Joyland

a hub for short fiction

Certainty

“We want you to come around the corner of the car like you aren’t expecting us.” Melanie smiled. She used a lint roller on my jacket, spinning me in a circle. I was supposed to walk out between these two Tercels looking like I wanted to make a deal.

            It was a very hot day. We stood on the pavement of my used-car dealership. I renamed it Noggie’s Used Cars after Dad died last year. He willed it to me. Back when he owned it he made good money off it. Good money in the seventies, when I was younger and everyone drove cars and wanted a good deal on a nice used one. Now, in this particular climate used car dealerships didn’t really bring home the bacon. Melanie and her small crew were waiting for me. I hated everything about cameras. I was going to have a smoke first.

If Life Gave Me Lemons

At the time, her life had been lacking in sure things, and so Lindsay took comfort in knowing where she stood with Aaron, even if it was nowhere good. She was technically his manager, which made their friendship inappropriate, but as her job title was meaningless and he knew she was in love with him, her authority couldn’t have been compromised further. So Lindsay went out for drinks with him whenever he asked, and understood that he suppressed his reciprocal leanings out of fairness to his long-time girlfriend, Staffanie, the habit he just couldn’t shake.

Waiting

Vashti read the bear policy posted at the start of the trail twice before she decided to walk with us.  She made one command. "If we gone do this shit, y'all can't pull out no snacks, no water, no nothing. Ain't no bear bout to fuck with me. Y'all asses gone follow these policies."

I think she came along because she's curious about the nature of bears, but her fear is what drives us. She's almost ours in this place. In these mountains, so near where I hunted with my father as a boy. She's been our girl for the past couple of days. It's been nice. It’s a change. We've been her boys for such a long time. But now, on this mountain, things are right in the universe as long as she fears the bear.

The Hello Kitty Justice League: Selections

 

1. Chinook (2012)

 

Cam and I were at the river and I was telling him a story he’d already heard a dozen times:

We were still deep in winter, I was saying, but a Chinook had blown in and so much ice was melting off the rooftops so fast it sounded like rain. Ten o’clock at night the temperature rose from 25 to 45 in half an hour; people were wandering the Missoula streets in giddy shock, but I had the alleys to myself. Valentine’s Day was coming up and I was aiming, as always, to skip right over it. On a tear that week after a cocked-up escapade with Angie, I was running a backdoor trap line, bar to bar, and it’s not like I was so shitty I couldn’t see straight, but I was definitely tilting at a trash can or two. Jesse came out of nowhere. He startled me and I backed up, sat down on the curb like I meant to.

“Go on,” Cam said. Because I didn’t realize I had stopped talking. The story was five years old but it still played loud in my head.

Difficult People

These talks are mandatory, aimed at increasing our productivity. The week prior I’d received an email from the organizer, Owen Peck. He promised “tactics to deal with Downers, Moochers, Whiners, Passive Aggressives and all other Energy Vampires in your lives!!” Sounds like Devon, I thought.

As I step into the boardroom, I take a moment to remind myself to smile, to participate but not in an overbearing way, to be cheerful not cloying, assertive not strident, to be a team player, and under no circumstances to mention Devon. Never ever bring up Devon. It’s only after this bit of self-talk that I notice the mantra projected against the wall: “Happiness is the Powercord of Success!”

The Only Tricks We Know

The day Eugene told me his secret he gave me a bouquet of lilies. Ice clung to the petals like fuzz.

Sorry about the frost, he said. That was an accident.

I stuck my nose into the flowers but they were too chilled to get any smell out of them. It puzzled me that the ice hadn’t melted—this was mid-June.

The thing is, he said, my trick is the weather.

The weather, I repeated.

That’s my schtick, you know? Everyone’s got to have a schtick.

We were in Washington Square Park. There was a guy playing Rachmaninoff on an upright piano.

Pick a weather, Eugene said.

I crossed my arms. Snow. Bet you can’t do snow.

Snow? Well … might be complicated.

You’re so full of shit, I said, giving him a playful punch to the shoulder.

It’s not that. He hesitated.

Then what?

He straightened. Alright, he said, closing his eyes, clenching his fists.

New Delta Future

The return to Moon Lake had been a quiet one—a drive through downtown Helena, depressing, most of the storefronts abandoned, the sidewalks cut apart by bursts of weeds. On the Arkansas side of the great fat river, everything had died off by leaps and bounds over the past fifteen years. 

In the yard of the old house we rented, the only two gingkoes in town upheld their portion of godless sunlight. In the fall, people would come walking or biking from all over town to watch them burn off their absolute yellow onto the lawn. Kids would run up holding their noses at the smell of the rotting fruit, grab a few out of the grass, then launch them at passing cars. 

Recipe for Marble Cake

I was in Texas one summer and found myself sneaking into a famous designer’s backyard with a bisexual engineer and a carpenter who used to model for Abecrombie & Fitch. We all took our clothes off so we wouldn’t get tan lines and played Navy Seal in the pool, this game where we tie up our arms and legs with twine and jump into the deep end to see who lasts the longest without drowning. It's fun, but left marks around my wrists, so I sat out, watching the other two float around. Texas was supposed to be a stop-through on the way to somewhere else.

Goldie

Kent asks, “Pearl, is it?”

