Jessica Westhead’s fiction has appeared in major literary journals in Canada and the U.S., including Geist, The New Quarterly, and Indiana Review. Her novel Pulpy & Midge was published in 2007 by Coach House Books. Her short story collection And Also Sharks, published by Cormorant Books in spring 2011, was a Globe and Mail Top 100 book. She was shortlisted for the 2009 CBC Literary Awards, and one of her stories was selected for the 2011 Journey Prize anthology.
In introducing her piece below, she says:
The following two scenes belong to an abandoned story called “In Buffalo,” about six elderly acquaintances on a cross-border shopping trip gone wrong. I decided not to include it in And Also Sharks when I realized it was too similar to a story I liked better, called “The Only One” (which appears in my collection)—both dealt with passive-aggressive pairs of older women sparring over each other’s men. I did salvage some bits and pieces from “In Buffalo” to use in “The Only One,” but never found a home for these two sections—which I’ve always had a soft spot for—until now!
In the morning there are muffins and individually wrapped mini-Danishes in the motel foyer.
“I would’ve thought some cereal at least,” says Grace, with her arms crossed.
Francine takes a blueberry muffin, and right away wishes she’d picked a banana one instead.
“What’s wrong?” Grace asks her.
Francine frowns at her muffin. “I want a banana one. But I already took a blueberry.”
“So just switch them.”
“Switch them? I can’t put this one back, I’ve touched it.”
“Then take a banana one too.”
“Oh,” says Francine.
“Francine! Grace! Come and sit with us!”
It’s Doris. She’s at a table on the other side of the room with Sid and Ellen and Phil. They all have mini-Danishes.
“How’s the coffee?” Grace calls to them.
Sid shakes his head.
“Dammit,” says Grace.
Francine fills a small Styrofoam cup with orange juice from the machine. The liquid is bright yellow, and thick.
“Come and sit with us,” Doris says again.
“Thanks, but we’re bringing our stuff back to our room,” says Grace.
Francine finds herself directly in front of a tidy little sign that reads, Guests are requested not to bring breakfast items to their lodgings.
“But you’re not supposed to,” says Doris.
“Who says?” says Grace.
“There’s a sign,” says Francine.
Grace cocks an eyebrow at her. “You got everything you need?”
Francine looks down at her two muffins, her Styrofoam cup of juice, and her Styrofoam cup of coffee. “Yes.”
“Then let’s go.”
“Francine,” Doris calls, “can I see you for a minute, please?”
“Sure.” Francine walks over to Doris and the rest of them.
“What,” says Doris, “you listen to everything Grace says now?”
“Leave her alone, Doris,” Sid says, hunching his round shoulders under his rumpled cardigan.
Ellen and Phil work on their mini-Danishes. They have both eaten the filling first.
“My coffee’s getting cold,” Francine says to Doris, and she smiles at Sid before turning and scurrying in a half-crouch past the front desk.
* * *
Later that day, when they’re all at the coat outlet, Francine takes a leather jacket off its hanger and lifts it up by both arms.
Sid and Doris are in the fur section, at separate ends of the fox-and-beaver rack. Doris is petting and stroking the coats, and Sid’s hands are in the pockets of his cardigan.
Francine thinks, He looks happy enough.
And then Doris says to him, “The thing about you, Sid, is you wouldn’t know a deal if it bit you.”
“Sid,” Francine calls, “come and feel this calfskin. It’s like nothing you’ve ever felt before.”
Sid walks over, and Doris frowns.
Grace is trying on a parka in front of one of the big mirrors, and her eyes flicker at them from the depths of the hood.
“It’s like pudding,” says Sid, his thumb on the sleeve Francine is holding.
“Yes,” says Francine. “That’s exactly what it’s like.”
Doris rattles some hangers, and the pelts on the rack jump and twitch.
Across the room, Ellen and Phil are modelling anoraks for each other.
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