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
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.
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
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
by Richard Rosenbaum
Polly knows what she wants: to be in the greatest band in the world. Oliver knows what he wants: Polly. Together they are The Oughts, a duo trying to attain the unattainable, one basic chord at a time.
“Richard Rosenbaum’s The Oughts jabs its sticky little fingers right into your heart and swirls them around in there for a long, long time. Its characters unfold in pitch-perfect awkwardness and tender apathy, and readers will be struck by the surreal hinges and twitching imagery that Rosenbaum flawlessly weaves in. Writers in the audience should take note: Rosenbaum has created a writhing work of fiction that any scribe would aspire to be capable of pulling off.”
— Liz Worth, author of Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond and Eleven: Eleven
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
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
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