She’s All Right – New Fiction by G. S. Arnold

Joint Winner of The Letter Review Prize for Short Fiction

The same week I get myself kicked out of high school for putting the youngest Smoll brother in the hospital, Chardelle starts going scatty in the brain. The Randy Codd Fair comes to town and me and her are spinning upside down in the Orbiter. Chardelle’s lips are the color of bee pollen from yellow marshmallow Peeps. She grips my hand.  

“We’re space men,” she says. “Murray,” she says to me, her son, Gordo. “Let’s do it in a goddam spaceship . . .” 

My eyes jump. I nearly roll backwards out the Oribter car. Chardelle squints at me, and then this gash opens up in her face. A smile, or at least her attempt at one. But it ain’t like no smile I ever seen. It’s the smile of someone completely lost to herself. She pokes me in the chest.

“You’re funny,” she says.

On the ground, my step-arsehole Murray is swinging a mallet at the Whack-A-Mole. Murray’s skinny as a turd but with a remarkable gut. A gut so big it has its own gravitational pull. There’s something insulting about the way he carries it around, easing it through doorways and into chairs like it holds the kid he’s always wanted. I’m the one he got stuck with instead. I tell Murray I want to leave. He’s holding a grease-soaked bag of chicken-fried bacon. 

“Still gotta’ ride the Teacups,” he says.

Chardelle pats my head. 

“You’re ok, hun,” she says. “You’re just dizzy.”   

Couple weeks later Chardelle climbs into the Silverado, bare-arsed in her Oilers jacket. The sky hangs grey like a smoker’s lung that exploded. She sits with the door open, just giving it to the engine. I come up and ask her what the goddam hell she’s doing and she tells me she’s off to Shoppers for Scratch n’ Wins. She’s got a leg out the truck and our poodle Humper explodes out a bush and starts humping her shin.

“He’s worried about you,” I say.

“Mum’s okay,” she says to the dog. She leans down and plants a kiss on his rubbery lips.

“Mum’s going to be fine,” she says.


She starts speaking of things floating before her eyes: the sucked-out hearts of tomcats, coin-sized jellyfish jerk-dancing like marionettes. I roll a McCain frozen juice across her forehead.

“There’s a goddam Weed Wacker in there,” she says. 

A few weeks later, me and Murray take her to Dr. Goldfinger. Dr. G’s got a framed poster of skinny Elvis on his wall, a three-foot wax statue of bloated, sideburn Elvis in a corner, and Elvis bobbleheads wobbling behind his computer. Murray eases himself into a chair beside Chardelle and me in front of the desk. His gut nearly knocks over a bobblehead. 

“Goldfinger,” he says, chuckling, “like that Bond villain,” and Chardelle tells him to shut his goddam trap. Her bandaged head’s got a hole the size of a quarter from the biopsy she got a week earlier. 

Dr. Goldfinger locks eyes with Chardelle. His voice is flat and cold. He says a word I ain’t never heard before: “Oligodendroglioma.” You can tell Chardelle’s screwed just by its length. 

“The tumor occupies the left frontal lobe,” he says. 

It’s terminal. Chemo and an operation might extend her life a bit. Chardelle’s got, he says, four to six months, at best. 

“Ah jeez,” Chardelle says. Her tone: light disappointment. She’s in shock, I guess. Her reaction’s no different than if Dr. G just told her the office don’t validate parking. I get up out of my chair and stand there like a dummy. Murray just stares at one of the bobbleheads, mouth breathing. 

Dr. G. slides a picture of the tumor across the desk. A bunch of blood vessels gridded like chicken wire. Some splatty white cells with dark centers, like photo negatives of fried eggs. 

“My brain’s a farm,” Chardelle says on the way home. “I got a chicken farm between my ears.”  


Since I can’t go to school nomore, Murray puts me to work in the front yard digging a ditch for a new septic tank. I’m waist deep in the ditch when the oldest Smoll brother, Marcel, comes up from across the street with Tammy Creamer cocked under his arm. Marcel’s got feathered hair and a feather earring and muddy stache that looks like a shit-stained feather across his lip. He once taekwondo-kicked a empty beer box off my head at a party. 

“Got something to say now, fuckface?” he says.

