by Rebecca Rosenblum
Health care workers on a night out unwind, allowing the anxieties and passions they've had to suppress on the job finally uncoil, like tendrils creeping out into the world - and into each other. Written with empathy and panache, this story is a portrait of briefly flaring humanity - of people granted a temporary reprieve from professionalism, and not quite knowing what to do with it.
“At the Bar is Rosenblum at her best - exploring the complicated nature of work and relationships with her trademark perceptiveness, humour, and compassion, and creating characters that will stay with you long after the story is over.”
— Amy Jones, author of What Boys Like and Other Stories
AFTER MRS. DEMETRIOU DIES, long-term care is quiet all afternoon. Not silent, but half volume on the TVs, no arguments about what kind of juice on what meal tray. All the staff walk fast as ever, but nobody razzes anyone about how Docteur Sammy looked at them when they handed over a chart, or how they answered the wrong page, or anything, really. Throwing away a dead person’s pills is sad no matter how many times you do it.
After shift, Cecile comes into the bathroom while I’m trying to brush out my ponytail dent. She starts fiddling with an almost-empty lipstick and looks at me in the mirror. “What are you doing ce soir, Iz?”
“Nothing. Supper. The game’s on, I guess — Judge’ll want to watch.”
“We should go out, cheer up? Il y a un bar not too far, yeah? Docteur Sammy l’aime beaucoup?” She presses the lipstick hard so her lip goes into the twisty thing where there’s still some colour left. It leaves a circle of grapey colour and Cecile smears it around with her finger.
“You should throw that out, eh?”
“It’s expensive; Clinique. I’m trying to make it last.”
I shrug — she’s gotten most of her mouth purple now, and my hair is still dented, so what do I know? I put my ponytail back in.
She finishes, chucks the tube in the garbage, and hitches her hip against the sink. “Cesoir? C’est ok? Sammy will be there.”
“I … don’t know.”
“Is your boyfriend waiting for you at home?”
“Noo … not waiting. He’s just …”
“He will make his own dîner one time, ok? Or maybe we call and invite him to come too? I can’t go all alone. Does he like bars?”
I pick the easiest answer: “I’ll come for one drink.”
THE PLACE IS CROWDED but not packed — you can see between the bodies. Far across the room, Docteur Sammy is leaning back against the bar, talking to someone too short for me to see. He’s sprawling his arm down the rail, taking up standing space for three people. There’s a big flat TV above him, showing the hockey, of course—and another even bigger one on the other side of the room. There are two residents at the pinball machine, fumbling in their pockets and dropping change on the floor. There’s a table of RNs, looking strange and bare in blouses and skirts instead of scrubs, their hair down. When we walk past, they smile a bit more than at work. They don’t talk to us, though, and Nurse Gina cocks her head at Cecile’s tight black top. Cecile made me go to her place and watch her throw clothes on her narrow bed for half an hour. Now we’re getting to the bar later than when I’d meant to leave.
I grab Cecile’s elbow. “Is this all because of Madame Demetriou?”
Cecile looks around slowly. “Non, je pense … non. I think the staff go out together sometimes, and until now they did not invite us.”
about the author
REBECCA ROSENBLUM is the author of two collections of short stories, Once (Biblioasis, 2008) and The Big Dream (Biblioasis, 2011), as well as the chapbook Road Trips (Frog Hollow Press, 2010). Her work has been seen in many journals across Canada and online, and shortlisted for several major awards. She lives in Toronto with her husband and far too few cats.
from the library
After twenty years of running, Betty quietly returns to her hometown of Arbford, thinking it a solid place to finally put down some roots. But the adage 'you can't go home again' proves true, as Betty finds that her mere presence is more than enough to disrupt the stagnant lives of everyone around her.
“In this cautionary suburban fairy tale, a big-city refugee searching for home finds herself in a nest of multiple Mikes and Pyrex-wielding vipers. With enchanting style and snort-causing wit, Grace O’Connell does casserole-studded claustrophobia like nobody’s business.”
— Jessica Westhead, author of And Also Sharks and Pulpy & Midge
Steve has his own comic book store, a limitless supply of comic books, and all the time in the world to collect them. That should be enough. But eventually, everyone - even Steve - gets lonely. And when his time comes, he too has to learn that (eternal) life isn’t about what you spend it on - it’s about who you spend it with.
“Every time I read something by Kirsty, I think, ‘Damn her, I wish I’d written that.’ She is the kind of writer that you can’t help but read with teeth-crunching envy, broken-hearted admiration, and a realization that your own work is not half as good as you’d hoped it might be. Be forewarned writers and readers: you will never be the same.”
— Shanna Germain, finalist for the 2010 John Preston Short Fiction Award and nominee for the 2008 Pushcart Prize
In New York City, Ben smokes too much and sleeps with women as a way to deaden his insecurities. With every indiscretion, he fights off adulthood for one more day, until the return of an ex-lover leaves him unsure of everything. Ben’s best friend, Josh, struggles to find the good in his marriage to Maddie, even as he searches for a way to keep from losing her. Ben’s neighbor, Mrs. Aguilera, looks to make peace with those she has already lost. Gripping tightly to one another like the oddest of families, Ben and his friends embody the place in which they live: a city where everything combines, with a touch of perfect madness, into something more than the sum of its parts.
“I love this story because it’s just plain good. The characters are broken and unsure, but the love they have for each other and the humor that carries them along is genuine and lovely to behold. This story made me laugh even while it was hitting me in the gut, and I’d like nothing more than to sit down and drink a beer with everyone in it. Mr. Goodman, thank you for rocking my literary waffle.”
— Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
In this unexpectedly dark character study, Jessica Westhead puts you in the shoes of an apprentice forced to listen to a seasoned wedding DJ as he lectures on the tricks of the trade. Emboldened by the captivity of his audience, the DJ's 'humorous' observations and grievances claw deeper and deeper, betraying ugliness at the core.
“In the still-frothing wake of And Also Sharks, here’s another sadly hilarious and hilariously sad Jessica Westhead story with bite. The self-deluding wedding DJ in The Lesson is a perfect addition to Westhead’s bent gallery of sympathetic sad sacks blustering their way through work and love ever after.”
— Zsuzsi Gartner, author of All the Anxious Girls on Earth and the 2011 Giller Prize–shortlisted Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
Charlotte is on the cusp of adolescence, and her world is being turned upside down. Unable to turn to her distant mother or absent father, she searches for guidance on the streets of downtown Toronto—and discovers God (or some version of Him) in the gutter.
“The Last Judgment is a story that penetrates into the heart of childhood sadness. Charlotte is without tools to fix what is broken, except for the incredible force of her will. The connections she makes between religion, parental failure, sexuality, and love make perfect sense because they are told in her bell-clear voice. This story is warm and tragic and, at moments, grimly funny.”
— Rebecca Rosenblum, author of Once and Road Trips
People grow in dimensions other than those we perceive. The teenage narrator of award-winning author Daniel Karasik’s latest story must deal with the fact that his older sister is now a grown woman, and Lucy, his crush-next-door, has become a mystery, with depths beyond his comprehension. Has he been coasting all this time, school and television his life’s only sources of momentum?