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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Seven years ago I settled into the hydraulic chair at Shampoo, my regular salon in Kensington Market, turned to my hairstylist, Laura, and said, “Can you make me look like Grace Kelly?”
“Hmm,” she said while running her fingers through my dark, woolly hair. “We can do better than Grace Kelly.”
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
“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.
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 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.
What was that.
A sound. Outside, by the door.
Wait. He’s in Ottawa. No. Miami.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sangita Gopalsingh paced back and forth before the wrought iron gates of her home, her white nightie swishing in the late evening breeze. The moon looked like a fat dull thumbprint in the sky, smudged between heavy clouds on either side. She thought of the god that had pressed the moon into the sky that way, trapping it, allowing it to languish among the moving and swelling clouds.
Julio and Amelia have done everything they can to ignore the ladybug infestation. As dozens multiply into hundreds, it becomes increasingly difficult. Amelia presses the knife against the cutting board, brings it through the soft white skin of the banana. For each swift cut she makes, she imagines there are 1,000 new ladybugs in the apartment. They live in the ceilings and walls. Some nights as she lies awake, she thinks she can hear them in the vent above their bed, clicking and crawling over each other. If she listens close enough, she can almost count them.
The Lighthouse Road is available now from Unbridled Books.
Some ancient cold had taken root in Thea Eide’s belly, a feeling she’d not yet had but one she knew meant the time was nigh to deliver her baby. She wanted to walk, felt she must walk. So she rose and stepped into the mess hall and lit a candle. She steadied herself with one hand on the long table, cradled her belly with the other, and began pacing up and down the hall, measuring her contractions by those laps around the board. The contractions started in the small of her back and reached around to her belly, where they paused and clenched. She paused, too, when the contractions burrowed in, and in the throes of each the absolute chill of the large room was brought down on her. In Norwegian, her mother and only tongue, she said, “My God, what now?”
Steinur Bell's story How We Arrive won second place in the Summer Literary Seminars 2012 Unified Literary Contest, judged by Mary Gaitskill and sponsored in part by Joyland.
One Monday I stood in my kitchen thawing orange juice concentrate, wondering whether to fix a sandwich. It was noon, quiet, and then I heard the kids laughing. In my bedroom, I parted the blinds and watched three teens walk past my house. They should’ve been at school but instead crossed the street and stopped at the edge of the woods. As the first one headed in, another looked around—looked right at my house. He must not have seen me, must have thought they were safe, because he followed after them and disappeared.
Excerpted from the in-progress linked collection, Joy, Somewhere in the City
Laine was in the passenger seat, her husband Gerald at the wheel, when he confessed he'd been sleeping with another woman. She folded up the papery New Jersey map, keeping the creases where they belonged, even smoothing down the seams before she started screaming.
Their car sped along the Turnpike on the way home from the airport, where they had just dropped their daughter Maya at the British Airways counter, yielding her to the Crown for a post grad year at Oxford. Their older son Alex, who had lived with them at home after college, had flown off to Berlin for a consulting job. Laine was alone—not just in the house, but on the continent. Gerald had used her long name: “Elaine, I’m sorry to tell you this way.”