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
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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
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“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
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
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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