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.
purchase the ebook single
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
June's mother is getting married and there's nothing June can do about it. Counting down the days to the wedding while trapped with a sort-of friend and unwanted family-to-be at their lakeside cottage in the Kawarthas, June searches desperately for a way to make the world - and her life - stand still.
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.
Decades ago, when bands like the Everly Brothers rode the airwaves and vacancy signs shone like beacons in the night, a young man gets his first taste of love, loss, and the ethereal satisfaction that comes with knowing that the world is turning and life is being lived.
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
At the Chickasaw Motel, three generations of the McGuinness clan are led by their elderly and overbearing patriarch. Only little Riley, “the smartest f-ing kid”, is spared the brunt of Grandpa McGuinness’s cruelty; ironically, it is his encouragement that provides her with a way out.
A hybrid travelogue and memoir that pieces together the fragmented recollections of one woman’s rocky journey toward vegetarianism. From her rural upbringing in francophone Northeastern Ontario to exotic locations, outlandish adventures, and bizarre meals, Julie relives her struggle to make the right food choices for herself and examines the consequences of her decisions.
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.
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