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
People grow in dimensions other than those we perceive. The teenage narrator of award-winning author Daniel Karasik’s latest story must deal with the fact that his older sister is now a grown woman, and Lucy, his crush-next-door, has become a mystery, with depths beyond his comprehension. Has he been coasting all this time, school and television his life’s only sources of momentum?
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.
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.
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.
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
Toronto in the twenty-first century: At night, a beacon on a lonely ancient lake, a drainage pond from the last ice age. In the daytime, a bulwark of glass, glinting in the radiant sun. Joe, Mary, and her cat, Sam, sit in a lakeside condo, trapped by a crazed, mysterious sniper. What has become of their lives? What has become of their city? What has become of their century? As the situation begins to unravel, Mary finds herself wondering, “What would Margaret Atwood do?”
Having lived a long, eventful life, Charlie Weinheimer’s only regret is that he has no one to carry on after him. After a near-death experience, he resolves to find out whether a secret buried in his past is proof he has a legacy after all.
“Margoshes gives us the life of Charlie Weinheimer: quadruple bypass patient, widower whose children all die tragically young, but not a whiner. In his hospital bed at age seventy-seven, he’s seen it all, right? Well, maybe not. Watch as Margoshes calls upon his raconteur skills to thicken the plot.”
— David Carpenter, winner of the 2010 Saskatchewan Book Award for A Hunter’s Confession