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
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
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
Decades ago, when bands like the Everly Brothers rode the airwaves and vacancy signs shone like beacons in the night, a young man gets his first taste of love, loss, and the ethereal satisfaction that comes with knowing that the world is turning and life is being lived.
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
Marta is a human resources employee at a grocery store chain. She moves through the days passively, always taking the path of least resistance, until a case at work - that of a hijab-wearing woman, in defiance of a strict no-hats policy - awakens her to the injustices of her own life.
“This Is a Love Crime by Lee Kvern is a cunning and intensely human look at one of the central issues of our time. It negotiates the space between belief, racism, liberty, and sexuality with curiosity and compassion.”
— Todd Babiak, bestselling author of Toby: A Man and The Garneau Block
“Lee Kvern paints with a scalpel. With characteristic unflinching honesty, she peels the relationship between Marta and Corbin back to quivering nerves in This Is a Love Crime and juxtaposes it against veiled assumptions about cultural oppression. The narrative leaps crackle with energy and empathy. When I read Kvern’s stories, I’m seduced by exquisite detail and—love or loathe them—left with the scent of her characters long after the last page.”
— Betty Jane Hegerat, author of Delivery and The Boy
“In This Is a Love Crime, Lee Kvern uses the intricately drawn characters of Corbin and Marta to explore the charged topics of ethnicity and Western modes of submission and control. Written in Kvern’s distinctive, poetic, and multi-layered style, the story leaves us with warm insight into all the characters—and challenges our hearts and preconceptions.”
— Barb Howard, author of Whipstock, Notes for Monday, and The Dewpoint Show
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.
Steve has his own comic book store, a limitless supply of comic books, and all the time in the world to collect them. That should be enough. But eventually, everyone - even Steve - gets lonely. And when his time comes, he too has to learn that (eternal) life isn’t about what you spend it on - it’s about who you spend it with.
“Every time I read something by Kirsty, I think, ‘Damn her, I wish I’d written that.’ She is the kind of writer that you can’t help but read with teeth-crunching envy, broken-hearted admiration, and a realization that your own work is not half as good as you’d hoped it might be. Be forewarned writers and readers: you will never be the same.”
— Shanna Germain, finalist for the 2010 John Preston Short Fiction Award and nominee for the 2008 Pushcart Prize