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
Was More Here
by Danny Goodman
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
In the Afternoon
by Laure Baudot
Catherine wants what Richard has: a richly decorated house, and a perfect, lavished-upon baby. Catherine also wants Richard: a disaffected diplomat whose true passion is for cinema. But Catherine is only the babysitter, and her envy—and its fallout—come to the fore when Richard is accused of a crime, and she must decide whether to help exonerate him.
“Laure Baudot’s prose is exquisite, patient, and sophisticated. In the Afternoon immerses you in the fascinating and complicated mind of a babysitter who is wise beyond her years, yet dangerously impulsive at the same time. This story is irresistible and heartbreaking.”
— Sarah Selecky, author of the 2010 Giller Prize–shortlisted collection This Cake Is for the Party
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 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.
by Matt Cahill
Portraits of people marooned within themselves, trapped by their past experiences, by uncertainty and anxiety — individuals for whom each new situation is a grueling journey towards the present, a place where action and choice are possible. In Second World, Matt Cahill illustrates, with honesty and empathy, how the most important breakthroughs are not the life-altering revelations, but rather the minor miracles that get us through each day.
by Marielle Mondon
At Georgetown University, a music student and part-time nude life model becomes involved with the first true passion of her life, a man who awakens her to the weight of experience she already possesses - as well as the ups and downs yet to come.
Mike Mike Mike Mike
by Grace O'Connell
After twenty years of running, Betty quietly returns to her hometown of Arbford, thinking it a solid place to finally put down some roots. But the adage 'you can't go home again' proves true, as Betty finds that her mere presence is more than enough to disrupt the stagnant lives of everyone around her.
“In this cautionary suburban fairy tale, a big-city refugee searching for home finds herself in a nest of multiple Mikes and Pyrex-wielding vipers. With enchanting style and snort-causing wit, Grace O’Connell does casserole-studded claustrophobia like nobody’s business.”
— Jessica Westhead, author of And Also Sharks and Pulpy & Midge
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 Nancy Branch
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.