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.
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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
by Kirsty Logan
Steve has his own comic book store, a limitless supply of comic books, and all the time in the world to collect them. That should be enough. But eventually, everyone - even Steve - gets lonely. And when his time comes, he too has to learn that (eternal) life isn’t about what you spend it on - it’s about who you spend it with.
“Every time I read something by Kirsty, I think, ‘Damn her, I wish I’d written that.’ She is the kind of writer that you can’t help but read with teeth-crunching envy, broken-hearted admiration, and a realization that your own work is not half as good as you’d hoped it might be. Be forewarned writers and readers: you will never be the same.”
— Shanna Germain, finalist for the 2010 John Preston Short Fiction Award and nominee for the 2008 Pushcart 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
Toronto in the twenty-first century: At night, a beacon on a lonely ancient lake, a drainage pond from the last ice age. In the daytime, a bulwark of glass, glinting in the radiant sun. Joe, Mary, and her cat, Sam, sit in a lakeside condo, trapped by a crazed, mysterious sniper. What has become of their lives? What has become of their city? What has become of their century? As the situation begins to unravel, Mary finds herself wondering, “What would Margaret Atwood do?”
In the rugged Nepisiguit River region of northern New Brunswick, two hunters face off. One is local sports lodge employee Danny Knockwood, a Mi’gmaw guide with a withered hand. The other is Mui’n, a one-eared black bear battling his inexorable hunger. When Danny is charged by the lodge owner to hunt down the bear that is frightening guests at the salmon pools, his personal values come into sharp conflict with his commitment to the task. The resulting confrontation tests both his physical strength and his beliefs, as Danny begins to recognize a kindred spirit within the fiercely determined bear.
Eleven Miles There,
Twelve Miles Back
by Meghan Rose Allen
Deep in the heart of Ontario cottage country, Izza Ingram’s biological family disintegrates when her parents become trapped in a moment Izza can barely remember. Lost to their parents, she and her sister Paulie form an unlikely family unit under the guidance of their parents’ friend Doug. In this trio of their own making, Izza, Paulie, and Doug try to navigate the differences between the families we are born into versus the families we choose.
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.
by Kirsty Logan
The anarchic relationships holding together a group of teen girls - whose lines between love and hate, jealousy and loyalty, are not so much drawn as they are furiously scribbled - are put to the test at an unforgettable birthday party. This story captures all the angst and uncertainty of adolescence, with prose as sharp and jarring as a smashed kaleidoscope.
“Rarely an author comes along whose work hits you with the impact of a slap. I have had this experience with the work of Jayne Anne Phillips, with Lorrie Moore and Mary Gaitskill; most recently I have felt this on discovering the writing of Kirsty Logan. Her work is elegant, minimal, and innovative, but underlying it all is a great passion. If the world is a place where talent is recognised—in time, I believe, we may come to say her name alongside the aforementioned.”
— Ewan Morrison, author of Swung
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