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
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
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
After undergoing a cosmetic treatment to recover her lost youth, a middle-aged woman finds herself reconnected to her alienated daughter - a young woman still searching for her own path in life - in an unexpected and incredible way. A modern-day fable from two-time Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee Pauline Holdstock.
“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
In the rugged Nepisiguit River region of northern New Brunswick, two hunters face off. One is local sports lodge employee Danny Knockwood, a Mi’gmaw guide with a withered hand. The other is Mui’n, a one-eared black bear battling his inexorable hunger. When Danny is charged by the lodge owner to hunt down the bear that is frightening guests at the salmon pools, his personal values come into sharp conflict with his commitment to the task. The resulting confrontation tests both his physical strength and his beliefs, as Danny begins to recognize a kindred spirit within the fiercely determined bear.
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.