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
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.
by Kirsty Logan
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
Health care workers on a night out unwind, allowing the anxieties and passions they've had to suppress on the job finally uncoil, like tendrils creeping out into the world - and into each other. Written with empathy and panache, this story is a portrait of briefly flaring humanity - of people granted a temporary reprieve from professionalism, and not quite knowing what to do with it.
“At the Bar is Rosenblum at her best - exploring the complicated nature of work and relationships with her trademark perceptiveness, humour, and compassion, and creating characters that will stay with you long after the story is over.”
— Amy Jones, author of What Boys Like and Other Stories
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
“Cross Yourself is Lana Storey’s gorgeous swirling image constellation, a story about a man becoming unhinged from the universe and finding redemption in a downtown Hasty Market convenience store. A vibrant, beating heart of a short fiction, Cross Yourself is a vortex worth being pulled into.”
— Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, author of the 2005 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award finalist The Nettle Spinner
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.
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
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
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.