by Liz Harmer
Henry and Gretchen's parents have just gotten divorced. To take their mind off things, their dad takes them on a road trip down the east coast of the US. Along the journey, timid, insecure Henry secretly corresponds with his mother by email, while brash, certain Gretchen floats a disturbing possibility: perhaps, on this road, as with his marriage, their dad will prove too stubborn to turn back.
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THE LITTLE BLURBS OF flab hanging on either side of Henry’s back, pinched by the elastic of his swim trunks, were called love handles — so named because they were nice to grab during sex. Henry discovered this during an online search using terms like big hunks of flab above my butt and symmetrical back fat boys men. Heart racing, he cleared the search history and wiped the keys of his dad’s laptop, which had quickly greased with his sweat. Henry was just plopping down on the floral covers on the motel bed, trying to arrange his hands casually on his belly, when Dad walked in. No knock.
“Whatcha watching, buddy?”
The TV had been left on CNN. Henry shrugged.
“All right.” Dad put a hand through his sparser and sparser hair. The trip, now into its fifth week, had aged him. He was yellowing. The skin on his face seemed tougher somehow, less humanly soft. His ears were like costume ears, glued on. The balding was accentuated by the fact that Dad hadn’t gotten a haircut all summer. The strands had grown into long, sagging spikes of dried hay. “Hey. You know where your sister is?”
Henry shrugged again.
Dad sat down on the other bed, Gretchen’s bed. “You want to talk about anything?”
What Henry wanted to do was to cry, but he cried too much, too often, and it would only make his face red and splotchy, would only have him wiping his nose on his arm; these things were as bad as love handles and man boobs for making Gretchen and Dad look sadly away from him. They pitied him his shame, which only made it worse.
What Henry wanted to do was to find the zipper on this fat suit and peel the thing right off, to emerge tight and tanned and fast. What Henry wanted to do was to run away from this room, down the balcony stairs, past the pool and teenaged receptionists, down past the many parking lots to the beach. What he wanted to do was to keep running until he got back home. People ran like that, super far and without stopping. Forrest Gump and Terry Fox had done it.
“So. Hey. What should we get for dinner?”
But Henry couldn’t run for the bounce of his man boobs. At least girls had the dignity of bras. He shrugged.
Dad sighed loudly. “I know this is hard, but come on. You’ve got to give me something.”
DINNER WAS ANOTHER SEAFOOD place, another dingy patio surrounded by boats bobbing in the harbor. The patio was perched on a deck, and its angle was so lopsided that they might go sliding off into the water, sinking Titanic-style.
“Let’s do our highlights and lowlights,” Dad said, after ordering the cheapest fish and chips on the menu. Highlights and lowlights had been Mom’s dinner table talk, cheesy enough even then, this listing of the best and worst moments like sportscasters after a game.
Gretchen gave Henry the oh please look. They’d found her elsewhere in the motel, in a stranger’s room, sitting on the floor while this guy Mac played folk songs on his guitar. Mac had big sideburns, was easily twenty. Mom would have flipped, but Dad just told her quietly that it was time for dinner. She was acting strange, slow and smiley, and Henry knew she was pretending to be on drugs to impress Mac. They had x-ray vision with each other.
“Highlight: I met a guy,” Gretchen said.
Dad, unlike Mom, never asked follow-up questions.
“No lowlights,” she claimed.
A long pause followed, and the food arrived on three plates, wafting warmth and sweetness. It had been five hours since Henry ate. That afternoon he’d resisted the lure of snack-cakes sitting boxed on the motel desk and had instead walked down to the beach arcade, tummy gurgling, love handles wobbling as he slapped at the old pinball machines.
“Henry?” Dad said.
“No highlights. No lowlights,” Henry said.
“Come on, buddy.”
“But we’re not doing anything. Nothing’s happening,” he slurped at the straw in his diet coke. “When are we going home?”
about the author
from the library
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
Everything Must Go
by Jeff Dupuis
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 Cynthia Flood
New wife and mother Julie is a woman struggling to find her place. Her dilemmas, while modest, feel harsh, and reflect the ways in which women were once denied control over their own bodies. Her first steps toward independence bring great pain—and not only to herself. With sparing, incisive prose, Cynthia Flood unravels what it meant to be a married woman in post-war era Vancouver, creating an evocative and even unsettling experience for the reader.
“With a precision of language that startles and delights, Cynthia Flood offers glimpses of those moments in which the essence of an entire life is revealed.”
— Nancy Richler, author of The Imposter Bride
“What a great story! Told in terse, restrained sentences, yet opening to a lush and radiant heart, Addresses captures the anguish of a marriage gone off the rails, and the moments of redemption that arrive from unexpected places. Flood’s use of language is uniquely her own–staccato, clean as a knife, and brilliant. Cynthia Flood has done it again.”
— Shaena Lambert, author of Radiance
“The abruptness of the title tells so much about this exquisitely drawn story by Cynthia Flood. ‘Tell the truth but tell it slant,’ Emily Dickinson advised, and that’s always been the approach Flood has preferred for her bone-china fictions, edging into them sideways. Once escorted into the story’s arrhythmic heart, we readers have no choice but to immerse ourselves in a world long gone but still very much with us, to emerge both shaken and stirred.”
— Dave Margoshes, author of A Book of Great Worth
by Andrew Forbes
An electrical engineer who has lost almost everything - his marriage, his job, his father - retreats to his garage to re-evaluate and reorganize the various loose ends of his life, and ends up assembling a thermonuclear device instead.
by Jessica Westhead
In this unexpectedly dark character study, Jessica Westhead puts you in the shoes of an apprentice forced to listen to a seasoned wedding DJ as he lectures on the tricks of the trade. Emboldened by the captivity of his audience, the DJ's 'humorous' observations and grievances claw deeper and deeper, betraying ugliness at the core.
“In the still-frothing wake of And Also Sharks, here’s another sadly hilarious and hilariously sad Jessica Westhead story with bite. The self-deluding wedding DJ in The Lesson is a perfect addition to Westhead’s bent gallery of sympathetic sad sacks blustering their way through work and love ever after.”
— Zsuzsi Gartner, author of All the Anxious Girls on Earth and the 2011 Giller Prize–shortlisted Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
by Kelsey Robbins Lauder
A small-time internet scammer is shaken from her somewhat safe new life when an investigator arrives with questions to do with her erstwhile "period of moral decline" — specifically, the whereabouts of a young woman whose brief, bright friendship nearly steered her from the stability she now craves.
of My Sound
by Andrew Forbes
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
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