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
Deep in the heart of Ontario cottage country, Izza Ingram’s biological family disintegrates when her parents become trapped in a moment Izza can barely remember. Lost to their parents, she and her sister Paulie form an unlikely family unit under the guidance of their parents’ friend Doug. In this trio of their own making, Izza, Paulie, and Doug try to navigate the differences between the families we are born into versus the families we choose.
Father Michael, in his final assignment, has been asked by his Order to help facilitate recovery of an Asian country blighted by war. On the long odyssey into the interior, his driver and translator Trang tells him a story set in a once-famed traveller’s refuge known as the Inn of Tender Embraces. What starts as a simple tale of ill-fated lovers becomes, for Father Michael, a familiar beacon that guides him through the mists of an exotic landscape.
“Don McLellan is the kind of wise, well-travelled writer we don’t see much of these days. With Angels Passing he earns the right to be included in the exotic tradition of Hemingway, Maugham, and Graham Greene. Like all memorable writing, his story takes us to another world and holds us there. As spare and subtle as it is powerful, Angels Passing will linger in your mind long after the last page.”
— John Lekich, Governor General’s Award Finalist for The Losers’ Club
Charlotte is on the cusp of adolescence, and her world is being turned upside down. Unable to turn to her distant mother or absent father, she searches for guidance on the streets of downtown Toronto—and discovers God (or some version of Him) in the gutter.
“The Last Judgment is a story that penetrates into the heart of childhood sadness. Charlotte is without tools to fix what is broken, except for the incredible force of her will. The connections she makes between religion, parental failure, sexuality, and love make perfect sense because they are told in her bell-clear voice. This story is warm and tragic and, at moments, grimly funny.”
— Rebecca Rosenblum, author of Once and Road Trips
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
The depredations of a corrupt local government and the ravages of a harsh prairie winter force an ostracized but self-sufficient widow to open her home to innocents with nowhere else to turn. Journey Prize finalist Seyward Goodhand's effortless storytelling allows the humanity to shine through in this grim take on a classic tale.
An imaginative and resonant work of speculative literature from ReLit Award-winning author Darren Greer. Twin brothers, born on an oppressive family farm, discover a miraculous way to escape the dreariness of their lives, charting a course that promises equal measures of wonder and heartbreak.
A recruiter for a Division I college basketball team travels to a town in hopes of finally convincing the year's prize high school prospect to play for his team. Over several days, he reflects on his love of the sport, his respect for the kids, and a job that forces him to sweep sentiment aside in order to get results.
“Andrew Forbes' The Gamechanger is a powerful work from a point-of-view — that of the scout, the talent evaluator — which is not often seen or done convincingly, as it is here. A story about fathers and sons, about fate, and about the implicit savageries that lurk at the heart of the sports we love and the teams we cheer for. This is wonderful, raw writing.”
— Craig Davidson, author of Rust and Bone and Cataract City
“A fascinating look at the relationships a recruiter has to manage, from the sacrifices of being away from their family, to dealing with rival recruiters, prospects and their friends and family ... a very nuanced and layered approach that goes beyond just a man with a job to do at a gym.”
— Alex Wong, stevenlebron.com
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