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
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
by Curtis Snider
A woman wakes up in bed beside her ex-boyfriend and is at loss to explain how she got there. Inexplicably drawn to stay, she scours every square inch of the apartment they used to share, noting the traces of her presence that linger on, as well as the empty spots that conspicuously mark her absence. The deeper she digs, the more she understands how imperfect her relationship was – and the less willing she is to come up for air.
An imaginative and resonant work of speculative literature from ReLit Award-winning author Darren Greer. Twin brothers, born on an oppressive family farm, discover a miraculous way to escape the dreariness of their lives, charting a course that promises equal measures of wonder and heartbreak.
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 Pauline Holdstock
Inspired by true events, this story by Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated author Pauline Holdstock tells of the incredible bond between a mother and daughter, and with gut-wrenching poignancy reminds us of the little things that make life worth living.
“Hers is the kind of prose you get lost in.”
— National Post on The Hunter and the Wild Girl
“Holdstock’s writing manages to be both heartbreakingly poetic and densely detailed ... sad passages, ghostlike recollections, written almost from the vantage point of the present, establish the book as a great work of fiction.”
— The Globe and Mail on Into the Heart of the Country, longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize
“Holdstock, with a few deft strokes, pulls the reader into the tumultuous life of an alluring rabble of characters: painters, sculptors, patrons, fools, and slaves ... In Beyond Measure, she proves herself a master of pacing. Her lively, macabre plot trips lightly along in spite of its dark elements.”
— The Globe and Mail on Beyond Measure, finalist for the 2004 Giller Prize and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize
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
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