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.
I TAKE THE SCENIC route even though I'm already fifteen minutes late. A stretch of wetland along Highway 101, south of my home, contains pearlescent-grey tree trunks. Their branches are broken away, none taller than a few metres. Tops jagged and broken. They fascinated me as a kid—still do, but without the mystery. I thought the trees petrified, perhaps turned to stone long ago. I realize now the colour comes from years of exposure to sea salt air and recognize the ghostly hue in the driftwood piled on the beach, but still those trees are granite in my mind, the water that runs through the marsh diseased.
Even now I slow my car as I pass, allow a pile of irritated drivers to crowd behind me. Unchanged. Perhaps it is not a poisoned place but a moment out of time, an error in the universe’s expansion.
Ten minutes later, I reach the outskirts of Depoe Bay and pull into Tidal Raves. It’s off season, still gloomy, so the restaurant’s parking lot is empty. This town is a small dip in highway speed limit, insignificant except for the countless summer rental houses and the stone wall that protects the main strip of shops from battered Pacific waves. It is a neutral ground.
I check the mirror before I get out. My eyeliner has smudged, and the bobby pins to keep my hair intact have fallen out. I rearrange a few and grab the sunglasses my boyfriend, Luke, left in the glove compartment. Cheap tactics run out, and I go inside.
IF I STOOD IN front of my peers, no doubt would they find me innocent of any wrongdoing, though guilty of criminal activity. People don’t mind when you scam insurance companies or steal from the corporate giants that slit our throats Monday through Friday. It’s when you hurt poor, innocent grannies that people burn you. I keep to the Robin Hood side, but truth be told it's too easy. Email some old lady, tell her you're in Mexico, she's already won a grand prize, say a yacht. A week after she pays the so-called border fees, a model boat appears in her mailbox. That's not me, but one piece of advice for anyone: there are bad guys everywhere. Doesn’t matter what it says on their passports.
In fact, I learned how to hustle from a Spaniard. A girl called Alba who came from Barcelona to study. I was in a period of moral decline: broke from a drug habit an ex-boyfriend dumped me with and carrying too much dead weight to clean my life up and maybe find a real job. Alba lived in the pantry of the old farmhouse we rented on the outskirts of Eugene. She would sit on the handlebars of my bike every morning we woke in time for class. We grew close in an instant, I charmed by her European exoticism and lack of sentimentality, she enraptured by my heavy sarcasm and eagerness to jump at anything shady.
The first time we ran the luggage scam, Alba ran point. I thought we should try both legs, but Alba warned subtlety and patience are the only saints of scam artistry. We begged a little cash out of our parents and took separate non-stop flights from PDX to John Wayne for spring break. With brand new credit cards, we shopped luxury names: clothes only, electronics are useless. The next day we’d return the coat or shoes or dress—not without a little heartbreak—but keep the receipt. The rest of the time we snorted lines off surfboards and rode beach cruisers in bikinis through sandy streets lined with million-dollar McMansions. The good life brushed against my fingertips, waiting for me to take hold.
about the author
KELSEY ROBBINS LAUDER is a writer from the Oregon Coast now pursuing her MFA at the University of Victoria. She also has published or forthcoming short fiction in EVENT and Little Fiction, and has served as an intern on the fiction board at The Malahat Review since 2013. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. She can be found on Twitter at @krlaudr.
from the library
This Is a Love Crime
by Lee Kvern
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
After twenty years of running, Betty quietly returns to her hometown of Arbford, thinking it a solid place to finally put down some roots. But the adage 'you can't go home again' proves true, as Betty finds that her mere presence is more than enough to disrupt the stagnant lives of everyone around her.
“In this cautionary suburban fairy tale, a big-city refugee searching for home finds herself in a nest of multiple Mikes and Pyrex-wielding vipers. With enchanting style and snort-causing wit, Grace O’Connell does casserole-studded claustrophobia like nobody’s business.”
— Jessica Westhead, author of And Also Sharks and Pulpy & Midge
by Cynthia Flood
New wife and mother Julie is a woman struggling to find her place. Her dilemmas, while modest, feel harsh, and reflect the ways in which women were once denied control over their own bodies. Her first steps toward independence bring great pain—and not only to herself. With sparing, incisive prose, Cynthia Flood unravels what it meant to be a married woman in post-war era Vancouver, creating an evocative and even unsettling experience for the reader.
“With a precision of language that startles and delights, Cynthia Flood offers glimpses of those moments in which the essence of an entire life is revealed.”
— Nancy Richler, author of The Imposter Bride
“What a great story! Told in terse, restrained sentences, yet opening to a lush and radiant heart, Addresses captures the anguish of a marriage gone off the rails, and the moments of redemption that arrive from unexpected places. Flood’s use of language is uniquely her own–staccato, clean as a knife, and brilliant. Cynthia Flood has done it again.”
— Shaena Lambert, author of Radiance
“The abruptness of the title tells so much about this exquisitely drawn story by Cynthia Flood. ‘Tell the truth but tell it slant,’ Emily Dickinson advised, and that’s always been the approach Flood has preferred for her bone-china fictions, edging into them sideways. Once escorted into the story’s arrhythmic heart, we readers have no choice but to immerse ourselves in a world long gone but still very much with us, to emerge both shaken and stirred.”
— Dave Margoshes, author of A Book of Great Worth
by Kirsty Logan
The anarchic relationships holding together a group of teen girls - whose lines between love and hate, jealousy and loyalty, are not so much drawn as they are furiously scribbled - are put to the test at an unforgettable birthday party. This story captures all the angst and uncertainty of adolescence, with prose as sharp and jarring as a smashed kaleidoscope.
“Rarely an author comes along whose work hits you with the impact of a slap. I have had this experience with the work of Jayne Anne Phillips, with Lorrie Moore and Mary Gaitskill; most recently I have felt this on discovering the writing of Kirsty Logan. Her work is elegant, minimal, and innovative, but underlying it all is a great passion. If the world is a place where talent is recognised—in time, I believe, we may come to say her name alongside the aforementioned.”
— Ewan Morrison, author of Swung
Eleven Miles There,
Twelve Miles Back
by Meghan Rose Allen
Deep in the heart of Ontario cottage country, Izza Ingram’s biological family disintegrates when her parents become trapped in a moment Izza can barely remember. Lost to their parents, she and her sister Paulie form an unlikely family unit under the guidance of their parents’ friend Doug. In this trio of their own making, Izza, Paulie, and Doug try to navigate the differences between the families we are born into versus the families we choose.
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
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
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