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Category: Short Story

“I’m sorry to say that your submission was not selected…”

Yeah, a fairly stock rejection letter, but one takes encouragement where it’s offered.


Featured image photo credit: Sparkzy on

All material, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © Todd Besant. All rights reserved.

Best paired with a Strawberry Daiquiri, the saddest cocktail ever.

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The problem with not being able to speak ill of the dead is that it often leaves one with nothing to say. This cultural quirk irks you; gossip is one of your great loves. The possibilities of the situation tantalize you; the defenseless corpse of a man you were not fond of, an emotionally vulnerable audience, and a pulpit. How unfair that the circumstance is rigged to leave you speechless.

You sit in the front pew, dressed in your fashionable black outfit, and listen to the minister drone on about Chester. The things you learn about him. You never knew that Chester was loved. And by so many; family friends, and mostly, in His eternally abstract way, God. Chester was an atheist. The hypocrisy of this excites you. You adjust your custom made shades and contemplate life and death. How similar you think them to be. Both so full of expectations and with an alarming absence of certainty. Funerals help remind people of the similarities. You want to use the eulogy to make people squirm.

Still, you will have to watch what you say. Chester’s mother is here. A tiny, pathetic creature. Her small pale hands cradled yours as she implored you to deliver Chester’s eulogy. She was almost apologetic. You believe she should be. She did give him that name. Chester. Chester Fields. You have been told he was a breech baby. She must have been inspired by the painkillers. You begin to think that this large funeral, with a fibbing minister, paid pallbearers, coerced mourners (what other kind?), is some bizarre form of revenge on  the part of Chester’s mother. But against who? You decide to let the thought go.

You begin to wonder what  Chester would think of this. Maybe he is in heaven right now. After all, God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. He is not a sadist. Perhaps a bit of a masochist, but definitely not a sadist.

So if Chester is in the heaven you imagine, he can see and hear everything that is happening right now. Even read minds! You wish you could too! The things Chester could hear. Erotic fantasies, mundane shopping lists, hair salon gossip. Ecstasy. You heard one of the pallbearers say that Chester should have been cremated and his ashes scattered in a cat box. What would he think about that? You wonder if Chester would feel the contempt his memory holds.

You let your mind meander back to when you remember Chester, trying to find the spot he first provoked ill will. You cannot find one. Chester was always a slug. The resemblance was remarkable. He had a fat, white, hairless body, certainly not made for fashion fads. But you still cannot find a time when the antagonism began. 

You do remember particular events. Such as the day the class bully, now deceased, caught on to the humour in his name and everyone took turns holding him down and farting on him. By the time the basketball team decided to shave off Chester’s pubic hair, only to discover he didn’t have any, it was routine to torture him.

Back to the task at hand. The eulogy. What to say? The minister keeps looking at you as he sermonizes. Must be your stylish outfit. Or maybe he knows that behind your sunglasses, your eyes are a sea of perplexity, distraction, and fear. Yes, your are scared. Scared, because today, people expect you to tell the truth. Granted, it is only because it would be more entertaining than any gossip about Chester you might relay, but it is still the truth. Horrors. What to say, what to say.

You push the truth issue from your mind. Everyone lies at funerals. The minister lies to the mourners, the mourners lie to the minister, both lie to the family, and the body just lies. You think it is lying that ties life and death together.

You begin to think of your relationship with Chester. All your life you watched him screw up. You never helped him, only felt sorry for him. You remember the day he died, how he received the skull fracture that killed him. forth, in an attempt to encourage it to choke up a can of soda. 

You can still hear the sharp crack of his head on the floor, as Chester toppled the machine squarely upon himself. You still remember that your first thought was that Chester preferred Pepsi.

The minister has finished and he steps from the pulpit. He walks by you, trying to catch the light at the proper angle so he can see through your sunglasses. You know he’s not looking for the designer’s name. He wants to see your eyes.

You rise and walk to the pulpit. Still unsure of what to say, you remember someone once told you that funerals weren’t for the dead, they were for the living. 

You adjust your glasses and say, “We all loved Chester…”

This story was written for the first creative writing course I enrolled in, circa 1984-85, taught by Dave Williamson. I think it was the first story I’d finished that other people read. Heartfelt thanks to Kim Cornwell, wherever you may be, for pressing me to take the course.
Copyright © Todd Besant. All rights reserved.

Reprint and reproduction rights for this story are available for purchase. Contact me for more information on Anthologies, Course Packs, Reading Comprehension Exams, Translations, and Dramatic Adaptations

Photo credit: The Rocketeer on

Best paired with a Five Star Whiskey and warm flat Coke served in a crystal clear plastic squat cup, crushed ice to taste.

