Joyland

a hub for short fiction

The Savior of Clouds

Megan ‘The Love of God’ Jeffries moved her finger. Click. The subject of the email read Please proofread the attached cover letter (ALIGNMENT ISSUE: AN ISSUE AT ALL?). New email calmed her. She scrolled with the same finger and read the email thread. Fifteen people including herself were attached. The office was quiet in a purr of central air, Xerox machines, and the hidden fans of computers. Megan continued petting the scroll-wheel of her mouse.

Moving outward from their cubicles came the voices of Tanya, Carol, and Cheryl.

“Hey, what’s everyone doing for lunch?”

“Chinese?”

“I like egg rolls.”

“I’m good. Brought my lunch.”

“Oh, whaja’ bring?”

“A sandwich.”

“Sounds good.”

St. Urbain’s Horse’s Ass

Almost every evening, beginning in late April or early May, Isaac sat on the exposed staircase of his apartment and watched the corner of St. Urbain and Bernard gasp to life. The condos around the corner were inhabited by people Isaac might have called yuppies if he didn’t feel so close to becoming a young urban professional himself; they bought organic food at the nearby fruiteries and brought it home in canvas tote bags, talking whip-fast French into their smartphones. There were also people Isaac recognized from school or parties, who passed him by with a wave and walked on in their well-fitted clothes. 

“So wistful!” a voice said. “What a vision.”

Isaac looked down the staircase and there was Bronwen, smiling, flashing the gap between her front teeth. Her boyfriend Martin climbed the steps behind her, hoisting a massive, overstuffed armchair.

“Martin,” Isaac said, “what the hell is that?”

Chapman's Green Hairstreak

We've reposted this story from our archives in advance of this month's edition of the Truth & Fiction podcast with guest James Greer. This very funny and insightful episode airs Thursday, May 9. More info here.

Even the sun runs late in Paris. In the pre-bloom dark, from an unshuttered window five stories above the street, Thomas Early could hear the Turks on the sidewalk arguing about attar of Damask rose. In Turkey the production of attar is strictly regulated by a state-run collective, but these guys were rogue producers, distilling in moist cellars the fragrant oil that had, in the past, both started wars and ended them.

Are You Okay?

Tamara Faith Berger

An excerpt from “The Way of the Whore,” revised and newly collected beside Believer Book Award winner Tamara Faith Berger's first novel,“Lie With Me,” in Little Cat, from Coach House Books.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

I remember the way John stroked my forehead after we’d had sex for the first time. It felt repetitive, insistent.

 

I wanted to hide.

 

“Mira. C’mon, baby, open your eyes.”

 

There was a candle making shadows on the ceiling. My back was glued to the couch. John was squeezed in beside me.

 

Flight

I’d stepped into the courtyard of Café Amelie to take the call from Hannah but I could only make out every third word she said: Sam, the police, hallucinogenic mushrooms, the Mississippi. Sam was always getting into it with the police and I couldn’t even tell if Hannah was talking to me or to Nick or to someone else at the bar. She hung up mid-sentence.

My father’s friend had taken me out to lunch because he was in New Orleans for a lawyer convention, and he’d been instructed by my mother to feed me and report back to her. I could see him through the window dabbing his mustache with the napkin every seven seconds like he was checking the rearview mirror. I came back inside and finished my plate of oysters Rockefeller, chewing slowly so that he would do all the talking.

Essay: The Real Portlandia

Richard Melo's new novel, Happy Talk, is out this June from Red Lemonade.

I was half out of my mind if not all the way. One year, I became a single dad. Then a year and a half later, my kid’s mom died. My first novel, a book I had spent the decade of my twenties writing, was finally coming out, and while I should have been ecstatic at my first publishing experience, with so much sadness at home, my face felt too heavy to smile. George Bush was president and acting like someone who never met a war he didn’t like. These were dark times.

Some people in circumstances like these might have turned to drugs and alcohol, others to Jesus Christ. All I wanted was to take care of my four-year-old daughter and surround myself with as much laughter as I could stand until life turned back to normal. Lucky for me, I found LiveJournal.

Divestment

Gerda Kohl, eighty years old, sat in the den of her house, surrounded by cardboard boxes. Her two daughters were fighting in the study next door. They kept their voices lowered, but it was an old house with thin walls, and although Gerda couldn’t understand the words, the tone was clear enough. Charlotte and Anne had never gotten on at the best of times, and it was probably inevitable that they should fight now. She only wished they’d picked a more distant room.

The Clinical Trials of Eduardo Cabalas

I got a job as a purple dinosaur that kids could get their picture taken with, on the corner of St. Catherine’s and Peel in Montreal.

“Why the hell are you doing that?” my brother Otis asked when I announced that I was now fully employed.

“Why?” I replied. “Why?”

