Joyland

a hub for short fiction

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.

To Choose a Horse

Pablo always took the stairs but we met in the elevator. I had seen him before. Down the hallway, or in the earlier part of a day. What are you writing? I forget which one of us asks for the other’s name, but we do. From the first floor to the second. I don’t tell him what I’m writing.

In the morning he’s holding a hot coffee cup. The outdoor tables, shaded by just one tree, or two. So what is the title of your piece? Which piece? The one you’re writing. Just tell me the title. And two sentences of what it’s about. Fine, I say, “The Final Seduction.” That’s the title.

The sun is bright even though I have my sun hat on. I put my mouth to the straw and cold water on my hand drops to my thigh, the iced coffee is gone sooner than expected. Afterwards I realize how much I had been sweating.

So. You write about men.

Esperanza

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.

Market

I waited for a long time for a voice to tell me not to quit my job, and when no voice came, I quit. If someone had asked me how I felt, I would have said I appreciated the finality of quitting, of having made a decision, finally, that I could not take back. But no one asked and so I had no one to lie to, and after a while I began to forget why I had done what I had done and to wish that I could undo it. 

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.

The Little Pink House

 

The little pink house on Estacado, along with two mangy duplexes out on Coronado, belong to the late O. K. Gummer’s only surviving daughter, Irene, who packed up and moved to Lubbock a week after her husband’s funeral, so it’s Trey Newhouse of Newhouse Management (number of employees: one) who handles everything to do with her properties, rent and utilities and such, everything except upkeep and repairs. For that, she relies on her only son, Zell, who lives in a rusted-out tin can of a trailer partially hidden behind a spiny fence of cane cholla a stone’s throw south of the little pink house. If you rent from Irene and your washing machine goes on the fritz or your commode swamps your bathroom, he’ll get you fixed up, Zell will, but never as soon as you like, no matter how patient you are, and that’s due mostly to him hauling reefer freight all over the Southwest for Montez Transport.

The Wenceslas Men

The first time I saw one of them was as a shadow on the gauze curtains of an apartment that wasn’t mine.

My lease had expired months earlier, and the work that I’d adopted could be done from anywhere; my default mode was transitory, even when feelings of upheaval didn’t actively prompt panicked shudders in the night. And so here I was, alone in a cave of an apartment, watching it for friends whose lengthy honeymoon had evolved into a kind of rambling from nation to nation. I was considering my next move: I’d been living in the same city for six years, and the fact that I bore no affinity for it had left me convinced of my own relative impermanence there.

“Boise,” a friend had told me once. “We could buy a skyscraper in Boise for what we pay to live in New York. Why the hell don’t we buy a skyscraper in Boise?” And at times, it was tempting: that promise of splendor in another city; the allure of captaincy.

The BBs

Andrew Mozina's "The BBs" won second place in the 2013 SLS Literary Contest, judged by Mary Gaitskill and sponsored in part by Joyland. 

By the time she turned seventeen, Meg Shannon had come to believe that the world pretty much sucked, but with the help of friends and family you could build a little tarp-covered shack in which you could ride out the shit storms.

The Return

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.

Barri Gòtic

For the spring break of her thirty-eighth year, Rebecca Park went to Barcelona in search of a fuck.

That was her joke, anyway. She told it compulsively.

“I’m going to Spain,” she said, smiling hopelessly. “To find a man with whom I can be unfaithful. Hopefully a Spaniard, but honestly, I’d even take a Canadian.”

In response she received mirthless laughter, followed by delicate suggestions that avoided the subject of infidelity. Why Spain? Why cross the Atlantic for the five dismal mid-February days that Rebecca’s university chose for its spring break? Rebecca’s specialization was nineteenth-century women writers of the American West, but she had never seen the Pacific Ocean or Taos or Yosemite or Yellowstone. She should visit a place that made sense. If Europe was non-negotiable, better to choose some cold, dignified place: London, Edinburgh, Copenhagen if she wanted exotic.

Skidbladnir

When the old church burned down, Father Jakobsson was forced to hold service in the abandoned movie theater.  Which would have been bad enough, even if the theater hadn't been twinned in the years before its closure.  A paper-thin partition, dressed in blue felt, dimpled by wall sconces, divided the wide house into a narrow duplex.  The acoustics were terrible, and more than once as Father Jakobsson was speaking from the low stage that passed for a pulpit, he caught members of the congregation gazing vacantly at the makeshift barrier as though wishing they were on the other side enjoying an early matinee.  Work on the new church was slow to start—there were insurance claims and zoning ordinances and fundraising issues.  At times he despaired of ever getting out of the theater, and he contemplated having the old Wurlitzer reinstalled so at least the congregation wouldn't be deprived of an organ.   Once construction began, on a new site in the lot that had formerly been occupied by th

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.

Clear Skies

Lynn Coady's most recent books are The Antagonist and the collection Hellgoing, which won the 2013 $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize. "Clear Skies" was the very first story published on Joyland in 2008 and is included in Hellgoing.

Arrivals

People were laughing, afterwards. They laughed during, too, before anyone knew what was going on or what might happen. The thing to do upon landing was tell the story and make jokes. When Sara was up there, seconds after the boom, she imagined doing it. She’d even rehearsed it a bit for future audiences.

I was so scared. I thought an engine had exploded. I thought: well, this is it.

Park

 

New neighbors have moved in next door, and we're hoping for an improvement. Our former neighbor lived alone after his wife left him and took their two daughters with her. It was noisy with their girls splashing and shrieking in the pool, but it remained noisy after they'd gone. He worked at home and liked to take his calls in the backyard. He'd pace around the pool holding forth in a booming voice, everyone in the neighborhood able to hear his business, and in the evenings he'd sit poolside smoking cigars and braying like a goat. It took my wife weeks to convince me the sound came from him.

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