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
by Andrew Forbes
An electrical engineer who has lost almost everything - his marriage, his job, his father - retreats to his garage to re-evaluate and reorganize the various loose ends of his life, and ends up assembling a thermonuclear device instead.
by Jessica Westhead
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
by Jack Bootle
On an isolated English beach a man looks back on his school days, recalling the joy and torment of a secret love affair with a boy full of strange ideas, a boy obsessed with the language of the King James Bible. Moments from their relationship return to him: the hidden meetings on the beach, the first attempts at sex, the boredom of a school assembly in summertime, the cruelty of a young English teacher. But most of all he remembers the boy’s words. They’re words that, years later, will haunt him as he tries to come to terms with the person he has become.
“Psalm 77 is the type of story that one wants to read over and over, searching for meanings previously unseen. It is laced with the hidden, the secret, the sacred. From the sand dunes and their private longings in school to the verses, the imagery, and the final paragraphs, there is so much to uncover . . ." (Read full review)
— Amanda Miller from shortsundone.ca
by Nicole Chin
In a world terrorized by a mysterious criminal organization that recruits children as its foot soldiers, a boy reflects on the journey - steeped in a cocktail of friendship and fear - that has drawn his life past the point of no return.
Deep Breaths Underwater
by Meghan Rose Allen
June's mother is getting married and there's nothing June can do about it. Counting down the days to the wedding while trapped with a sort-of friend and unwanted family-to-be at their lakeside cottage in the Kawarthas, June searches desperately for a way to make the world - and her life - stand still.
by Don McLellan
Father Michael, in his final assignment, has been asked by his Order to help facilitate recovery of an Asian country blighted by war. On the long odyssey into the interior, his driver and translator Trang tells him a story set in a once-famed traveller’s refuge known as the Inn of Tender Embraces. What starts as a simple tale of ill-fated lovers becomes, for Father Michael, a familiar beacon that guides him through the mists of an exotic landscape.
“Don McLellan is the kind of wise, well-travelled writer we don’t see much of these days. With Angels Passing he earns the right to be included in the exotic tradition of Hemingway, Maugham, and Graham Greene. Like all memorable writing, his story takes us to another world and holds us there. As spare and subtle as it is powerful, Angels Passing will linger in your mind long after the last page.”
— John Lekich, Governor General’s Award Finalist for The Losers’ Club
by Marielle Mondon
At Georgetown University, a music student and part-time nude life model becomes involved with the first true passion of her life, a man who awakens her to the weight of experience she already possesses - as well as the ups and downs yet to come.
Was More Here
by Danny Goodman
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