An excerpt.

Winter, 2019-2020 / No. 44
Matthew Daley

We hate the mall. Its insides are yellowed and the air is stale and the stores are the same but their signs are different. The skylights are heavy with bird shit. The fountains are full of lucky pennies and piss. And the men are everywhere, clogging and leering.

But this is why we’re here. The men. This is where we find them.

We’re in the food court, with its terrible fluorescents and its stink of grease and its screaming babies. Me and Cat and Sierra and Liv and Coco. We’re each sitting at different tables. We’re each waiting.

This is how we find them. The men. We let them find us.

We sit alone in our scuffed sneakers and our cut-off denim shorts and our tube tops. We snap our bubble gum. We bend over and tie our shoelaces tighter, so the lace thongs we stole from the coin laundry peek past our denim waistbands. We flip through Tiger Beat and Seventeen and YM, magazines we stole from the 7-Eleven. We suck on the straws of our Orange Julius drinks. We look around. Old men. Fat men. Bearded men. If they smile at us, we smile back. It’s that easy.

I look at Cat, then Sierra, then Liv, then Coco. Their eyes are bored, glittering, ready.

I look at the other teen girls, the ones with mothers. The girls sulking, white sundresses and white barrettes. The mothers scolding, white jumpsuits and white sunglasses. Still, they’re holding hands. It doesn’t make me miss my mother. She’d never have worn white, because white is winter. Besides, like Cat says, it’s best to save missing mothers for bedtime. Otherwise, we’ll sink like stones. I miss my mother. I sink the thought like a stone.

And then I smile at the man smiling at me.

He’s leaning against one of the pillars that frame the food court, shopping bags in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He’s broad shouldered and square jawed, salt-and-pepper hair neatly clipped. His suit is business charcoal. His shoes are shiny. His lips are thin. He looks like a father. He takes a long pull on his smoke, exhales slowly. His eyes are black holes.

He straightens and butts out his cigarette in a potted plant.

Then he’s crossing the food court and sliding into the seat across from me, sliding his hunger into mine.

“You look like you could use some company,” he says.

I smile wider so he can imagine crushing the field of flowers that lives in my mouth.

He tugs at his collar, loosens his tie. His gaze is greasy.

“Shouldn’t you be at home writing a book report or something?”

“I guess I’d rather have fun,” I say.

He eyes the bruises on my forearms, my wrists.

“You look like you know how to have fun.”

“You have no idea,” I say.

“I bet you could use some money,” he says. “Bus fare. Nail polish. Candy bars.”

“And then some.”

He pulls his wallet from his suit jacket. It’s wadded with twenties.

I twirl a fat hunk of my hair, and Cat and Sierra and Liv and Coco rise from their tables and cluster in front of the jammed gumball machines that are next to the out-of-order kiddie rides. They fiddle with the stuck levers. They idle.

He leans in. His breath stinks of tinned tuna. “Forty dollars,” he says.

“Eighty,” I say.



His eyes narrow. He crumples the bills, grabs hold of my hand, and presses them into my palm.

“This better be one hell of a blow job,” he says, his hand twisting and squeezing mine, “or I’m getting my money back.”

And as we walk to the back exit that’s overgrown with weeds, I feel Cat and Sierra and Liv and Coco fall into soft stalking step.

Behind the mall, there’s nothing but empty parking lot. No one parks back here because it’s still strung with yellow crime-scene tape, even though no one is looking for the two women who went missing last month. We watched the men with police badges work the scene. It was just us and the birds. The men ate hoagies and had a push-up contest, and tracked blood spatter all over the lot. “They’ll turn up in suitcases or rolled-up rugs,” said one to another. “They always do.” And then the cars the women were snatched from were stripped for parts, and a family of raccoons moved into the leftover shells.

Me and Cat and Sierra and Liv and Coco aren’t afraid of the empty lot, the yellow tape. We’re making new crime scenes.

“You’ve got street on you,” says the man, as he drops his shopping bags and shoves me to my knees. “But look at that baby face. What are you, thirteen? That’s my favorite number.”

He unzips his pants, pulls out his ugly grey slug of a cock, and says, “Suck it,” his breath already ragged. Behind him, Cat and Sierra and Liv and Coco are looming, and I reach for his slug cock and he closes his eyes, and it’s then that I punch his balls as hard as I can, and he yowls and drops to his knees, saying, “You stupid fucking bitch, I’m going to kill you.” For a second, I sit inside his words. They’re sharp and dark and thrumming. And it’s then that he lunges. I scramble, but he gets a fistful of my hair, and then his hands are around my neck, squashing and squeezing, and Cat is smashing him upside the head with the rock in her hand, and Sierra and Liv and Coco are clawing at his back, his arms. He goes down, but his hands are wrapped tight around my neck, and I can hardly breathe. I knee him hard between his legs, and he loosens his grip, and I slip out, coughing, choking, and then me and Cat and Sierra and Liv and Coco stomp him until he stops his moaning.

