Joyland

a hub for short fiction

Rhyme Game

Editor's Note: This story is part of Joyland's Michigan stories series. Come back throughout April for more Michigan stories.

Tinny Marie and her mother rattled along Halfmoon Road in the pick-up truck, heading east toward the risen sun. Bits of trash flew out of the cans and barrels in the back  a plastic bag from Spartan egg noodles, a popsicle wrapper, grocery store receipts. Tinny Marie’s mother had canceled weekly garbage service because she could save money by storing the trash until she had a truckload and then dumping it herself. The longer she saved it, the more she was getting out of her eight-dollar compactor fee. Between compactor visits, cans of garbage lined up outside the back door, waiting.

L’histoire de Mathilde

I’d realized one day that it was something I could do and by the next I was doing it all the time—to the traffic warden, to the cashier, to the girl at the video store. And so I must have done it that afternoon too, that afternoon at Café L’Olympique when I first met Mathilde. I’d had the feeling right away that Ryan would like her. I’d found pictures in our apartment of the other women he’d loved and they had been overflowing sorts of women just like this one—not fat or anything, but open-mouthed, thirsty sorts of women.

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.

What the Crime Is Like Here

He called me from a payphone in New Hampshire. He didn’t like the mountains in New Hampshire. He didn’t realize there were so many of them or how they closed in on the village like a bully.

The kind of mountains that aren’t really mountains, he said. The kind you wouldn’t want to paint.

I don’t paint anymore, but he likes to believe I still paint, the way I like to believe he will make it big in L.A., so big he can come back here.   

*

New HampshiretMassachussettsConnecticutNewYork and then Pennnnsssyyylllvaaaaaaannniiiaaaaaaa, he said. That’s what it felt like getting to Lancaster.    There was nothing in Lancaster, he said.  Except a buggy. It made him think. He had never once thought about the Amish, but now that he had, what the fuck?  Why do they do that?  The insides of the buggies looked cavernous, unsafe for the women, and who knew what kind of crimes were being committed inside those things.

*

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?”

Gate Count

We were ranching a lab-owned deer farm thirty miles from the nearest highway. Most mornings were the same. Our withered rooster, Mr. Kirkaby, woke us with strained crowing, and Lenny and I got up around 5 am to feed the deer millet muffins. Lenny and I met at UIC, moved around a lot, and eventually quit our jobs and seriously considered ourselves tramps, in the most nostalgic sense.

Everything hailed from our garden, a jungle from seedling, reaching to the Paper Birch and beyond the marsh. That Sunday morning, we talked about making this job work.  Lenny resolutely set down a beer, which foamed to the table. With flexible jobs, sometimes we had beer in the morning. As we drank, the Andy-deer scratched at the glass, their electric hum filling the yard. At least, we thought it was the deer. Harold Lloyd had become horny lately, and yesterday had scratched deep lines into the deck.

Walking Back to Turtle

P.O. BOX 1293

1149 Laurier Place

Edmonton, AB T5H 1P7

Dear Mr. Spotted Plume,

I am writing on behalf of Mr. J. Ahkiskiw, author of the Savage Under Heart series (Plains Romances // Big Sky Press MT). I regret to inform you that Mr. Ahkiskiw is rather upset with your latest review of Savage Under Heart Five: Savage Love on Campus. I am a close friend of the author, and, I must say, he is in pieces over what he feels is a naïve and unfairly biting review. I would like to invite you to meet the author. Please, consider my words a peace offering. Mr. Ahkiskiw and I both admire your publication.

Yours, &c

Mr. Obadiah Miximoo

P.O. Box 25

79 Township Rd S0M 0E0

 

Dear Mr. Miximoo,

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.

Songbun Song

Hyo washes his hands in hot water. He presses his nails into his cloth to remove each excess drop to ready his fingers for pinning. The baby fusses but falls back to sleep, dreaming her arms up. Hyo tweezes his find identified easily as Thyas Juno by the orange under markings. He removes it from the aspirator and fumigates it, lulled by its increasingly tranquil spasms. He chooses a spot next to an inferior twin but the spacing in the display box is wrong. He moisturizes the smaller specimen avoiding its antennae, swabbing it with alcohol for repositioning. The radio is on. Kim Jong Un reminds us again that he has met with a famous basketball player Rod Man and they created a great friendship. Praise the Supreme Leader.

In the dream round shapes come toward her, glowing gray. She reaches.

The Heat of Human Bodies

The month Donny’s dialysis machine broke they both began to feel like their lives had settled somehow, like now the entire power grid could fail and only so much would change for them. Leanne used to spend evenings watching him prepare it and then they would both sleep twelve hours while it hummed and pumped warm sugar water into and out of his abdomen. In the daytime they were normal. Donny would sit with Jean in the kitchen and Leanne would think about how surrounding yourself with women seemed like a reasonable, appropriate kind of healing. They would drink small glasses of orange juice and eat lettuce and vegetables and different types of grilled meat and fish that Leanne shopped for every day. She would ride with Jean in her car and Donny would stay home reading medical journals online. At night Donny would summarize clinical trials and research studies done at universities.

The Unknown Soldier

Molly Antopol's debut story collection, The UnAmericans, is now available from W.W. Norton. 

Fridays were busy outside Alameda Point. Women shouldered past Alexi, coiffed and perfumed and in pumps and pearls and fuzzy sweaters, calling for their children to hurry up and take their places in the inspection line. For the past twelve months, Alexi had only known the other side to these afternoons, the men’s collective anticipation of those sacred hours in the cramped visiting room or, on sunny days, at the picnic tables in the yard—men who had stopped, at a certain point, asking Alexi about his own family once it was painfully clear they were never coming to see him.

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.

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.

Reinventing the Wheel

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.

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.

Koreatown

1.

The Koreatown mission started like any other sunny four o’clock in Las Vegas. Yes, the sky was clear, the traffic humming along Charleston, Martin Luther King. Yes, we were on to Lynchburg Lemonades at a table at the Four Queens but we all called it Dixon’s for no reason that I could remember. Yes. Captain Rick was telling jokes and counting quarters, our heads rattled with new speed and our mouths were puckered— it was a very positive feeling. And also, there was the cashier. Bosscat really liked her, the cashier girl with the natural red hair and the unpainted nails. She wouldn’t look at him. What’s her name, at least. At least give me that, he shouted. Nobody paid us any mind.

Chicken Necks

It was Willy’s job to feed the big cats. Luray Zoo’s got a lazy Bengal tiger that was rejected by its mother, an ocelot born with a deformed jaw, a limping lynx with a missing chunk of hind leg—but the two-toed serval’s always been my favorite. She’s got this tiny head and long body, with stripes on her shoulders and cheetah spots everywhere else. She looks like some kind of messed up jungle experiment, fitting right into this orphanage for misfit animals. Willy used to say that all the animals at Luray Zoo have something that make them special. But it’s more like they’re unfit to live without a human handful of chicken necks passed through the wire cage.

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.

Amerikana Dreaming

One day we were gypsies, and the next we were kings. We were vagrants and lust-givers, catatonic, exuberant, strung out, unhurried, and even optimistic. We thought we would celebrate each other forever.

But Jakko made it to his mattress, just before dawn, and with his hands casually grasped behind his head, he went to sleep like a bohemian Jesus and never woke up.

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