by Grace O'Connell
After twenty years of running, Betty quietly returns to her hometown of Arbford, thinking it a solid place to finally put down some roots. But the adage 'you can't go home again' proves true, as Betty finds that her mere presence is more than enough to disrupt the stagnant lives of everyone around her.
“In this cautionary suburban fairy tale, a big-city refugee searching for home finds herself in a nest of multiple Mikes and Pyrex-wielding vipers. With enchanting style and snort-causing wit, Grace O’Connell does casserole-studded claustrophobia like nobody’s business.”
— Jessica Westhead, author of And Also Sharks and Pulpy & Midge
purchase the ebook single
purchase in an ebook collection
BETTY HAD NOT BEEN the right type of name in the city, but when she arrived in Arbford, Betty found it was just right. There were several other Bettys in town; this was seen as a good thing. Arbford was not a town of Madisons and Mackenzies; in fact, Arbford was not a town at all, but a village, and barely that. But no one said village. Everyone said “You make the best borscht in town,” or “No one in this town’s pitched like that since Jeremy Frankel.” Betty was careful to pick up on these things, these local customs. She could remember some things, vaguely, for she herself had grown up in Arbford. But that had been more than twenty years ago, before she had packed a suitcase and run away to the city before the junior prom. She wanted to be an actress and a dancer and get away from her father, whom Betty had sensibly confirmed was dead in a pauper’s grave before she ever thought of going back. When she arrived on the bus with blond hair and a different last name, she didn’t mention that she was that Betty and let herself get shown around town as if she’d never been there, sweating in the heavy heat of early fall. No one recognized her; a disappointment and a relief.
IN THE CITY, ON her mirror at the theatre, one of the other girls had taped a sign: YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN.
“Keeps me from running back with my tail between my legs,” the girl had said. She was pretty, with hound-dog eyes and pale nipples she coloured with lipstick to make them stand out.
“But why can’t you,” said Betty, “if you want to.”
The other girl laughed. “If wanting made things real, I’d be living in a posh hotel and eating steak every day. I’d have a nice husband with good hands and a big thing. I’d have a white horse with blue eyes and I would be able to ride him wherever I wanted, right down the middle of the goddamn street if I wanted. Wanting isn’t enough.”
And Betty had nodded, but later, she thought that she didn’t really believe that girl was right.
WHEN BETTY GOT TO Arbford, she needed a job. She had some money left over, but not much. With the money she had, she rented a little flat above a store that sold hot tubs and saunas and above-ground pools and accessories to go with it all. The store was in a plaza with three other stores and a wide, cracked parking lot. When Betty needed a job, she went downstairs to the hot tub store and said, “I need a job.”
The man who owned the store was there. He had on a short-sleeved collared shirt and a name tag that said Mike.
“I don’t really need anybody right now. Maybe one day a week. Would that work?”
“Not really. I need something full time. I live upstairs. In the apartment upstairs.”
Mike nodded. “Yeah, I recognize you. You’re Betty.” He took a pen out of his pocket and chewed thoughtfully on the end. He wasn’t an elderly man; he looked about the same age as Betty. On his temples there were handsome fans of white hair, but his moustache was brown throughout.
“Let me go see about something, Betty. You wait here.”
Putting his pen down on the counter, Mike went out the door and turned left, toward the candy store. A few minutes later Betty saw him go by in the opposite direction, toward the pet store and the little twelve-seat diner. Betty thought about picking up the pen and putting it into her own mouth.
When Mike came back he said, “Okay, here’s the deal. We’ll hire you. You can work Monday for me, Tuesday for Mike, Wednesday for Mike, Thursday for Mike, and then on Fridays, we’ll see who needs your help the most. How does that sound?”
Betty said it sounded just fine to her and thank you very much. She stood for a moment longer and then asked, “On Monday I work for you, and on Tuesday I work for Mike?”
Mike let out a big belly laugh, like a skinny Santa Claus. It made Betty wonder what he would be like when drunk.
“Guess you haven’t met too many people yet,” he said. “We’re all named Mike, all four of us in the plaza. Mike owns the candy store, Mike owns the diner, and Mike owns the pet shop. Understand?”
“Can you start tomorrow at the candy store? Mike said he could use a hand sorting through some comics and whatnot.”
That is how Betty came to work for the plaza. The stores were lined up in a row facing Main Street. Behind them was the river. Above them was Betty, walking barefoot at night, too hot to sleep.
about the author
GRACE O'CONNELL lives in Toronto. Her work has appeared in various publications including The Walrus, Taddle Creek, Quill and Quire, and EYE Weekly, and she holds an MFA in creative writing. She has taught creative writing at George Brown College and now works as a freelance writer and editor. Her first novel, Magnified World, was published in 2012 by Random House Canada.
from the library
Memories of a Carnivore
by Julie Dupuis
A hybrid travelogue and memoir that pieces together the fragmented recollections of one woman’s rocky journey toward vegetarianism. From her rural upbringing in francophone Northeastern Ontario to exotic locations, outlandish adventures, and bizarre meals, Julie relives her struggle to make the right food choices for herself and examines the consequences of her decisions.
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 Pauline Holdstock
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
by Dave Margoshes
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.
by Jack Bootle
On an isolated English beach a man looks back on his school days, recalling the joy and torment of a secret love affair with a boy full of strange ideas, a boy obsessed with the language of the King James Bible. Moments from their relationship return to him: the hidden meetings on the beach, the first attempts at sex, the boredom of a school assembly in summertime, the cruelty of a young English teacher. But most of all he remembers the boy’s words. They’re words that, years later, will haunt him as he tries to come to terms with the person he has become.
“Psalm 77 is the type of story that one wants to read over and over, searching for meanings previously unseen. It is laced with the hidden, the secret, the sacred. From the sand dunes and their private longings in school to the verses, the imagery, and the final paragraphs, there is so much to uncover . . ." (Read full review)
— Amanda Miller from shortsundone.ca
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
The Psychology of Animals Swallowed Alive:
by Kirsty Logan
Embark upon these twenty short, scrumptious flights of fancy from the unmistakable pen of Scott Prize-winning author Kirsty Logan, and you will be astounded, titillated, disturbed, amused, heartbroken, and above all, astonished.
“Logan crafts an exquisitely wrought diorama full of tenderly compelling characters; observations about grief, worship, social order, and human nature, and a love that transcends definition.”
– NPR on Logan's debut novel The Gracekeepers