Joyland

a hub for short fiction

Prenatal

Hey! it blurts. Hey!

Charlie looks around. A voice in her head. She’s alone in the bedroom.

Hey! In here!

She feels it, a rumbling deep in the cavern of her swollen belly.

Hey!

She puts her hands over her tummy.

In here!

Charlie’s not the first girl in the high school to get pregnant. She’s just the first anyone can remember to stay in school while pregnant. Winnie, a twelfth-grader, was rumored to have been knocked up by her uncle, but she stopped attending soon after word got around.

Charlie shows up everyday, homework as neatly completed as ever.

Who’s the father? the other teens whisper to each other as Charlie lumps by them in the hall. The top candidate is Mr. Bradley, Honors and Advanced Placement History teacher. Charlie sits in the front. Charlie does well on tests and reports. She is, in all likelihood, getting an A in Honors Ancient History.

The Narcissist's Dilemma

Six PM. Thursday night. Jack’s Café Bar. Usually called Jack’s. Sometimes The Jack. College crowd hasn’t come yet, which is fine. There’s a special on pitchers of beer that ends in an hour, so I’d think it would be slamming in here, but finals are going on right now, so I assume they’re all studying, hiding. Worrying. Doing things that those titans of genius do at about this time.

Portrait #37, in Red

“You should have forgotten their names by now,” Mike said.

He sat in the driver’s seat like it was a living room chair, his left leg jackknifed under his right.

“You mean I shouldn’t mention them,” Kat said.

“I mean they should be ghosts.”

Browning stalks of corn stood motionless awaiting harvest. Every now and then, a piece of farm equipment, a rusting red thresher against the plain blue sky, merited pulling over for a photograph. But they were doing eighty, and Kat could tell that the ease of the past few months they’d spent getting to know each other in Mexico was fading.

“My step-dad’s ex-wife always came for Thanksgiving,” Kat said. “Sometimes Christmas. It’s no big deal.”

“Nineties psychology,” Mike said. “You set ex-boyfriends into this place and time like they’re my contemporaries.”

“I haven’t had a serious relationship for three years.”

“It’s like this boyfriend mural.”

Something More

Avery was a rapist, but that’s not the first thing you’d notice about him. You might observe his pale skin or his glasses, the way the slender metallic frames highlighted his blue eyes. How his eyelashes brushed up against the glass. Or maybe his narrow, straight nose, and the way he was thoughtful when he listened; how he tipped his head to the side to regard the speaker. Every week when she saw him, Jackie noticed his long, white fingers and how he held each stem over the bucket, weighing it between his thumb and index before adding it to the bouquet. 

            Jackie always bought the most inexpensive flowers: irises or tulips, a few stems of gerbera daisies. After her purchase, she went straight home, sixteen blocks, to put them in water. She discovered that the flowers cast a kind of dignity on the small apartment. But on this day, when she spied Avery from a distance, handling a blush-colored carnation, Jackie decided that she wanted something more.

Rat Girl Rat Boy

In Marcia’s favourite book, Cinderella’s stepsisters had thin carroty hair. So did Hansel and Gretel’s mother, and the wicked fairy who wasn’t invited to the christening, but Snow White’s stepmother had rolling auburn curls. They gleamed. Her image, doubled by the speaking mirror, filled a page and made Marcia’s insides feel hollow. She looked so often that the book readily fell open just there. The aunt who’d given it to her was pleased.

Then in a magazine of Mum’s, left open, Marcia saw an ad for shampoo. Carefully she cut out the sheet of rippling hair, mahogany-red. In her small room she looked about. Where? Mum was always cleaning. The bookcase? The image slid into Chickadee, a gift from the other aunt.

In time all the back issues thickened with highlights, streaks, conditioner. Always there were more blondes and brunettes, even silvers, than redheads. Never enough.

Dummy

It’s not easy, being green.
—Kermit the Frog

I could feel Jordan’s hands working up and down my back. He tweaked my shoulder blade and my left arm waved. He pressed his fingers against the base of my neck and my head flopped forward. I maintained the almost plastic smile that I needed to play my part. My limbs dangled like they were made of wood, waiting for his hands to move to where my muscles were twitching, ready.

“And now, I will drink this glass of water while my dummy, Eric, recites ‘Hey Fiddle Diddle’ in falsetto.”

