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
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
The Last Judgment
by Maria Meindl
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
After an unexpected malfunction, the technology which enables humanity to cross vast distances has separated an interstellar traveler from the love of her life — not in space, but in time. Now, while her companions remain in stasis, she must endure the loneliness of the journey until the moment her lover wakes.
Winner of the 2015 Friends of Merril Short Story Contest, When I'm Old, When I'm Grey imagines the strange — and strangely familiar — forms that fear and longing can take, as we venture forth into the unknown of the future.
by Curtis Snider
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.
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
by Kirsty Logan
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
by Richard Rosenbaum
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
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