by Kathryn Mockler
A young girl who has spent her childhood enduring and covering for her mother's irresponsible and dangerous behaviour, experiences the aftermath of a terrifying night that pushes even her seemingly limitless love and loyalty.
THERE ARE TRAIN TRACKS beside my grandparents’ apartment building. Every night a freight train goes by, and it wakes me up. I crawl out of bed and go to the window and watch the train. Sometimes it takes fifteen minutes to pass. Sometimes it stops on the tracks and waits an hour before moving again. And I wait too. Everything quiet and dark, the only sound my mother snoring on her side of the pullout couch.
My grandmother is the type of woman that always remembers to stand up straight and to tell others to do the same. On our yearly visits to Peterborough, I try to avoid my grandmother as much as possible. She doesn't think I’m very bright. She doesn't think my mother works enough with me, and so, in the week we spend there, she is determined to make me smarter. She brings out flash cards and makes me do spelling bees for money.
—Look, Vera, look at that. She can't add, my grandmother says. —Prue, don't count on your fingers.
I give mother “the look” until she finally says, —Leave her alone. She gets enough of that at school.
—We can't play Yahtzee, Prue, because you can't add in your head. Don't you want to be able to add?
I like being with my grandfather best. He greases his hair with Brylcreem and smells of whiskey and tobacco.
On the drive to Peterborough, my mother sips from a can of Coke that's filled with vodka. I sit in the back of the car because my mother thinks it’s safer, even though there are no seat belts.
I worry a lot on these trips. I worry that something bad will happen to my mother, and I’ll be forced to drive the car. Or else I worry that I’ll get appendicitis and that my mother won't get me to the hospital on time. Sometimes I’m sure I feel the pains, but my mother always tells me that I’m fine, that if I had appendicitis I wouldn't be able to walk.
There are things I’m not supposed to tell my grandmother like how fast my mother drives on the highway or my marks. My mother says that if my grandmother knew what they really were she would be twice as hard on me. I’m not allowed to tell my grandmother about any of my mother’s purchases like the stereo she ordered and is paying for rent-to-own, her trip to Las Vegas a few months ago, and that she got her sweat glands removed last year.
My grandparents give my mother money. They paid for her car and the dishwasher, and every year on her birthday they give her a cheque. When people give you money they expect to control you, my mother tells me.
—Then why do you take it?
—I need it.
—You're too thin, Vera. It's unhealthy to be that skinny, my grandmother says the minute we walk through the door.
—I like me this thin, my mother says and sits down in the big chair by the TV and lights a cigarette.
—How was the traffic? my grandfather asks. He takes a crumpled handkerchief from his pocket and blows his nose. His nose is red and looks like it’s sunburnt all the time.
—We got a late start. My mother crosses her legs and dangles her sandal on her big toe.
My grandmother pulls me aside. —How fast did your mother go on the highway?
I shrug and play dumb. —Normal I guess.
—Was it before the hundred on the speedometer or after?
—Where's the speedometer?
—You're ten years old and don't know what a speedometer is? My grandmother sighs and walks to the kitchen. —I've cooked a roast for dinner, but it's probably dried out by now. I'm sure it's spoiled.
—It'll be fine, my mother says.
I watch my grandmother set the table with salad forks, cloth napkins, napkin rings, wine glasses, water glasses, double plates, and miniature salt and pepper shakers in front of each place setting. At home we eat TV dinners on TV tables and watch The Joker’s Wild.
After dessert my mother excuses herself to make phone calls. When she returns she announces that she is going out with her old high school friend Margaret. I follow her to the spare room where we share the pullout couch.
—Can I come? I ask.
—No, honey, you'd be bored.
—I don't want to be stuck here.
—It'll be nice to spend time with your grandparents. You know, they're not going to be alive forever.
I watch my mother undress and put on deodorant. She still has scars under her arms from the sweat gland operation. The scars are long and pink. She sprays perfume on her neck and wrists and cleavage.
—Don't be late, my grandmother says. She's standing in the hallway with a dishtowel over her shoulder.
My mother ignores her.
—I said don't be late. We have a big day tomorrow, she says again.
