Joyland

a hub for short fiction

Midwest

The New Inner Peace

Everywhere I went, people did things for the right reasons. They helped others. They made friends. They avoided conflict. The world was full of horrible people, but I couldn’t find any of them. Where were all the people who attended charity events to start fights? Where were all the people who betrayed their family to get closer to winning a large cash prize? Where were all the people who appeared on romance-competition reality-TV shows to find fame? All I wanted was someone to tell me I was garbage, to spread lies about me—to hate me unconditionally. I was looking for hate in all the wrong places. The situation was like this: there wasn’t even a bus nearby, let alone somebody to throw me under it.

Clarity in Three Colors

At the speed of sleep I shoot up the bathroom. Another tragedy on a Friday. I’ve unzipped my Gratuity Pouch, the one I put the bills in, and am pissing through it onto the stall.

Two months ago I climbed a ladder—when I was still capable of painting houses—and rolled white paint on a cracked exterior (put a blanket over a crime scene). Just as I was coating the final corner, my sneaker slipped perfectly off.

What happened next was I woke up on the grass with a head that didn’t work the same as before.

Now I’m standing in a stall cursed with amateur graffiti. People can hear me. Someone said I’m giggling—but it’s not that innocent a sound.

What the hell are you doing in there? someone asks, knocking with their shoe.

Just fine. Thank you! I say.

I think someone’s in there with him, says another man.

Just me, thanks!

Glossary for the End of Days

A.

Avery. Town where the farm was, with the barn and the goats and the one cow, who was so old and sagged you could see the peaks of her back ridge pointing up through her hide and who hadn’t produced a drop of milk in probably a decade. There were chickens, too, and about a thousand cats either stalking the mice or sleeping in piles under shafts of sun. It wasn’t a bad spread, all in all, if you just looked from the outside and ignored all the boney girls dragging ass through the garden and sloshing pails of water to the bath out back or the dudes trying to figure out how to chop fire wood, nearly taking their own legs out. The people of Avery pretty much ignored us, figuring we were just a bunch of hippies, which I guess a lot of us were. Avery isn’t too far from where Edgar and I grew up, or too different. No one’s ever heard of Avery—or they hadn’t, anyway, before we came along.

B.

Felt Like Something

Excerpted from Once I Was Cool, a collection of personal essays now available from Curbside Splendor Publishing. 

My ovary is the size of a cherry tomato.

A cell the size of a grain of rice grew into a tumor the size of a tangerine and sucked up my ovary. Like Pac-Man.

That’s how my doctor explained it: "Like Pac-Man." Later, on the operating table under all sorts of anesthetic, I remember thinking, Pac-Man, hahaha, before passing out completely. When I came to, she told me the tumor could have killed me.

32 years old. 6-week-old baby. Dead by tangerine.

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Detroit Edison

Editor's Note: This story is part of Joyland's Michigan stories series.

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John R. Allen

509 N. Ulston Street, #2
Detroit, Michigan 48201

Mr. Allen,

This is the final notice regarding the outstanding balance of your DEE gas and electric account. If you do not pay the below sum within two (2) business days, you will be returned to the dark and cold forever. 

Cordially,

Detroit Edison Energy
1 Power Drive
Detroit, Michigan 48226

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The Rough and Tumble Sort

We’d been sitting on that ratty floral couch in the ranch-style house in the foothills of the Ozarks for almost an hour watching re-runs of M*A*S*H on the only channel the rabbit ears could pick up. My cousin—Little Tom—was especially quiet on account of the nasty case of Chickenpox he had just gotten over.

Bit of a pussy, his dad, Big Tom, would say about it. Supposed to have that when you’re a goddamn baby, not a goddamn adolescent.

Everyone mostly agreed, but Big Tom was one of those sumbitches you hear about always makes a situation worse than it needs to be: trucker by day, gone weeks at a time hauling frozen foods from the Ozarks to Galveston, home for long stretches, too, and when he was he guzzled Coors Banquet and wore only sleeveless ‘80s band tees and cussed and loomed over that house like a big hulking beast come to terrorize us in our only refuge.

Slowly Fading Out

Wake up and don’t fall back asleep. Wake up and thank the noise which sounds like a submarine in trouble. Make your lunch and put it in the brown bag. Thought you’d be done with the brown bags after grade school? Think again. You’ve gotten too comfortable. You lack discipline. And the only remedy for this sorry state, this collection of bad habits now called Your Life is to undo the encouraging judgment of Dad and the principal and even that worthless guidance counselor who spoiled you utterly with cooing cough-drop-scented aspirations of World = Oysterism and never telling you that you were soft and lacked even the barest prospects of professional success. It’s all a big joke, a shaggy dog story whose repetitive punch line has brought you to this morning, to every morning, waking up to a blaring S.O.S. noise in order to put that sense of urgency back in you, to give you a wandering itch that never stays still enough to scratch.

Noctivagrant

Editor's Note: This story is part of Joyland's Michigan stories series. Come back throughout April for more Michigan stories.

“On the other side then” “torrential against the shape of rain”
“I met everyone on behalf of” “the child who brought me here”
“The ground caves in at spots” “and beneath the streets are
seasons” “with their own rooms” “These must be the barracks,”
“where the whole situation sleeps and speaks” “in tongues”

“A man comes to me” “with patches on his eyes”
“he has already been here” “behind me” “for years”
“He says” “ ‘Brother, it has been a long time’”
“I remember:” “this is a place” “outside of gender”
“I should not have called him ‘him’

The Hygienist

Editor's Note: This story is part of Joyland's Michigan stories series. Come back throughout April for more Michigan stories.

“Do you grind your teeth,” the Hygienist asked, but Callie didn’t answer because the Hygienist was fiddling in her mouth, and because Callie knew the Hygienist already knew about the teeth grinding. The Hygienist had taken photographs inside Callie’s mouth, and they were now blown up larger than necessary on the screen. The Hygienist had also scanned the questionnaire Callie had filled out in the waiting room. On the form, Callie had admitted to irregular flossing, so the Hygienist knew about this, too. The Hygienist knew everything.

Rhyme Game

Editor's Note: This story is part of Joyland's Michigan stories series. Come back throughout April for more Michigan stories.

Tinny Marie and her mother rattled along Halfmoon Road in the pick-up truck, heading east toward the risen sun. Bits of trash flew out of the cans and barrels in the back  a plastic bag from Spartan egg noodles, a popsicle wrapper, grocery store receipts. Tinny Marie’s mother had canceled weekly garbage service because she could save money by storing the trash until she had a truckload and then dumping it herself. The longer she saved it, the more she was getting out of her eight-dollar compactor fee. Between compactor visits, cans of garbage lined up outside the back door, waiting.

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