Joyland

a hub for short fiction

You Said “Always”

Excerpted from the in-progress novel The Sex Lives of Other People​

“People don’t save people, Annie,” he says. It is the morning after and Alex is being gentle but firm with me, like he has been watching reruns of The Dog Whisperer on cable. I hate when he talks to me like that, like Cesar Millan. It is one of the many things I hate about him, along with the side part in his hair, the way he burps unapologetically, his under-tipping at restaurants, and nothing at all for baristas, like his coffee simply materializes because he rubbed two coins together.

“Who’s asking anyone to save anyone?”

Niagara Motel

Photo Credit: Chris Bowerman.

I was born in a laundromat in Paris, Ontario. If you knew Gina you wouldn’t think it was that weird. Gina is my mother. She says she’s a dancer. What that means is she’s a stripper. Sometimes she says exotic dancer if she’s really comfortable with you. Sometimes she goes all the way and there’s another word for that. But I’m not allowed to say it. Not when Gina’s around. Sometimes late at night when Gina’s at work and I can’t sleep and I’m lying in bed in whatever crap-hat motel room we’re in, I whisper it up to the ceiling, whore, hoo-er, hoaaar. And sometimes, I think, that word sounds kind of beautiful.

The All-Mutant Soccer Team

The kids we play from downstate like to say it’s inbreeding, the reason our skin is neon green, our teeth blue, our hands like flippers growing from the sides of our bodies, no arms to speak of. 

“Have fun with your sisters tonight!” they’ll shout after a game in Chappaqua or Bedford, watching us pile onto our team bus. 

No one will play us at home. Who can blame them? Our field is next to the lake everyone in the tri-state area has heard about by now, the reason for all the birth defects and mutations and cancers like the kind that killed my mother last winter. Everyone knows about the accidental chemical relocation, the reason the water smelled vaguely of burnt plastic and car air freshener and stopped freezing in winter.

Important Things In Miniature

He came to the conclusion that the primary difference between what he did and what the Nazis did in the death camps was that the Nazis lost the war and the Americans won the war, which meant that everything done during the war could be justified as a necessary component of victory.

That was the year my father tried to kill himself by jumping into our swimming pool with his hands and legs bound together, a plastic bag from the produce section of the grocery store wrapped around his head. When my brother and I fished him out of the pool, alive but incoherent, he spit out a mouthful of heavily chlorinated water and said, “Hell is the color of zinc.”

Regular Old You

Annie realizes while she and her boyfriend, Adam, are Christmas shopping that lately she doesn’t enjoy his company very much unless they are both drinking. They have spent the evening driving each other crazy in department stores, blaming each other for not knowing what to buy or how much to spend, for the unending carols leaking out of every intercom. But now they are in a bar, a neutral public space, where they can drink whiskey sours and make friends with the waitress and treat each other, as they were taught, the way they would like to be treated.

“The whole reason Christmas exists is to remind me, personally, of how many problems and how little money I have,” says Adam. “It’s really quite unfair.”

“I read somewhere it has something to do with Jesus.”

Adam frowns, pretending to think. “No. No, I don’t think that’s right.”

The Tender Knife

Occasionally, Joyland's Midwest section highlights great small presses based in the Midwest. This story is part of the collection This Jealous Earth published by MG Press, the micro-press affiliated with the journal Midwestern Gothic.  More on the collection below the story.

The night before the killing, Walter plucked silverware out of the dishwasher and thunked it into the drawer. Next to the slotted tray, other utensils caught his eye—the steak knives, the paring knife, the chef’s knife, the cleaver.

“It’s like the guillotine,” Dale had told him, drawing a finger across his own throat. “Fast. Efficient. Painless. If you love ’em, that’s what you’ll do.”

Loving the Dog

A few days ago, my husband read an article about a dog’s birthday party. Now he wants to have a party for our dog, who will be ten years old in January, and who, because of the injuries she acquired from her first owner, may not live past twelve. Truth be told, I love the idea, but I treat it with my usual amount of skepticism, asking questions like “What could we do?” and “Wouldn’t people think it’s odd?” More than once, my husband has noticed that I’m always asking these kinds of incredulous questions, even though I usually end up agreeing with him. And I don’t think I do it consciously, though now that he’s pointed it out, I guess I can’t say it’s exactly unconscious either.

