by Matt Cahill
Portraits of people marooned within themselves, trapped by their past experiences, by uncertainty and anxiety — individuals for whom each new situation is a grueling journey towards the present, a place where action and choice are possible. In Second World, Matt Cahill illustrates, with honesty and empathy, how the most important breakthroughs are not the life-altering revelations, but rather the minor miracles that get us through each day.
I CROUCH UNSEEN, WAITING for you in the pre-dawn twilight, my eyes clear. Complete in the grim blue pigment, cardinal chirps punctuate the stasis. Nature's imperative cutting through my needs.
BLEARY-EYED, CASSANDRA REACHED into her bag, picked three dollars from her change purse, and held them out without further thought. The man behind the counter wore a leather vest over an old T-shirt, and understated jewellery, but nothing shiny. Barista didn't contain him. He looked at her outstretched hand and matter-of-factly asked her to place the coins instead into a shallow tray sitting on the counter next to the cash register. It was a plain porcelain dish, gently concave to prevent anything from rolling off. For a few seconds Cassandra stared at the tray, then his hands. They were long and sinewy like the rest of him, his nails trimmed neatly.
Was this what he did with everybody? Or just her? She had to use a special dish because she was stupid. Her worry didn't make sense, but sometimes her thoughts didn’t make sense. Too complicated, too busy. She examined him again, her eyes darting to his face, hoping he wouldn't make eye contact. He looked like he had been suspended and starved for years in the sun.
“CHRIS,” SAYS MONA, STARING at me like I'm bleeding. “Why are you sitting so oddly?”
I'm hunched over my laptop like Glenn Gould, the epitome of bad posture. I had hoped she wouldn't notice.
“I pulled something in my back,” I said indifferently, hoping my response would reassure her lest the oxygen be sucked out of our office. Her eyes on me, almost predatory.
I had woken up with my pain, as if I’d pulled something in a dream, but as the morning developed I realized it had been percolating for weeks — most likely caused by my lazy slouch. I couldn’t pretend it wasn't uncomfortable, that I didn't feel somehow deformed.
Earlier, I cried in the washroom. I'm struck by how easily I crumble when I'm carrying pain, the upper floor of my adulthood crashing onto the dollhouse mise en scène of childhood below. This despite my stupid stoicism, my instinct to downplay my condition like an injured animal in the woods. It's such a strange and patently male presumption that harm should so rarely occur, especially seeing as I come from injury — it’s etched on me from when I was a kid. And so this effort to hide what is intrinsically part of me feels immature.
Mona's inquiry makes me question my fortitude, and I need time to remind myself that her question was the act of someone curious and caring, not a threat. Her eyes on me now. Always.
about the author
MATT CAHILL is a Toronto writer. He writes novels, short fiction, and essays. He's contributed work to Ryeberg, BlogTO, and Torontoist. His short story, Snowshoe, appeared in September 2014 with Found Press. His debut novel, The Society of Experience was released in 2015 with Buckrider Books, a new imprint of Wolsak & Wynn. Matt worked for 20 years in the film and television industry before coming to his senses and training to become a psychotherapist. He now has a private practice and is a member of the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. Matt reads high-falutin’ books of all sorts, plays intermediate soccer, and occasionally drums. His website is mattcahill.ca
by this author
A father, left to raise his troubled young son alone in their secluded country home, must work through his own deep-seated fears and resentments when the boy's ongoing night terrors lead to a confrontation with the inescapable.
“A great piece of writing.”
— Christen Thomas, Executive Director of the Literary Press Group
from the library
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
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
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.
Catherine wants what Richard has: a richly decorated house, and a perfect, lavished-upon baby. Catherine also wants Richard: a disaffected diplomat whose true passion is for cinema. But Catherine is only the babysitter, and her envy—and its fallout—come to the fore when Richard is accused of a crime, and she must decide whether to help exonerate him.
“Laure Baudot’s prose is exquisite, patient, and sophisticated. In the Afternoon immerses you in the fascinating and complicated mind of a babysitter who is wise beyond her years, yet dangerously impulsive at the same time. This story is irresistible and heartbreaking.”
— Sarah Selecky, author of the 2010 Giller Prize–shortlisted collection This Cake Is for the Party
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.
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“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