by Danny Goodman
After Ray collapses on the sidewalk outside a New York coffee shop, the bittersweet vagaries of his long marriage come into focus, one heartbeat at a time. From his new vantage point, flat on his back, all their conflicts are laid out against a canvas of sky, contrasting miscommunications and infidelities against something slower, steadier, and ultimately much vaster than he ever realized.
WHILE I WAS ON a business trip in Paris, Estelle took my clothes to the homeless shelter in the basement of St. Vincent de Paul. Not all of my clothes — just those that had not been worn since the Reagan administration, as she put it. But other than the clothes in my suitcase and on my person, only a few random articles were spared. She failed to tell me until I returned home.
I remained calm. No yelling. Deep breaths. Remembered what Dr. Smith said: find home, Ray. That place where everything makes sense and nothing is wasted. What the hell did he know.
My serenity lasted all of two minutes. I brought up events long since put to rest: when Estelle accidentally abandoned our first dog, Audrey Hepburn, at the pet store for nearly ten hours; when we were in Fleischmanns at the cabin and Estelle left the Volkswagen in neutral and it rolled down into the pond; when I came home early from the office that day in 1988 and I was sure I saw the postman scurry off down the street.
Your baloney always comes in threes, Estelle said.
She looked at me with those eyes, the kind that made me want to smack her and hold her and leave her all at the same time. I would do none of those, of course. Instead, I stopped talking. I grabbed my hat—perhaps an article which should have been cast off in donation—and let the apartment door rattle the walls as it closed.
In the stairwell, I said hello to our downstairs neighbor, Karen, whose husband had recently passed away. Cancer. Awful business. She carried a weight in the skin beneath her eyes. I put my hand on her shoulder as we exchanged goodbyes.
Outside, the city was sullen and soaked in summer. Taxis lined Eighth Avenue, motionless. I peered uptown. A fire engine and garbage truck had collided in the intersection. The asphalt swirled and bent. The city was magic then, Estelle would say, when the streets became supple from the heat. My soles felt as if they could melt as I moved across the avenue. I thought of going to the shelter, reclaiming my clothes, but somehow the idea filled me with guilt.
Further down the street a sign, a simple drawing of a frowning face, hung above a coffee shop and grabbed my attention. I was not one for drinking coffee—Dr. Smith said caffeine exaggerated my condition—but at the moment I lacked the capacity to care. Maybe I needed some ferocity. Estelle always called me apathetic, and I responded the same every time: I’m not pathetic. She would shake her head and say there was very little difference in our arguments. The thought of her in my head, like some sort of parasite, tied me up.
The coffee shop was cramped inside. The man behind the counter, unshaven for days and with a kind smile, asked what I wanted, and I told him I had no idea. He laughed and suggested coffee from Ethiopia. I must have made a face because he continued that it was sweet and bold and I would certainly love it. I wasn’t aware that coffee, or any beverage, could be bold. Somehow, though, it seemed to be what I needed, so I nodded and watched as he tossed whole beans into a grinder.
As it brewed, I asked about the machine, which made only one cup at a time and seemed like something out of Star Trek. The man said they were new, the next big thing, that soon everyone would be using them. He smiled again, his broad grin showing off a set of perfect teeth, and assured me that it would be the greatest cup o’ joe I’d ever had. Also, he said, I love your hat. I looked up without moving my head and nudged the brim north on my forehead. You look like Joseph Mitchell, he said. I thanked him, taking a deep inhale of coffee through my nose.
In the corner, a young couple fought. About what, I couldn't be sure, but I found a barstool close by and listened.
Come on, Betts, the young man said, we need a good day. We can’t do this every time.
She shook her head, vehement in the stance. She leaned back and revealed a baby boy, no more than two or three months old in a carrier on the seat beside them. She rubbed his chubby cheek, and he gargled a laugh.
Don't call me that, she said. That's not my name.
He tried to smile, to brush off the awkwardness, and took a sip of his coffee. When she reached for the mug, he put his hand down on hers.
This isn't healthy, he said.
I wondered if Estelle and I had looked this couple when we fought: full of hopefulness. Or maybe there wasn’t any hopefulness; I was just adding it, like cream and sugar, to dilute the bitterness.
about the author
DANNY GOODMAN is a writer and editor living in New York City. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in various places, including Paper Darts, Brevity, and FPQ. He edits the literary journal fwriction : review, blogs for the journal at fwriction, and runs social media for Stymie Magazine. Currently at work on his first novel (which follows the characters of Somehow There Was More Here), he is badly in need of a nap. Say hello to him here: http://dannygoodman.me
by this author
In New York City, Ben smokes too much and sleeps with women as a way to deaden his insecurities. With every indiscretion, he fights off adulthood for one more day, until the return of an ex-lover leaves him unsure of everything. Ben’s best friend, Josh, struggles to find the good in his marriage to Maddie, even as he searches for a way to keep from losing her. Ben’s neighbor, Mrs. Aguilera, looks to make peace with those she has already lost. Gripping tightly to one another like the oddest of families, Ben and his friends embody the place in which they live: a city where everything combines, with a touch of perfect madness, into something more than the sum of its parts.
“I love this story because it’s just plain good. The characters are broken and unsure, but the love they have for each other and the humor that carries them along is genuine and lovely to behold. This story made me laugh even while it was hitting me in the gut, and I’d like nothing more than to sit down and drink a beer with everyone in it. Mr. Goodman, thank you for rocking my literary waffle.”
— Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
from the library
A woman wakes up in bed beside her ex-boyfriend and is at loss to explain how she got there. Inexplicably drawn to stay, she scours every square inch of the apartment they used to share, noting the traces of her presence that linger on, as well as the empty spots that conspicuously mark her absence. The deeper she digs, the more she understands how imperfect her relationship was – and the less willing she is to come up for air.
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
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
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.
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 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