by Steph VanderMeulen
A married couple buy a plot of land in the country and begin to make a life for themselves. A son - one who fails to live up to his father's hardened expectations - is born to them, putting their seemingly simple aspirations of happiness, prosperity, self-sufficiency, to the test. A pattern of events ensue that beg the question: what good are good intentions, when coupled with forceful, uncompromising will?
DUST SETTLED AS HE stopped the car on the side of the quiet dirt road in front of the For Sale sign.
“Ten acres, Lyddie,” he said, and squeezed her hand. “All ours. Seventeen thousand. We can do it.”
She rolled down her window and let in the sweet, earthy fragrance of roadside weeds, the chirps of insects on the breeze. She lifted her hand to shade her eyes and looked out.
Duke found a spot in the distance and tried to imagine a house. A house — not an old, dingy apartment that propagated mould in the closets and behind the night tables; not a place where the light filtered through smoke when the couple below pulled on cigarettes and joints, where the dishes rattled when the man above raged, or where he and Lydia lay awakened and quietly aroused by the pulsing howls that rose through the floor. Not that, but a home of their own, with no neighbours.
“All right,” Lydia said.
She inhaled when Duke kissed her, his lips pressing hard against her teeth. He whispered to her, coaxed her out of the car — “Right here?” she said, laughing, her hand in his — and into the long grass on the edge of the road. She stumbled, following him as he swept weeds aside, their herby scent robust. The air, heavy with cricket song, seemed to pulsate, cutting off other sounds, making the field feel private.
Duke stopped when they were far enough to not be seen from the road. He pulled Lydia to him, smoothed back her hair, rested his hands on the side of her face. He kissed her deeply. “Yes, here,” he said.
He ran his hands down her arms, lifted them, then took the edge of her light sweater and pulled it over her head. She unbuttoned his short-sleeved shirt, unbuckled his belt, unzipped his fly. He watched her face, studied her eyes as he reached behind her and unfastened her bra, pulled the straps down her freckled arms. He let the bra drop and put his hands on her breasts, moved his palms across her nipples and down her sides. Her breath. She took the clips from her hair and put them in one of her shoes.
"YOU’VE GOT… RIGHT HERE …”
The real estate agent in the red skirt suit reached and gently pulled a Velcro-like seed of Queen Anne’s Lace from Lydia’s hair.
Lydia blushed. She’d tried to pick everything out, peering in the side mirror on the way to the office. “Sampling the property,” she managed.
“And?” asked the agent, amused.
Lydia shared a glance with Duke and the corner of her mouth lifted. “It’s perfect,” she said.
DUKE CLOSES HIS EYES and noisily sucks in air and spit through the hole in his face. It is too late now for surgery. When the oncologist, his nurses, or his few friends asked why he had refused the operation, he’d told them it was none of their goddamn business.
The cancer invaded his tissue until it broke through his cheek and split it, leaving him with half a Glasgow smile. It has eaten the flesh almost to his cheekbone, pushed his top lip up into a leer. He can feel it, the way a cold sore tingles with pain and activity, and sometimes he watches himself in the mirror, as if to catch the cancer in action. The meat of his cheek and lips is blackened in places, raw and bloody in others, like charred fat and spoiled hamburger. His bottom lip no longer exists on the left side of his face. Duke is forced to wear a bib to catch the drool that spills over the edge of his gums. Eating is difficult, and he can drink only with a straw at the right corner of his gaping mouth. He makes sucking noises that get him dirty looks in the St. Peregrine Hospice common room.
Worse is the odour: a pungent, oily smell of decaying flesh. His caregiver, Daphne, who can’t be older than Justin, has given him eucalyptus oil to dab behind his ears, a drop near his nose, as much for him as for everyone else. But his is a smell he can taste.
Once, in the dining room, another resident had slammed his liver-spotted fist on the table, rattling the cutlery and startling the others. “For fuck’s sake, he stinks. He’s slurping. I can’t eat like this.” The man beside him grimaced and made unsubtle gagging noises.