He’s standing at the edge of the septic ditch, his thumbs cocked in his belt, looking down at me over the rounded tips of his steel-toe boots. 

“Nope,” I say, looking up. “Said about all I needed to say to your brother.”

Tammy laughs. Her tongue clacks. She got her tongue pierced.

Marcel squirts spit through his front teeth onto the ground beside his boot. It sounds like the hot burst of an air compressor. Humper guns it out the bushes and starts going at Marcel’s shin. Marcel does a kind of pirouette and nearly falls arse first into into the ditch beside me. Tammy laughs again. Marcel shakes the dog off and hooks Tammy under his arm.  

“Come on,” he says, and squirts another burst of spit to show he ain’t rattled but you can tell he is.

“Say hi to your brother for me,” I say. 

We take Chardelle to a nearby cove to dig squirt clams with toilet plungers. Cold, cold. Our breath clouds the air like artillery flack. Murray and Chardelle bag sixty goddam clams between them. I max out at five. After, we stop at a roadside inn for lunch. Murray knocks the Silverado up over the curb and parks in a handicap space.

“Ain’t no cripple yet,” Chardelle says. 

“Cripples park free,” Murray says. “May as well make lemonade out of that goddamn lemon of a brain you got.” 

We eat sea-lettuce pie. Murray drains six vodka shooters with raw quahogs and Tabasco. On the way home he pulls over to a ditch to take a whiz. We watch him through the window.

“He ain’t taking this good,” I say.

“You’ll have to take care of him,” Chardelle says.


Murray slides back into the truck reeking of dog shit. A shirt blade’s stuck out his fly. 

“That’s all she wrote,” he says, and I swear I hear Chardelle chuckle, like when you joke about a crap situation you know you can’t do nothing about.


Chardelle’s sister Dot drives her to St. Joe’s for surgery. Murray spends the week at Beef’s Tavern, liquidating their supply of Bombay Sapphire gin. I sit with Chardelle two nights. She’s pale. You can see the veins under her skin spread like the branches in a fly’s wing. When I get back home I come upon Murray asleep on the sofa, snoring, a half-chewed turkey leg on his gut. On the coffee table is a picture of him and Chardelle at a lobster boil, Murray with two candy-red claws crammed up his nose. Chardelle is pointing, laughing.

The next day I say to Murray, “After Chardelle goes, I go.” 

“What the hell you gonna’ do smart guy?”

He’s cocked back in his Lay-Z-Boy, fisting a gin and tonic. 

“You ain’t my dad.”

“Your mum’s a fighter.”

“I might do something with my life.”

He jacks a thumb towards the living room window which overlooks the septic ditch. 

“Unless you get your high school, only thing you’re gonna’ do is dig shit holes for a living.” 


Couple weeks after surgery, Marcel’s girlfriend Tammy Creamer gets into a fight with Rhonda Zelinsky at McDonald’s. It’s St. Patty’s day and I’m picking up a soft cream for Chardelle. Tammy knocks Rhonda upside the head with a Shamrock Shake in the parking lot and Rhonda charges her with spin-slap hands and gets her on the ground. She puts out a cigarette on Tammy’s head and says, “Now who’s a skank you goddam scrawny skank?” 

Marcel’s not around. I stay after the crowd leaves and haul Tammy up by the armpits. 

“Skank’s not so bad,” I say. 

“Piss off,” she says.  

Next weekend Tammy comes up to the house all scuppered on Jack and Pepsi. I’m in the backyard spraying fire at bats with a can of Right Guard and a lighter. Tammy’s got on LuLu Lemons and says Marcel’s a creep. We end up messing around in the mower shed. The whole time I’m getting whiffs of brake fluid. Later in the kitchen I pour Tammy a glass of pear juice. Chardelle’s lying on the sofa with this blue wig she got after the surgery, and Tammy sniggers. After Tammy leaves I knead out Chardelle’s varicose veins with my thumbs. 

“You’re better than her,” she says.

“She’s nobody.”

“Don’t waste your life.” She leaves out the second half, “after I’m gone.” 

I’m ready to pull my head off.

“I won’t know what to do,” I say. 

“Look,” she says. She’s holding a bloody molar she’s jerked from her gums. It’s been loose for months. 

“How much you think I could get for this?”


