We’re kicking off Short Story Month the right way: with a reprint from one of our favorite authors! “Expecting” by Emily Fridlund first appeared in Boston Review and was included as the opening story for Fridlund’s first collection, “Catapult“, which won the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction from Sarabande. As we said in our review of Fridlund’s excellent collection, “Expecting” holds no punches in its opening line: “My wife could take your skin off with one glance, she was that excruciating.” “Expecting” is reprinted by permission from Sarabande Books.
My wife would have scolded me for this. She had rules about indoor things and out; a flagpole in the living room would have made her distressed. She would have given me an exasperated look, a you-are-still-such-a-child-I can’t-even-yell-at-you look before taking the flag and marching it back outside. This was the best and worst thing about my wife: she felt sorry for me.
My wife could take your skin off with one glance, she was that excruciating. She could call you to her with one finger. She could do long division in her head. Another thing she could do really well was sob, and I envied her this, assuming it left nothing to eat at her inside. It is easy to be wrong about a person you are used to. The day she left, she gave me an American flag packed in a clear plastic bag she broke with her teeth. I said, “What, you’re going to war?” And she said, “You always wanted something to hang from the porch.” She could be sweet and scornful at the same time.
A son is the same as a wife, save this confusion. These are the things my son will do: the laundry, the lawn, the bills. He has a head for numbers, like his mom, and figures our finances on spreadsheets. Kyle is nineteen, and it seems like the age he’s been all his life. I can hardly remember him being anything else but lanky and bearded and morose. Periodically, his girlfriend Meg lives with us. She fills the freezer with cans of Diet Dr. Pepper that bulge threateningly—aluminum balloons—and burst. At night, I scrape tiny brown ice flakes from our frozen dinners. I heat the oven to 350 and arrange cardboard dishes on a metal cookie sheet.
“No au gratin potatoes, Darrell.”
I don’t know when it started, but my son calls me by name. He says, Walter, there’s a call for you; Darrell, wipe your face. He says my name like it’s a kelly green suit, like it’s my botched attempt to be like other humans.
Because Kyle calls me Darrell, I call him Son. “Son, the potatoes come with the meal. You get what comes.”
“The smell of them makes me sick. Why don’t you eat them for me before I sit down? Come on, Darrell.”
He is standing in the doorway, his shoulders covered in a brightly woven throw. He is bare-chested, and I can see a few orange hairs flicker about his nipples. He has a five-pound dumbbell in one hand he’s been lugging around for weeks.
I take out the steaming dinners and spoon his potatoes into my rice. My son makes me unreasonably soft, like there’s a rotten spot in me only he knows about. I coax him to the table by setting out an open beer. When he sits down he balances the dumbbell up on one end next to his elbow.
“Can you get my work socks in tonight?” I talk into my food.
“They can go with the towels, I guess.” He eats his chicken with a spoon.
We stay until the cardboard dishes start to collapse, then stand without speaking and throw our meals in the trash. We eat bowls of cereal. Kyle shakes a box of powdered Jell-O into his wide-open mouth.