He sweeps my bangs aside, undressing my face because every bloated and balding forty-year-old at the Chateau Marmont thinks he deserves a teenager whose breasts haven’t even started to sag.

Ever since my oldest sister, Goldie Lively, starred in this summer's Die, Die, Die—which grossed a billion dollars worldwide, no big deal—so many ass kissers are spilling from her crack that I get some residual smooches here and there.

“I just love your shoe-less hobo look,” Kent says, his voice whistling through his nose job. I look down at my bare feet, frozen on tile. “You really have the arches for it.”

The New Inner Peace

Everywhere I went, people did things for the right reasons. They helped others. They made friends. They avoided conflict. The world was full of horrible people, but I couldn’t find any of them. Where were all the people who attended charity events to start fights? Where were all the people who betrayed their family to get closer to winning a large cash prize? Where were all the people who appeared on romance-competition reality-TV shows to find fame? All I wanted was someone to tell me I was garbage, to spread lies about me—to hate me unconditionally. I was looking for hate in all the wrong places. The situation was like this: there wasn’t even a bus nearby, let alone somebody to throw me under it.

Becoming an Outdoorswoman

Welcome to the first story in our Pacific Northwest series, guest edited by Kim Fu. We'll be accepting submissions from Pacific Northwest authors throughout the summer. 

Kathryn filled her backpack with the essentials: a few t-shirts and pairs of underwear, climbing shorts that didn’t get in the way, her shoes and harness, coils of thick rope. Her partner, Jake, was still asleep. In their seven years together, she had learned he could sleep through anything. The month before had been her birthday--thirty-two--and there were still cards lining the mantel. She left their little blue house in a Boston suburb the way she wanted to hold it: sun rising and rooms quiet, everything in its place.

First Women’s Battalion of Death

Catherine’s throat was soft and open to the orange light of the salon. Josie held the back of Catherine’s head in one hand, moving the nozzle with the other, rinsing Catherine’s hair with warm water. Catherine felt herself relax into Josie’s hand, give in, let this other, younger woman support her. She had her eyes closed. The water was loud against her skull and against the porcelain sink and Catherine allowed herself to slip away into her body where it was dark and endless and uncommonly quiet, where the hand holding her head was part of her body going on forever.

Then the water stopped.

The phone was ringing.

“He can fuck off,” Josie said.

The History of Hanging Out

Once on a bright spring morning in a time much like now but also different there was a young Craigy in a room full of friends. Standing apart, stilled by feelings of affection and terror, he cast about at their mostly pretty, mostly childlike faces. Debbie, Andy, Billy, Stacy, Bobby, Cindy, Russian Stan. Here they were, lounging freely, lounging well, a braided scent above of donuts, marijuana, tobacco, shampoos, soaps, oils, sweat. Soon, taking care, thinking how really kind of beautiful this all is, Craig stepped into their center. “Hey, uh, listen everyone,” he said. “I think I could, well, you know…”

“What?”

Have one.”

Purely Coincidental

Here you are minding your business in your blue fiberglass seat when this totally creepy thing starts happening. You’re checking out the other commuters in your metro car, being discrete: a bunch of used-up looking people on their way home from so many separate days of hard work. You, on the other hand, are just about to begin yours. You’re trying to decide which of the people intrigue you most, but no one’s much to look at, especially the men, and the fact that you have to decide whom to wonder about really underscores the banality of everyone. You sure picked the wrong car today. As usual you can pick out at least two men who think you’re not so bad looking yourself, including this one giving you a prolonged look like he wants to let you know you’re “delectable,” or some other drippy word a commercial would use to praise a chocolate. This is the baseline type of shit you deal with on a daily basis.

The Actor's Den

On Monday nights, Shelly goes with Jack to this bar called St. Mark’s that used to be a dive, but is suddenly and without explanation, cool. Now, Hollywood-types fill the leather booths, with their mussed up hair and good shoes, discussing who’s getting deals and who’s getting fired. Shelly sees it every day, in outdoor cafes all down Third and Beverly, the agents leaning back in their chairs, adjusting baseball caps, thumbing cell phones.

Valentine's Day

1

On Valentine’s Day, he writes a word on an index card. Before leaving for work, he puts it inside a gilded box on Lea’s dresser. Every year it’s a different word; it’s meant to describe her. He uses a thesaurus to help him. This year he’s settled on melliferous.

But when he rises on the morning of the 14th, he forgets to leave the box on her dresser. First time in over a quarter century; just clean forgets. He laughs it off that evening, shows her the card, everything’s fine.

Clarity in Three Colors

At the speed of sleep I shoot up the bathroom. Another tragedy on a Friday. I’ve unzipped my Gratuity Pouch, the one I put the bills in, and am pissing through it onto the stall.

Two months ago I climbed a ladder—when I was still capable of painting houses—and rolled white paint on a cracked exterior (put a blanket over a crime scene). Just as I was coating the final corner, my sneaker slipped perfectly off.

What happened next was I woke up on the grass with a head that didn’t work the same as before.

Now I’m standing in a stall cursed with amateur graffiti. People can hear me. Someone said I’m giggling—but it’s not that innocent a sound.

What the hell are you doing in there? someone asks, knocking with their shoe.

Just fine. Thank you! I say.

I think someone’s in there with him, says another man.

Just me, thanks!

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