by Andrew Wilmot
One night, thirteen-year-old Ned Powell is horrified to discover that his skin has taken on the physical properties of glass. Over the years, he finds himself resented by his father, coddled by his mother, rejected by society, and always on guard for the next devastating crack. In order to make peace with himself, Ned must overcome a fragility that goes much further than skin deep.
“An original, tender, metaphoric story about a man made of glass.”
— Steph VanderMeulen, Bella's Bookshelves
NED POWELL AWOKE FRIDAY morning at eight and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, rolling a viscous, snot-like clump between his fingers like it was putty. The first thing he saw, as he poured out of the bed he’d not slept in since he was a teenager, was the brush-stroke seam along his arm. It was where the model adhesive had set following his last break, three weeks, five days, eleven hours before.The point of contact was the forearm, just below the bend at the elbow, from a stone that had been kicked up by the deep tread of a passing pickup truck. Ned was lucky the damage wasn’t more severe. Though a couple of shards and some powder were lost on impact, it was all together nothing more than a few ounces to the breeze.
Still, he hated to remind himself, those ounces lost were ounces he’d never see again. All told, Ned Powell had permanently lost close to twenty pounds since he was a teenager, making him that much more flower-petal delicate. Surface shape and texture, splintered free from the whole, disintegrating into the ether.
IT WAS TWENTY-NINE years, four months, seven days, and sixteen hours since Ned first entered the world. Twelve years, eight months, and five days since Ned’s father, sobbing violently, his arms wrapped tight around the urn containing Ned’s mother, told his son he’d never make it to thirty—that he was too soft to survive without his mother to protect him.
At the time, seventeen-year-old Ned was determined to prove him wrong. Yet he found himself running later that same night when his father, drunk and still dressed in his funeral best, slumped down into the same wooden slat-backed kitchen chair in which his wife had sat clipping coupons every morning for the twenty-one years of their marriage, and started hurling ice cubes at Ned, one after the other, hoping to put a few chips—maybe even a crack or two—in his son’s brittle exterior. He connected twice. The first hunk of ice put a small V-shaped gash in Ned’s left shoulder. The second managed to shave an eighth of an inch of powder from his right ear.
One week later, Ned moved in with his aunt and uncle, who lived two towns over. He remained there until he finished high school, then made his way north for university and a job in a box in a building in the city.
It would be more than a decade before he returned home. It was to receive the urn that held his father’s ashes, which he placed next to his mother’s on the mantel above the small gas fireplace in their two-storey east end walk-up. Which was now his two-storey east end walk-up, which he didn’t want, and which, he promised himself, he would clean out and put on the market before the end of the day on Friday.
THE PHONE IN HIS parents’ bedroom started ringing. Ned quickly got to his feet and stumbled into the doorjamb as he moved. He put up a hand to steady himself, but was a half-second too late and chipped the outside edge of his palm on the weathered wood frame.
He knelt down and picked a small thin-crust wedge of glass from between two weed-like tufts of carpet. He inspected the jagged piece for a second before tossing it into the wastebasket around the corner.
The phone—a rotary ten years older than he was—was on the nightstand next to his mother’s side of the bed. He got to it by the fourth ring, lunging for the receiver before the answering machine could kick in.
“Hello?” he said.
“Ned?” said an elderly woman on the other end of the line. “Neddy, is that you?”
Ned pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes, Aunt Carol, it’s me.”
“Ned, I want to talk to your father. Is he there?”
“No, Aunt Carol. Dad’s dead, remember?”
“He’s dead? Well when the hell did that happen?”
“Last week. When Uncle Ross called and told me to come down for the funeral.”
“He did? That old bugger, he didn’t tell me! Why am I always the last to learn these things?”
“You were there, Aunt Carol.”
“What?” she shrieked. “No I wasn’t. I couldn’t have been. I’d have—I’d have—”
“You were. You wore your black-and-orange dress. The one with the sequins.”
“I-I did? Oh… okay. Did I look nice?”
