Joyland

a hub for short fiction

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.

Morphology

 

 

The flies showed up in January. I left for work and there was nothing, but when I got home there they were—maybe fifty of them, coating the long fluorescent light above our bed, like fuzzy, vibrating moss. I called my wife’s name. Even though I knew she wasn’t home. I closed the door and went out into the living room, sat on the loveseat and stared at the wall.

 

The wall looked different. I couldn’t tell how from across the room; in our attic apartment all the walls slanted so steeply that they made me feel claustrophobic. They disoriented me—were they walls or ceilings? But today there was something else about the wall across from me. Like it too was buzzing with life.

 

Many Times Their Raging Hearts

She always threatened to kill herself. They’d get in fights and Patty’d say, “Someday you’ll be real sorry you said that!” or “How can you say that when you know what I could do to myself?” and then she’d slam the bedroom door and hunker down until she got too hungry to keep on. In these cases Cody tried to imagine Patty a teenager (the age she'd been when her uncle had done the unthinkable), and himself the grown adult, and then he imagined his body levitating a foot or two, the vantage he needed to look down upon Patty to see she was too childish to understand the power of words.

Maternity Suit

 

When she started at Ridout and Finney’s, Melanie was very careful about what she wore. Light brown pumps with a medium heel, a wool suit in calm camel, and pantyhose the colour of weak tea. Under the suit she wore a cream silk shirt and a string of amber beads. Quality.

Jake Martin said to Roger Penrith, “Your new IT manager looks efficient.” Roger knew what he meant.

“Doesn’t she, though?” he said. “And she knows what she’s doing.”

Melanie's hair was thick and blond, caught up in a silk bow at the back. An olive green bow, streaked with amber. It tied the whole thing together.

“Makes a welcome change, doesn't it?” Roger added, showing Jake he knew exactly what he meant: Roz, the receptionist with her micro minis and her extraordinary ratty, one-sided hair. She had to tilt her head to keep it there, until she grew tired and perversely flung it all with huge drama to the other side. Making Roger wonder about airborne matter.

The Turnpike

It is summer of 1978, and a woman without a wedding ring drives east on the Will Roger’s Turnpike, the straightest route out of the State of Oklahoma. Drooping grasses and yellowed brush drop away on either side, leaning westward, as if to point her back to where she started. It is early afternoon and her husband will not be home for hours. The woman wears her dark hair long but full. It is a style fashionable to Oklahoma City women, and her eyes, big in her face as a starving child’s, are traced in black liner.  White cotton bellbottoms encase her thighs, and an embroidered peasant blouse of red and white covers her slightly sloping shoulders. The memory of a bruise blooms sallow over one cheek. She drives just under the speed limit, worried that the car will overheat in the desert heat.

Distance

I first noticed how the world was retreating from me on a morning in early June after it had rained for nearly eight days. Water swamped the streets and clogged the sewers, so the garbage of people’s lives began to appear face down in the gutters. Mostly we saw trash floating by us, but on occasion, a ruined photograph or a children’s plastic toy bobbed in the expansive puddles that collected at the low points of the street. The newscasters on television, believing in a world with balance, irrationally insisted the rain couldn’t continue because we had so much of it. They were wrong, of course. The rain continued. And on the morning of the eighth day of rain, I couldn’t touch Alex anymore.  

Welcome to My Harem

The summer after my nineteenth birthday, Cedar Point paid me excellent money to wear a wig of raven tresses and full-length gown of rich blue satin and to be trailed by seven little people with names like Bashful. My friend Sara had gotten me the job. Thirty-two with a youthful face, she’d been hired the previous month as Goldilocks. 

On our lunch breaks, I took off my wig and scratched my scalp while removing cold cuts out of my Chef's salad; Sara talked incessantly about her new boyfriend Leonard, who worked at the local Lube Stop and with whom she was dabbling in S&M. 

Throughout my workday, I’d rest with the little people on the benches scattered throughout the park, waving grandly to Pinocchio, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rumpelstiltskin. We were all paid the same rate. Some of us, like the Big Bad Wolf, were paid to scowl and look menacing; others, like Sara, were paid to look bedraggled and confused. 

Charlotte Quinn Dreams of Rooms

 

Charlotte Quinn is six the first time I see her, with fine yellow hair and a pink birthmark she’ll have on her cheek til she’s ten. She uses her mom’s phone to document the world from three-and-a-half feet: milkweeds in a post-industrial lot, colours in a pool of spilled diesel, a piece of foil glimmering on the sidewalk like a crushed Christmas bauble. Hers is a world of strange beauties.

 

At thirteen she dyes a purple streak in her hair, and overnight her body grows and curls in all the right places. I knew her mom at thirteen, before her family moved away, but Charlotte is nothing like her. Charlotte bites her nails down to the quick and they bleed, and she is failing math but doesn’t care. Charlotte is going to be a singer, a star. She loves cotton candy indie pop—Tea Breeze, the Gecko Lips, Creamgeek, the Duckies.