Every Day in the Morning (slow)

This excerpt from Every Day in the Morning (slow) has been reformatted for Joyland. Think of it as a transcription. The original, available in print and browseable online, is formatted in a way that could be called “concrete lyric fiction,” with words and letters aligning vertically to form a fully continuous “drop poem.” Like the original, but with 95% less white space, the unconventional paragraphs you see here are organized not by sentences, but by tonal arrangements of words. A group of words will interact in a certain paragraph, forming a zone of sound and meaning (and space, in the original), until we move on to the next zone. The emerging narrative links them all together. You need not know any of this to read on, but it provides some sense for the method behind what might, at first blush, appear mad.

—Adam Seelig

Stop and Jack Bean

Many problems still remain, but I am not angry. Why is that?

I live in this room and that is all that I do. I should be anxious over my lack of achievement but am not. I do, however, make lists of what I’ve eaten today. I say:

— I wrote this after eating an apple.

— I wrote this after eating sawdust.

— I wrote this after eating a dose of iron.

— I wrote this after eating walnut jam.

The world has not melted in years. It froze many years ago I suppose, but I don’t know — nor could I, because all I do is live in this room. The room is a tight fit. In any case, I think it’s a room because there are four walls and a window with a bronze-colored curtain over it. The world froze many years ago, so the window faces an open expanse of flat ice tinted a grayish blue, like a cloud turned inside out.

But I am not angry.

Why is that?

St. Kevin of Cleveland

Let me say right off that if any of you mooks repeats this story to Eric or Max or the other guys from school, I’ll call you a liar and find a way to make you pay for it later. Ask around West Park—ask around the whole Westside—you don’t eff with Pearse Rooney.
Not that I’m ashamed of what I’m about to tell you, because I’m not. It’s just that a fella’s gotta worry about his reputation, especially a senior and the captain of the hockey team. So do us all a favor, and keep this to yourself.

A Happy Place

The sun rises. As it must. And the sky is cloudless and the kind of blue you want to see in the eyes of a good-looking woman. From real close. Like close enough that you could blow into those blue eyes and she would slap you playfully and giggle and you’d once again be amazed that you were being so intimate and playful with such a gorgeous woman. That kind of blue. That’s how beautiful the sky is today.

And the sun freaks me out. I’m not talking cancer either. I mean, the thing is a star and one day it’s going to die and cosmology or astrology – one of them’s about religion, I’m getting my ologies mixed up here – but the sun’s a big thing and it fills me with big ideas and dread and it makes me feel so small when I think about the reality of the thing. Because thinking likes this opens a hole inside me that lets bad things in, they stream in, and what am I going to do to close it? It freaks me out. When I think about it. So I try not to. I really try.

98 Mothers

David Bishop was driving to his mother’s house for dinner when he checked his cell phone and found ninety-eight messages. Every one was from his mother. After listening to the first seventeen, he discovered that the wording in every message was exactly the same. Only her inflection changed with each message, and this only slightly. Pressing some other buttons, he learned that all ninety-eight messages were sent at exactly the same time. He found this strange.

Jenna On Twitter

Jenna is tweeting when she’s supposed to be painting. Ennui is the religion of my generation. The singer of her favourite band updates his own Twitter feed as she refreshes her browser. She’s in a small white room that smells like oil paints. Apparently, he sits in a Calgary university library with aching lumbar muscles.

Man. Since when did my lower back decide to turn 65 while the rest of me remains 30? Get me a stretcher

Jenna is alone in her studio, unprotected from the summer heat outside. Over the speaker, his pretty male voice coos over a single strummed acoustic guitar and sweet piano triads. She cranks the volume and stands, waltzing with an imaginary partner.

16 Years Gone

March 15, 2010

At the whim of weather I feel like Seattle. Without heroin I can feel the hours. I can feel every molecule of space when I move through it at this pace. There’s something missing. Like a phantom limb. Phantom blood. Phantom junk. There’s something missing. There has to be something more than this. Day in, European tour. Day out, Asian tour. And though I’m clean, I feel sick. More than I’ve ever been. And my veins still shift like the roll of eyes… or dice. There’s a phantom limb but I don’t know where it attaches to my body. It’s somewhere here… or there. I’m not sure. I don’t know. I don’t know reveries too well.

***

I’m gonna smoke. Do you mind if I smoke?

No. Go ahead.

I’m gonna smoke. [Kurt lights a cigarette].

The Malibu

I am in the back seat of my uncle’s BMW in Constantia Kloof, a wealthy enclave in the hills to the west of Johannesburg. We are idling in front of the gate to the development my cousin lives in. It is hot; the kind of dry, baking heat that reminds you that you are in Africa. In Johannesburg you are never outside; there are sidewalks and parks, but the sidewalks are empty of people, and abutted everywhere with tall security gates and spikes that make you feel like you are walking a prison yard. The parks are where the criminals live. So you are in your car, always, and you are sweating.