And then Coco starts to cry.

“Stop crying,” says Cat. “He’s dead.”

“But he should be more dead,” says Coco. “He should be more fucking dead.”

We roll his body toward the manhole that drops into the storm sewer that flows into the river. Cat tosses me the pry bar that’s rusting nearby. It’s been rusting ever since thieves used it to jimmy open the car doors of the two women who went missing. We watched them poke around the front seats and the back seats and the trunks and pocket the loose change they found.

I hook the pry bar into the manhole, and Cat wraps her hands around my hands, and with Sierra and Liv and Coco pulling hard at our hips, we yank until the cover pops open. We look at the dead man. His eyes are glassy wide, two blanks. Cat grabs his wallet and I grab his shopping bags and Sierra grabs his wristwatch and Liv grabs Coco. We kick him down into the grey water below, reset the manhole cover, and run.

We run past the dry cleaners and the Chinese restaurants and the Ukrainian restaurants and the porno theatres and the florists. We run down the streets the men have made. John Street. John Avenue. John’s Way. The men made every single street, and every single street is slimy with cum because the men jerk off in every place. We run past the dumpsters and ditches with their smell of dead women. Everywhere, carnivores are howling. We run past the houses and parks strung with yellow crime-scene tape. There is yellow crime-scene tape on every block. The wind whistles in our ears.

We run all the way to the Yvette Jade Wendy Gail Gloria Bridge, which is no longer a bridge, just a heap of crumbling concrete that used to bridge elsewhere until it was smashed by a wrecking ball because women were using it to drive out of the city and never return. That’s what we tell ourselves, anyway. Because that’s what our mothers told us.

We found the bridge because we were looking for a way out, but this city folds up like a cardboard box. The sky doubles back. The ground doubles back. The streets run in circles.

We climbed up the edge of the city, with its slippery slope and its craggy rocks and its dead shrubs. We were looking for a hole in the horizon.

Instead, we found the ruins of the Yvette Jade Wendy Gail Gloria, the bridge our mothers used to dream. We named it after them. It was clinging to the cliff edge, and what was left of its knocked-out roadway jutted like a snapped neck over the roiling waves below.

Sometimes, we walk the plank and throw rocks into the water, count for the plunk. We’ve never heard the plunk. It’s a long way down, we tell ourselves. But maybe the water is just a mirror, like the city that stares at ours from across the chasm. That city looks exactly like ours, because it’s really just a mirror. There are no holes in this horizon.

There in the rubble of the Gail Gloria, with its jagged rocks and its fat weeds, we settle in. The sky is empty blue. Our cheeks are flushed. In the distance, the city is crammed and heaving. We’re not winded. We don’t get winded. We run all the time.

Cat pulls out the cleanup supplies we keep stashed in the rocks: soap bars and sanitizer gels and hand wipes we’ve pocketed from dollar stores and drugstores and diners.

And one by one, we wet our soap bars in the bucket of rainwater we call a sink, so we can wash away the blood spatter.

“That got out of hand,” says Cat, eyes on me.

“He got out of hand,” says Sierra.

“He smelled like bandages,” says Liv. “And sour milk.”

Coco starts to cry again.

“He should be deader. He should be fucking deader.”

I take the wetted soap from her hands and wash the spatter off the toes of her sneakers and the tips of her hair. I rub her back.

“At least he’s dead,” I say.

She wipes the wet from her cheeks and nods.

I give her back her bar of soap.

“Now wash your hands.”

I look at Cat, whose eyes haven’t left me. And in the tunnel that lives between us, we find each other.

And while Cat digs through the wallet, I dump the shopping bags, and it’s a good haul. Socks. Sunscreen. Cinnamon buns. Two wool blankets. Designer sunglasses we can pawn. Usually we just get allergy medicine and Old Spice deodorant and porno magazines: Juggs, Creampie, Barely Legal.

“What’s that?” says Sierra, pointing.

I root out the sliver of pink poking out from the bottom of the pile. It’s a make-believe magic wand. Its tip is a sparkly star, and the star is trimmed with a tail of ribbons, as though the star is shooting.

Coco’s eyes widen. “I want it.” Her voice is soft and pale as milk.

“It’s for babies,” says Liv, eyeing the wand’s shimmer.

“I don’t care,” says Coco.

She stands, takes the wand from my hand, and points it at Liv.

“I disappear you,” she says. And then she skips away, wand waving, into the sweeping field of wildflowers that surrounds our nest of rocks.

“Abracadabra!” she screams, over and over again.

“She’s such a baby,” says Liv.

She tugs hard at a fistful of weeds and hurls the green blades in Coco’s direction.

Liv used to be the baby, until we got Coco.

“There are wings, too,” says Sierra, who’s been digging through our jackpot. “Fairy wings.”

She tosses them into Liv’s lap.

“I think they go with the wand.”

