About the Author

Suzanne Sutherland

Suzanne Sutherland's short fiction has appeared in various magazines and literary journals such as Descant and Steel Bananas. She is the co-founder of the Toronto Zine Library and recently published her first novel, When We Were Good. She lives in Toronto.

Books by this Author
Under the Dusty Moon


There’s this huge all-day concert that happens on the island at the end of every summer. You have to take a ferry across the lake just to get there, but it feels like practically the whole city goes.

We went last year, Mom and me. The crowd was unreal, this swarming mass of tattoos and band shirts, Keds and sunglasses. If you turned away from the crowd, you could see all the giant office buildings and high-rise condos of Toronto’s gap-toothed skyline casting their reflections across Lake Ontario, but if you faced the stage, you were completely surrounded by the sound and the sky and the sweaty, sunburned crowd.

It was amazing.

And this year they asked Mom to play.

I got all excited when she told me, even though it’s totally not like me to flip every time she books a show. When I’d finished geeking out, I was dumb enough to ask her if she thought that this was going to be her big break as a solo act, but she just laughed.

It was kind of a sad laugh, really. And she shook her head. Her thick brown hair swung side to side in that easy way that it does. There’s more grey in it these days, but she still looks like a kid. My hair doesn’t swing that way, that shampoo commercial way that hers does, it just hangs there, limp, like it can’t be bothered to move.

“Aw, sweets,” she said, ruffling my dirty-blond mop, “you know it’s not really about breaks. You just keep on working.” “Yeah, I know,” I said, already embarrassed of my enthusiasm. “But you’re still going to play the fest, right?”

“Of course. I’ll keep singing as long as they keep calling me back for more. But you know how it is, just another day at the office.”

“Uh huh,” I said, “I know.”

— —

Micky Wayne is my mom.

She isn’t famous, but she used to be. “Canadian-famous,” I heard someone call her once. Or maybe I read it. I can’t remember. People write about her a lot. Or they used to, anyway.

She’s a musician: a singer and a guitar player. Sometimes she plays with a band and sometimes she just plays on her own. She used to sing in a band called Dusty Moon, and they were really popular before they broke up. Now she mostly just plays her own songs.

People know her name. And because they know her name, some people even know mine. Not that they know anything about me, or even what I look like, but they know whole songs about me. They know that daisies are my favourite flower, and that my mom calls me Vic, even though she’s the only one who’s allowed to, I’m Victoria to everyone else. And I’m definitely not Vicky, to anyone. For obvious reasons. Sometimes I think that Mom chose a rhyming name for me on purpose. She’s always wanted us to be like sisters, like twins, when really we’re total opposites. But I guess she is my best friend, even though I’d never admit it to her.

When I was born, Mom was still on the road a lot with Dusty Moon. And more than anything she wanted to be a mom, but more than anything she also wanted to play music. She’s never been particularly decisive. So for a while she tried to balance the two, not that I remember, but there are hours of footage of me toddling around Dusty Moon’s tour bus and crying about having to wear my noise-cancelling headphones that looked like giant plastic earmuffs when the band played shows.

I guess it must’ve been pretty hard, even though she had a tour nanny to help her most of the time. She never looks very happy in those videos from when I was little, just exhausted. She wasn’t sure that she was doing the right thing by bringing me with her, by continuing to tour, but playing music was the only job she’d ever had. She didn’t know how to do anything else. And as much as they loved me, the rest of the band wasn’t super thrilled that I was always there with them. It kind of tore her up, I think. I mean, she never talks about it, but she wrote about it in a whole bunch of songs, the first ones she wrote for her to sing on her own. They make up most of her first solo album. She wrote them because she didn’t know what to do and she felt stuck. But then the choice kind of got made for her.

She’s been back on the road a little bit in the last couple of years as a solo act, finally getting to play the songs that she stored up for so long. It’s easier now that I’m old enough to be left mostly alone while she’s gone. It’s usually just weekends out of town, though, nothing as major as before. She plays a few old Dusty Moon songs in her sets, but it’s mostly stuff that’s just hers.