Chardelle conks on a Monday. The funeral’s on the following Saturday. I wear black jeans and a Megadeth t-shirt, tucked in. Dot bawls makeup. Hard glossy purses tap the pews. Swishy suits. Ain’t one person speaks above a whisper. Death’s a dog-muzzle for sound. 

Murray’s got on the only suit he owns: a three-piecer with a watch chain plugged into the vest. The whole service he keeps pulling out the watch and looking at it, like all he’s got to do is wheel the hands back and Chardelle will appear, healthy, singing a choir hymn. 

In the basement we eat cucumber sandwiches with paprika and too much mayo. I haven’t slept for three days. Father Lean speaks of Jesus Christ and I say, “What’s the H stand for,” and he says, “H?” and I say, “Jesus H. Christ,” and he tells me Chardelle had a kindly way with people.  

“I can’t believe she conked,” I say. I’m talking like it ain’t no big deal. Like her going don’t mean that much to me, but I’m not sure if I’m very convincing. I tell Father Lean my joke.  

“The tumor was on the left side, so I guess you could say she was all right.”

Murray comes up and jabs his gut between us. He’s got mayo on his tie, a half-eaten sandwich in his hand.

“The H,” he says, “stands for humper. Like our dog. Jesus was a great humper of legs.”

Father Lean touches his arm. “We have counseling for this. You aren’t alone.”

“Am now,” Murray says. He piles the rest of the sandwich into his mouth. “And don’t fucking tell me I ain’t.”


A week later I buzz over to Convenient Convenience for a Slurpee. Humper follows to sniff the garbage bins out back. As I’m arse to curb sucking back a blueberry Slurpee, Humper trots over reeking of garbage and starts going to work on my leg. I tug him off, and I’m thinking about what the hell to do with my life now that Chardelle’s gonzo—really and truly gone—when what feels like a steel pipe hammers me on the back of my head. 

“That’s for my brother,” a voice behind me says.

My head feels like a bag of dimes popped open. This time I see Marcel’s steel-toe boot come at me a second time, but the image only registers long after it’s connected with my face.

“And that’s for my girl.”


Murray’s in the living room when I walk in, grazing on the rind of a cantaloupe. He looks up at me, at my swollen eye.

“It’s a improvement,” he says. 

I sit on the sofa and he goes to the kitchen for a McCain frozen juice. He returns and settles his gut in front of me and holds the can to my eye. 

“Goddam waste is what it is,” he says, and I can’t tell if he means me or the can of juice. For some reason, his words come at me like another steel toe boot to the face. 

“F-you,” I say. I grab the can and bift it across the room. My lip tucks under my front teeth. Sobs jerk out. And there’s Murray, standing dumb as a post, fixing his belt under his gut, not knowing what the hell to do. I’m really going to work on that lower lip. I may just bite right through it. Then I feel it, Murray’s hand on top of my head. 

“Jesus H. Christ,” he says.

Gently, he draws my face towards the orbit of that gut. As he pulls my head in, I can smell the neglect coming off his plaid shirt—a shellac of spilled beer and gin and barbecue peanut dust and gut sweat. Probably hasn’t washed it since Chardelle last done it. Murray’s holding me to him, pushing my face into that gut like I’m the only goddam thing he’s got left in this world, and I can’t stop shaking. 

 “Alright,” he says. “You’re fine. We’ll be fine. For Christ’s sake,” he says. “We’ll get through it.”

G. S. Arnold has an MA in English in the Field of Creative Writing from the University of Toronto and works at a career college in Toronto, Canada. His work has appeared in literary journals such as The Malahat Review, Event Magazine, Ninth Letter, Asia Literary Review, Glimmer Train, Prairie Fire, and The Masters Review. His short story collection Pagodas of the Sun was a finalist for the AWP Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and it won The Letter Review Prize for Unpublished Manuscripts. Along with receiving numerous Toronto, Ontario and Canada Arts Council grants as well as a Pushcart and a Journey Prize nomination, his stories have been short or long listed in contests such as the Writer’s Union of Canada Short Prose competition, the 2019 CBC short story award, the international Bridport Prize for short stories, and the Masters Review Short Story Anthology. He has recently finished his debut novel Sea of Clouds, set during the 1923 Tokyo earthquake.