Baby of the Family

It is the first day that New Yorkers scale the streets sans jackets and cashmere scarves. People appear nearly naked in their bodily shapes. Shelley follows the path beside Terrace Drive to the center of the park, I Heart New York bag swinging from her forearm, when she spots him. He’s shuffling along the sidewalk with his wife (always with the wife now), the aging but still pert blonde woman leading him like a walking stick around Bethesda Fountain. It’s been fourteen years since she met Mr. Roop Gupta, since the economy tanked, and since he’d started her in this line of work. His age is showing in the growing hump beneath his cardigan. Mr. Gupta was her first client, of sorts. It’s his touch that she remembers first.

The Art of French Cooking

My little sister is healthy all her life until she turns twenty-two, when she is diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and moves into my apartment. We have barely spoken since our mom died three years ago, but with both our parents long gone and an empty room in my home, where else would Ava go? She comes with two suitcases and goosebumps on her arms despite the August heat. It’s a lucky coincidence that my roommate has just left, but up until now that kind of luck has ruled Ava’s life.

The night she moves in, we decide to make dinner. “Let’s make Mexican, Maya,” she says, “how easy.” But we buy avocados that are green instead of brown and don’t realize until putting knife to peel that it’s wrong. We become scared of salmonella and overcook the chicken. I cut my finger slicing bell peppers and don’t have any bandages. So we open beers and clink the tops and eat tortilla chips from the bag. Well, we say. Mom would not be proud.

*

See You Later, Fry-O-Lator

This story is part of The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers, out this October from Black Lawrence Press. 

The morning of my sixteenth birthday, I, Mademoiselle Icicle, used one sharp fingernail to etch a cartoon birthday cake in ice that blanketed my boudoir. Ice coated the inside of my bedroom window so completely the window was like TV without reception, opaque as a velvet curtain. I scratched a dash of candles on the cake, phallic and listing, and gave each candle-cock a paisley flame. The flames were a school of sperm. Fuck me, I wrote backwards, a message to anybody out in the snow—like there’d be anyone in the pitch-dark winter fields, where it was all apple trees and pine. I scratched a happy face. A happy face was the same from either side of the glass, speaking the same language from in the house or out.

Apology

“Edith,” those four women said, “you’ve been inconsiderate.” 

Thoughtless, they continued. Unsympathetic. Less than kind. Etc. 

An intervention, no less. Over coffee and cookies, prepared by me, in my apartment. 

First on their list: Jocelyn. Rather, poor Jocelyn.

The story?

At the victory party for our provincial candidate, who’d lost, I bought a raffle ticket. Number 63, then my age. First prize: from a local “fine foods” shop, a heaping basket of nuts, biscuits, chocolates, cheeses, jars of olives, etc., all wrapped up in crisp starry gold paper and doubtless stale.

Our group, Jocelyn included, awaited the draw. During the campaign she and I had done phone canvassing together, side-by-side in a booth with the awkward scripts before us. Often she’d deviate. “Oh, you’re cooking supper? I’ll call back!” Wasted time drags down the work. She never finished her lists.

Jocelyn’s ticket was Number 64.

Kirsty, 22

We made a fake Facebook account at an internet café, one of the last ones downtown, full of Korean gamers and a weird smell of burnt electronics and sour milk. The owner sold liquor mixed into off-brand Gatorade to the kids, who were constantly getting up to piss with their headsets still on. Most of them were skipping their classes at the language factory across the street, where Cory and I had met as teachers. He’d convinced me to quit by the end of my first week.

Destroying Pull

“Temporal horizon.”  

I overheard an Australian man use that expression today at a Best Buy in Montreal - where I bought a blank CD and Mars Bar. A few nights ago, I finally finished editing my first EP, Pull, which I’d recorded while dating my – what should I call him now, my ex-boyfriend? My ex-partner? My ex-lov-ah?  And after uploading the songs to my iTunes, I transferred them to a CD and promptly threw it into my mother’s fireplace.

Walpurgisnacht

 “I’m so tired,” Kate says.

“I feel like shit,” Kate says.

“We should go out tonight,” Kate says.

Next thing I know I’ve gulped down, like, four vodka tonics — even though I hate vodka tonics — and I’m sitting on Kate’s bed eating a Ziploc bag of macadamia nuts by the fistful while Kate shoves tall black heels onto my feet.

“I don’t know if these are gonna fit,” she says. “Your feet are huge.”