Mom’s songs are pretty personal. Like, show-up-to-school-naked-like-in-a-dream-but-it’s-not-actually-a-dream kind of personal, which is a genre I’m pretty sure she made up. I’d shrivel up like a sideshow shrunken head if people knew half as much about me as they do about her, but she just puts it all out there: her loneliness and her desire and her frustrations. It’s embarrassing sometimes, but there’s not much I can do about it. That’s just who she is: transparent. Her heart’s not so much on her sleeve as it is set out on a plate that she’s passing around the crowd for everyone to take a bite of.

Anyway, it was the middle of July when Mom found out about the concert on the island. During the kind of sticky, stinky summer heat wave that makes you feel like you’re living in someone’s armpit. I stayed inside as much as I could, and even though our air conditioner was seriously on its last legs it was still better than being outside.

After Mom made her big island announcement, she had to leave for band practice. She zipped her acoustic-electric guitar into its bag and slipped the straps over her shoulders like a backpack. Then she picked up her bike and carried it down the stairs; she was almost able to make a tricky manoeuvre like that look graceful.

“I’ll be back in time for dinner, okay?” she called back over her shoulder.

“Yeah,” I said, “if you don’t get fried alive out there!”

I texted Luce to see if she wanted to come over. She texted back a minute later to say she’d be right there, and what colour freezie did I want.

You know me, I texted, true blue.


Lucy’s parents own a convenience store, the one at the end of our street. And that’s how we first met.This was just after we’d moved Toronto, just over three years ago. When Mom realized that if she wanted to get back to playing music and touring like an actual working musician we might have to move to a slightly bigger city. And to be closer to the one person she could count on to look after me while she was out of town: her mother, who’d moved to Toronto after my grampa died. We’d been living in Moncton before that, and in Halifax, with Gran and Grampa, when I was little. Mom used to joke that I’d have my first cross-Canada tour under my belt by the time I turned eighteen. I told her she might want to work on her standup routine before she started working the comedy-club circuit.

So we’d found a new apartment, a tiny little two-bedroom with perma-dirty linoleum floors and an inexplicably large closet that Mom said would be perfect for a mini-studio. She signed the lease on the spot, while our new landlord talked excitedly into his Bluetooth in what sounded like Portuguese. The apartment was in Parkdale, which it wasn’t all that far away Gran’s house, so dirt aside, it seemed pretty ideal.

Gran and I don’t get along super well, but she’s okay. Most of the time. Even when I was a little kid we never exactly got each other. Grampa, when he was alive, did the translating for both of us, and without him things didn’t really work. I was really sad after he died, but Mom was worse. She stopped writing songs, barely left the house, and she and Gran fought all the time. Which I guess is why Gran decided to pack up and leave Halifax. We left not too long after that and found a place in Moncton. For a while Mom and Gran weren’t even speaking, but eventually they got over it. Still, after thirteen years of living on the other side of the country from her, it seemed pretty weird to be moving so we could be close to someone I hardly knew.

We’d driven Mom’s van — The Grimace, it’s big and purple like that old McDonald’s character — all the way from Nova Scotia to Ontario with all of our stuff in the back. Well, not quite all of it, some of it was being shipped over after us. But the shipment was delayed, so for about a week we were just squatting in the new place with no furniture or anything, just stacks of boxes and old milk crates. And Mom was so exhausted from the drive and the unpacking we’d done when we arrived that she squeezed my shoulders and whispered in my ear, “What do you say we go lazy shopping?” Which is what she calls it when she’s too tired to go to an actual grocery store and we shop at the closest corner store instead.

So we trooped down the flight of stairs from our apartment to the street. And she took my hand in hers and we went inside the first little shop we found. She was wearing an old band shirt stretched at the seams, and she stunk of sweat from the long drive. I had insisted on her buying me real deodorant — not the hippie crystal stuff that she used — ever since I was old enough to need it. I was frazzled and frayed, but at least I smelled all right.