Otis spent his days in a hydraulic swivel chair, masking himself from halitosis and TB while excavating pinholes of rot out other peoples’ teeth. He’d hold out a gloved hand and Yasmina would place a glowing orange biolaser there. “Thank you Yasmina,” he’d say in a voice low and muffled.

I made a commission off every photo a child had taken on my purple lap. Kids called me “Barney” and screamed with joy and hugged me with honest and startling love, hugged me like I could save them.

Essay: Bleakness. Laughter. Liberation?

Alicia Louise Merchant

 

The second time someone told me I was dying I was 30 years old. The first time I was 23, but I was living in Montréal then and chalked up the nurse’s proclamation of my impending demise to a breakdown in language. I didn’t really believe it. The second time, I believed it, even though the surgeon hardly seemed credible in his sandals and cargo shorts and a voice most people reserve for children and dogs. I cried, but mostly I thought about getting outside so I could crack jokes with my friend about the indignity of being told I was dying by a man with Birkenstocks and bad breath.

 

Life Camp

Life Camp is also available in Joyland Retro Vol. 1 No. 3.

We are told the sea monkeys need a special place to live. They are handed out, three per plastic sandwich bag, to our teenage mothers preparation class. Brenda, my only friend from the outside, who is six months pregnant and still not showing, does a quick scan of the room—the vision boards with Hilary and Angelina and Oprah, the cradle dioramas, our oblivious teacher with her ironed three piece suit and ponytailed grey hair —and plops the bag in her purse.

A Doom of Her Own

Please understand.

This story will tell you nothing in a straightforward fashion. Though the pages are numbered, you must not confuse sequence with consequence. The pages are paths, and you will have to choose among them.  

That is to say, whatever happens here will be your fault. But I will try to help you. Really, I will. I’ll make the choices clear. And I’ll make it possible for you to retrace your steps, over and over and over again, if that’s what you feel compelled to do. 

So now the story begins:

Klan

Elijah flung himself on his bed, jammed his hands behind his head, and stared at the double-winged models of WWI fighter planes hanging from his ceiling. He imagined their propellers spinning, strained to hear their engines’ whine. He imagined the little planes snapping free of their strings, buzzing down the stairs in formation, and into the kitchen. They’d drop little bombs until his parents shut up and slumped to the floor.

The doorbell rang.

Elijah grabbed his slingshot from its place on his nightstand and shoved it in his jeans’ pocket. He flew down the stairs and flung open the door. Bobby stepped in.

“Let’s get out of here.” Elijah reached in the closet, yanked his sweatshirt off its hanger, and tugged it on. His parents appeared in the hall beside his framed preschool silhouette. His dad’s plastic smile and his mom’s trembling one made his stomach lurch. Did they think he didn’t know they fought? How dumb did could they be?

The Pop-Up Restaurant

 

We admit it. Like almost all of you, we here at Spice Rack have never eaten at a restaurant called “The Pulitzer.” We’ve never tried what Food Source calls a “Grand Marnier and orange zest crème brulee that’s like a double fake orgasm while dry-humping a Cara Cara tree.” Or their “small plate of bacon-wrapped kale in pomegranate truffle oil” that apparently has “the flavor intensity equal to a motorcycle driven by a grizzly bear on fire, if the grizzly bear was made of bacon-wrapped kale.”

We hate to throw anyone under the food truck here, but we suspect the writers from Food Source, like most everyone else, had never eaten at The Pulitzer and were just trying to fit in with the other food bloggers and reviewers who also claimed they had. Let us here at Spice Rack, with our three James Beard Award nominations for accuracy in food writing, set the example.

Sinking

The summer storm crouched behind them while they stared at the gator in the mud. It was hard to say how big he was; only his flat, u-shaped snout appeared above the water line. The rest of his body was obscured by the tangled mass of weeds.  She hadn’t noticed him right away, leaning her body over the railing of the boardwalk that extended just beyond the lake’s edge and scanning the other bank for water birds. A wall of cypress trees barred her line of sight, their limbs draped with shawls of Spanish moss.

Essay: Tangled

Richard and I were in Maine visiting our friend Josey, who had restored a building beside a swing bridge. The building had at various times been a dance hall and a bowling alley, and you could see faded lettering and brickwork from its past. The windows framed boats, water, and sky, and you felt skipped along on a tide. Josey saw beauty where other people didn’t see anything. It was how she had found her house.

One night she invited another couple to dinner. We were all in our 50s or early 60s. It was August, and the air had a sultry feel against your skin. Veronica and George weren’t exactly a couple. They were friends or an on-again-off-again couple. Some people grow into each other like trees planted close together. Their branches and roots get tangled, even if they have not planned it. George knew about such arrangements. He worked as a landscape designer, getting down in dirt with knee pads. Josey had not met him before. Veronica was her friend.

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