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
A man in the throes of a breakup is selling all of his possessions on Kijiji and Craigslist. Greg’s couch, his VHS tapes, obsolete desktop computer, and cow-shaped clock – it all must go. Between pot smoking, pizza eating, and watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, he meets with would-be buyers, taking his old life apart piece by discount piece in order to figure out what went wrong.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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