Excerpted: Sugar Kids by Taslim Burkowicz

If you’re feeling a little nostalgic for 1990s club counterculture, read today’s featured excerpt from Taslim Burkowicz’s new novel, Sugar Kids (Fernwood Publishing).

The cover of Sugar Kids by Taslim Burkowicz, which is bright yellow with a glossy purple lollipop on it.


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An excerpt from Sugar Kids

We were in the middle of an abandoned warehouse. Dripping ceiling. Concrete floors. Spotlights were rigged and scattered throughout, electricity generator–powered or stolen. There were glow-in-the-dark butterflies and dragonflies everywhere. And people. So many people. The music was so strong I could feel it in my throat and in my bones. A maple-syrupy voice cut through the smoky air, one that would make Carmen McRae envious. Hard beats dropped. My body vibrated.

This was unlike any place I had ever been. I saw two boys cuddling. A drag queen smoking a cigarette on the edge of the dance floor. A Black girl with an afro throwing her arms around a skinny white boy. A young man (who Del said was homeless) wearing patchy pants dancing in the middle of a circle, cheered on by spectators. There were girls in half tops, girls with low-rise jeans barely covering their hip bones, girls with pixie haircuts, and girls with silver-white hair. Glitter was everywhere. Pants were cartoonishly wide, with unique stitch patterns, pockets, and buckles, coming at me in an array of colours. Del was saying something about how the couture versions of warehouse jeans were made by JNCO or Kikwear but some people simply unstitched thrifted jeans at the outer seam themselves and sewed in extra material to widen their pants.

“It’s amazing,” my voice caught. “Everyone’s allowed to …”

“Just be,” Del filled in. “It’s a Temporary Autonomous Zone.” When she saw my blank face, she continued. “You know, like, a free space without anyone controlling who you have to be? It’s a liberated area, as free as your imagination. We occupied this space and made it ours. Hakim Bey wrote a book about it. My dorky roommates probably have a copy of it.”

“Wow,” was all I could muster. Del humoured me, waiting patiently while I took it all in and the music got louder. It would have eaten my words anyhow.

“This is ‘Beautiful People’ by Barbara Tucker. The Underground Network mix,” she informed me. The strong vocals cut through. A soulful gospel choir chanted.

It was all so enticing. Leaving behind all the world’s stupid divisions at the door, this was like hippie mentalities but with streamlined techno. I even heard Indian music sampled into a track. Right then, I didn’t want to worry about how ignoring my issues wouldn’t make them go away. That the dancing guy would have to go back to the alley to sleep. That probably no one here was ready to protest in broad daylight. That part wasn’t important. What was important was squeezing beauty out of life like droplets wrung from a cloth, in this fairy land of pixies and elves. After all, wasn’t having secret parties in abandoned warehouses a kind of rebellion of sorts?

“Okay, Baby,” said Delilah. “Let’s go find DJ MouseCat. We can stash our stuff with him.

She rushed me up to the DJ booth. The guy spinning the records radiated when he saw her. He had a ginger beard and an odd red wig on that made him look like Ronald McDonald. Several beaded necklaces hung from his neck. We stuck our jackets and my board under the equipment table.

Del didn’t speak again until we were inside a bathroom stall. “Open wide,” she said. I stuck out my tongue, and she deposited a white pill stamped with a rabbit.

White rabbits.

She took one, too. I tried not to gag. I felt like I was going to throw up. I was probably retching a little when Del shook me.

“For goodness sakes, Baby. We don’t vomit designer drugs!”

We were on some alternate wave of time and space even though it was too early for me to feel anything. She pulled out the silver fabric from her fun-fur bag. We took off our tops and she tied the aluminum bandeau strips around our chests. We looked magnificent. We were in that stall for an eternity. A lifetime. By now there were faint tracers, bands of light which sparkled and glinted off things. The toilet water seemed to be glowing iridescently.

When we exited the stall, we weren’t the same girls anymore. Suddenly, I could read vibes off people. I could go up to virtually anyone here and give them a hug and it wouldn’t be weird at all. I still didn’t know how much time had passed, but my jaw had loosened. I felt airy. Weightless. Already colourful, everything was even brighter than it had been before. I felt brilliant. Delilah felt brilliant. She touched my face and I touched hers.

The music had changed to fast breakbeats. I was captivated by the melodic sultry words laced in, sweet, soulful, freeing. Then an unbelievable bassline dropped.

“CJ Bolland’s ‘Sugar Is Sweeter,’ the Armand Van Helden drum and bass remix!” Del shouted. “I hear this at almost every rave I go to these days, even though it isn’t officially released yet!” The music moved through me.

Del’s face changed under the lights; she looked reptilian and then altered again. I realized with a slight panic that I had left Ravi standing alone in Gastown. Oh my god.

The wave of euphoria slipped away, and anxiety had filled its place.

“I want more,” I found myself saying.

“No, you don’t, hon. Doing too much E at once zaps the serotonin out of your spine, and you’ll crash low tomorrow. We can space it out.”

Her face morphed again into something that looked like a tropical fish. We were all swimming in a brightly coloured aquarium.

“Holy fuck. Jimmy,” she said, barely exhaling his name out of her body before a man was standing in front of us.

“Del,” said Jimmy. He was saying her name but looking at me.

I felt something turn in my stomach. When I inhaled, a tickly sensation rushed down my throat as if I had swallowed a thousand pink, sparkly butterflies.

* * *

A photo of writer Taslim Burkowicz. She is a medium skin toned woman with long, dark hair and red lipstick. She wears a one-shoulder black top and is gesturing.

Taslim Burkowicz’s work is inspired by her Indo-Canadian heritage. Favouring a sensory rich writing style while exploring social justice issues, Burkowicz has a bachelor’s degree in political science and education from SFU. She has written three previous novels. Chocolate Cherry Chai, spanning several countries, tells the story of five generations of Indian women and immigration. The Desirable Sister tackles the issue of colourism as experienced by two Indo-Canadian sisters born with differently hued complexions. Ruby Red Skies follows the journey of a woman on a mission amidst the wildfires of BC while simultaneously exploring the life of a dancer in the Mughal Empire in the 1600s. Burkowicz’s works have appeared on CBC’s new fiction lists and Ruby Red Skies appeared on Shrapnel Magazine’s “Fall Favourites of ’22.” Taslim resides with her husband and three boys in BC, where she runs, dances, reads and is chased by deadlines.

Photo of Taslim by Michelle Koebke.