by Steph VanderMeulen
A married couple buy a plot of land in the country and begin to make a life for themselves. A son - one who fails to live up to his father's hardened expectations - is born to them, putting their seemingly simple aspirations of happiness, prosperity, self-sufficiency, to the test. A pattern of events ensue that beg the question: what good are good intentions, when coupled with forceful, uncompromising will?
DUST SETTLED AS HE stopped the car on the side of the quiet dirt road in front of the For Sale sign.
“Ten acres, Lyddie,” he said, and squeezed her hand. “All ours. Seventeen thousand. We can do it.”
She rolled down her window and let in the sweet, earthy fragrance of roadside weeds, the chirps of insects on the breeze. She lifted her hand to shade her eyes and looked out.
Duke found a spot in the distance and tried to imagine a house. A house — not an old, dingy apartment that propagated mould in the closets and behind the night tables; not a place where the light filtered through smoke when the couple below pulled on cigarettes and joints, where the dishes rattled when the man above raged, or where he and Lydia lay awakened and quietly aroused by the pulsing howls that rose through the floor. Not that, but a home of their own, with no neighbours.
“All right,” Lydia said.
She inhaled when Duke kissed her, his lips pressing hard against her teeth. He whispered to her, coaxed her out of the car — “Right here?” she said, laughing, her hand in his — and into the long grass on the edge of the road. She stumbled, following him as he swept weeds aside, their herby scent robust. The air, heavy with cricket song, seemed to pulsate, cutting off other sounds, making the field feel private.
Duke stopped when they were far enough to not be seen from the road. He pulled Lydia to him, smoothed back her hair, rested his hands on the side of her face. He kissed her deeply. “Yes, here,” he said.
He ran his hands down her arms, lifted them, then took the edge of her light sweater and pulled it over her head. She unbuttoned his short-sleeved shirt, unbuckled his belt, unzipped his fly. He watched her face, studied her eyes as he reached behind her and unfastened her bra, pulled the straps down her freckled arms. He let the bra drop and put his hands on her breasts, moved his palms across her nipples and down her sides. Her breath. She took the clips from her hair and put them in one of her shoes.
"YOU’VE GOT… RIGHT HERE …”
The real estate agent in the red skirt suit reached and gently pulled a Velcro-like seed of Queen Anne’s Lace from Lydia’s hair.
Lydia blushed. She’d tried to pick everything out, peering in the side mirror on the way to the office. “Sampling the property,” she managed.
“And?” asked the agent, amused.
Lydia shared a glance with Duke and the corner of her mouth lifted. “It’s perfect,” she said.
DUKE CLOSES HIS EYES and noisily sucks in air and spit through the hole in his face. It is too late now for surgery. When the oncologist, his nurses, or his few friends asked why he had refused the operation, he’d told them it was none of their goddamn business.
The cancer invaded his tissue until it broke through his cheek and split it, leaving him with half a Glasgow smile. It has eaten the flesh almost to his cheekbone, pushed his top lip up into a leer. He can feel it, the way a cold sore tingles with pain and activity, and sometimes he watches himself in the mirror, as if to catch the cancer in action. The meat of his cheek and lips is blackened in places, raw and bloody in others, like charred fat and spoiled hamburger. His bottom lip no longer exists on the left side of his face. Duke is forced to wear a bib to catch the drool that spills over the edge of his gums. Eating is difficult, and he can drink only with a straw at the right corner of his gaping mouth. He makes sucking noises that get him dirty looks in the St. Peregrine Hospice common room.
Worse is the odour: a pungent, oily smell of decaying flesh. His caregiver, Daphne, who can’t be older than Justin, has given him eucalyptus oil to dab behind his ears, a drop near his nose, as much for him as for everyone else. But his is a smell he can taste.
Once, in the dining room, another resident had slammed his liver-spotted fist on the table, rattling the cutlery and startling the others. “For fuck’s sake, he stinks. He’s slurping. I can’t eat like this.” The man beside him grimaced and made unsubtle gagging noises.
The staff serves Duke meals in his room now.
about the author
from the library
When I'm Old, When I'm Grey
by Andrew Wilmot
After an unexpected malfunction, the technology which enables humanity to cross vast distances has separated an interstellar traveler from the love of her life — not in space, but in time. Now, while her companions remain in stasis, she must endure the loneliness of the journey until the moment her lover wakes.
Winner of the 2015 Friends of Merril Short Story Contest, When I'm Old, When I'm Grey imagines the strange — and strangely familiar — forms that fear and longing can take, as we venture forth into the unknown of the future.
by Dave Margoshes
Decades ago, when bands like the Everly Brothers rode the airwaves and vacancy signs shone like beacons in the night, a young man gets his first taste of love, loss, and the ethereal satisfaction that comes with knowing that the world is turning and life is being lived.
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 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.
Hansel, Gretel and Katie
by Seyward Goodhand
The depredations of a corrupt local government and the ravages of a harsh prairie winter force an ostracized but self-sufficient widow to open her home to innocents with nowhere else to turn. Journey Prize finalist Seyward Goodhand's effortless storytelling allows the humanity to shine through in this grim take on a classic tale.
At the Bar
by Rebecca Rosenblum
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 Nancy Branch
In the rugged Nepisiguit River region of northern New Brunswick, two hunters face off. One is local sports lodge employee Danny Knockwood, a Mi’gmaw guide with a withered hand. The other is Mui’n, a one-eared black bear battling his inexorable hunger. When Danny is charged by the lodge owner to hunt down the bear that is frightening guests at the salmon pools, his personal values come into sharp conflict with his commitment to the task. The resulting confrontation tests both his physical strength and his beliefs, as Danny begins to recognize a kindred spirit within the fiercely determined bear.
by Michael Bryson
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?”