by Liz Harmer
Henry and Gretchen's parents have just gotten divorced. To take their mind off things, their dad takes them on a road trip down the east coast of the US. Along the journey, timid, insecure Henry secretly corresponds with his mother by email, while brash, certain Gretchen floats a disturbing possibility: perhaps, on this road, as with his marriage, their dad will prove too stubborn to turn back.
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THE LITTLE BLURBS OF flab hanging on either side of Henry’s back, pinched by the elastic of his swim trunks, were called love handles — so named because they were nice to grab during sex. Henry discovered this during an online search using terms like big hunks of flab above my butt and symmetrical back fat boys men. Heart racing, he cleared the search history and wiped the keys of his dad’s laptop, which had quickly greased with his sweat. Henry was just plopping down on the floral covers on the motel bed, trying to arrange his hands casually on his belly, when Dad walked in. No knock.
“Whatcha watching, buddy?”
The TV had been left on CNN. Henry shrugged.
“All right.” Dad put a hand through his sparser and sparser hair. The trip, now into its fifth week, had aged him. He was yellowing. The skin on his face seemed tougher somehow, less humanly soft. His ears were like costume ears, glued on. The balding was accentuated by the fact that Dad hadn’t gotten a haircut all summer. The strands had grown into long, sagging spikes of dried hay. “Hey. You know where your sister is?”
Henry shrugged again.
Dad sat down on the other bed, Gretchen’s bed. “You want to talk about anything?”
What Henry wanted to do was to cry, but he cried too much, too often, and it would only make his face red and splotchy, would only have him wiping his nose on his arm; these things were as bad as love handles and man boobs for making Gretchen and Dad look sadly away from him. They pitied him his shame, which only made it worse.
What Henry wanted to do was to find the zipper on this fat suit and peel the thing right off, to emerge tight and tanned and fast. What Henry wanted to do was to run away from this room, down the balcony stairs, past the pool and teenaged receptionists, down past the many parking lots to the beach. What he wanted to do was to keep running until he got back home. People ran like that, super far and without stopping. Forrest Gump and Terry Fox had done it.
“So. Hey. What should we get for dinner?”
But Henry couldn’t run for the bounce of his man boobs. At least girls had the dignity of bras. He shrugged.
Dad sighed loudly. “I know this is hard, but come on. You’ve got to give me something.”
DINNER WAS ANOTHER SEAFOOD place, another dingy patio surrounded by boats bobbing in the harbor. The patio was perched on a deck, and its angle was so lopsided that they might go sliding off into the water, sinking Titanic-style.
“Let’s do our highlights and lowlights,” Dad said, after ordering the cheapest fish and chips on the menu. Highlights and lowlights had been Mom’s dinner table talk, cheesy enough even then, this listing of the best and worst moments like sportscasters after a game.
Gretchen gave Henry the oh please look. They’d found her elsewhere in the motel, in a stranger’s room, sitting on the floor while this guy Mac played folk songs on his guitar. Mac had big sideburns, was easily twenty. Mom would have flipped, but Dad just told her quietly that it was time for dinner. She was acting strange, slow and smiley, and Henry knew she was pretending to be on drugs to impress Mac. They had x-ray vision with each other.
“Highlight: I met a guy,” Gretchen said.
Dad, unlike Mom, never asked follow-up questions.
“No lowlights,” she claimed.
A long pause followed, and the food arrived on three plates, wafting warmth and sweetness. It had been five hours since Henry ate. That afternoon he’d resisted the lure of snack-cakes sitting boxed on the motel desk and had instead walked down to the beach arcade, tummy gurgling, love handles wobbling as he slapped at the old pinball machines.
“Henry?” Dad said.
“No highlights. No lowlights,” Henry said.
“Come on, buddy.”
“But we’re not doing anything. Nothing’s happening,” he slurped at the straw in his diet coke. “When are we going home?”
about the author
from the library
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
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.
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
by Andrew Forbes
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 Marielle Mondon
At Georgetown University, a music student and part-time nude life model becomes involved with the first true passion of her life, a man who awakens her to the weight of experience she already possesses - as well as the ups and downs yet to come.
Everything Must Go
by Jeff Dupuis
A man in the throes of a breakup is selling all of his possessions on Kijiji and Craigslist. Greg’s couch, his VHS tapes, obsolete desktop computer, and cow-shaped clock – it all must go. Between pot smoking, pizza eating, and watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, he meets with would-be buyers, taking his old life apart piece by discount piece in order to figure out what went wrong.
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.
by Richard Rosenbaum
Polly knows what she wants: to be in the greatest band in the world. Oliver knows what he wants: Polly. Together they are The Oughts, a duo trying to attain the unattainable, one basic chord at a time.
“Richard Rosenbaum’s The Oughts jabs its sticky little fingers right into your heart and swirls them around in there for a long, long time. Its characters unfold in pitch-perfect awkwardness and tender apathy, and readers will be struck by the surreal hinges and twitching imagery that Rosenbaum flawlessly weaves in. Writers in the audience should take note: Rosenbaum has created a writhing work of fiction that any scribe would aspire to be capable of pulling off.”
— Liz Worth, author of Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond and Eleven: Eleven