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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!”

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.”

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.

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


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.


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.


Detroit Edison

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


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. 


Detroit Edison Energy
1 Power Drive
Detroit, Michigan 48226