Short Story Prize
Parse by Roderick Moody-Corbett
This week, we're rolling out the five stories on the shortlist for the CBC Short Story Prize. "Parse" tells the story of a parting, in one breathless, neurotic, heartbroken sentence.
Disclaimer: Please note that this story contains adult language that some may find offensive.
You know that you will see him again, at least you have told yourself not to worry, not to, in the words of your psychiatrist, Dr. Blackmur, with whom you’ve not spoken in seventy-two hours, “let things snowball,” and that this—whatever it is that’s happening to you right now—is not necessarily an ending so much as an interstice, by which you seem to mean, vaguely, a kind of brief emotive pause, a regrouping, of sorts, during which time you will both try and get your respective shit (s?) together, so that one day, and, you hope, one day soon, you might share a sleazy Sunday afternoon together, hungover, occasionally tumbling into an eager, tingly, greedy kind of sex (a sex so deeply parasitic that you feel, like vampires, a need to drink it), and then, post-coitus, each of you tolerably sated, his head, the benign humidity of his left temple, say, murmuring on your chest, a Sunday, a potted avocado seed beginning to doff its husk on the windowsill, and the window, then, with rain or sun or sleet behind it, and a feeling of gratitude that you are all too grateful to notice, fleeting, you’d call it, this feeling, which, it suddenly occurs to you, you may never again know the daytime delirium of—or so you try not to tell yourself as muscling two suitcases down the narrow, slippery, improbably leaf-blistered steps (of what, technically speaking, is no longer your guys’ apartment) and towards the curb where, any minute now, a cab, a checkered yellow-black hearse, will glide up and take you to the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, where, having puzzled around the Porter Terminal some twenty-three minutes, a kind of wide tugboat type thing will drag you and your two miserable suitcases (of which, just your luck, the heavier of the two has a broken wheel) to the airport proper, where you will, almost finally, fly home—St. John’s—even though the word home, or, the very notion of home, doesn’t quite make sense to you at this particular moment, because, let’s face it, welling up inside of you—recall, you’re still very much on the curb here—is this horrible and excruciating sense of homelessness that manifests itself as a kind of bowel-deep sphincter-bristling angst, and you feel that what you are leaving, or, no, in the spirit of pained specificity, what you are basically on the precipice of almost leaving—a bright two bedroom apartment with two patios, one windowless bathroom, and a kitchen with beech countertops, sooty-mauve walls and terracotta tiles—feels, even as you are so clearly leaving it, very much like a home, and how the fuck does that work, you wonder, idiotically, just as he, the man you are promising yourself you will one day see again, comes down the steps bearing a small white dog, a Pomeranian, with its simple moist snout, a ludicrous little animal that you’ve come, in recent months, to adore, tic-tac brain, raisin eyes et al.—and it doesn’t help that this man has tears, the beginnings of tears, in his eyes, and that now, quite suddenly, so do you, and it’s almost nine o’clock in the morning on like—this kills you—a fucking Tuesday, you think, and the last thing you want to be doing is saying goodbye to the man you, trite as it sounds, love, while around you surges an indolent chatter of morning traffic, caroming buses and streetcars and somewhere, not so far off, perhaps, the dopplering bray of an ambulance, and maybe, because you still love him, you feel it, this sense of incumbent regret, crawling through your chest so much so that it sends a few nervy jots of phlegm swimming up your throat, and but then—check this out, yes, see—here comes the cabby and now you’re on the clock because, holy shit, this guy’s face—jowly and hale, with telltale pouches of insomnia, like bruisy garlic cloves, slung beneath his eyes—seems stilled in a kind of harried rictus, and yet, and yet, you want this moment, horrible as it is, to last, if not forever, then at least a few minutes more, because, God, it just might be the last time—but, you say, don’t tell yourself this—as the man you are promising yourself you will one day see again leans into you and your five o’clock shadows lock like a bad similes, and he says, in a voice you are already beginning to forget, I love you, and you kiss, for some reason, the dog first, you press your index finger on its wet snout—and, rebuking you somewhat (in this, the dog seems just as impatient as the cabby)—you hold him close, dog and man, and you whisper in his ear, as much for him as for, you suppose, yourself, this isn’t the end of anything, I promise, we’ll see each other soon, even though, all of a sudden, you’re not, you’re in the cab and you’re telling the driver—who, what with his spade chin and lean veiny nose, you feel is pretty wise to what’s going on and (judging from the dour officiousness of his “Where you headed?”) maybe even just a little bit repelled and slightly resentful of you for having implicated him, poor guy, in the middle of it—you tell him: drive man, just like, you know, fucking drive, and, as he begins to edge out onto Queen, the fervid snick of his turn signal beating down on you, an insomnious pulse, you suffer one final glance out the back window and it’s an image of him, looming out of a rearview swell of cirrus, cradling that ludicrous Pomeranian, just standing there, mute and numb, in that upsized Adidas jacket, the one you picked out for him last Christmas at the Sally-Ann in Markham, and which, given its size or his size, you’d purchased more or less as a joke, and which he’d inadvertently loved, and now something, something in the far-flung comedy of this memory, man, it just about kills you (again), and you almost hope he’s crying, to feel how wet his eyes are because you’re crying, his eyes are your eyes—you look at me and eye you, etc.—and you want, suddenly, to scream: PAUSE!, just pull this fucking cab to the side of the road and let me the fuck out, but you don’t—because, and this will be important later, this, as Dr. Blackmur might say, sotto voce, “will definitely be on the final exam,” it has just now occurred to you that your sickness has no soundtrack—you drive, and this feeling, yes, yes, trite and banal and horrible as it is, it stays with you, and the only way to fight this feeling is to have faith, so you tell yourself not to worry, probably you will almost definitely see him again, keep saying it, until, like some kind of cunning liturgical chant spilled from the parched and cracking lips of a neo-Gregorian supplicant, the words become bloated and vague and, semiotically speaking, opaque: this, whatever it is, isn’t the end of anything, keep telling yourself this, hope.
"Parse" is in the running for the CBC Short Story Prize.
Read our Q&A with Roderick Moody-Corbett.
The winner will be announced on March 26. The Grand Prize is $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a two-week writing residency at The Banff Centre, and publication in Air Canada’s enRoute magazine.
Be sure to come back to Canada Writes on March 15, when we'll be opening the "people's choice" poll for you to vote for your favourite shortlisted story while we wait for the judges' verdict.