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
The Last Judgment
by Maria Meindl
Charlotte is on the cusp of adolescence, and her world is being turned upside down. Unable to turn to her distant mother or absent father, she searches for guidance on the streets of downtown Toronto—and discovers God (or some version of Him) in the gutter.
“The Last Judgment is a story that penetrates into the heart of childhood sadness. Charlotte is without tools to fix what is broken, except for the incredible force of her will. The connections she makes between religion, parental failure, sexuality, and love make perfect sense because they are told in her bell-clear voice. This story is warm and tragic and, at moments, grimly funny.”
— Rebecca Rosenblum, author of Once and Road Trips
Toronto in the twenty-first century: At night, a beacon on a lonely ancient lake, a drainage pond from the last ice age. In the daytime, a bulwark of glass, glinting in the radiant sun. Joe, Mary, and her cat, Sam, sit in a lakeside condo, trapped by a crazed, mysterious sniper. What has become of their lives? What has become of their city? What has become of their century? As the situation begins to unravel, Mary finds herself wondering, “What would Margaret Atwood do?”
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
A recruiter for a Division I college basketball team travels to a town in hopes of finally convincing the year's prize high school prospect to play for his team. Over several days, he reflects on his love of the sport, his respect for the kids, and a job that forces him to sweep sentiment aside in order to get results.
“Andrew Forbes' The Gamechanger is a powerful work from a point-of-view — that of the scout, the talent evaluator — which is not often seen or done convincingly, as it is here. A story about fathers and sons, about fate, and about the implicit savageries that lurk at the heart of the sports we love and the teams we cheer for. This is wonderful, raw writing.”
— Craig Davidson, author of Rust and Bone and Cataract City
“A fascinating look at the relationships a recruiter has to manage, from the sacrifices of being away from their family, to dealing with rival recruiters, prospects and their friends and family ... a very nuanced and layered approach that goes beyond just a man with a job to do at a gym.”
— Alex Wong, stevenlebron.com
by Caroline Adderson
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
In New York City, Ben smokes too much and sleeps with women as a way to deaden his insecurities. With every indiscretion, he fights off adulthood for one more day, until the return of an ex-lover leaves him unsure of everything. Ben’s best friend, Josh, struggles to find the good in his marriage to Maddie, even as he searches for a way to keep from losing her. Ben’s neighbor, Mrs. Aguilera, looks to make peace with those she has already lost. Gripping tightly to one another like the oddest of families, Ben and his friends embody the place in which they live: a city where everything combines, with a touch of perfect madness, into something more than the sum of its parts.
“I love this story because it’s just plain good. The characters are broken and unsure, but the love they have for each other and the humor that carries them along is genuine and lovely to behold. This story made me laugh even while it was hitting me in the gut, and I’d like nothing more than to sit down and drink a beer with everyone in it. Mr. Goodman, thank you for rocking my literary waffle.”
— Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
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