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
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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.
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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.
At Georgetown University, a music student and part-time nude life model becomes involved with the first true passion of her life, a man who awakens her to the weight of experience she already possesses - as well as the ups and downs yet to come.
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
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
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.
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Some time after the incomprehensible death of his son, Joan Miró has settled into his new job working the overnight shift at a Hasty Market in Toronto. He has plenty of time to think beneath the fluorescent lights of the convenience store: of ghosts and late nights, of downtown living and dying, of customer service and self-preservation, of the beauty of the night sky, and of the attempts people make to connect with one another despite seemingly insurmountable distances. These fragments of life prove as difficult to make sense of as any code—until one night, when an extraordinary series of events suddenly teases a pattern from the dark.
“In this graceful, dark, and nuanced piece, Lana Storey reveals a private man unhinged by grief. These are events—and this a narrative—that will stay in my mind for a long time. Never one to shirk from difficult truths, Lana Storey writes in the tradition of George Saunders: an original, at times disturbing, but ultimately transformative worldview.”
— Carolyn Smart, author of Hooked: Seven Poems and At the End of the Day
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— Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, author of the 2005 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award finalist The Nettle Spinner