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We’ve Burned

We’ve burned the furniture and started on the books. Luckily there’s a small library within our palisade. The fuel trucks are still smouldering in what the map calls terra nullius. The UN is no help. We were able to clear the orphanage. The toddlers thought it a big game but the infants are not okay. Yesterday we had to repel a scavenger group near the East Gate—I think they were Australians—and one woman was helicoptered out in the night. Something’s not right, but the agent offered coupon codes for our trouble. So glad we chose the tinned goods and wild game option. The pool was not as advertised. We’ll be home Tuesday afternoon. So sorry you couldn’t come with. Next year we’ll do something family friendly—maybe Guernica or Sarajevo.

This story won the third prize in the 14th Annual Geist Postcard Story Contest.
It first appeared in Geist issue 109.

This story was submitted, and rejected, for consideration for the 2022 Fractured Lit Reprint Prize judged by Meg Pokrass. Read the rejection letter!

Copyright © Todd Besant. All rights reserved.

Best paired with Столичная, icebox cold.

Reprint and reproduction rights for this story are available for purchase. Contact me for more information on Anthologies, Course Packs, Reading Comprehension Exams, Translations, and Dramatic Adaptations

Photo credit: pcorreia on Visualhunt

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The Conditions of My Parole

Glenna is my fishwife and she stinks of low tide. Neither her smokestack cigarette habit nor the fog of perfume she inhabits can best the reek of rotten fish that wafts from her palate and palms, pits and pudenda. It is not a laughing matter. One day people will Run for the Cure to Fish Odour Syndrome. There will be celebrity endorsements, arms raised in victory at the finishing tape, and smiling sufferers grateful for the sanctioned attention.

In the meantime, Glenna ignores strangers’ suggestions she improve her personal hygiene, eats a restricted diet—no eggs, or peanuts, or chocolate, or beans, little meat—and we sleep in separate bedrooms. We have sex only in the shower, our bodies slippery and sudsy with a pungent PH moderate soap. In the shower, Glenna whispers filthy words to me and calls me filthy names and asks me for filthy acts. I want everything she says to be true so, except for one thing, I do everything she asks.

In my ad on the Write a Prisoner website I wrote I was a Marriage Minded Man. Although not necessarily true, it wasn’t essentially untrue. I received seventeen marriage proposals and many prayers and offers to show me The Way to Salvation Through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Almost every letter contained heartfelt poetry and a photograph. Sometimes topless. I did what any man in my circumstances would do; I chose the prettiest one.

Every morning I watch from our kitchen window, a clot of dread in my chest, as Glenna buckles herself into her bright candy red car and backs out of the garage. The car is perfectly safe—for a death machine. It has airbags and childproof locks. The tires are inflated to the recommended psi. An authorized dealer services the car. Glenna is small and sits too close to the steering wheel. She chain-smokes and talks on her cell phone as she drives. I worry about collisions, the docile plastic bumpers, the violence of the exploding airbags, the purposeful steering column. (I worry about lung cancer from tar, nicotine addiction, brain tumours from microwave towers, and other sanctioned afflictions, too.) I drink sugary black coffee and distract myself by reading the calendar on the refrigerator door—it is a precisely highlighted and annotated appointment schedule for Glenna and the girls with immunologists, allergists, dietitians, psychologists, and a chiropractor, although, to my knowledge, the girls and Glenna do not have any back or joint problems. Most often I have no opinion about the calendar so when I expressed concern that the number of appointments this week (Monday: Acupuncture; Tuesday: Dr. Wilson; Wednesday: Hair Cuts & Photos; Friday: Dentist) would make it difficult to get the girls’ lessons completed, Glenna put her hand on my cheek and told me I’m a good man. I felt the hot wash of shame run through my face and guts.

Glenna runs a small perfume and soap shop on a trendy urban avenue. Two beautiful young women work the front of the store. Glenna mostly keeps to a small, well-ventilated backroom where she mixes her custom blends. She charges outrageous prices for her concoctions, which her clientele quietly believe contain the secret of attraction. Glenna is her own best customer.

My worries ease when she calls to say she has safely arrived at her store. Then I eat sparsely buttered dark toast, pour the dregs of the coffee pot into my cup, and call Jenna and Johanna for their daily lessons. They smell like their mother, in a softer, fish-bowl way, and Glenna will not hear of sending them to school, so I home-school them in spelling, grammar, and arithmetic by rote, and worry about how I will teach them higher mathematics. They are allowed a modest dose of leisure television and one hour a day with an iPad. Glenna has me spritz the girls with perfume three times a day. It makes them smell like ditch weeds. While I am uncertain this regimen is best, I do not argue. Instead, I have a secret name I use when she is not around or within earshot: I call Jenna and Johanna “my guppies.”

