Joyland

a hub for short fiction

The Boy through the Window

Although they have trouble burying the bodies because the ground is frozen, I pictured it as a beautiful thing: pale and naked, lined up in the cemetery, waiting. Wintertime must be a nice time to die.

The front door neighbor’s house had been a coming and going of cars ever since the husband had died. I couldn’t remember what he looked like, but his wife had red hair and I always liked that about her. I was forced to go and “pay my respects” to them though I didn’t want to. Though I didn’t want to, my father made me. I think he was thinking that he’d like for everybody to come shake my hand if he died one day, someday.

Lou Schultz

When Lou Schultz got to the Avis desk at the Orlando airport, the compact car he’d reserved was not available, nor was there a midsized left on the lot. They’d had no choice but to upgrade him straight to the top: a brand-new 1973 Chrysler Imperial, white with cream interior. He decided to let the kids believe that he’d splurged and was kicking off their holiday in style. Jonathan, ten, was splayed out in the backseat with a map he’d gotten at the rental desk, and seven-year-old Kitty, winner of the coin toss, sat up front next to Lou playing with the radio dial. The three of them were cruising under a pale Florida sky, en route to Villa Serena, a real estate development in Winter Haven. Lou had planned their vacation around the coupons and discounts he’d been promised in return for touring one of the model homes.

“Doesn’t it sound grand, kids? Vee-ya Serena.

Your Path to Perfection Is Through Me

Judgment

You are a city of bronze temples. Isolate. Flex. Pose. Welcome the Jacksonville Civic Center to your golden domes of pectoralis major. Usher the audience and judges through the hall of abdominals, down your thigh’s oiled sartorius, and when you arrive at the Mount of Gastrocnemius, flex the calf you’ve labored hour after hour to perfect. The sequins on your bikini shine prolifically. The diamonds in your earrings are worth their cost. Tonight you are unforgettable.

The New Literature

You bought the new bodybuilding books and the pages were filled with what everybody already knows. But you, you want answers, don’t you? Listen: the oracle has not been silenced. Your answers have arrived at last.

The Old Literature

Broken Notes

During an unguarded moment, she’d wondered what it would be like to live with a man. Dawn to dusk, day after day, the presumption of shared confidences. The thoughts induced a panicked state.

So when Akira reached across the bed and laced his fingers through hers, his large thumb stroking circles on Cadence’s palm, her heart raced. “Move in with me,” he said in an unusual high pitched voice. “Please.”

Cadence withdrew her hand. “I’m sorry,” she said with an involuntary laugh, thinking it would be kinder to crush any stubborn hope. “This was never that kind of relationship.”

Akira’s face fell. “But Cadence, I love you,” he said. “I thought you felt the same way about me.”

Taking slow breaths, she stared at the white wall space above his head. There was nothing left to say.

Akira didn’t think so. Face flushed, he sat up in bed and waited. The silence lengthened. Finally, he stood and packed the few clothes left at her place.

May We Be Worthy of the Favor Bestowed Upon Our Ancestors

All through my growing up, whenever the family got together, at some random point during the celebration only he could predict, my uncle Peter would sing "Danny Boy." Wedding, wake, or baptism he'd raise his wrecked chin and blast it out, always starting too high so his voice cracked on “’tis I’ll be here...” Great Aunt Grace once told me that he had a fine voice when he was young, but for as long as I can remember it was somewhere between a lost cat and a bent trumpet. Smoke and drink had done most of the damage, but a fight that broke two front teeth didn't help either. It made his singing into what my brother Jack and I call "bad weather."

Rowing

Karen Dietrich's memoir, The Girl Factory, is available now from skirt/Globe Pequot.

My father murdered five people before I was born. 

I don’t know my father in the way a child usually knows a parent, so I don’t know if murder fits him, the way a certain type of clothing fits a certain type of body.  I only know what my mother tells me, what my grandmother tries to tell me before my mother stops her, what I hear teachers say to each other as I walk the worn carpet of the school hallway. 

I haven’t read anything about him or his case.  For now, I’ll let the information build, those stories and articles and court transcripts that surely exist out there, information strung between satellites and underground wires.  It will be there when I’m ready, I tell myself.

Preserves

The thing that I refer to as myself is simply an accumulation of memories: an incomplete set of sensory experiences as recorded by my personal organic data-collecting machine. All other aspects of self—my shy nature, my belief in karma, my preference for buttered asparagus with broiled fish—all result from these memories. The way one’s personality might change, for example, after recording a new set of sensory experiences during an automobile accident: the sound of another human shattering her jaw on a steering wheel, the touch of a street sign’s metal carving skin from one’s arm, the sight of a world upside-down. The smell of smoke. The way one’s beliefs might change after recording the sound of someone talking—about, for example, the inconsistencies of a sacred text.

The Things They Said

Kelli Deeth's new collection of short fiction, The Other Side of Youth, is available now from Arsenal Pulp Press. This story was originally published on Joyland in 2010.

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.