My mother kisses me on the forehead. —Be good, she says, and heads out the door.
about the author
KATHRYN MOCKLER is a writer, poet, and screenwriter. She is the author of the poetry books The Purpose Pitch (Mansfield Press, "a stuart ross book," Spring 2015), The Saddest Place on Earth (DC Books, 2012), and Onion Man (Tightrope Books, 2011). Currently, she is the Toronto editor of Joyland: a hub for short fiction and the publisher of the online literary and arts journal The Rusty Toque. Website: http://www.kathrynmockler.com/
from the library
In a world terrorized by a mysterious criminal organization that recruits children as its foot soldiers, a boy reflects on the journey - steeped in a cocktail of friendship and fear - that has drawn his life past the point of no return.
Saxophonist Metche Hufu and his band are the talk of Addis Ababa, filling nightclubs and packing dance floors. But the precarious existence of this golden age of culture depends on an emperor’s benevolence - and when his power begins to wane, Metche Hufu's music threatens to be silenced by the sounds of a country torn apart.
“How do you give voice to a sax player silenced by the politics of his country? If you’re a jazz singer like Kurt Elling, you take Dexter Gordon’s solo on ‘Body and Soul’ from his Homecoming album and you turn it into vocalese. If your name is Andrew Forbes and your tenor sax player is Ethiopian and it is Addis Ababa 1973 and his musical idol is King Curtis, you write The Expansiveness of My Sound and what you write is wider, more straight-ahead, stronger with political fervour, sadder than Elling but every bit as smart. Forbes is doing it solo and you have to imagine the quartet behind him. Read it with your fingers tapping and you’ll catch the beat. Read it with your ears open and you’ll hear Metche Hufu’s body and soul. Dig it!”
— T. F. Rigelhof, author of Hooked on Canadian Books: The Good, the Better, and the Best Canadian Novels Since 1984
In Our House
by the Sea
by Kirsty Logan
Romance is candlelight on cheekbones, blurring gazes and the press of heels on strange sheets. But what happens a year later? You’re sharing bath towels and bickering over who forgot to buy a light bulb. There is beauty in a familiar hand on the nape of your neck. There is love in waking up under a shared blanket. This story is about the romance of domesticity.
“Kirsty is one of the best and brightest . . . when I read her stuff I feel like I could taste it, chew it, roll it around on my tongue, the language is so delicious and sturdy and musical. She also has a knack for getting relationships exactly right in her writing, whether between parent and child or lovers or friends.”
— Amber Sparks, Fiction Editor at Emprise Review
by Caroline Adderson
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
At the Bar
by Rebecca Rosenblum
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
When I'm Old, When I'm Grey
by Andrew Wilmot
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.
A recruiter for a Division I college basketball team travels to a town in hopes of finally convincing the year's prize high school prospect to play for his team. Over several days, he reflects on his love of the sport, his respect for the kids, and a job that forces him to sweep sentiment aside in order to get results.
“Andrew Forbes' The Gamechanger is a powerful work from a point-of-view — that of the scout, the talent evaluator — which is not often seen or done convincingly, as it is here. A story about fathers and sons, about fate, and about the implicit savageries that lurk at the heart of the sports we love and the teams we cheer for. This is wonderful, raw writing.”
— Craig Davidson, author of Rust and Bone and Cataract City
“A fascinating look at the relationships a recruiter has to manage, from the sacrifices of being away from their family, to dealing with rival recruiters, prospects and their friends and family ... a very nuanced and layered approach that goes beyond just a man with a job to do at a gym.”
— Alex Wong, stevenlebron.com
After twenty years of running, Betty quietly returns to her hometown of Arbford, thinking it a solid place to finally put down some roots. But the adage 'you can't go home again' proves true, as Betty finds that her mere presence is more than enough to disrupt the stagnant lives of everyone around her.
“In this cautionary suburban fairy tale, a big-city refugee searching for home finds herself in a nest of multiple Mikes and Pyrex-wielding vipers. With enchanting style and snort-causing wit, Grace O’Connell does casserole-studded claustrophobia like nobody’s business.”
— Jessica Westhead, author of And Also Sharks and Pulpy & Midge