An electronic leash around my ankle tethers me to the house. A black box plugged into the phone snitches on my every move. My leash is waterproof so I need not remove it for our waterlogged sex life. But I cannot take the trash or recycling to the lane and sometimes it makes Glenna crazy mad that she must do all the mowing and snow clearing, and this takes some of her pleasure out of gardening. I could not walk my guppies to school, even if I had to. Every time the phone rings I rehearse The Conditions of My Parole: I have not consumed any alcohol or drugs or attended any functions where alcohol was served. I have not purchased any firearms. I have completed my mandatory drug and alcohol counselling. I have completed 300 hours of community service and I have finished my anger management class. I have not been in contact with any felons. Every Thursday morning the caller is Evelyn, my parole officer. I am her most innocent client. I prove this by calling her every day.

Tuesdays and Thursdays my guppies walk to their friend Amanda’s house for a play date. On Wednesdays, Amanda comes to play with my guppies and sometimes her mother, Trudy, comes for tea. Trudy has a blotchy forehead and teeth like a rugby scrum. She is pear-shaped and always wears fleece jogging suits, a different colour for each day: pink, lilac, powder blue, mint green, or butter yellow. Trudy smells like Ivory soap and generic underarm deodorant and this gives me a hard-on. I shift in my chair and keep my back to her if I have to stand. If my guppies run into the room, I make sure they can’t jump into my lap.

Soon after Johanna’s third birthday, Eric, Glenna’s first husband and father of the girls, decided he could no longer stay. Not even for my innocent, white-throated guppies. He had done, he said, the right thing long enough. This, he said, was not how he imagined his life. He could no longer, he said, suffer the stink of them all. He packed his clothing and left. What can I say to help my girls, whose father could not stand the smell of them? What worse is there to protect them from?

Fridays I am allowed a three-hour unescorted absence from the house. I wear baggy jeans to conceal my electronic leash. Glenna takes the afternoon off and drives me downtown. Some days she drives slow and sheep-like, forgetting her turns and simply steering where the traffic flow takes her. Other days she curses and honks and gives the finger through the windshield and turns where she pleases. I would prefer to drive but The Conditions of My Parole forbid it. Glenna takes my girls to the new glass and steel library. I walk to a Starbucks three blocks away. The coffee shop is always crowded with people oozing purpose—the hunch-back with the Hitler moustache who draws superheroes in a fat sketchbook, students diligently typing into laptops or highlighting textbooks and notes, the bun-headed ballet students counting their calories. I order an espresso, usually from Angie, a platinum blonde with three rings in her lower lip and an elaborate Chinese dragon tattoo curling down her right arm, or sometimes from Rita, a middle-aged widow with a Shar-Pei face who likely never imagined she’d need to serve coffee to keep her house. I take my espresso to the patio to practice smoking. I need to deaden my taste buds and dull my sense of smell so I can fuck my wife in her bed and save my marriage. Smoking is like breathing for Glenna, but my smoking isn’t going very well—I’m coughing too much and my sinuses burn. Judging from the warnings on the packages, I figured I’d get hooked in a snap. I’ve taken to pretending, pulling a little smoke into my mouth every once in a while. Mostly I just let the cigarette smoulder and diligently scrape the ashes into the crimped tinfoil dish that passes for an ashtray. Then I light another.

It was a spring of high water when Eric left Glenna and the girls. Glenna said when she knew for certain he wouldn’t return, she packed the girls into the car and drove to the Floodway. The water was high and its smooth rush was a bleak invitation. She had driven the perimeter of the city twice and the girls were dozing in the backseat, lulled by the drive and the overheated car. Glenna talked about how easy it would have been to simply roll down the embankment and let the water do its worst. Glenna told me this twice—the first time during our first phone call. The second time she said it in a letter, and further down the page, she listed the sexual acts and the household chores she expected from me.

The bad smell days are stretching into bad smell weeks and Glenna asks for increasingly bizarre sexual acts. I ardently comply—except for the one thing I refuse—even though I find myself conjuring Trudy’s ordinary scents. It happened when my guppies and Amanda were playing in the backyard. Trudy was standing over the sink looking out the window, her fleece-clad bottom a wide powder blue plain. I walked up behind her and buried my face in her sweetly scented hair. She pressed her bottom into my groin. I slipped my hand under her shirt and inside her bra. We could have stayed that way all afternoon. Instead, I pushed her to the floor and we fucked quickly and silently and with much more satisfaction than I had anticipated. Afterward, I felt as though I were looking at a photograph of myself from a time I didn’t remember. Later that day I phoned and suggested sexual acts we could do next time.

