Scolding the Winds

Scolding the Winds - A novella by Joel Kelly


Riley is alone. After being kicked out of her parents' house at eighteen, getting herself out of an abusive relationship, and finding comfort only in her vices, she has no one left to count on. And when her feelings for a colleague begin to grow, Riley wonders if love is the answer to life’s problems, or if it’s just one more reason to pour another drink.

In Scolding the Winds, Joel Kelly’s debut novella, written with an undercurrent of dark wit and raw poignancy, Kelly examines how love and religion can pull us apart—and questions whether they can also put us back together.


Joel Kelly is a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based writer and marketer. He grew up a in a fundamentalist cult, so his writing often touches on the intersection of culture and religion, and its effect on family and relationships. He currently works as an advertising executive in Halifax, and his work has won numerous international awards and recognition. He lives in Halifax with his wife Leah.


“I’m nothing but a drunk,” she thought.

“No. I’m nothing. And I’m a drunk.”

And then she fell asleep.

Outside, the storm’s wind had pushed the grill a foot or so from the wet, slatted patio wall. Rain had filled the heavy glass ashtray until it spilled over the side and dripped greyish water down onto the rusting metal bistro table. 

Water had come in through the slightly open window in the living room. The wind had blown it against the screen until it made its way down onto the windowsill.

Down against the wall.

Down onto the old wooden chest on the floor painted green a year ago. It was a child’s coffin, once. But never used. The coffin was a gift from a family friend who was a woodworker. The order for the coffin had been cancelled. 

Riley slept on the couch in the living room with the coffin. Her feet were tucked under the corner of a heavy wool blanket, but the rest of the blanket draped off of the brown leather couch into a pile on the dusty hardwood floor. 

She enjoyed the sound of the rain against the window, against the roof and walls. It helped her sleep and reminded her of camping with her mother and father when she was eight or nine. Every year they camped on Prince Edward Island in an old canvas tent that leaked if you touched the sides.

So she slept deeply, now, as the water seeped in, more and more.

And it rained in her dream. She was walking toward her office, early in the morning. Too early, too dark. Her auburn hair was getting much too wet. But there was nothing to do about it. She had forgotten her umbrella. Forgotten her coat. But her feet were warm, and dry.

The coffee shop she usually stopped into wasn’t there anymore, in her dream. It had never been very good. They served coffee out of those giant thermoses, some off-brand generic roast, poured halfheartedly into a white Styrofoam cup. But it was on the way. 

Now, though, it was replaced with something else she couldn’t see, and didn’t want to.

She tried to walk away, but every step brought her closer. She tried to run, but her feet wouldn’t hold the ground. She bent over, tried to pry at the sidewalk with her fingers, to propel herself forward, but she only went back. Back and back. Toward something like a shard she could feel but couldn’t see. 

She felt something pierce her back, carve slowly through her skin. She felt it slide through muscle, wedging in between her vertebrae, sending pain to every corner of her body. The shiv moved so slowly and so deep she could almost hear it.

She listened to herself die.

And then she fell. Down to the ground. Down past the sidewalk and through it. Down into the earth.

Down and down.

She fell until she was traveling upward again through the earth. Toward the sky, toward heaven.

Up and up.

And then she woke.

The boards in the couch were uneven, and the padding had given in long ago. She felt the pressure from its structure against her back, felt the pain of seizing muscles through her body. 

She kicked the blanket off of her feet and sat up slowly, trying not to move her back too much. She tried not to open her eyes wider than needed, and tried not to hear the rain coming in through the window. She tried to wish it away.

She stood slowly, looked at the window, looked at the wall, looked at the coffin. The lights were on, had been on all night. There were dead moths in the light fixture, but she didn’t know how to get them out. How did they get in? They must have found some gap and struggled through it, only to find an oven, heated by a light bulb, instead of the moon.

She closed the window and wiped some of the water away with her hand, down onto the floor. If she’d been wearing socks, she would have tried to wipe up the water with her feet. But now she looked down on chipped pink toenail polish, standing in a puddle.

Her curtains were heavy, and pulled to the side, so at least they didn’t get wet. But they didn’t help at all, either. They’d been an apartment-warming gift from her friend Avery, and they were probably the nicest thing she owned. They had a white backing, to keep the heat out in the summer. Riley didn’t like the heat. Her antidepressants made her sweat more than before, and she could never pull off a “glow”—she just looked wet.

She left delicate footprints on her way to the kitchen to get the paper towel. Her father would have been so upset if he’d seen it. He hated footprints—no bare feet allowed on the hardwood— and he hated fingerprints around the light switches, smudges on the mirrors, water left in the sink.

He'd have hated Riley’s bookshelves, covered in dusty DVDs and books out of order, piled atop one another. Whatever had most recently been watched or read shoved back on top of the pile. Loose discs without cases, and dust jackets without books strewn all over. The last movie Riley watched was Casablanca. She watched it every few days, actually, so it was still in the DVD player. The case for it had been lost long ago.

Her favorite line comes when Rick is talking to Ilsa at the outdoor market near the Blue Parrot. He says, “Why did you come back? To tell me why you ran out on me at the railway station?” 

Ilsa says, “Yes,” and Rick says, “Well, you can tell me now. I'm reasonably sober.”