Joyland

a hub for short fiction

A Girl With A Dragon Tattoo

“Mark Phillips.”

“What? Sorry?” 

“Mark Phillips.” 

“How do you know my name?” 

“You don’t remember me.” 

“I’m sorry, no I don’t.” 

“Think.” 

“I am.” 

“Think harder.” 

“Yeah.  Well, I’m thinking hard.”  

“Right. Think hard.” 

“Give me a clue.” 

“This is too fun.” 

“Nothing?” 

“Come with me.” 

“I don’t know.” 

“You’re safe.” 

“I hope so.” 

“Come.”  

“This is slightly awkward.” 

“What?” 

“Well, you know, you know my name and I don’t know yours and …” 

“And …” 

“Well …” 

“Just relax and enjoy.” 

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying this.” 

“Me too.” 

“But seriously, how do you know my name?” 

“Do you think I’m hot?” 

The Loneliest Thing

“Taz, yo, no shit, Taz just goes off on him!”

Hector was all bouncing around in the big cracked leather chair by the window in my apartment. Mom wasn’t due home for another couple of hours, and I didn’t expect Dad home any time soon, either, so we were just chilling in the living room, smoking a bowl.

“So what’d Father Spence say?” asked Danny, reaching across the stained coffee table to pass me the bong.

“What’s he gonna say?” asked Hector. “Taz just tells him, like, ‘This class is bullshit, man. Fail me if you want, I don’t give a motherfuck.’”

Lisbon

I have ten seconds. Or at least that’s what it seems like. I reach for my backpack, but it's far off on the other side of me. It’s too late and it’s bone against bone.

The punch doesn't hurt nearly as much as I thought it would. It turns out Mark Lawson has fat, squishy hands.

“Fuck you, Lisbon!” Mark yells at me. I sit up and rub the side of my face. Who the fuck names a kid ‘Lisbon’, anyway?

“It’s a beautiful name for a boy,” my mom had told me. “Don’t you love the sound of it?”

My grandma ended up telling me exactly what kind of person names a kid ‘Lisbon’: a twenty- something-year-old who had just given birth to the love child of some music festival smack down of bumping uglies.

Excerpt: Binary Star

Excerpted from Binary Star, now available for purchase from Two-Dollar Radio.

We’re kicked out of the party and John follows a few steps behind me toward the subway. I keep my eyes on the ground as it disappears behind my Converse.

That guy went down so fast. He screamed like a baby.

What did he do to you?

He was just talking shit, like the people at the Free School. Nobody knows what the fuck they’re talking about. Nobody’s willing to be militant. They’re all a bunch of pussies who don’t know what they believe.

You’re wearing a leather belt.

I had this before I went vegan. It would be disrespectful to the cow if I threw it away.

Roadrunning

We were always uneasy in the old place, a trailer we stayed in on the half-acre behind my boss’ house. There was almost always a dog chained to the water spigot on the side of the house. It took me a while to notice that every week or two the dog was a different dog. There was another dog, too, one they let live inside. I’d hear him barking when my boss had a visitor or the mailman came by, but I never saw him.

A Good Man

When the phone rang I was lying on the divan. It sounds so chic, like I was a lady of leisure waiting for other ladies of leisure to arrive so we could be served tea and little cakes on one of those tiered dishes by a servant smartly turned out in a spotless white jacket and slim black trousers (who would also have a Marcel wave in his hair and a pencil moustache). Like at any minute I was going to ring a bell and ask Ahmed or Mahmood or Fathi to kindly wipe down the wicker chairs and tables on the balcony – the big balcony – and arrange them attractively for when the other ladies of leisure arrived.

Current Events

The beginning of the dinner party, the part I liked best, was always the same. Us kids ate pizza (gluten-free crust as of last year), while our parents, holding white bean dip on a sesame cracker in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, got us to talk about things. What Spanish vocabulary had we lately learned? Which part of Montessori gym class did we like better, kickball or yoga? Had our opinions on the Iraq invasion changed now that there was conclusive evidence Saddam had never possessed WMDs?

“Jesus Christ Murray!” Miles’s mother said. “They’re kids!”

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.

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