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
After an unexpected malfunction, the technology which enables humanity to cross vast distances has separated an interstellar traveler from the love of her life — not in space, but in time. Now, while her companions remain in stasis, she must endure the loneliness of the journey until the moment her lover wakes.
Winner of the 2015 Friends of Merril Short Story Contest, When I'm Old, When I'm Grey imagines the strange — and strangely familiar — forms that fear and longing can take, as we venture forth into the unknown of the future.
If You Waited Here, You Would
See Almost Everything
by Danny Goodman
After Ray collapses on the sidewalk outside a New York coffee shop, the bittersweet vagaries of his long marriage come into focus, one heartbeat at a time. From his new vantage point, flat on his back, all their conflicts are laid out against a canvas of sky, contrasting miscommunications and infidelities against something slower, steadier, and ultimately much vaster than he ever realized.
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
When Blanche first began singing, she was humble, eager, willing to work, willing to learn. Now she is headstrong, condescending, unprofessional, and just a tiny bit full of herself. She is also the closest to genius that Antoinette, her accompanist, may ever have a chance to work with.
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.
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.
Coming out of an unhappy relationship and a stint at an artist colony, Charlotte, a writer, takes a job teaching at a private ESL college. There she befriends Renata—audacious, sexy, and as changeable as Proteus. “I have a story for you,” Renata says to her one day over lunch. She doesn’t elaborate further, but Charlotte soon discovers that she has found in Renata an unexpectedly passionate and compelling subject.
“Caroline Adderson is such a graceful and intelligent writer that the work that must surely go into creating her hilarious, prismatic stories is never betrayed in the language. There is no strain on the page, not a bead of sweat. I think of her as a writer’s writer. I envy her talent and learn from her sentences. The short story, Obscure Objects, is, I’m happy to report, Adderson at her glorious best.”
— Barbara Gowdy, author of Helpless and The White Bone
“Obscure Objects, Caroline Adderson’s fierce and affecting workplace comedy, is a deadpan gem: droll, moving, snapping-smart.”
— Meg Wolitzer, author of The Uncoupling, The Ten-Year Nap, and The Position