“You looked like an overstuffed Jack-o’-Lantern.”
“Ned? Neddy? Boy, it’s good to hear your voice again. Listen, is your father there?”
Ned clenched his fist around the receiver. He felt the beginnings of a pressure crack veining his palm. He forced himself to calm down, to breathe deep and count to—
“No, he’s not, Aunt Carol.”
“Oh. Well what about your mother? Is she there?”
Ned quietly put the receiver back in its cradle, then reached down and unplugged the cord from the wall. He’d seen the first glimpses of Aunt Carol’s Alzheimer’s when he was a teenager, in the months he’d lived with her and Uncle Ross. Back then it had seemed like nothing more than standard age-related memory loss. Over time, however, the gaps in who she was and the life she’d led grew from small fissures to ever-widening black holes where information and names and places went to die. She even forgot about Ned’s condition.
ONE NIGHT, THREE WEEKS after his thirteenth birthday, Ned got hard and stayed that way. The skin of his chest started to prickle and grow firm in the early morning hours. Drowsy and half-dreaming, he thought maybe a spider had crawled between his sheets and bitten him on the sternum. But when Ned moved his hand across his chest to scratch the point of irritation, he felt his fingers strike something smooth and slick, felt his nails glide silently over a surface he knew, immediately, was wrong. He threw back his sheets to look down at his torso, and saw the stars and the moon on the surface of his body—reflections from outside his bedroom window. He saw his heart and his organs beating, churning inside of him, housed by skin as transparent as glass.
Ned could not remember precisely what happened next. He could not recall the deafening scream that woke both his parents, nor could he picture the veil of white panic that fell over his mother’s face, causing her to faint at the sight of her son’s new skin.
Ned’s father, ignoring his son’s continued shouts of terror and confusion, picked his unconscious wife up off the ground, carried her from the bedroom, and pulled the door tight. “You’re just lucky she’s man enough for the both of you,” he said to Ned the next morning.
about the author
ANDREW WILMOT is a writer, editor, and artist living in Toronto, ON. He is a graduate of the SFU Master in Publishing program and spends his days writing a lot and painting stupidly large pieces. He currently works as a freelance reviewer, academic editor, and substantive editor with several independent presses and publications. To date his work has been published in Found Press, The Singularity, Glittership, Drive In Tales, and Turn to Ash, and he was the winner of the 2015 Friends of Merril Short Story Contest. His first novel, The Death Scene Artist, will be published by Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak & Wynn, in Fall 2018.
by this author
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.
from the library
Some time after the incomprehensible death of his son, Joan Miró has settled into his new job working the overnight shift at a Hasty Market in Toronto. He has plenty of time to think beneath the fluorescent lights of the convenience store: of ghosts and late nights, of downtown living and dying, of customer service and self-preservation, of the beauty of the night sky, and of the attempts people make to connect with one another despite seemingly insurmountable distances. These fragments of life prove as difficult to make sense of as any code—until one night, when an extraordinary series of events suddenly teases a pattern from the dark.
“In this graceful, dark, and nuanced piece, Lana Storey reveals a private man unhinged by grief. These are events—and this a narrative—that will stay in my mind for a long time. Never one to shirk from difficult truths, Lana Storey writes in the tradition of George Saunders: an original, at times disturbing, but ultimately transformative worldview.”
— Carolyn Smart, author of Hooked: Seven Poems and At the End of the Day
“Cross Yourself is Lana Storey’s gorgeous swirling image constellation, a story about a man becoming unhinged from the universe and finding redemption in a downtown Hasty Market convenience store. A vibrant, beating heart of a short fiction, Cross Yourself is a vortex worth being pulled into.”
— Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, author of the 2005 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award finalist The Nettle Spinner
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
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 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.
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.
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 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 Kayt Burgess
When Blanche first began singing, she was humble, eager, willing to work, willing to learn. Now she is headstrong, condescending, unprofessional, and just a tiny bit full of herself. She is also the closest to genius that Antoinette, her accompanist, may ever have a chance to work with.