“I know,” I say, “and look, my hands are big, too!” I pull my hand out of the baggie to show her and I accidentally sprinkle macadamia crumbs all over. “Oh, it’s in your hair! Like fairy dust!” I say, and go to brush it out, but I just make it worse. Kate shouts at me and fastens the buckle on the right shoe so tight that it pinches the skin beneath my anklebone and I cry out.

***

Shape of a sitting man

When Arthur leapt out from the black the eight men around the fire quit talking. One stood like he was pulled up by cables. The fire burned six-feet high in the quarry-pit gulley and showed the skin of Arthur’s legs painted with dirt and ran through where he’d been cut by rock and thorn on the way down the grade. He passed through those seated on stumps and stooped near the fire to take up a long and knotted cedar limb, black by the thick end. He stepped outside of the circle of men and turned. Little lights yet traveled the wood when he clubbed the nearest man across the brow bone with it. That man half-rose with a hand by his face, soot black forehead torn and swelling.

21 Things Nobody Tells You About Blood Sludge

HELLO, DOWNERS GROVE!

All right, ladies! Woo! Are we having a good time? I can’t hear you, I’m sorry. ARE WE HAVING A GOOD TIME?

Most of you still refuse to answer the question, which is a shame. But I did hear you back there on the far right! What’s your name, pretty lady? Jacquelyn? Thank you for committing to having a good time, Jacquelyn! Toby, head over there and give Jacquelyn a beer koozie, on me.

That’s on me, Jacquelyn. Hope you enjoy.

As If We'd Been There Before

Jazz and I started out that summer spending every day together. I first saw her earlier that year in the parking lot, unloading groceries with her mom. She was wearing a bikini top and denim cutoffs and I was jealous, because I just had a couple of old one-pieces, faded from chlorine and saltwater. We just stared at each other that time. But we were the only girls our age in the building, and soon we were best friends. All the old ladies called us “those girls”, and everyone knew who they were talking about. We looked alike, same blonde hair and brown eyes, and we liked it. We tried to convince everyone we met we were twins, even though Jazz was a year older, thirteen, which sounded much older than twelve.

The temperature hit 105 in Daytona Beach in the middle of June that summer. Jazz got her period for the first time that summer. We met Johnny that summer.

The Open Palm of Desire

My son found a severed hand in the sandbox. Dug it up, along with half a lime green crayon and the nub of a baby carrot. “Daddy, look,” Stevie said, holding onto the appendage as if crossing the street. “I’m being nice.”

It was ten-thirty in the morning, too early for this macabre kind of shit. I’d yet to finish my second cup of coffee. And then there was the thing itself, flesh shriveled and plum purple, a mat of curly hairs running to the first knuckles, which were encrusted with sand. A sharp bit of bone jutted from the brown stub of wrist—brown like old rust, a color I remember from the nastiest of Maureen’s panties, what she called her “B-listers.” And wouldn’t you know it? I left the house so fast I forgot the damn Purell.

 “Jesus Christ!” I said. “Put that down.”

Brewster’s Century What?

So, I was moving in with my parents.

It was temporary. It had to be temporary. Dale made this clear. Dale being my stepfather. Temporary because of “that thing,” he said. That thing being Death Cab, my cat, to whom he was allergic. Death Cab for whom he was making “such a generous exception,” or - so said my mother, “because the rule is no animals allowed in the house except on the table hahahaha.”

But no matter how bad things were getting, no matter how low I felt, I wasn’t a loser. I wasn’t an idiot and I knew a hell of a lot about music: I could play guitar and before I left school to come home I was getting the hang of the drums at a tremendous pace. I was really pretty, or at least I knew how to dress well, or at least when I wasn’t dressed well I knew I wasn’t dressed well and I had sense enough not to hold my head high in the street.

Tell Me What I Can Do For You

On an evening in late May, Martin Bigras and his new friend Carl Barnet arrived at a train station in Munich, disembarked and went straight to the nearest beer hall. After a few lagers each, they started talking with a group of fox hunters who would break conversation every fifteen minutes to snort lines of fine powdered tobacco from the backs of their hands, poured from a discreet red container labelled FC Bayern München.

“We have a custom,” one of them said, “where we smear the b—how do you say it?”

Das blut,” another said. “The blood.”

“Right, the blood of the fox. We smear the blood on the face of the newest hunter. We have not done that for a long time, not since we were very young.”

Something about that made them all laugh together.

“Tomorrow morning,” the third one said. “You’ll come with us. We’ll shoot you a beautiful new scarf.”

Pages