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
If You Waited Here, You Would
See Almost Everything
by Danny Goodman
After Ray collapses on the sidewalk outside a New York coffee shop, the bittersweet vagaries of his long marriage come into focus, one heartbeat at a time. From his new vantage point, flat on his back, all their conflicts are laid out against a canvas of sky, contrasting miscommunications and infidelities against something slower, steadier, and ultimately much vaster than he ever realized.
by Lana Storey
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
Memories of a Carnivore
by Julie Dupuis
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.
by Jessica Westhead
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
by Don McLellan
Father Michael, in his final assignment, has been asked by his Order to help facilitate recovery of an Asian country blighted by war. On the long odyssey into the interior, his driver and translator Trang tells him a story set in a once-famed traveller’s refuge known as the Inn of Tender Embraces. What starts as a simple tale of ill-fated lovers becomes, for Father Michael, a familiar beacon that guides him through the mists of an exotic landscape.
“Don McLellan is the kind of wise, well-travelled writer we don’t see much of these days. With Angels Passing he earns the right to be included in the exotic tradition of Hemingway, Maugham, and Graham Greene. Like all memorable writing, his story takes us to another world and holds us there. As spare and subtle as it is powerful, Angels Passing will linger in your mind long after the last page.”
— John Lekich, Governor General’s Award Finalist for The Losers’ Club
Was More Here
by Danny Goodman
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
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