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
EVERYTHING IN THE APARTMENT was perfect, except us. My sister was noisy and made a mess wherever she went. Mom looked like me: terrible. She had mousy hair and scaly bumps on the backs of her arms. I had the same arms, the same hair. Everyone else called it “sandy.” We called it “dirty blond.” I had long feet like my mother and long, skinny hands. My hands and feet were huge now. Like my father, Luke, I had blue eyes, not his colour of pure, pale blue, but muddied with flecks of green and brown. My father was gone. In my dreams he looked past me, not recognizing me, and I looked down, ashamed.
It wasn’t really our apartment. It belonged to someone named William, who was going on a trip. William didn’t care that we couldn’t pay the whole rent; he just wanted to make sure his two cats didn’t get lonely while he was away. Mom said we were lucky, with all the inflation, to find anything at all. It wasn’t a big place—the rooms were small and crammed together and the ceilings slanted down almost to the floor—but it was the fanciest place I had ever seen. There was beige carpet in the living room and grey silky wallpaper, and pictures in ornate gold frames. All the furniture was white, even the piano. Even the cats were white. I slept in William’s room. My mother and Lily, my sister, slept in the room he kept for his sons. They were grown up, but their room was a children’s room, with animals on the wallpaper and a shelf of antique toys even Lily knew she shouldn’t touch.
The apartment was at the top of a house, at the top of a hill surrounded by trees. When the wind blew, the treetops dipped and churned, and I felt as if the whole place were moving, as if we were living in the trees, with no house under us. We could be thrown from our perch at any time.
I lay on my back each night, praying so that no one else could see or hear. I waited until the lights were out, until I could tell from the sound of even breathing that the others were asleep. I folded my hands over my chest. They weren’t extended, palm to palm, but clasped urgently. “Please God forgive my sins,” I whispered, and listed them. The first sin was that other thoughts came into my head when I was trying to pray. I made a dark room in my mind where the thoughts were piled like junk in an attic. I took a broom and dustpan and threw the junk out of the room. I swept the floors and walls until the room was empty: nothing but black. I had to hold my whole body still and tense in order to stop myself from falling asleep.
I fell asleep each night saying my prayers and that was a sin. I should get up by the side of the bed and kneel to say my prayers the way other people did—proper, religious people. But I knew that if my mother or Lily ever saw me praying, they’d laugh at me. My mother would say something like, “She’s going through a phase,” and I’d feel small and stupid. My mother must never know. But this was another sin: that I couldn’t risk embarrassment and tell everyone I believed in God and the Bible, that I prayed every night.
The only thing I was allowed to think about at night, besides the Bible, was my father, because my father was somewhere else the way God was somewhere else, and it took hard concentration to make him real in my mind. Because my father was a serious topic, and I felt as bad about his leaving as I did about sinning. I felt so bad about his leaving that I could hurt myself by thinking about it, and somehow make up for all the sin. I kept playing and replaying in my mind the night in July when my father had slammed out the door of our old apartment shouting, “I can’t win with you!” In my imagination, I ended the scene in different ways: reaching the door before he got out, and going with him. Calling him back. Dragging him back. But on the night it really happened, I didn’t do any of those things. I did something I didn’t understand. On the night it really happened, I locked the door behind him.
about the author
MARIA MEINDL’s essays, poetry and fiction have appeared in journals including the Literary Review of Canada, Descant, Musicworks and Queen Street Quarterly. She has made two series for CBC Radio’s Ideas: Parent Care, and Remembering Polio. Her book Outside the Box: the Life and Legacy of Writer Mona Gould, the Grandmother I Thought I Knew was published in 2012 by McGill Queens University Press. Maria is the founder of Draft, a reading series which features new work by established and emerging writers. A Feldenkrais practitioner, she teaches movement and writing classes in Toronto. Her website is bodylanguagejournal.wordpress.com
from the library
If You Waited Here, You Would
See Almost Everything
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.
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
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.
A small-time internet scammer is shaken from her somewhat safe new life when an investigator arrives with questions to do with her erstwhile "period of moral decline" — specifically, the whereabouts of a young woman whose brief, bright friendship nearly steered her from the stability she now craves.
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
As a boy, Timmy (Sir Timothy Brian F. the Fantabulous) tells tall, tragic tales to get attention from the adults in his life - particular his busy mother and Dr. Bass, his nerdy-cool neighbour. As a young man, his escalating lies destroy his relationships, alienate his loved ones, and land him in hot water with police; but that doesn’t stop him from crying wolf again and again.
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
Inspired by true events, this story by Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated author Pauline Holdstock tells of the incredible bond between a mother and daughter, and with gut-wrenching poignancy reminds us of the little things that make life worth living.
“Hers is the kind of prose you get lost in.”
— National Post on The Hunter and the Wild Girl
“Holdstock’s writing manages to be both heartbreakingly poetic and densely detailed ... sad passages, ghostlike recollections, written almost from the vantage point of the present, establish the book as a great work of fiction.”
— The Globe and Mail on Into the Heart of the Country, longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize
“Holdstock, with a few deft strokes, pulls the reader into the tumultuous life of an alluring rabble of characters: painters, sculptors, patrons, fools, and slaves ... In Beyond Measure, she proves herself a master of pacing. Her lively, macabre plot trips lightly along in spite of its dark elements.”
— The Globe and Mail on Beyond Measure, finalist for the 2004 Giller Prize and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize