Joyland

a hub for short fiction

New York

Buffalo

Excerpted from the in-progress novel, Buffalo.

Because Bea’s collection consisted of more than what she could store in refrigerators or under the bed  she took Kotter on a tour of Buffalo’s female body parts.  Cities were, according to Bea, a patriarchal invention and the urban space was one in which women were forced to navigate in a way that was uncomfortable and unnatural.  The Feminist’s Guide to Walking the City also encouraged an awareness of, and subsequent tribute to the working women enslaved throughout the urban landscape.  This suggestion was contained within a chapter called “Stoned” which Kotter thought was funny and Bea did not.  She put on her hat, a scarf and some waxy lip balm from a green tin.  Her hands then black in leather gloves, she pointed a finger at him.

“You think this will be boring.”

He thought.

 “I guess so,” he said.

Lisa Is the Water

“The worst toy for a bulimic is a garbage disposal,” you say.

Saturday afternoon on the balcony, flattened out in bikinis with pink rosettes kissing the waist, glasses of Perrier and a bowl of limes on the towel between you and Lisa. Summer physics ended yesterday, and you’ve been fasting since the final to be angles and elbows for back-to-school.

Lisa flips. Her blonde hair drips down her back and her shoulder blades jut like wings. 

“No way,” Lisa says. “All-you-can-eat buffet.”

“You’re cliché,” you say. “Everyone says that.”

“Who’s everyone?”

Long Beach Life Coach

The life coach sits on the couch. He sits on the edge, palms-to-knees. His chin stays up. Behind him, the light pierces the blind in horizontal slivers. It sears into the room and spreads weakly in the murky air. The dust motes shine dimly. As usual, he doesn’t figure anything out right now, or even figure what he’s trying to figure, he just sits reflecting and wondering, pondering, how or where exactly things could have gone, let’s just say . . . differently.

Outside, the yard is soaked in sun. Fat bees bumble on blossoms of honeysuckle; hummingbirds jab at amber trumpets of brugmansia.

Nothing is Lost or Found: Desperately Seeking Paul and Jane Bowles

Excerpted from the essay collection What Would Lynne Tillman Do? forthcoming from Red Lemonade books this March. Pre-order it here.

I once read: “All journeys have destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” The beginnings of journeys and narratives can be as surprising as their secret destinations. They can start as mysteriously as they end, they can start before one thinks.

Beauty Queens

Lisette can feel her little sister Vi watching her as the car speeds along. Vi is in the backseat and Lisette is up front with their mother, staring out the windshield at the bright road stretched ahead. She feels Vi’s eager eyes on her body and, in a moment of reversal, imagines what she looks like: her full, round form a dark shadow against the yellow sunlight washing through the windows. They are going to a beauty pageant in Albany. Vi has won the local competition and now it’s on to the state. Lisette is there as an audience, seventeen years old and twelve weeks pregnant. She turns around to look at her sister and finds herself, instinctually, comparing: they have the same eyes, but Vi’s hair is chestnut and curly while Lisette’s is straight, limp and blonde. Vi’s nose turns up in a way that Lisette’s never did at that age; the effect is that she always looks slightly cheeky.

Dear HauntedKnitz4U

If it weren’t for your socks, I wouldn’t be on this roof.  You have far and beyond the best online shop for haunted socks, and the ones you sent me—Blue Argyle Pair #5—must have belonged to the best man ever to be struck by lightning. Ken took the bolt, but you sold the socks.  You introduced us.  And for that, I need to thank you. He had guts and now he’s super-charged mine.  Typing on a roof isn’t easy, but the rain’s just started, so I had to tell you: thanks to you, my sister’s wedding will be a success.

Looking for her gift, I found your shop.  I needed more than some egg-shaped teapot.  I craved your uncanny matchmaking skills. Carly may be the sister who brings the soufflé when I bring the soda, but I offer effervescence, and you saw that.  You looked at my questionnaire responses, considered your host of humanely-harvested, locally-sourced socks, and you knew: Ken was the one for me.

To Choose a Horse

Pablo always took the stairs but we met in the elevator. I had seen him before. Down the hallway, or in the earlier part of a day. What are you writing? I forget which one of us asks for the other’s name, but we do. From the first floor to the second. I don’t tell him what I’m writing.

In the morning he’s holding a hot coffee cup. The outdoor tables, shaded by just one tree, or two. So what is the title of your piece? Which piece? The one you’re writing. Just tell me the title. And two sentences of what it’s about. Fine, I say, “The Final Seduction.” That’s the title.

The sun is bright even though I have my sun hat on. I put my mouth to the straw and cold water on my hand drops to my thigh, the iced coffee is gone sooner than expected. Afterwards I realize how much I had been sweating.

So. You write about men.

The Wenceslas Men

The first time I saw one of them was as a shadow on the gauze curtains of an apartment that wasn’t mine.

My lease had expired months earlier, and the work that I’d adopted could be done from anywhere; my default mode was transitory, even when feelings of upheaval didn’t actively prompt panicked shudders in the night. And so here I was, alone in a cave of an apartment, watching it for friends whose lengthy honeymoon had evolved into a kind of rambling from nation to nation. I was considering my next move: I’d been living in the same city for six years, and the fact that I bore no affinity for it had left me convinced of my own relative impermanence there.

“Boise,” a friend had told me once. “We could buy a skyscraper in Boise for what we pay to live in New York. Why the hell don’t we buy a skyscraper in Boise?” And at times, it was tempting: that promise of splendor in another city; the allure of captaincy.

The River Crossing

The young man sat in the old house looking at a magazine. He stopped reading when he suddenly noticed the bird songs coming in through the open window: some were warbled, seeming almost accidental, some pinched and shrill, and others exactly like the car alarms on the Polacks’ cars. Those alarms, which, when he heard them going off at all hours indiscriminate and intrusive, only made him wish that whoever was stealing the car would just please hurry up and steal it already. The songs all mixed together, and he thought they sounded like an opera. Something with a purpose, that if he listened closely enough—maybe with his eyes closed—he’d be able to figure out what the big deal was. Okay, birds, he thought, give it to me. But it wouldn’t come, even with his eyes closed.

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