 

Staccato

 

Here the men are different. Of course they are. They could not be the same as us. I knew that this would be so. Though, when I first arrived, I had not expected them to be like this. Of how they do things, of how they carry out tasks, it is not my place to say “this is right” or “that is wrong.” I cannot be of their ways. Who can inhabit another? But I can see them. I watch who they are. And I wonder if they ever watch me.

Spells

 

I am starting the Saturday ritual upstairs of moving the old boxes from the new bedroom back into the old bedroom when the doorbell rings.  I’m not startled when it comes.  They say old sounds are like this.  I move to the window and call out to Lara.  Her head cocks back and her grey streaks follow as if caught on wind.  I take this as a sign of good will. 

She comes in, walks the fourteen steps up, and says, Terry, boy, you moving again?

I am carrying boxes packed with relics from our time together, those which I cannot seem to let go and so I move them and move them again, a process that’s taken me three Saturdays and hasn’t progressed much.

Repacking, I say. 

Strange. You have a smoke?

Blow the House Down & Other Stories

Blow the House Down

 

“Blow the house down!” Tommy says. He’s in his pajamas, thin at the knees, too short. His ankles and wrists jut, pale angles. Her brother drops onto the couch beside Shelly, bounces up and down, his cropped hair sticking up every which way, mouth stretched wide.

Sounds good to her. She’s in. She doesn’t know what it means.

“Wait,” he says and goes into the kitchen.

The only light is the TV, flickering shadows on the walls.

He comes back with the carton of chocolate-covered malt balls, his cheeks gorged already.

“Here,” he says, but he holds the box up high, out of reach. “Jump.” His words slur with the candy in his mouth; a strand of chocolate-pocked saliva hangs suspended before it drops to the floor.

Cold

 

The house was cold. A malevolent kind of cold. Like something haunted. The cold blew in and out of Ravi. It was like the tip of a frozen finger had reached down from the voids of space and was pushing down on him without release. This is the level of cold he felt inside his house. The cold created pressure. Like a front, as weathermen say. A constriction of things.

 

He’d chop wood during the day to keep warm and to try and build a fire big enough to heat the house. But the cold would not cease. His body absorbed it and made it its own. He’d look toward the fire and instead of feeling warmth the house laughed at him.

The Swan as Metaphor for Love

The Swan as Metaphor for Love is also available in Joyland Retro Vol. 1 No. 3.

A swan's foot, like a duck's, is a webbed claw. In traversing swan shit and mud, the claws gunk up and reek. Nobody in the history of the world, save another swan, has licked a swan foot while that foot was still attached to the swan. The feet resemble rabid bats in their sickly color and texture.

Moving north on the swan's undercarriage, one will find an eroded civilization of swan shit and pond scum. This is a banal phrase, "pond scum," one that is easily ignored, but look closer, take a more personal approach. Swans eat grasses, sedges and pond weed, each teeming with murk. The birds will also eat insects, snails and a fresh shrimp if they're near one.

In the Dark

 

What was that.

 

A sound. Outside, by the door.

 

Paul?

 

Wait. He’s in Ottawa. No. Miami.

 

Even further.

 

I feel around for the phone I always keep in the bed when he travels, but nothing is there. Sheets and pillows, softness now stripped of comfort. A memory of plugging my mobile into the outlet by the kitchen table last night, the battery dying in my purse earlier in the afternoon. I never bother plugging it in to charge overnight like he does. Not until it’s dead. He’s good like that, preventative. On top of things. On top of someone else now, maybe.

The Poetry Audition

Excerpted from Good Night, Mr. Kissinger and Other Stories, available now from UPL Books.

Bahram and Jamshed were dressed alike as children because their father believed it to be the best way of preventing sibling rivalry. Rather than make them better friends though, their identical wardrobes led to some petty confusion. The brothers often wore each other's clothes by mistake. In family photographs of the time Bahram appeared scowling in shorts that hung down to his knees, while Jamshed smiled bravely in collars that nearly choked him.

Getting Lost

 

Rainbo1 and Marie2 are both watching the same lone pigeon3 walk along the edge of the curb at the bus stop. Its left foot is curled and dead-looking.4 The pigeon walks with a limp, pecking at invisible morsels as late-night taxis with darkened roof signs5 whoosh down the mostly-deserted street.

            Visible just over the tops of the buildings on the opposite side of the street are the glittering condos of the Bay and, farther back, Downtown's crowded lightscape.6 The October moon is waxing gibbous.7 The temperature is eight degrees Celsius.

The Report Cards of Leslie Mackie

Jon Paul Fiorentino's first novel is Stripmalling, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Hugh MacLennan Award for Fiction. His most recent book of poetry is Indexical Elegies which recently won the 2010 CBC Book Club Award for Best Book of Poetry.  He is the author of the poetry books The Theory of the Loser Class which was shortlisted for the 2006 A.M. Klein Award for Poetry and Hello Serotonin and the humor book Asthmatica. His next book of poetry is Needs Improvement, which will be out in 2013 with Coach House Books. He lives in Montreal where he teaches creative writing at Concordia University, and edits Matrix magazine.

"The Report Cards of Leslie Mackie" is written in the form of report cards. Please read more to view them.

 

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