Jenny Sugar

Scott McClanahan's latest books are Crapalachia: A Biography of Place, from Two Dollar Radio, and Hill William, from Tyrant Books. Jenny Sugar first appeared on Joyland in 2010.

When I was in the fourth grade this little girl in my class got killed.

I showed up at school one Monday morning and Randy Doogan was telling me all about it, “Hey Scott did you hear about Jenny Sugar? She got killed in a car crash yesterday. Yeah a tractor trailer hit her Mom’s car and they’re both dead.”

Microcosm

You and Sarah both live in the same direction and what she’s just said doesn’t change that. Jason and Gill have left already to smoke cigarettes. Sarah is telling you how much she enjoys their love, which is a lot.

You walk two steps and then stop because your phone is vibrating in your pocket. You don’t recognize the number, but you answer. Your mother’s voice is thin and empty, much farther away than the three time zones separating you.

“I’m at the General Hospital,” your mother says. “Dad is having a heart attack. He’s in the operating room.”

You put your hand on Sarah’s arm.

“Are you okay?” your mother asks.

You are.

“Where are you?”

You’re at an Italian restaurant. With some other people.

“I’m glad. I’m really glad,” she says. A long, black car purrs through the spaces between her words. “I’m glad you’re not alone. I’ll call you back. The operation should be over in an hour.” She hangs up.

Another Level of Knowing

I know the stare of someone sleeping with their eyes open. My therapist has struggled to remain focused in my last few sessions. She’s always saying, That must have been very hard for you. And then that stare, that warm, out-of-focus stare. But this last time I had moved on from the dissection of parents and religion to the fact that I had finally had the conversation I’d been meaning to have with my girlfriend and it had gone well. I was feeling good. Open. Ready for past, present and future to align, on their way.

The Hut

My mother thought the best way to teach me to be a woman was to teach me to be alone.

The morning of my thirteenth birthday, I woke from a throbbing, inexorable dream in the dark, seized by pain. The crippling waves flooded my middle. I lay doubled over, clutching my pink mouse to my stomach, until light broke between the curtains and the phone picked up on its first ring, as though my mother’s hand in sleep had been resting on the receiver. Her murmuring moved down the hall, and like an old-fashioned cradle tugged by its cord, my body lifted as one piece from the bed. I didn’t want to describe to her what I’d discovered, so I simply stepped from the underpants and brought them balled into the kitchen.

Window Treatments

The girl had an unusual talent.  She could make noises with her mouth, like a door creaking open and slamming shut, or like an old man huffing up the stairs.  When my back was turned she’d do it: the sound of breaking glass or something.  Tall for her age, I thought.  Why she wore such dirty white tennis shoes I couldn’t understand.  You’d think a girl her age would opt for something prettier.  Look down and you got pale freckled ankles cut off in dirty canvas, like she’d just crawled across a muddy lawn.  Curly brown hair, silver braces with lime-green rubber bands, careful to tear the corner from her notebook and fold her gum inside before she started to tune.  

She was a horrible violin student.

“Uh huh,” was her answer when I asked if she was happy with her progress. 

“Amy, do you think Kabalevsky would be happy?”

“Nope.”

Walking the Moons

Jonathan Lethem's new novel, Dissident Gardens, is available now. "Walking the Moons" appeared on Joyland during its first year.

“Look,” says the mother of The Man Who Is Walking Around the Moons of Jupiter, “he’s going so fast.”

She snickers to herself and scuttles around the journalist to a table littered with wiring tools and fragmented mechanisms. She loops a long, tangled cord over her son’s intravenous tube and plugs one end into his headset, jostling him momentarily as she works it into the socket. His stride on the treadmill never falters. She runs the cord back to a modified four-track recorder sitting in the dust of the garage floor, then picks up the recorder’s microphone and switches it on.

Ms. Universe

Baton went up into the blue sky, whipping around so fast it seemed to bend. Baton came down, the spin slowing just before seven long purple fingers grasped it twice around and pulled it to the chest of an auburn felt uniform.

“She’s good.” There was a whole team of majorettes on the field, but somehow Lydia knew exactly where I was looking. We were sitting on the hill above the field, far enough from the smoking quad that we wouldn’t be collateral damage to the usual lunch-hour fistfight, but near enough that we could hear the shouts and smacks. Deek was on the other side of Lydia. Since Deek started guarding her, Lydia always had to be in the middle.

“Think she’s the hottest one, Carmina? The Martian?”

Transcript: Appeal of the Sentence

A version of this story also appears in Cosmo, available now from Coach House Books.

...the sentence itself is a man-made object, not the one we wanted of course, but still a construction of man, a structure to be treasured for its weakness, as opposed to the strength of stones
— From “The Sentence,” Donald Barthelme

DaveWare

I bought a 3D printer the other day. I’d been reading about them in magazines over the past year or so, watched videos of guys in lab coats huddle solemnly around fabricated guns and waffles, and when I saw one on eBay I snapped it up without hesitating. It wasn’t listed as a 3D printer but a “dual extrusion autoforge.” When UPS rang downstairs I only nodded and signed my name, the same as if it were a shipment of boxer shorts.

War of Attrition

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.

Pages