On our wedding day, I vowed to take Glenna as she is, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. She won’t hear of it. Every evening she comes home, spritzes herself and the girls with her latest potion, sets incense to burn in every room, and sits down to surf the Internet for news of a cure—gene therapy, self-help groups, surgical experiments. On very bad smell days she opens all the windows and runs fans throughout the house. There is one moment each day I can’t stand to look at Glenna—when she takes her morning pills. There are too many to count: low dose antibiotics, charcoal and copper and chlorophyllin, multivitamins, Children’s Aspirin, and sundry herbal capsules. After dinner, she starts her bookkeeping. A few days ago Glenna said she wanted to sell the shop and go back to university to study genetics. She believes she can find a cure for her fishy stink.

Most lessons I begin with geography. Our many atlases, purchased from used book stores, are perpetually spread on a table made from an old bathroom door and two sawhorses. We track the wash of history—the flexible borders, the rechristened capitals, the mortality of nations: only the continents are resolute. After a snack of oatmeal cookies and apple juice, I have them draw and colour their own maps of the world. I do the same; my are maps borderless fantasies. This morning, Glenna reminded me, is their dental appointment, so in between cereal mouthfuls, I coach my guppies with addition and subtraction flash cards. Their freshly cut hair shines in the sunlight.

A quick round of kisses and they are out the door. I sip my coffee and stare out the kitchen window, the clot of dread in my chest doubly large. But once Glenna pulls from the garage I will call Trudy. She has arranged to leave Amanda with her mother, and then she will come over and we will go to my bed.

My coffee is a sugary slurry at the bottom of my cup and I think about my guppies’ new haircuts. When the phone rings I know it is Evelyn and grasp without glancing at the schedule that today is not dentist day because yesterday was haircut day and I am not leaving for my three hours of smokey respite and Glenna has not backed her bright candy red car into the lane and the clot of dread bursts into a nebula. When I am out the back door and quickly off the patio, the black box sends its warning down the phone lines, squealing I am violating The Conditions of My Parole. I kick in the garage door and step into smog.

When I shatter the rear windows with a garden spade and reach to free the girls from the backseat, Glenna fights me. Still buckled tight behind the wheel, she turns and fights. Under the shower last night Glenna asked again for what I always refuse. I wouldn’t do it then, but I do it now, my palm twice hard across her face. I pull Jenna and Johanna screaming and crying from the car and then lie coughing with them on the grass. Glenna is shrieking through her bloodied lips—cursing God and Eric and me—and revving the engine ever higher. When I return to drag her from her death machine, Glenna sinks her teeth deep into my forearm, her nails gouge my cheeks and eyes, and I think to relent, wishing I had answered one of the perfumed letters offering to show me The Way to Salvation Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, fearing my return to a grim five metre square pen, knowing Trudy is waiting for my call…

And in this moment, hooked into my flesh nail and tooth, Glenna has never smelled so sweet.

This story was published in Prairie Fire Vol. 30 No. 3.
Copyright © Todd Besant. All rights reserved.

Best paired with Pruno, read aloud.

Reprint and reproduction rights for this story are available for purchase. Contact me for more information on Anthologies, Course Packs, Reading Comprehension Exams, Translations, and Dramatic Adaptations

Photo credit: Mark Strozier on Visual Hunt / CC BY


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You and Other Women

Since I’ve stopped seeing you and other women, I’ve been sleeping in the middle of my bed. Each night I sprawl out on my back like a king and try to reach the four corners of my ratty sheets. I fart freely beneath the blankets. In the morning I usually wake up on my belly, so I press my piss hard-on into the mattress for a while. I am free to do this since I stopped sleeping with you and other women. My morning arousals are my own.

Since I stopped eating with you and other women, I’ve usually let my dishes pile up. Rather than scrub them, I’ve thrown away the blue ones another woman gave me. But your yellow set I washed in the bathtub using a face cloth and the aroma-therapy body gel you left behind. My dishes have never smelled so good.

You never liked my chest hair. I can now tell you that other women did.