“Lynn’s Convenience,” Mom whispered as we passed through the door. “Oh, look, Vic, we chose right.” She pointed to a fat, orange tabby cat that was prowling near the potato-chip rack. Mom is such a cat lady, she loses her mind around anything with pointy ears and whiskers, even though she’s allergic and we can’t actually have one in our place. Within seconds she was down on her knees, tickling this strange cat behind the ears and baby-talking like there was no one else around to hear her.

“Oh, what a handsome boy you are. Yes, yes, yes, so handsome. Such a beautiful, beautiful boy.”

I was used to this kind of performance, but it was still mortifying to see her go totally gaga in public. My face flushed hot and red, and I made my way to the back of the store to find a distraction in the form of some chocolate milk. That was when I first saw Lucy, sitting on a folding chair with a mini DVD player propped up on the counter in front of her. She’d stopped paying attention to whatever movie she’d been watching, though, and was full-on staring at Mom losing her mind over the cat, just barely containing her laughter. I gave her a dirty look, even though I knew exactly how ridiculous Mom looked. I grabbed the chocolate milk, along with a carton of plain two-percent for Mom, plus three boxes of Kraft Dinner and a packet of Mr. Noodles, nearly dropping everything as I walked back to the front of the store, cradling our loot in my arms.

“What’s your hurry, love?” Mom asked, still enraptured with the cat. “This is Felix, isn’t he gorgeous?” She finally broke her loving gaze and surveyed my haul. “Let’s see, three boxes of Kraft Dinner? Hmm, we’re going to need some butter, too. And let’s grab some cheese and a loaf of bread, and, oh, let’s get some microwave popcorn, too. And some Diet Coke.”

I unloaded my bounty onto the counter and the two of us went hunting for the rest of the items on the shopping list that only existed in her head. When we’d grabbed enough of what she deemed real food, the man behind the counter started ringing us up. Our lazy shopping trip turned out to be pretty substantial, and the man behind the cash register called for the girl at the back to come help him. And Mom, being Mom, just went for it.

“Hey,” she said, taking me by the shoulders and pointing me toward the girl, “this is Victoria. What’s your name?”

“Lucy,” her father supplied, while the girl kept her head down, stuffing our first Toronto meal into thin grey-green plastic bags. “My name is Walter.”

“Hi, Walter. Lucy, you and Vic must be about the same age. What grade are you in?”

If my face had been red before from Mom carrying on with the cat, I was a glowing stop sign now.

“Seven,” she said.

“Oh, wow, Vic’s just about to start grade eight at the school down the street here. Is that your school, too?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Isn’t that great, Vic?

“Mm-hmm,” I said, studying the chocolate bars on the shelves below the counter. “Great.”

“It’s thirty-six forty-nine all together,” Lucy’s dad said. No one in the history of the world has ever been able to spend as much money at convenience stores as Mom and I do.

“Perfect,” Mom said, “perfect,” while she dug into the pockets of her jeans for the folded up twenties she’d tucked in before we left. She handed them over, collected her change, and we took our bags from the counter.

“Bye, Walter! Bye, Lucy! Bye, Felix!” she called back as we left.

Micky Wayne, a one-woman welcome wagon. It was so humiliating.

“Why did you do that?” I whisper-yelled, smacking her arm with the back of my free hand as soon as we’d walked past the store window.

“Ow, ow, you’re hurting me,” she whined. “Stop it, Vic, you’re too strong!”

“I hate you,” I hissed, smacking her again. “You never take anything I say seriously.”

“Please,” she said, “no more, I can’t take it! It hurts!”


And we carried on like that all the way back up the stairs and into our new home. As we started unpacking the food, I tried again.

“You can’t do that to me, you know. I don’t need you to make friends for me.”

“I know,” she said begrudgingly.

“Say it,” I insisted. “Say the whole thing.”

“I know that you’re old enough to make your own friends.”

“Do you actually?” I asked.

“You’re old enough to make Kraft Dinner all by yourself and you’re old enough to make your own friends,” she recited robotically.

“Exactly,” I said, over-enunciating my words, “and I would thank you to remember that.”

“And old enough to make a liquor-store run for me?” she asked, wiggling her shoulders.

“I wish.”

“Me, too. I’m just going to pop out and get some wine, okay? Do you mind starting dinner?”

