My next-door neighbours are really bad at fucking. It’s painful; I can hear them every third or fourth night just sort of futilely scrambling around on top of each other. Basically, everything about what they do -- the pacing, the duration, their dismal climaxes -- is wrong. They aren’t even compatible body shapes: she’s a ball and he’s a stick. When I put my ear up to the wall, they seem so furtive and quiet, all I hear is the occasional stifled moan or “Shh, he’ll hear us.” Plus, judging by the creaking, it sounds like they do it on a hide-a-bed; I can clearly picture his gangly marionette limbs flopping off the sides of it, while her back gets jarred against the bar in the middle at infrequent intervals. Sometimes, it’s all I can do to stop myself from busting through the wall and showing them how it’s done. They’re in such sad need of a mentor.
What some call holiness—that hard to measure, out-of-the-blue goodness—can take root in strange places, at unexpected times. Think of that cool Christian miracle of Jesus sashaying over water, the tale of the Good Samaritan, and Mother Theresa’s strenuous dedication to feeding Calcutta’s poor—although in her case, her holiness is rightly contested; she may well have been a Fascist.
Congratulations to former Joyland contributor Naben Ruthnum, who won the Writers' Trust of Canada $10,000 Journey Prize this week. Here is his most recent story for Joyland, first published in November 2011.
A week after visiting the hair salon, Michelle saw her blue dinosaur again. She’d had trouble falling asleep, because she was unused to the coolness of the pillow under her bare neck at night. For twenty-three years, she had slept on her back with her long, thick hair as an extra cushion. It was all gone now. Not quite all of it, but the crop-cut the hairdresser had created when Michelle allowed his scissors free reign still looked more like absence than style when she looked in the mirror. And it felt like absence when she lay down, waiting for the blood in her neck to warm the fabric beneath her before she could fall asleep.
Courtney peered into the rearview mirror and Michael was gone. She knew he hadn’t abandoned her, that he had only gone in to pay for the gas, but that kind of sudden disappearance grabbed her in a delicate spot in the lining of her stomach. And then just as suddenly, the thunk of the door opening and the huge, firing electricity of his presence. It was early in the morning, and she felt things more.
They had crossed into Colorado in the dark, so she was just beginning to see it, the hardness of it. They were on their way to Michael’s step-father’s funeral in Parker.
My marriage is ending and it's my fault. In the other room, Andrew is snoring. I’m on the couch. Here is the buttery weight of polar fleece on bare skin, the entire length of my body unblemished by a goose bump. Try not to anticipate the cold. Squint at the dark window, listen for the rain, but only to harden against the inevitable. At five I get up: sweater, housecoat, slippers on the floor within reach. Pull them under the covers first. To turn on the gas fireplace is to risk making inside too comfortable. Kettle on while I dress for work: long underwear, fleece vest, wool sweater. Two layers of socks, even though that's not a good idea. Cuts off circulation, Andrew says.
Excerpted from Temple Grove, a novel by Scott Elliott, published by University of Washington Press.
Trace strapped her two-month-old son Paul into the rear-facing infant car seat of a blue ’79 Dodge Omni and drove and hiked him from Neah Bay to the Olympic National Park near the place of his conception on the banks of the Elwha River.
When she started at Ridout and Finney’s, Melanie was very careful about what she wore. Light brown pumps with a medium heel, a wool suit in calm camel, and pantyhose the colour of weak tea. Under the suit she wore a cream silk shirt and a string of amber beads. Quality.
Jake Martin said to Roger Penrith, “Your new IT manager looks efficient.” Roger knew what he meant.
“Doesn’t she, though?” he said. “And she knows what she’s doing.”
Melanie's hair was thick and blond, caught up in a silk bow at the back. An olive green bow, streaked with amber. It tied the whole thing together.
“Makes a welcome change, doesn't it?” Roger added, showing Jake he knew exactly what he meant: Roz, the receptionist with her micro minis and her extraordinary ratty, one-sided hair. She had to tilt her head to keep it there, until she grew tired and perversely flung it all with huge drama to the other side. Making Roger wonder about airborne matter.
Rainbo1 and Marie2 are both watching the same lone pigeon3 walk along the edge of the curb at the bus stop. Its left foot is curled and dead-looking.4 The pigeon walks with a limp, pecking at invisible morsels as late-night taxis with darkened roof signs5 whoosh down the mostly-deserted street.
Visible just over the tops of the buildings on the opposite side of the street are the glittering condos of the Bay and, farther back, Downtown's crowded lightscape.6 The October moon is waxing gibbous.7 The temperature is eight degrees Celsius.
Julio and Amelia have done everything they can to ignore the ladybug infestation. As dozens multiply into hundreds, it becomes increasingly difficult. Amelia presses the knife against the cutting board, brings it through the soft white skin of the banana. For each swift cut she makes, she imagines there are 1,000 new ladybugs in the apartment. They live in the ceilings and walls. Some nights as she lies awake, she thinks she can hear them in the vent above their bed, clicking and crawling over each other. If she listens close enough, she can almost count them.
Bernard went to the nearest liquor store to buy a bottle of wine. He had been invited for a dinner party at Jeremy Croft’s in honor of his first solo exhibition at Galerie Buchholz in Berlin. For years now, it felt like a large portion of his social life revolved around events related to Jeremy. He would need to bring a bottle of wine. It had taken Bernard a few years to understand the etiquette of invitations, far past a socially acceptable age. When he figured out that he needed to arrive at all domestic social engagements with wine, even if he didn’t want to drink it, he also realized that he could not show up with a two-liter Pepsi, like George Costanza in Seinfeld, or even, as he would prefer, a bottle of bourbon. When the automatic door of the liquor store failed to open, he pushed, having to force it slightly. The clerk glanced in his direction. Buying food or beverages in general made Bernard nervous, but buying alcohol was worse.