Since I’ve stopped seeing you and other women, I no longer have to: eat low fat food; sit in non-smoking; go to Tai Chi; hide my desire for your sister (since that time at the beach); miss The Young and the Restless; worry about being fit to stand trial; let your sister-in-law cut my hair; wait to read the front page; feed birds with your mum; care if you faked (okay, not you, another woman); come when I’m called; watch football with your dad; phone if I’m late; fib about my salary; feign I like kissing (yes, you, not another woman); visit fabric or craft stores; rent movies every second Friday night; use bathroom air freshener; pretend to work late; wait until you’re asleep before going to bed; remember: your bra size, your tampon brand, your birthday (36 B, Tampax Naturals, March 12. Fuck!); lie to see my friends; sympathize about your boss; hum when I’m mad; pretend I think your brother has made sensible choices in life; listen to adult contemporary music; enjoy marmalade; rinse the sink after I shave; eat Italian every third Saturday, Chinese take-out on video rental Fridays, and at Perkins every god-damned Sunday morning; wash your hair when you bathe; keep a grocery list on my Fridge; subsidize your credit card debt; or find new ways to admire another plush/ceramic/wicker/metal/glass/wood/plastic pig.

Since I’ve stopped dating you and other women, I can answer my phone without fear. But I’m just as happy to let it ring. I’ve also found I prefer using pencils to pens.

You could keep up on long walks. You didn’t snap your gum. You understood that, more often than not, my silence was a sign of contentment, not anger. You never did catch on to the humming (although it happened fairly regularly). You certainly knew how to use your hands, not like J., who wasn’t sure about her own body, let alone a man’s. You kept your fingernails short and painted your toenails. There are parts of you I would use when constructing the perfect woman. Not the parts you might think. (Okay. I’d start with your nipples and teeth.) You didn’t try to make me love you. Perhaps you should have, just for the sake of saving us time.

Other women have other qualities that I won’t share with you.

Since I’ve stopped seeing you and other women, I’ve been able to: play industrial league hockey; order from a drive-through; watch golf; experiment with facial hair; read Tolkien; eat my dinner from the pot I cook it in; clip my toenails where I want; go to confession; have a barber cut my hair; accept my sister’s companion; get rid of my answering machine; tend to my lawn; wash and vacuum the car on Sundays; take up Karate; walk through tall grass prairie (you and your allergies); understand why my father left; smile at strangers; muse aloud about my future; speak my mind to my boss; change the bandages myself; throw away the ties you picked out; have a beer in the morning; roll stop signs without feeling guilty; remember most of your names; pee in the shower; meet your sister for lunch (I was careful to not order a drink); drive all night; spend a day being left handed; duplicate your taco salad; adopt a cat; listen to Tom Waits and Billie Holiday; and rid my house of strands of your hair.

Another man might have handled it differently, but your sister is a woman who really likes my chest hair. Something else you don’t want to know: your sister gets horny after eating a Skor bar.

Since I’ve stopped seeing you and other women, I’ve had to: pay a fine for being drunk and disorderly; guard against optimism; accept a transfer that will take me east; begin masturbating again (okay, I never stopped); face 57 shots in a 14 to 3 shellacking; be wary of infection; trade in the Valiant; admit I’m an atheist; let your sister down softly; clean my oven; say “no” three times; learn the difference between infer and imply; stop myself from stopping; buy a new blender; be tested for HIV; think about actions and consequences; go to garage sales with my mother; remember what happened between the ages of six and eleven; accept the size of the scar; figure out how to apologize (it’s about being specific); submit to a paternity test; learn to be alone; and find the perfect place for a litter box.

Another woman would have handled it differently, but you can’t be blamed for just grabbing what was handy.

These are the scars you know: the half-moon below my left eye, the slim and straight ridge on the inside of my left forearm, the entrance wound of the BB pellet lodged in my back, and the bite mark on my right calf from Sally the cocker spaniel.

Since I’ve stopped sleeping with you, it will be some other woman who will come to know the hairless landscape of the scar you’ve given me. Another woman will trace its ridges and valleys with her fingers and lips. It will be another woman asking “How?” It will be another woman asking “Why?”

This story first appeared in Contemporary Verse 2 Vol. 20 No. 4
Copyright © Todd Besant. All rights reserved.

Best paired with Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve Whisky, straight-up in a Norlan Whisky Glass

Reprint and reproduction rights for this story are available for purchase. Contact me for more information on Anthologies, Course Packs, Reading Comprehension Exams, Translations, and Dramatic Adaptations

Photo credit: omnia_mutantur on / CC BY-NC-ND


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This blog is written and produced on Turtle Island in Winnipeg, MB, on Treaty 1 Land that is the territories of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, Lakota, Inuit, and Dene peoples, and is the Traditional Homeland of the Métis Nation. All material, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © Todd Besant. All rights reserved. Header photo credit: darkday. on