“I thought you said we were getting a personal chef when we moved to Toronto,” I said, searching through a stack of boxes for one marked KITCHEN.

“Is that what you heard me say?” she asked. “I told you we were getting a personal … shelf.”

“Weak, Mom.”

“I know,” she said, tapping her head. “Mama needs her brain juice.”

“So go on, then.”

“Okay. See you soon, sweets.”

— —

Luce came over with the freezies and I picked up where I’d left off my game of Lore of Ages V. It’s actually Lucy’s game, but she’s been lending me the series, one by one, since she first got me into it last year. You play as Stara Shah, a time-travelling adventurer and all around kick-ass lady. Each game is different, but they’re all about saving an ancient civilization from disappearing, which you do by collecting their artifacts and stories, and sometimes you have to fight one of their gods in the process. Other than in the first game where she’s dressed kind of plain, Stara always wears her signature knee-high red boots, black pants, and red leather jacket, with a tattoo of an eagle on her chest and a jet-black high ponytail that reaches all the way down to her waist. It’s, like, a perfect outfit, and I’ve been trying to find a pair of boots like Stara’s for months.

We had to download old system emulators onto Mom’s and my computer to play the first few of them. They came out before Lucy and I were even born, and they look all funny and pixelated. Lucy’s beaten the whole series already, at least until Lore of Ages VI comes out in the fall, but she’s been coaching me while I play through it. She swears that her love of Lore of AgesLoA to its most devoted players — is so deep that she actually loves watching me stumble my way through it, but sometimes I think she’s just mining my goofy screw-ups for her fanfiction.

Lucy spends a lot of time online talking to other people who are into LoA and the other games she plays. Sometimes we’ll go on the forums together at her house, but I never have much to say on my own. Lucy’s made some good friends through the game, though, and through her fanfiction. They seem really cool, but when we all chat together I feel kind of like a tourist. Word is that there’s going to be a playable demo of LoA VI at Fan Con this year, this big convention that happens at the end of the summer. Lucy and I had been planning to go together, but when I told Mom how much the four-day convention pass cost, she nearly did a spit-take. Lucy was pissed at me when I told her I couldn’t go, but made plans to meet up with some of her friends from the forums instead, which made me feel totally left out.

Lately, though, I’ve been working on my fanart — even though I haven’t let anyone else see it. I’ve been trying to draw this portrait of Stara, but I can never get her face just right: her high arched eyebrows, tawny brown skin, and her perfect little smirk. I can see it perfectly in my head, but it never comes out looking that way on paper. Still, I keep on trying. Eventually I might get it right.

“Okay, hold on. Can I just, like, suggest something here?” Lucy asked, when I’d been playing for less than a minute.

“Oh, come on,” I said, “I thought I was doing okay!”

“Well yeah,” she said, “you are. Just, you could be doing a lot more okay, you know? You’ve got to check under that rock over there. You see it?”

“Oh, right,” I said, moving the rock and finding a gem that was hidden underneath.

“Right,” she said, “you’ve got it. Now keep on walking.”

I paused the game, already looking for an excuse to talk about something else. Lucy’s great, but she doesn’t realize how much of a control freak she can be when she’s watching me play one of her games. “You think I should ask Shaun to hang out?” I said.

“Who’s Shaun?”she asked, taking the end of her purple freezie out of her mouth.

“You know, that guy from my drama class. I told you about him.”

“Oh,” she said. “Why?”

“I told you, he’s kind of cool. We did that project together that time. I just, I don’t know, feel like actually making something happen this summer, you know?”

“Well, yeah,” Lucy said, biting off the tip of her freezie and chomping on the purple ice. “But why do you like him?”

It was a fair question. Why did I like Shaun?

Shaun with his pudgy cheeks and his shaggy red hair. He had this sheepish grin whenever he rolled in late to class with some flimsy excuse, which was almost every day, reeking of weed, with those baby-blue bloodshot eyes. Shaun, who was actually taller than me, who didn’t make me feel like a freak when I stood next to him. Who wrote made-up inspirational quotes on the board whenever our teachers were late for class. “Never stop believing in your winged dreams of tomorrow. Forever and ever, ape men.”

