by Lana Storey
Some time after the incomprehensible death of his son, Joan Miró has settled into his new job working the overnight shift at a Hasty Market in Toronto. He has plenty of time to think beneath the fluorescent lights of the convenience store: of ghosts and late nights, of downtown living and dying, of customer service and self-preservation, of the beauty of the night sky, and of the attempts people make to connect with one another despite seemingly insurmountable distances. These fragments of life prove as difficult to make sense of as any code—until one night, when an extraordinary series of events suddenly teases a pattern from the dark.
“In this graceful, dark, and nuanced piece, Lana Storey reveals a private man unhinged by grief. These are events—and this a narrative—that will stay in my mind for a long time. Never one to shirk from difficult truths, Lana Storey writes in the tradition of George Saunders: an original, at times disturbing, but ultimately transformative worldview.”
— Carolyn Smart, author of Hooked: Seven Poems and At the End of the Day
“Cross Yourself is Lana Storey’s gorgeous swirling image constellation, a story about a man becoming unhinged from the universe and finding redemption in a downtown Hasty Market convenience store. A vibrant, beating heart of a short fiction, Cross Yourself is a vortex worth being pulled into.”
— Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, author of the 2005 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award finalist The Nettle Spinner
AT A HASTY MARKET downtown, an employee pulled a note out of his pocket and laid it on the counter. The note was in his ex-wife’s handwriting, and concerned his guilt in the death of their son. The note was addressed to Juan Alvarez, but when the man read those words, he saw his own name. Joan Miró was the name on his name tag, the one that nobody could pronounce. Joan didn’t know why Mirielle chose to write Juan Alvarez but he figured that the entire note was in some kind of code. It was like the cryptic messages in the Personals, and he just hadn’t figured out yet what it meant.
The note wasn’t new; it had been hanging on his bathroom mirror since Mirielle left him. Every day he stared at the words, and they never meant anything different. They always said, “You’re guilty.” But last night, something changed. The mirror broke, leaving the note as the only thing left for Joan to look at as he brushed his teeth and got ready for bed. It was no longer possible for his eyes to drift from the note to the reflection of his own face and back, giving the note meaning that Mirielle insisted wasn’t there. All he was left with were her words.
Last night, Joan read the note the whole way through, wrapped his bloody knuckles, and went to bed. The note haunted him, filling his mind while he slept. There were no images or words, no clear meaning—just a new feeling that he hadn’t had before.
When he woke up this afternoon, the note was in bed with him, the tape stuck to his arm. He lay in bed and read it again. He felt new meaning pushing like a baby bird making the first, imperceptible crack in its egg. It seemed that the mirror shattering had started some cracking inside of him.
Since he arrived at work tonight, things had been coming to him in little shards. There was no whole picture of what happened, only little clues he was picking up. He folded the note and put it in his pocket.
HE SAW THE WOMAN coming before the doormat announced it. He hoped for it as he watched her run across the street. He sprayed the window with cleaner and then wiped the glass with a rag. The rag was damp; it left a streak that distorted the things outside. The woman he was watching looked smeared, and the lights in the hospital behind her exploded beyond their windows like giant stars, flooding the sky. When the cleaner dried, the lights returned to their windows, but their presence still prevented Joan from seeing any real stars. He knew they were there, hiding somewhere in the sky beyond the buildings.
A car drove up fast from University and touched its brakes for the woman, even though she was already out of its lane. The car rolled forward to the stop sign, then paused for a long time before moving on. It was strange to watch a car stop from behind and see the red flash of brake lights tint the falling snow. See the space behind the car as it moved forward. When Joan was a crossing guard, he had missed all this. He’d seen everything from the front: the white headlights, the approaching metal, the space closing between him and the car.
Then the woman was in the store, as if Joan had pulled her through the night towards him. The doormat bleated madly as she took the time to shake off her large coat and swipe the snowflakes from her head. It only snowed these big, sticky flakes a few times a year.
Joan smiled wide as the woman crossed in front of the counter. She was a statuesque woman, a Greek goddess. So unlike Mirielle. No tiny bones or flitting hummingbird nerves. Maybe this woman would talk to him.
But she kept her head down. Avoiding eye contact was the first sign of suspicious behaviour, said Silvan, Joan’s co-worker. Joan thought this kind of cold reserve had more to do with the location of the store.
Joan had been naive at first. He believed, when he applied for the job, that this would be a place where people would talk. It was downtown—where the buildings were tallest, the people coldest, and the stores open latest. Life was anonymous, so the desire to connect was strong. People felt it as a desperate need, a low ache inside them. All of this, Joan was sure of. Even if the lonely hearts tried to ignore it, one day a light inside them would turn to green, and everything they wanted to say, they would say. To the person behind the counter at the Hasty Market.
He would try getting this woman to talk, if she ever came back up to the counter. He pulled out his note again, read it, then put it away. He looked for the woman and couldn’t see her anymore. His eyes flicked to the security monitor behind the counter. There she was in the lower right quadrant, in front of the pop cooler. She picked up a light-coloured pop and then put it back. She picked up a dark cola, put it back. She picked up both and seemed to be weighing her options.
“Visiting someone in the hospital?” Joan called around the stand of sour candies. On the screen he watched her head jerk up and then back down to the pop. She didn’t answer him. Joan kept watching her. He imagined her Missed Connections ad on craigslist. You: sad eyes, behind the counter, smiling kindly. Me: lonely, out late, needing sweet chemical sustenance for a long night by a hospital bedside.
Joan knew about this kind of need. His son had been in the hospital, the one on the other side of University that he couldn’t see from here. All the hospitals in the city lined one street, and Joan’s store was below them. From the Hasty window they were so tall that they seemed to be leaning. To think that these unstable things, these grey, grimy, city things, were centres of health and life inside.
Except they weren’t always, were they? People died in them. People came lonely from them. People came late at night in blue gowns, with blue skin and wheelchairs. Some were attached to IV stands with healthy young people wheeling everything along. Hair stuck to sick foreheads and hands were raw on the wheels just to get out of the hospital. Still, they never talked to Joan. They were silent like his wife. The only contact he had with her now was the note. You need to come to terms with what happened and deal with it, it said. He thought he did know what happened, although since last night, he was becoming less sure.
about the author
LANA STOREY holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph. When she was eight she published her first work, a poem called “Pigs.” She received a very satisfying box of coloured pencils for that poem, as well as a copy of the book, all the pages of which were a pale, minty green. She currently lives in Madison, WI, where she misses Canada and is forced to pay greater attention to spelling (see “coloured” above), as well as word choice: “zed” and “pop” are no longer acceptable, Rockets are Smarties, and people don’t barbecue, they grill out.
from the library
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