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
THAT TERM, WEDNESDAY MORNINGS were chapel. The fifth form faced the altar in stiff rows, like soldiers lined up in front of a firing squad; boys on the right side of the aisle, girls on the left, blazers buttoned regardless of the heat. You stood two rows in front of me, the back of your neck sunburnt. Your erection, like mine, was straining against the black polyester of your school trousers, or at least that’s what I hoped. Mr Harris, a decrepit art teacher playing priest, his face sagged and wrinkled like an old leather handbag, loomed before us at the lectern, spluttering through his favourite Bible passages from a battered copy of the King James Authorised. I didn’t listen. All I could think about was your neck, how I would run my fingers down it, tracing lines of white in the redness, later on the beach. I wanted to climb over the heads in front of me and kiss that sunburn.
They were never-ending, those Bible passages. Vast swathes of Genesis one week, great chunks chewed out of the Gospels the next. Then endless Psalms, Proverbs that went on forever, an entire Epistle to the Ephesians. The student body, sweating and twitching in shirts and shoes, knotted ties and regulation tights, groaned under its collective breath like a single massive organism, an exhausted coral reef, every time Mr Harris stepped up to the lectern. One week, after a ten-minute recital from the Book of Job, Claire Simmons fainted on the front row and fell forwards across the sanctuary steps, her skirt riding up so everyone could see her knickers. In a rare moment of excitement, we were dismissed early, and we burst out into the sunshine, breathing great gulps of clean air and squawking; a flock of crows released into the summer sky.
It wasn’t like that for you. You thought those Wednesday mornings were beautiful. You didn’t think about the beach, or my cock, or GCSEs, or even Claire Simmons’s knickers. Instead, you leant forwards, eager to catch every sentence of those verses and psalms, the ancient words running through your body like an electric current. It seemed to you that the words themselves were speaking, not Mr Harris, that they were speaking through Mr Harris even as he spoke them, and they set off a kind of magical reaction in you—one that started deep in your body, your gut and your bones, but reached out through your eyes and skin into the world, transmuting every particle so that it shimmered in gold.
It’s like alchemy, you once said, and I got nervous and looked away and hoped no one could hear, because people thought you were a weird kid and speaking about things like alchemy and the Bible were only going to make you seem weirder.
about the author
JACK BOOTLE lives in London, England, where he writes and works as a TV producer. Over the past few years, he’s devised and produced a reality show about hot teens stranded on a desert island, a wildlife documentary about homeless badgers, a series about adult illiteracy, and a film set inside a maximum security prison in the Philippines (way more fun than it sounds). When he’s not busy writing and making television, he runs a strange quiz night in a basement in the East End. He has four webbed toes.
from the library
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Winner of the 2015 Friends of Merril Short Story Contest, When I'm Old, When I'm Grey imagines the strange — and strangely familiar — forms that fear and longing can take, as we venture forth into the unknown of the future.
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
Romance is candlelight on cheekbones, blurring gazes and the press of heels on strange sheets. But what happens a year later? You’re sharing bath towels and bickering over who forgot to buy a light bulb. There is beauty in a familiar hand on the nape of your neck. There is love in waking up under a shared blanket. This story is about the romance of domesticity.
“Kirsty is one of the best and brightest . . . when I read her stuff I feel like I could taste it, chew it, roll it around on my tongue, the language is so delicious and sturdy and musical. She also has a knack for getting relationships exactly right in her writing, whether between parent and child or lovers or friends.”
— Amber Sparks, Fiction Editor at Emprise Review
Having lived a long, eventful life, Charlie Weinheimer’s only regret is that he has no one to carry on after him. After a near-death experience, he resolves to find out whether a secret buried in his past is proof he has a legacy after all.
“Margoshes gives us the life of Charlie Weinheimer: quadruple bypass patient, widower whose children all die tragically young, but not a whiner. In his hospital bed at age seventy-seven, he’s seen it all, right? Well, maybe not. Watch as Margoshes calls upon his raconteur skills to thicken the plot.”
— David Carpenter, winner of the 2010 Saskatchewan Book Award for A Hunter’s Confession
Marcel, a sensitive sniper, knew his life was missing something. But he didn't know what until he set his crosshairs on it: Violet Caine. A ginger-headed lover of Thai food, wanted dead simply because her brother messed with the wrong bike gang. It's a story of redemption coming too late, and the ways happenstance can turn a warm man cold. Then warm again. Whether fate wrote his troubled life, or he wrote it himself, he wants Violet Caine to be the end of it - be it figuratively or literally.
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.
In the late 60s, the newest member of a group of all-female pearl divers — the ama — sees her life, and the lives of those dear to her, disrupted by an unlikely force: a James Bond film that sends American men to Japan in search of their own personal 'mermaids'.