What wasn’t to like?

My real plan for that day had been to ask Shaun to go to the island with me, but Mom’s big announcement had thrown me off my game, though I wasn’t really sure why.

The island seemed like an innocent enough idea, kind of nostalgic, so maybe he wouldn’t notice how terrified I was of asking him out. Which wasn’t even a thing people really did anymore, but it sounded so classic and cool. Cheesy in just the right way. The ferry dock was only a short bike ride away from our neighbourhood. I figured I could smuggle out some of Mom’s rum, maybe mix it with some orange juice and bust out my new mint-green-and-gold bikini.

I wanted to do it really old school, go over to his house and then just happen to pass by while he was out mowing the lawn with his shirt off, like in an Archie comic or a corny teen movie. I’d casually mention that I was thinking of heading over to the island for the afternoon, and, oh, did he want to come along? Cool, yeah, no problem. Let’s do it.

And every step and every word would play out perfectly. We’d go to the beach, fall madly in love, and have sex in the strategically camouflaged sand dunes. The way it only ever happens in romance novels or particularly steamy fanfiction. I knew it wasn’t real life, but that didn’t stop me from wanting it.

I admit that I had some of Mom’s stories, the ones that really happened to her, buzzing in my ear while I dreamed the whole unnecessarily elaborate thing up. Like when, after hours of begging, she told me the story of the time she lost her virginity. She was fifteen, and she and her boyfriend had hitchhiked to the beach. They brought a bottle of Grampa’s homemade wine and made love (her words) in an abandoned lifeguard station nearby. Her boyfriend made a giant heart in the sand out of the blue and purple stones all around them, and they fell asleep together, just like that.

I didn’t tell Luce about it, though. We don’t talk about guys very much. Like, at all. She hates it when I bring up stuff like that. I don’t know why, but she just never seems to want to hear about it.

So I told her never mind, I didn’t mean it about asking Shaun out and we went back to it, me playing the game and Lucy offering encouragement that veered dangerously close to spoiler territory. Eventually she had to leave to help her parents close the store. I turned the game off and pulled out my sketchbook, trying to draw Stara’s nose right for the hundredth time. I ruined it by making the tiny bump in the bridge too big and then accidentally ripped through the paper trying to erase my mistake. I tore the evidence out of my sketchbook and made a pile of confetti with it on my bed. I stirred a finger through the pieces and then threw it all in the garbage. Was it possible I was getting worse?

Mom came back from practice an hour after that. I heard her struggling to get her bike back up the stairs and paused the game.

“What’s for dinner, sweets?” Mom called as she opened the door. “I’m starving.”

I glanced at the old clock hanging on the wall, something Mom picked up at Goodwill. It had a bird by each number and made cheesy bird calls every hour. It was just after eight. My stomach gurgled, as if on cue.

“I thought you were cooking tonight,” I said, my eyes back on the TV.

“Hi, I’m Micky. Have we met?” she stood in front of me, blocking my view.

I hit pause again. “Aren’t you some huge rock star?”

“You must be thinking of someone else,” she said, plunking herself down next to me on the couch.

“Oh.” Unpaused. “Right. Who are you, again?”

“No idea. So, what, then … pizza?”

“Not pizza. Chinese?” I countered.

“Nah, Mel and I wound up in Chinatown last night. I OD’d on dumplings and cold tea.”

Mel, her bassist, was ten years younger than her and was always trying to drag Mom out to bars and after-hours clubs. Cold tea, I knew, was a code that some of the restaurants in Chinatown used. If you ordered cold tea after the bars had stopped serving, they’d sell you beer in a teapot. Mel been a big fan of Dusty Moon when she was younger, but had auditioned to be in Mom’s backing band a few years ago and slayed the competition. Mostly Mom was immune to her persuasion, but sometimes she gave in.

“Hello, TMZ?” I said, grabbing my phone.

“I wish,” she said, flipping her hair over her shoulder and striking an exaggerated pose.

“You don’t.”

“True,” she said, and stopped her vogueing. “Thai?”


“Hungary Thai it is.”

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