Liv’s eyes light, but she pulls a face. “I’m not a baby,” she says.

“Still,” says Cat. “It’d be fun to fly.”

Liv gnaws on her thumbnail, looking back and forth from Coco to the wings. “Well, I wouldn’t really be flying,” she says. “But wings are much better than a stupid wand.”

I help her into the wings, which are gauzy and glittery and pink, and which sit on her back via elastic bands on each arm. She stands and kick-stomps at the ground with one foot, like a bull. And then she charges into the sweeping field of wildflowers and Coco.

“They’re both babies,” says Sierra. She puts on the designer sunglasses, which are slick, aviator style and tinted green. “I want these.”

“We’re pawning those,” says Cat.

“O.K., just the watch,” says Sierra.

She shakes her wrist, and the fat gold watch winks and shines, nearly slides right off her hand.

“We’re pawning that, too,” I say. “Besides, you don’t need a watch.”

We tell time with our fingers. We start at the horizon line, and stack one hand atop the other until we hit the sun. Then we count the time clocked in each finger. Five hours before sundown. Four hours before sundown. Me and Cat have twenty-minute fingers. Sierra and Liv have twenty-five-minute fingers. Coco has thirty-minute fingers. Each of us, our own clocks. Each of us, ticking.

“It’s not fair,” says Sierra. “They got something.”

“Well, we can’t pawn a kiddie fairy costume,” I say.

Sierra rolls her eyes.

And then Coco and Liv are keening and wailing, wrestling each other to ground. “Give me the fucking wand,” Liv is screaming. “Give me the fucking wings,” Coco is screaming.

“I’ll take care of it,” Sierra says.

Cat and I watch her corral the girls and redirect them into a game of tag. And then we walk the plank.

“She keeps crying,” says Cat.

“She’s only eleven,” I say.

“Liv didn’t cry. Sierra didn’t cry. We didn’t cry.”

“It’s different,” I say. “Her mom’s not dead.”

“She might as well be.”

It’s true. With her white bracelets and her white bath salts and her white pills for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Coco’s mother is barely alive. That’s how Coco’s father got his hands under Coco’s bedsheets every night.

“She’ll grow out of it,” I say.

“Maybe we need to do an extra purge,” says Cat.

“Maybe,” I say.

But purges are hard. We do them every Friday. We sit in a circle and stick our fingers down our throats and get rid of the bad feelings that sit inside of us, so they don’t thicken and harden and calcify. And then we name the expulsions. His fat fingers. His humping hips. His wood. Afterward, we’re spent.

Cat traces her fingers over the bruising up my neck.

“You paused,” she says.

“I know,” I say.

“What happened?” she says.

“I sat inside the words,” I say. Sharp. Dark. Thrumming.

“You can’t play chicken like that,” she says.

And I know she’s right. But I can’t stop wondering what last breaths feel like. What my mother’s last breaths felt like. “I can’t play chicken like that,” I say.

She slips a hand into my back pocket and leans into me. We let the air fill us.

“How’d we do?” I ask.

She hands me the wallet. “Eighty dollars plus the sixty he gave you.”

I look through the wallet’s insides. And of course he was a father. Him and his winter wife and his winter daughter, smiling for the camera in front of the swirly blue backdrop they use in the backroom at photo marts. And of course he was a Wild Man. We see their posters everywhere, in doughnut shops, in coin laundries, tacked to telephone poles. “Are You a Man or a Mouse? Resuscitate Your Inner Wild. Weekly Meetings & Wilderness Immersions: Reclaim Yourself. Reclaim What’s Yours.”

I shove the photo and the Wild Man I.D. back into the wallet, along with the credit cards we know better than to use. And then I sail the wallet into the air, and we watch it whirl its way down toward the water, which is where we sink all their wallets.

And then me and Cat are putting one foot in front of the other, and Cat is whistling the girls back to our nest of rocks.

We wrap ourselves in the flannel shirts we have stashed in the Yvette Jade Wendy Gail Gloria rubble. We settle in tight together and dig into the cinnamon buns and stare out at the city with its high-rises and smokestacks, its jackhammers and sirens, its hungry fathers and dead mothers, all these streets that don’t belong to us. We play I spy. We let the sky hold us. We wait for night to fall, because night is when we go hunting. When we first got Coco, she said, “Day. Night. What’s the difference?” We told her. During the day, we let them pick us. At night, we pick them.

It wasn’t always like this.

It used to be just me and Cat and Sierra and Liv.

And before that, it was just me and Cat and Sierra.

And before that, it was just me and Cat.

And before that, it was each of us alone, pretending to hold hands with the mothers we’d lost.

Lisa Foad is working on a novel, titled Hunting, and a collection of short stories. Her book The Night Is A Mouth won the ReLit Award for short fiction and a Writers’ Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize Honour of Distinction. Her story story “Hunting,” from Taddle Creek No. 44, was short-listed for the Journey Prize. Last updated winter, 2019–2020.