Craft

I’m parked kitty-corner from Lisa Scoccar’s one-story prefab, squinting into binoculars against the bald May sun, across her open yard of rutted dirt scattered with a few dead saplings, and into the French doors of her side bedroom. I’m watching Lisa put on the clothes her father wore on New Year’s Eve when a semi hauling live turkeys crashed into his car. This is Lisa’s thing. Every morning before work, she pulls on her father’s undershirt that was slit up the front by emergency room personnel, wraps around her waist the jeans that were cut at the seams from his legs, and slips on his white sporty-senior tennis shoes that fit her feet like water skis. Then she stands, paralyzed, clutching the waistband of her dead father’s pants as she stares at her reflection in the full-length mirror until she breaks down crying, looking like a sad rodeo clown coming undone.

Update

http://statusupdate.ca is a website driven by two interwoven databases and two RSS feeds. The primary page of the site, which mimics the appearance of a Facebook status update in terms of color, font, and expression of temporality, is generated live every time someone visits the site, or hit the refresh key on their browser. The contents of the home page consists of the merged results of Bill’s and Darren’s Facebook RSS feeds…after a helpful robot has swapped out all proper names for the names of dead poets pulled from the Wikipedia “names of poets” page. Update is a collection of work generated on the site and is available from Snare Books at http://snarebooks.wordpress.com/books/update-by-bill-kennedy-and-darren-...

The Parable of Bryan Dong

This is the parable of Bryan Dong. It is somewhat parabolic. Back in the day, in a very specific suburb of Winnipeg, specifically Transcona, when Leslie Mackie was an elementary school student, from the age of six, he used to go to Bryan Dong’s house every weekday for lunch. Leslie was a latchkey kid. Bryan was the greatest person in the world. Leslie was perfectly aware that he sometimes annoyed Bryan. It was hard not to be somewhat overenthusiastic in Bryan’s presence. Leslie felt a real sense of dedication to his best friend. Not only was Bryan one of the most popular and physically attractive boys at Harold Hatcher, but his parents, Roy and Deandra, were the Block Parents of Allenby Crescent. Every livable street in Winnipeg had a house that was designated the Block Parent home. If a child were to be in danger of any kind, they could find safety and solace in the arms of a Block Parent. Leslie felt especially lucky that his mom had brokered the lunchtime deal with Mrs. Dong.

Folsom, Survivor

1. MYSELF & THE CITY

My name is Folsom and the most important fact of my existence, as determined by others, is that I survived the Kindergarten Massacre. I am one of eight. My memories of the event are minimal but precise, as I have been made to recount them countless times over the years: Fisher-Price, safety scissors, smell of smoke, exploding sounds, hair flying, bloody carpet, I can’t tell you any more. While the rest of them ran, I managed to climb into a cubbyhole and black out, and so saved my life.

It has always been believed that the only witnesses were myself and the seven others. In the years since, we have been studied and analyzed, but what we recall is truncated and unreliable: no one has been able to surmise the reason for the sudden violence that swept through our classroom. It remains a case unsolved, motives undetermined.

.

A Better Life

The bus accelerates up the gentle slope leading from the wide street on to the small brightly lit bridge that takes it over a branch of the Oker, and no sooner have you caught a glimpse of the murky water, the houses and fences which line the riverbank, than the bus jerks to a halt in the shadow of a building at the Oker Bridge stop. The door hisses open with a sigh, and from here it’s not much further to his street, Spinnerstrasse. As if things weren’t bad enough already, he has to live on Kook Street.

His apartment, a so-called studio, is awkwardly shaped, sort of like a trapezoid, but also curved on one side. A desk, a chest of drawers, a mattress on the floor, raffia mats on top of the linoleum. Hardly any room to move around. But then why would he want to move around?

Eaten

When I was a child, in my backyard, there grew a sapodilla tree. In the summer my parents would send me to collect the ripened chikoo fruit, or to drive away the monkeys who would try to steal them, with their long, curling tails and clever fingers. But now I live as far as possible from that house; the chikoos have become the strings of lights wrapped around my balcony and the monkeys replaced by young hooligans who, at this very moment, are tearing them down. I watch helplessly from the roof of my building as three of them disappear down an alley, leaving a river of coloured, broken glass.

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