Photos by Francesco Nazardo
It took a while for the Canadian literary establishment to accept Lynn Coady—her unpleasant gritty realism, profanity, and fucked-up sex scenes didn’t go down too easily with the silk-stocking crowd. It wasn’t until her 2011 novel The Antagonist—a first-person narrative about a washed-up hockey player with a penchant for alcohol and self-hatred—was shortlisted for the ultra-prestigious Giller Prize that everyone sat up and went, “Whoa, she’s one of the best writers we’ve got.” We’re honored to feature her new short story “Season Finale” in this issue, and we’ve paired it with a couple photos by Francesco Nazardo. Francesco is an Italian photographer based in New York whose work was featured in an exhibition titled The Future of Photography, which we think was a great call on the curator’s part.
orelei would come home from school and watch TV. At three o’clock was Desperation Row, but she never got back in time to see the whole thing. She could have watched it later, online, but streaming it ruined the ritual—running home to catch the last ten minutes, which were all you really needed anyway—the minor victory. Then at four was Lakeside, and that was part of the ritual too—the larger victory. You’d think, Crap, I missed DR, but cheer yourself up the next instant, pretending to have only just remembered—Yay!— that Lakeside was on next.
The story of Lakeside only ever took place in the summer, which made it ideal school year viewing. It had to do with people vacationing in big expensive cottages around a lake, hosting sun-dappled barbecues and beach picnics and drinking cold drinks and enjoying gauzy affairs with one another. If viewers wished to purchase a cottage, or the appliances within the cottages, or anything else they happened to spot on Lakeside, there was always a number they could call or a site they could visit, noted at the end of every segment. Lorelei visited the site every now and again. “Pick your cottage!” the website extolled her. And she did, she picked her favorite one; it never changed, the one where the most beautiful woman on the show resided, the one with the fountain. She even filled out all the personal information the site required, closing the browser only when she arrived at the Financial Profile section.
The reality shows came on after supper. Her favorite was Do Me All Over, during which a TV crew scoured the worst neighborhoods in the worst cities and dug up the worst prostitutes imaginable. The audience went out of its mind imagining that people would pay money to have sex with such shoddy prostitutes.
First, the hookers were interviewed, and made to talk about their lives. They were interrogated about the kind of clients they had serviced and the kind of things the clients liked to do. This part was usually very funny and gross. But then sometimes the prostitutes would talk about the horrible ways in which they had been beaten or otherwise abused, and the mood in the studio would turn sympathetic and somber.
One time the host interviewed a girl named Evvie. She had missing teeth and scabs from scratching herself raw when she was high and when she felt what she called the “wriggly-jigglies” moving beneath her skin. The prerecorded audience chuckled because of the childishness of the phrase. It sounded like school-yard lingo. Imagine Evvie small, in the school yard; as someone’s child! It made for a humanizing moment, which was not an easy feat to achieve so early in the show’s established arc.
They never tried to clean up the prostitutes for their initial interviews. Evvie’s wet scabs glistened under the studio lighting; they hadn’t washed her hair. There was a lingering close-up on her teeth. Lorelei saw that Evvie’s mouth was somewhat deformed, as if it had been mangled, caught in some kind of machinery.
The host was saying, “Now Evvie, you’ve had some hard times on the streets, haven’t you?” This was the audience’s cue to stop giggling at “wriggly-jigglies” and prepare themselves for some sad and serious details.
“Yeah,” said Evvie through her mangled mouth.
“You were beaten quite badly by one of your ‘tricks’ at one point, weren’t you?”
“He said he just wanted lunch,” said Evvie, and the audience couldn’t stop themselves from tittering because they knew from previous shows what lunch was. The host glowered, briefly, to quiet them down.
“But he wanted more than that, didn’t he Evvie.”
“Yeah,” said Evvie.
Almost none of the subjects they had on the show, Lorelei thought to herself, were very good talkers at the beginning. It always had to be dragged out of them. But that worked well. It built suspense. The host played up to it, drawing things out. Lorelei understood television very well at that point, she understood all its tricks and didn’t begrudge or resent them. She simply noted how successful they were, and kept on being entertained.
“His van,” Evvie said.
“What did he have in his van, Evvie?”
“He had ropes. And hooks. And sticks and things.”
“But there was something else about the van, wasn’t there, Evvie? Something you only noticed later. What was that, Evvie?”
“There was plastic.”
“Plastic sheets of plastic. Taped up all over the inside of the van.”
“So you mean.”
“For blood,” said Evvie. “For my blood.”
The audience sounded a dark collective moan. Close-ups of some of their expressions flashed on the screen. They glanced at each other, eyes wide, muttering horror.
“Well, Evvie,” the host concluded after she had finished her harrowing tale, which had ended with a group of men, having heard her screams and thumps, running up to the van and shaking it back and forth until she was released (“Did they ever catch your attacker?” “No they ain’t,” said Evvie). “We’re here to make sure this kind of thing never happens to you again.”
And the audience’s applause at this point was raucous, relieved. Evvie had come through night, and was only just beginning to claw her way toward the dawn—thanks to Do Me All Over. She was so awful and disgusting now. Soon all that would be eradicated, would fall away like healed scabs, and at the end of the season she would return to their stage a heroine, someone everybody could be inspired by.
The rest of the season would be devoted to, in this order: her drug and alcohol detoxification, her diet, her exercise, her orthodontics, her personal grooming, her wardrobe, whatever remaining familial relationships might be salvageable for added drama, and, finally, her surgical augmentation. On the very last episode of the season they would showcase Evvie transformed alongside a photograph of the original item, and Lorelei, along with every single other viewer under the sun, would trickle tears of joy because the world was a place of beauty and hope despite all the evidence to the contrary. And possibility. That was the most important thing of all. Nothing was fixed. Everything could change. You just needed to know the right people.
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