Joyland

a hub for short fiction

Toronto

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.

Quarry, a novel excerpt

We watched the sunset smear red over the glistening quarry. It was the end of our first summer without her. Loops of swallows. Arcs of fish. Quiet drips of sound, the day’s wind tucked away. I thought of the story Mom had told me of the drowning woman. How she’d tied a rope to a rock to make that deadly anchor. To drown yourself in water’s depths. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the urge to disappear.

Let's Make the Void a Better Place

F had already turned a quarter of his apartment into the gallery he called

We Left the Warm Stable and Entered the Latex Void.

This title somehow came out of something I had said when we were among friends. I later added:

We cleft the norms, able, indentured the lame-ass boy,

and

The guest deforms Babel, anent Ur, the late asteroid.

Sketch Artist, Boxer, Party Planner, Baker

On a Greyhound chugging westwards, squeezed up against the window by the flabby arm of a sleeping farm boy, Doug Sachs struggled against the darkness of it all. Maybe things weren’t so bad, he thought. You’ve got to see these things as opportunities to grow: The worse things are, the better they will be (Sachs, 23). This would be good. He had helped so many people through their bleakest hours, and this was quite an accomplishment—but what of his own battles? He could now see that it was time to turn his healer’s gaze inwards.

The farm boy was drooping towards him, closer and closer, breathing hot hamburger breath onto his neck. Doug tried pushing him back towards the aisle, but the big boy was out cold and wouldn’t budge. Wish I could’ve taken the car, he thought. But again: an opportunity. Lemons/lemonade. Despite the discomfort, by taking the bus he now had time to prepare for his homecoming.

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