The staff serves Duke meals in his room now.
about the author
from the library
The Psychology of Animals Swallowed Alive:
by Kirsty Logan
Embark upon these twenty short, scrumptious flights of fancy from the unmistakable pen of Scott Prize-winning author Kirsty Logan, and you will be astounded, titillated, disturbed, amused, heartbroken, and above all, astonished.
“Logan crafts an exquisitely wrought diorama full of tenderly compelling characters; observations about grief, worship, social order, and human nature, and a love that transcends definition.”
– NPR on Logan's debut novel The Gracekeepers
Marcel, a sensitive sniper, knew his life was missing something. But he didn't know what until he set his crosshairs on it: Violet Caine. A ginger-headed lover of Thai food, wanted dead simply because her brother messed with the wrong bike gang. It's a story of redemption coming too late, and the ways happenstance can turn a warm man cold. Then warm again. Whether fate wrote his troubled life, or he wrote it himself, he wants Violet Caine to be the end of it - be it figuratively or literally.
In the Afternoon
by Laure Baudot
Catherine wants what Richard has: a richly decorated house, and a perfect, lavished-upon baby. Catherine also wants Richard: a disaffected diplomat whose true passion is for cinema. But Catherine is only the babysitter, and her envy—and its fallout—come to the fore when Richard is accused of a crime, and she must decide whether to help exonerate him.
“Laure Baudot’s prose is exquisite, patient, and sophisticated. In the Afternoon immerses you in the fascinating and complicated mind of a babysitter who is wise beyond her years, yet dangerously impulsive at the same time. This story is irresistible and heartbreaking.”
— Sarah Selecky, author of the 2010 Giller Prize–shortlisted collection This Cake Is for the Party
by Richard Rosenbaum
Polly knows what she wants: to be in the greatest band in the world. Oliver knows what he wants: Polly. Together they are The Oughts, a duo trying to attain the unattainable, one basic chord at a time.
“Richard Rosenbaum’s The Oughts jabs its sticky little fingers right into your heart and swirls them around in there for a long, long time. Its characters unfold in pitch-perfect awkwardness and tender apathy, and readers will be struck by the surreal hinges and twitching imagery that Rosenbaum flawlessly weaves in. Writers in the audience should take note: Rosenbaum has created a writhing work of fiction that any scribe would aspire to be capable of pulling off.”
— Liz Worth, author of Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond and Eleven: Eleven
This Is a Love Crime
by Lee Kvern
Marta is a human resources employee at a grocery store chain. She moves through the days passively, always taking the path of least resistance, until a case at work - that of a hijab-wearing woman, in defiance of a strict no-hats policy - awakens her to the injustices of her own life.
“This Is a Love Crime by Lee Kvern is a cunning and intensely human look at one of the central issues of our time. It negotiates the space between belief, racism, liberty, and sexuality with curiosity and compassion.”
— Todd Babiak, bestselling author of Toby: A Man and The Garneau Block
“Lee Kvern paints with a scalpel. With characteristic unflinching honesty, she peels the relationship between Marta and Corbin back to quivering nerves in This Is a Love Crime and juxtaposes it against veiled assumptions about cultural oppression. The narrative leaps crackle with energy and empathy. When I read Kvern’s stories, I’m seduced by exquisite detail and—love or loathe them—left with the scent of her characters long after the last page.”
— Betty Jane Hegerat, author of Delivery and The Boy
“In This Is a Love Crime, Lee Kvern uses the intricately drawn characters of Corbin and Marta to explore the charged topics of ethnicity and Western modes of submission and control. Written in Kvern’s distinctive, poetic, and multi-layered style, the story leaves us with warm insight into all the characters—and challenges our hearts and preconceptions.”
— Barb Howard, author of Whipstock, Notes for Monday, and The Dewpoint Show
The Last Judgment
by Maria Meindl
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
A small-time internet scammer is shaken from her somewhat safe new life when an investigator arrives with questions to do with her erstwhile "period of moral decline" — specifically, the whereabouts of a young woman whose brief, bright friendship nearly steered her from the stability she now craves.
The depredations of a corrupt local government and the ravages of a harsh prairie winter force an ostracized but self-sufficient widow to open her home to innocents with nowhere else to turn. Journey Prize finalist Seyward Goodhand's effortless storytelling allows the humanity to shine through in this grim take on a classic tale.