Excerpt from Bodies in Trouble by Diane Carley:
Bodies in Trouble is author Diane Carley’s debut collection of short stories. She is based in St. John’s and her writing has featured in subTerrain, Riddle Fence, The Fiddlehead, The Antigonish Review and The Globe and Mail among others. Her short story “The Garden” was longlisted for the Exile Quarterly 2018 CVC Award and her short story “Untethered” was longlisted for the CBC 2019 Short Story Contest.
The stories in this collection feature characters coping with faltering relationships, simmering violence and light-drenched visions. But within these tales of damaged daughters and abandoned sons, of near-crashes, lost loves and late nights steeped in regret, there are also glimmers of hope from a brave choice, a bold action, the recalibration of a dangerous path.
The following excerpt is from “Untethered” in her debut collection Bodies in Trouble.
Once, she had dared to dream of a cottage by the ocean with a mango garden and a wraparound deck. What she had was a semi-detached house next to a retired Radio Shack manager in a gritty neighbourhood bordering a rough cluster of streets in a landlocked Ontario town.
Her first encounter with Stan was early one morning soon after she’d moved in. She’d been quietly reading with Misty lying at her feet, revelling in the silence before the snow blowers began warming up like an orchestra in training, when she was startled by the sound of a loud cough.
Lexi was shocked to realize that the only thing separating her from her neighbour was a wall that let every sound seep through, as if there was nothing more than a worn sheet hanging between their lives.
The next day, Stan appeared at her door bearing a book of leftover coupons from a local charity fundraiser, after the good ones had been picked out. He suggested they exchange numbers. Just for emergencies. The following week he phoned to tell her to call the city about the sloppy snow clearing on their street. They only responded if everyone did it.
Over the coming months, he offered to show her how to paint her porch, trim her hedge, and spray-wash her driveway. If she didn’t want to do the work herself, she could hire his son who did odd jobs around Stan’s place. When she failed to take him up on his offers, Stan’s suggestions morphed into overt complaints. Her dog barked too much. Her elm was dead and should be taken down.
She came home from work one day to find the tree in her front yard gone. She knew Stan was responsible. He must have the city’s complaint line on speed-dial and called to claim her elm was dangerous. She was tempted to confront him. But Lexi did not do confrontation. She was an appeaser, not a disrupter.
Her sister had always dabbled in bad behaviour without suffering the consequences. Lexi had tried smoking in the girls’ washroom in high school once and was not only caught and reprimanded publicly in front of a squad of cool girls, she was also kicked off the yearbook committee. The committee she’d only joined to be close to Pablo. When she could no longer spend time with the boy she’d had a crush on since grade 9, she started skipping class and almost flunked out.
That was the kind of warning they should put on cigarette packages to keep teenage girls from smoking.
The night after the balloon crashed into her tree, Lexi couldn’t sleep. She wandered around the house checking for leaky water taps and other signs of impending disaster. She’d been doing these late-night inspections more and more since putting Misty down.