Joyland

a hub for short fiction

Toronto

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.

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.

Neutral Buoyancy

They always make it harder to achieve results.

Kielbasa Joe paddles his noodle up the fourth lane in a painfully slow crawl, the fluorescent pool lights making his flesh look blanched and sausage-like. There’s no sense waiting for him; he’ll hog the lane for a full hour, noodling back and forth without a twinge of shame. Likewise, Doctor O.C.D. Grumblestein is busy evenly spacing the lane markers along the rope of lane five, just like he always does, muttering the whole time, as though that qualifies as exercise; that’s probably a twenty-minute wait. Which leaves Chatty Boners chatting up one of his AquaTramps in lanes two and three, and Wady Mary, doing her wady dance in the shallow end of lane one, the flotation belt cinched around her squishy belly propping up her sagging tits like beached jellyfish.

If Life Gave Me Lemons

At the time, her life had been lacking in sure things, and so Lindsay took comfort in knowing where she stood with Aaron, even if it was nowhere good. She was technically his manager, which made their friendship inappropriate, but as her job title was meaningless and he knew she was in love with him, her authority couldn’t have been compromised further. So Lindsay went out for drinks with him whenever he asked, and understood that he suppressed his reciprocal leanings out of fairness to his long-time girlfriend, Staffanie, the habit he just couldn’t shake.

Difficult People

These talks are mandatory, aimed at increasing our productivity. The week prior I’d received an email from the organizer, Owen Peck. He promised “tactics to deal with Downers, Moochers, Whiners, Passive Aggressives and all other Energy Vampires in your lives!!” Sounds like Devon, I thought.

As I step into the boardroom, I take a moment to remind myself to smile, to participate but not in an overbearing way, to be cheerful not cloying, assertive not strident, to be a team player, and under no circumstances to mention Devon. Never ever bring up Devon. It’s only after this bit of self-talk that I notice the mantra projected against the wall: “Happiness is the Powercord of Success!”

Valentine's Day

1

On Valentine’s Day, he writes a word on an index card. Before leaving for work, he puts it inside a gilded box on Lea’s dresser. Every year it’s a different word; it’s meant to describe her. He uses a thesaurus to help him. This year he’s settled on melliferous.

But when he rises on the morning of the 14th, he forgets to leave the box on her dresser. First time in over a quarter century; just clean forgets. He laughs it off that evening, shows her the card, everything’s fine.

Dumpster

See, so, the thing I don’t get about human nature is why pay good money for satellite TV when you can get crystal clear over-the-air broadcasts from Buffalo and beyond using a simple directional antenna you can buy for like fifty bucks at The Source?

And so I say this to Eric and Eric’s like, arms crossed, this sneer on his face. “Oh, you mean I have to, like, move it slightly if I want to pick up something other than Buffalo?” So reluctant, so skeptical, and all I’m trying to do is save him some money.

Children of the Corn

There’s a photo in the Saturday paper Dad wants Shell to think about. It is really simple: a man’s hand—giant and white—is holding out a black kid’s teeny tiny hand so all the world can see.

“Dad, is it a girl’s hand or a boy’s?”

Dad says, “Does that matter?” and goes back to the Sports.

Really, it could be a doll’s hand, or an Egyptian mummy’s. It is that wrinkled. The nails need a clip. And the wrist, draped over the man’s lined palm, is no thicker than one of the rubbery carrots rolling around in the bottom of the crisper. It must be hot there. The contrast between the black and the white so sharp, it’s as if cut with the X-Acto Dad uses on boxes.    

The Circles in Which We Travel

Louisa, in a blue dress that plays up her red hair, runs around the kitchen. “Malcolm! I can’t find Iffy’s bag.”

“I’ve packed it,” Malcolm says from the doorway, dangling a black diaper bag.

“Jesus Christ, let’s go!” Louisa grabs it. “We’ll be late.”

Malcolm, in his own combination of red (sweater) and blue (jeans), picks up Iphigenia (Iffy for ease and endearment), who is already strapped into her carrier/car seat/cradle (the C3, as it’s known on the market). “Come on, sweet pea, let’s have dinner with our pals, shall we?” Malcolm strokes her eyebrows softly with his index finger.

Iffy, hairless in rainbow fleece and organic cotton, closes her eyes briefly. Milk lingers at the corner of her mouth, and Malcolm smells Louisa on her.

Louisa is already in the car. “Malcolm, come on. You know how they can be.” Then to Iffy, who is being secured in the backseat, “How’s my baby? Did you get enough to eat?” Her hand rises to her breast.

The Somewhere Else

1. DAVE

When I was a kid I hung around with our grubby, red-haired neighbor, Patrick, who was old enough to have witnessed his few friends move away but young enough—I guess—to decorate his living room with lava lamps. Even though I felt pretty special those days, I understood he’d have to be a pretty lonely guy to actively befriend the twelve-year-old down the street, but I ate Fig Newtons and watched daytime TV with him anyway and played gently with his arthritic dog Leia when she was awake.

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