used to tell me about the silly tenant issues he used to hear all the time. I guess you don’t hear trivial things anymore…”
“Oh, I still do. The other day I had a phone call at dinner time. One of the tenants kept me on the phone until my food was cold complaining about the tenants above her shaking mops full of dust from their windows with the result that she received the benefits. She expected me to drop everything right then and there and go speak to her neighbour. Sometimes I want to change my number!”
Warren laughs, “Understandable! How are we doing financially?”
“Our expenses are enormous. Tenants don’t realize how their actions affect us. They leave taps running, lights are left on, more damage is done in one minute than we can replace in a month’s time. I’m worried about running into debt. Our rental payments are in arrears from one to four months. I lowered the rents to keep the tenants, but with high interest and vacancies, I believe we’ll have a loss this year.”
Warren considers my words. “It’s not that bad, is it? Let me have a look at the books.”
I give him the ledger. “I should have been paying more attention when Eugene used to tell me stories on how he handled sticky situations. One tenant who owed us $60 rent, threatened to tell Mayor Stewart if I put him out.”
“What did you say to him?”
“I wanted to tell him that the mayor has more important things to do, but what’s the use? Tenants always win in the end.”
“Yes, they do, don’t they?”
“Another tenant vacated owing us $20 and left the apartment in such filthy condition that I had to scrape the floors. Some new tenants omit to tell me they are on relief. I know well now that those tenants will only pay for the first month and never again.”
“As a silent partner, I never knew how much hardship tenants can give to landlords. Eugene never went into much detail with me.”
“Oh, it’s much more than hardship. They practically laugh in my face. I have as much trouble evicting them as I do getting rent from them. I gave notice to one tenant to vacate the other day, he left me a note, ‘Dear Mrs. Hadley, I remain. Yours truly.’”
“You have to admit that was a pretty clever note. Poor Josephine you have been going through a lot. I say you’re doing as well as you can under the circumstances.”
“Oh Warren, Eugene put his life savings into his apartment buildings and the last four months I haven’t been getting enough out of the tenants to pay taxes and keep them in fair state of repair, let alone live from the revenue. I fear I will ruin the business.”
“Oh cheer up Josephine! It’s not quite that bad. Soon the depression will be over and we’ll get our ledgers in the black. Hang in there,” Warren says reassuringly.
“I’m glad I am not alone in this.”
“I’ll go to the bank tomorrow and see if we can negotiate a reduction in the rate of interest maybe even a deferment of payment of principle.”
“You can do that?” I ask him.
“I’m not sure but I’ll try. We have several accounts with them. I’ll see what I can do.”
“That would be of great help!”
“As far as tenants go, it’s very simple Josephine, don’t let them pull your heartstrings. They will tell you stories of how tough their lives are but remember this is a business. Be tough and evict them when the second month’s rent is not forthcoming.”
“I have trouble doing that.”
“I know you have a big heart but it’s not a charity. Grocers don’t have to give free food why do landlords have to give free lodging?”
“I understand, but it’s not as simple as that. “It’s just impossible for people to pay the same rents today as they did two or three years ago.”
He wraps his arm around my shoulder and hugs me from the side. “We’ll get through this, Josephine. I promise.”
He certainly has a way to reassure me even if it sounds patronizing.
“It’s such a big adjustment for me and the kids. Weekends should be filled with trips to the beach and other such excursions but it’s merely a period of more toil. I have no time for them and I feel bad.”
I wish I could hold his hand. How wretched I am with a husband who is in a wheelchair, who has essentially become an infant in a man’s body, right here in this very room. I look down at my husband.
“You agree with Warren, don’t you? I should kick tenants to the curb after only two missing rent payments?”
I know that Eugene can’t reply to my questions. I’m not sure at this point if he understands what I say to him.
There is a knock at the door, the speech therapist comes in. I take Eugene to the living room.
Warren sits at the kitchen table with me and we go over the books. When he starts talking about taxation, Warren can see by the blank look on my face that I’m puzzled.
“It’s OK; we can go over this another time. After a while this will become old hand to you.”
He puts his hand on mine. The electric shock I receive from his touch makes me pull my hand away quickly. I look down, afraid to look into his beautiful blue eyes. I’m in love with you, I think, but I’ll never tell.
Warren gets up and walks to the coat rack. He picks up his hat, hugs me goodbye and says, “Take care of yourself, love.”
I close the door and lean on it. My heart is beating very fast.
Nothing’s wrong with a hug is there? Surely it was a friendly hug, meant to give me courage.

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Johanne Levesque


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Short Bio

Johanne Levesque graduated from York University with a BA in Psychology. She has been a team lead in the transportation, banking, pension, legal, and education sectors. Johanne supports an orphanage in Tanga, Tanzania, with the fees for tuition, uniforms, and school supplies as she believes that education is the key to their success.

Long Bio

Johanne Levesque graduated from York University with a BA in Psychology. She has completed seven marathons across the United States and Canada. She has been a team lead in the transportation, banking, pension, legal, and education sectors. Johanne has been able to make a difference in the lives of nearly two dozen African children by supporting an orphanage in Tanga, Tanzania. She travels to Tanga once a year at the beginning of the school year to make sure all the orphans will be able to afford the fees for tuition, uniforms, and school supplies as she believes that education is the key to their success.