by Courtney McDermott
At the Chickasaw Motel, three generations of the McGuinness clan are led by their elderly and overbearing patriarch. Only little Riley, “the smartest f-ing kid”, is spared the brunt of Grandpa McGuinness’s cruelty; ironically, it is his encouragement that provides her with a way out.
OFF THE MAIN HIGHWAY of Chickasaw, resting in front of a backdrop of soybean fields and an auto parts garage blackened by the touch of an old fire, lies a motel with eight rooms.
I’m not here for a room. I’m not a stranger to the town. The Chickasaw Motel is where I grew up with Grandpa McGuinness and the rest of the clan. I guess it would’ve once been called my home, but only in name, not in definition.
It doesn’t live up to my mind’s memory. Maybe it’s because the paint on the shutters is peeling and the roof has caved in or because the four southern rooms have been turned into apartments and the building next door was torn down. Or maybe I’m not really seeing it because too many memories cloud my mind.
I sit down on the front stoop of the motel entrance, watching the occasional car go by. The highway used to be busy, a few years ago. Before the bypass was built. Back then, we all lived here: Grandpa and Grandma, Papa and Mom, Morgan, Uncle Chet, and me. Yeah, it seems like a long time ago.
THE MOTEL WAS BUILT in the sixties, when the only thing on Grandpa McGuinness’ mind was not the war or drugs or the feminist movement—though that worried him a bit—but how to make money when his business was just taking off and he was $10,000 in debt.
Grandpa McGuinness was the sort of businessman who would charm you with a clever joke about the current president, shake your hand firmly, and wink at you as though you were sharing a funny secret. He could put anyone at ease. Though he was a tough haggler, he was always honest. When it came to business, he never cheated anyone in his life.
“That’s the difference between me and them English bastards,” he would tell me. “Never trust an Orangeman.” Grandpa McGuinness was always giving advice like that—advice that only applied to some old-world beliefs. I remember the first thing he told me by way of advice. “You’re not too young to be reciting the rosary every night. Every good Catholic should do it. Sacrifice every once in a while—that’s the key.”
“The key to what?” I asked.
Grandpa McGuinness didn’t answer. He just nodded, a cigarette cradled between his lips. At times like that, my papa would sit silently by, smoking and coughing, watching my grandpa and me.
Grandpa McGuinness and Grandma Eva had nine children. I suppose that made Grandpa McGuinness the child expert, though they hadn’t had much luck. One died when she was four months old, and I don’t even know her name. Ian and Thomas were declared MIAs during Vietnam, at which time Grandpa McGuinness decided to start over and moved across town to buy the motel.
The other six had been slight disappointments. Cari died in a tractor accident before too much was expected of him, and the four eldest left the McGuinness clan to do the sorts of things that Grandpa McGuinness disapproved of. Mary Elizabeth married a Protestant minister; Brian moved to New York to become an actor; Chet left home only to come back; and Kathleen joined the circus. That left the youngest—my papa, Shay—to be Grandpa’s protégé.
Not fit for the big cities or college, Papa stayed on with the motel. He started his own business in foreign auto parts in the backyard.
My sister, Morgan, and I were the third generation to live in the motel. Grandpa McGuinness and Papa had converted two of the motel’s rooms into living quarters and added a kitchen and a bedroom off the back for Papa and Heather, my mom.
I never minded the suffocating size of my home, not until I was eleven and I brought home Jamey Schwickerath. The next day, she went back to school telling everyone that “Riley McGuinness is one step up from trailer trash. The only difference is her trailer has a basement.”
Everything in our home was worn and suffering. The tile in the bathroom was missing, and the sink dripped to the beat of an Irish pub song. The carpet of our living room was thin and speckled brown, like leaves fallen on the ground in autumn. If I pulled really hard on threadbare patches, the carpet would tear and Mom would scold me.
There was a time when the stray cat that we took in, Muriel, had fleas, and then Morgan and I got fleas. I prayed to Jesus that no one at school would find out. It was miserable sitting in class trying not to scratch the red bumps, but eventually I gave in and had to rub my ankles together to relieve some of the itch. Mom bought the special red shampoo for our hair and burned the rug from our bedroom.
On days like that, Mom would go to her bedroom and cry.
“I never wanted to live like this!” she would sob into her pillow, as Morgan and I eavesdropped from the other side of the door. I didn’t know who she was talking to, but Morgan was pretty sure it was God.
about the author
from the library
by Jessica Westhead
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
by Caroline Adderson
Coming out of an unhappy relationship and a stint at an artist colony, Charlotte, a writer, takes a job teaching at a private ESL college. There she befriends Renata—audacious, sexy, and as changeable as Proteus. “I have a story for you,” Renata says to her one day over lunch. She doesn’t elaborate further, but Charlotte soon discovers that she has found in Renata an unexpectedly passionate and compelling subject.
“Caroline Adderson is such a graceful and intelligent writer that the work that must surely go into creating her hilarious, prismatic stories is never betrayed in the language. There is no strain on the page, not a bead of sweat. I think of her as a writer’s writer. I envy her talent and learn from her sentences. The short story, Obscure Objects, is, I’m happy to report, Adderson at her glorious best.”
— Barbara Gowdy, author of Helpless and The White Bone
“Obscure Objects, Caroline Adderson’s fierce and affecting workplace comedy, is a deadpan gem: droll, moving, snapping-smart.”
— Meg Wolitzer, author of The Uncoupling, The Ten-Year Nap, and The Position
by Kelsey Robbins Lauder
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.
Laws of Flight
by Darren Greer
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.
by Andrew Forbes
A recruiter for a Division I college basketball team travels to a town in hopes of finally convincing the year's prize high school prospect to play for his team. Over several days, he reflects on his love of the sport, his respect for the kids, and a job that forces him to sweep sentiment aside in order to get results.
“Andrew Forbes' The Gamechanger is a powerful work from a point-of-view — that of the scout, the talent evaluator — which is not often seen or done convincingly, as it is here. A story about fathers and sons, about fate, and about the implicit savageries that lurk at the heart of the sports we love and the teams we cheer for. This is wonderful, raw writing.”
— Craig Davidson, author of Rust and Bone and Cataract City
“A fascinating look at the relationships a recruiter has to manage, from the sacrifices of being away from their family, to dealing with rival recruiters, prospects and their friends and family ... a very nuanced and layered approach that goes beyond just a man with a job to do at a gym.”
— Alex Wong, stevenlebron.com
Deep Breaths Underwater
by Meghan Rose Allen
June's mother is getting married and there's nothing June can do about it. Counting down the days to the wedding while trapped with a sort-of friend and unwanted family-to-be at their lakeside cottage in the Kawarthas, June searches desperately for a way to make the world - and her life - stand still.
Was More Here
by Danny Goodman
In New York City, Ben smokes too much and sleeps with women as a way to deaden his insecurities. With every indiscretion, he fights off adulthood for one more day, until the return of an ex-lover leaves him unsure of everything. Ben’s best friend, Josh, struggles to find the good in his marriage to Maddie, even as he searches for a way to keep from losing her. Ben’s neighbor, Mrs. Aguilera, looks to make peace with those she has already lost. Gripping tightly to one another like the oddest of families, Ben and his friends embody the place in which they live: a city where everything combines, with a touch of perfect madness, into something more than the sum of its parts.
“I love this story because it’s just plain good. The characters are broken and unsure, but the love they have for each other and the humor that carries them along is genuine and lovely to behold. This story made me laugh even while it was hitting me in the gut, and I’d like nothing more than to sit down and drink a beer with everyone in it. Mr. Goodman, thank you for rocking my literary waffle.”
— Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
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