Joyland

a hub for short fiction

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.

Tiger’s Got Teeth

Ethel Rohan's new collection of fiction, Goodnight Nobody, is now available for preorder from Queen's Ferry Press. Here's a repost of Rohan's 2011 Joyland story.

Roberta refused to move past the antiques shop, its grimy front window crowded with Korean furniture, ornaments and bric-a-brac. Anna protested her immovable mother; they were on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Seoul and en-route to Chanddokkung Palace, why delay in a creepy antiques shop? Roberta pulled Anna past the colossal stone creatures on either side of the shop entrance. Anna couldn’t decide if the bizarre-looking statues were supposed to be dogs or lions. She and her mother separated immediately, Anna drawn to the rustic urns and Roberta elsewhere.

The Farmers Market

Home

The family resides in what was once a famous crack house. Their neighborhood, at the edge of a city park, has been revitalized. The city received a grant from the state. Tax incentives were offered to those willing to buy the once stately homes. The mayor enlisted the aid of certain renegade members of the police force, and also some union organizers, to usher criminal elements from the area, although this was not reported and is not known.

The park is beautiful again, as it was near the beginning of the last century, when, the mother imagines, ladies in hoop skirts walked their tiny dogs and young couples wheeled past on bicycles built for two.

Still, there are vestiges of the neighborhood’s darker years.

The mother, on an early morning run through the center of the park, stumbles across a goat with its throat cut, tied with a rope to a tree. It wavers on its legs, nose grazing a puddle of its own dark blood.

Entropy

Excerpted from the in-progress book RAD: a twisted memoir of a fierce teenage girl in 1982. Halpern’s latest film, with co-director Chris Quilty, is the documentary Llyn Foulkes One-Man Band, which premiered at the LA Film Festival.

I am 16 and not invited to my mom’s third wedding.  Apparently, it’s a ‘no kids allowed’ affair, which is scandalous considering I menstruate, I have touched three penises (two with my eyes open), and tonight, I am pretty sure I will lose my virginity.  When I march in my mom’s bedroom to tell her what I think, she laughs and says of course you’re invited.  We said it to keep the Bialy kids from coming, the ones who always pee in the pool.  That’s a relief, I say.  I thought you guys didn’t want me there.  My Stepdad-To-Be says nothing as he pulls on his shoes and leaves. 

Big Lunch

Minutes after the cathedral tour, I was with this boy at Hesburger on Vilnius Street. Just two casual acquaintances on vacation, as they say. We each ordered the number four: double-stacked burgers with fries and pop. I chose orange Fanta and the boy, who seemed eager to please me, got the same. 

He sat adjacent to me; I was on a stupid bench and he got to sit on a chair. But it wasn't like we were at the Blu Astorija Hotel, so we unwrapped the plastic from our big number fours and began to nibble. 

Algae You In My Dreams

What I remember is, that same night, eating cabbage, raw, over the sink. Nate was working late again and Lucy was sleeping over at Nate’s mom’s, and now I’m thinking maybe that accounts for everything. When I finally fell asleep, it was to the TV: a program about algae. Coral reefs, the scientists were saying, are in danger. They seemed personally hurt, as though something had been stolen from them. Like they’d trusted us nonscientists, and we’d all let them down.

This was a night last week. I had a dream that Sadie, our husky, got mixed up with the Leavitts’ cat, and in a bad way. The cat gave Sadie a deep scratch in the eyeball, and after the vet sewed it up, he put her head in a lampshade, which he told me was important not to remove for six weeks. He sent me home with eyedrops. Administer once a day, he said. The shade pleased Lucy, who called Sadie “Shady.” Anyway, that was the dream. 

Mutations

Andrew Sullivan's first book, All We Want is Everything, is now available from Arbeiter Ring Publishing. The short story collection will be launched tomorrow, Wednesday, June 26, in Toronto. We're reposting a story of Andrew's from Joyland's archive to celebrate.

“How many times do I have to explain this to you? Alright, number one: I don’t even work inside the plant. Can you get that through your head and then listen to me for one second?”

A Rembrandt

Excerpted from the complete novel manuscript, Everything I Want You to Be.

In New York, it’s not the changing leaves that indicate fall is in full swing.  Regardless of how much time you spend with chameleon pigments while walking through Prospect Park, trees aren’t the ultimate barometer.  It’s not the texture of the air, either; sure, it doesn’t hang with paralyzing humidity as it does through the summer, but cool breezes off the water and steamy air vents at service hatches manipulate the temperature year-round.  Quite simply, you can’t trust what your senses feed you. 

The Rings

Eric Barnes' new novel Something Pretty Something Beautiful is now available from Outpost19 Books. Here's a repost of Eric's Joyland story from earlier this year.

The streetlights are shining white in the rain, one after another casting light through the windshield, the motion of the car bringing bright white then gray, the motion of the light seeming to twist the layers of smoke that hang, in circles, around us inside the car.

Carl is driving one-handed. Leaning down toward the gearshift. Taking a hit from his pipe. His face and eyes turning gray and black and white.

“Bark like a dog,” I say quietly, turning to watch him, smiling some at him, smiling wider and thinking I can cast my own little spell on Carl. “Bark.”

Carl is my good friend.

Carl turns to the road, resting the pipe in the ashtray.

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