Joyland

a hub for short fiction

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.

The River Crossing

The young man sat in the old house looking at a magazine. He stopped reading when he suddenly noticed the bird songs coming in through the open window: some were warbled, seeming almost accidental, some pinched and shrill, and others exactly like the car alarms on the Polacks’ cars. Those alarms, which, when he heard them going off at all hours indiscriminate and intrusive, only made him wish that whoever was stealing the car would just please hurry up and steal it already. The songs all mixed together, and he thought they sounded like an opera. Something with a purpose, that if he listened closely enough—maybe with his eyes closed—he’d be able to figure out what the big deal was. Okay, birds, he thought, give it to me. But it wouldn’t come, even with his eyes closed.

Didi

When I got back from the grocery store, my wife was sitting in an armchair and looking out the window at the rain. She seemed startled to see me, and wiped away her tears with her palms, and then I could see her carefully arranging her face before she turned it to me.

            “Back so soon?”

            “The bus came right away.”

            “Did you get everything?”

            “Yes, everything,” I said. I went to the kitchen and put all the bags of groceries down on the counter. I liked the strain in my arms and my shoulders and was sorry to let them go. They slumped down. My wife padded in behind me and went to the sink to wash her hands. She was wearing a beautiful dress of a dark, fine material that she wore sometimes when we went out on rare occasions to fancy restaurants. Now that I got close to her I could see the makeup on her eyelids and smell her perfume. It was eleven thirty in the morning.

            “Where are you going?”

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.

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