PRISM’s Summer issue 53.4 launches in two weeks and we thought we’d give you a sneak peak of what’s in store! If you have to pinch yourself to check if this is all a dream, we’ll understand. This issue features the 2015 fiction contest winner, selected by Marina Endicott, and we’ve got a teaser of Kate Cayley’s winning story below.
“The Bride and the Street Party”
By Kate Cayley
Martha regarded herself skeptically, and imagined skepticism from the other mothers at the table. She had too many children (four), and not for a discernable reason (religion, twins), she was too young (twenty-eight), she was disordered and apologetic. She made stuffed baby toys out of felt and organic wool, her breasts strained through old tank-tops. Her blondness was suspect. It was not an alarming, seductive blondness. She was freckled and angular and snub-nosed. A child, pinkish, peddling a bike home from a violin lesson, earnest and a little sad. She did not convince.
Her breasts were leaking. Denton was probably carrying their crying youngest through the house, cursing lavishly.
“I know this is going to be a difficult one, but we need to talk to the family,” Bronwyn was saying, raking one hand through her hair, “and ask them if they can route the car somewhere else or just have her walk to the car, that might be even better, if the car was on a different street. We’ve got the chalk drawing on their street. And the lemonade and bake sale. And one of the bands. And the craft table. They’ll have to understand this is a community event. It’s for the whole community. I’m sure they’ll understand.”
“But it’s her wedding,” Martha said plaintively, louder than she meant to. “It’s a shame, isn’t it? It’s her wedding.”
Bronwyn, Marley, and Alison looked at her expectantly, and she looked back at them over the table in Bronwyn’s kitchen, and then down at her hands laid in front of her, limp and white among the mugs of tea, the lists and phones and plate of cookies. She should have used her evening better. She didn’t even want to be on this committee. Outside, she could hear her son Noah and Bronwyn’s son Max playing.
Martha had the watchful aggrieved boredom of mothers, but she smiled often as cover for her sleeplessness, and so was praised for cheerfulness. The women surrounding her, on or beside benches, in yards and community centres, at school pickups, on her street, calling greetings from the open windows of their cars, their open screen doors, appeared competent and discerning. They complained freely, and their complaints seemed more forceful and justified than her own. She had not put a hard-won career or artistic practice on hold in order to raise children. Her memory before the birth of Noah went as far as the first half of a degree in history. After: diapers, splatters of yogurt, little jars of fruit mush, tears, mysterious stains. The other women seemed to have had more time to consider the question of what they wanted, and they had refined and elaborated on that question, as a moral problem to be excavated and solved.
Her own problem was Noah, eight, loner, lonely, prone to abrupt rage. At first they said he was like his father, but Denton had a friendliness and self-assurance that made her shrug off the swearing, the jumpiness and occasional door-slamming. He was a big, jovial man, already losing his hair, and his whole back and his arms were blue-black with ink (Bronwyn had a few tasteful tattoos along her back and shoulders, delicate as leaf-veins), and he roared his approval and disapproval. He was liked. She liked him. He liked himself.
Noah was different. A thin boy, taut as a tuned string, his blue eyes frantic, his hair sticking up in light brown tufts. He reminded Martha of a fledgling—something quivering and naked, perilously close to an edge. At six months old, he’d screamed if she tried to put him down, and yet being touched seemed to hurt him too. She’d dreaded changing him so much that she’d let sores fester along his bum and legs.
He was sly now. He said mean things, cried if another child stared too hard in the playground, hit children running past. There were meetings, conversations that altered course when Martha approached. She did not want to seem defensive; she could not defend. She lay in bed picturing the confusion of his wide-open eyes, often red-rimmed (he was a strong swimmer, and loved the nearby public pool, his clothes carrying a whiff of chlorine). He was not invited to the houses of classmates after school, or to birthday parties. Max was his one friend, a vigorous and noble busybody, like his mother. Like his mother, he wanted dependents. Martha watched as Noah bore patronage, came home in furtive sorrow that she, from experience, pretended not to see. She trembled for him, she loved him, but sometimes, as he passed by her with his head down, or looked away when she spoke, she imagined him kicking someone in the face, throwing a match into the rainbow slick of a gasoline spill, in front of a stranger’s quiet, sleeping house.
Kate Cayley has published a collection of poetry, When This World Comes to an End (Brick Books) and a collection of short stories, How You Were Born (Pedlar Press), which won the 2015 Trillium Award. She is a playwright-in-residence with Tarragon Theatre and has written two plays for Tarragon, After Akhmatova and The Bakelite Masterpiece.