Muskellunge (Macaron 2019 Fiction winner)

This is an excerpt from the 2019 Macaron Prize winner in the category of fiction, judged by Chantel Acevedo. Learn more about the prize winners and order the print issue at the Cagibi 2019 print issue page.

Cagibi Issue 1 Stars

Ned Beerman was a janitor at a community college, and when he got that job it was as though he had joined his life. Before that there had been school, if you could call it that. No one could be quite sure how Ned got through it, but get through it he did, even though high school, his mother’s chili, the worn brown teddy he’d carried as a child: none of that ever seemed completely real. Ned’s job seemed real. It was as though he had always done it and always would. He could be forgiven for thinking that. His parents could.

Ned lived in a red house with his mother, Judith, and father, Dennis, and a cat, Rainbow. When his mother had adopted the cat from the shelter, she’d asked Ned: Do you want to call it something else? Yes or no? Ned, cradling the cat, said no. Rainbow seemed like a nice name to him. Ned also had an overstuffed pillow shaped and printed to look like Jesus. Jesus’s face was kind but His printed lips were stretched by the stuffing, so the gentle smile was a little strange, more like a grin.

Ned’s dad had hurt his leg in a construction accident a long time ago, and now he spent his time at home completing elaborate jigsaw puzzles and reading books about WWII generals—the generals on both sides, as he liked to point out. Ned was happy sitting with his father and Jesus and Rainbow the cat when his mother went to work at the community college, where she was a secretary. One day she came home and told him about a job at the college, a janitorial job, and she asked him if he might like to work as a janitor. “You’d push a broom,” Judith said encouragingly. This was something Ned enjoyed doing at home. …

For the full story, order the Cagibi 2019 print issue.

About the Author

Janice Deal is currently working on a collection of linked short stories, Sick Beasts, about the fictional town of Ephrem, Illinois. “Muskellunge” is part of that collection. Her first story collection, The Decline of Pigeons, was published by Queen’s Ferry Press in 2013. She has also completed a novel, The Sound of Rabbits, which placed as a finalist in the Many Voices Project annual competition, and for Black Lawrence Press’s Big Moose Prize.

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