Short Fiction: “Surprise” by Irving J. Silvertoad
When I called my wife before leaving work to ask if she needed me to pick up anything she told me there was a surprise waiting at home. I think I said something like, What? A surprise? I will be right there. I was hoping to find her in some sexy little number, maybe a costume to make her look like someone else because lately we have both been bored with one another. She told me one night in bed that she was only going to call me Ernesto. Another night she told me to pretend I was a swan. I have been imagining her to be any number of things.
When I went inside she was standing in the living room grinning. With a great flourish she swept out her arm and pointed at a small child standing in the doorway. He didn’t match us and he was wearing some strange sort of native regalia. I don’t know what kind. I do know it wasn’t my native regalia, which is usually a dark blue suit and a checked tie. I was wearing it at that moment.
“This is your surprise. I picked him up today. Shall we name him?”
“He doesn’t have a name already?”
“I don’t know. But he is ours now and we should make him ours with naming.”
My wife is a clever woman. She reads all the time and builds things. Once she built a mousetrap so large and powerful it ensnared the mailman and severed one of his legs. Our mail still arrives but not until much later in the day when he finally manages to hobble through his route. My wife still had her arm up in the air, her fingers were gently waving in turn. They reminded me of a peacock’s feathers in wind.
“We could name him after your father,” I said, “he was such a powerful and terrifying man. I remember how the children all avoided their house. It would be in his memory.” We named things after our parents often. My car was often referred to as Mildred, after my own sainted mother.
“Fine,” my wife said, “Reginald, it is. Do you suppose Reginald is hungry?”
“We should ask him. Reginald. Are you hungry?” I said it very slow and methodically so that he would be able to fully grasp the significance of what I was saying. I made sure to move my lips a lot. I had my hands behind my back so as to not distract him.
“Are you hungry? Would you like to eat some food?” I did not turn around but spoke to my wife, hoping she would know I was talking to her. “What do they eat anyway?”
“Gosh. I don’t know. I didn’t remember to ask when I bought him. Now I’m embarrassed. I feel like a such a fool.” I thought she was going to start crying. We both liked it when she cried. She didn’t begin to and we were both quietly disappointed.
“I will offer him something and we can test his reaction.” I pulled a butterscotch out of my pocket. I had picked it out of someone’s candy bowl and work. I didn’t want it but didn’t want to be rude by not accepting candy. I unwrapped the butterscotch and worried that Reginald would choke on it and popped it into my own mouth where it clacked against my teeth. I held out the wrapper to Reginald. It sparkled and shone like gold leaf and made tiny crinkling noises an old woman chewing on glass. At least, that is what it made me think of was shards of glass in an old woman’s mouth. I hoped to remember the image for my memoirs, someday.
Reginald took the wrapper from my hand, the first time he had moved and gently sniffed it, a mouse sniffing at new woodshavings, and then snatched it away from my fingers. I smiled at him as best as I could. I tried not to show any teeth because teeth are a sign of aggression but some may have escaped my lips. I have very large pearlies. Reginald began to take tiny nibbling bites out of the wrapper and chew on them. He had two long and sharp buck teeth. I wanted to yank them out with a wrench and kiss them.
“I love him so much!” I wanted to sing it but just said it loudly instead.
“I love him, too!” My wife did a little dance suddenly, lifting the hem of her skirt delicately and pointing her toes at the floor, one and then the other. Her shoes made tiny tapping noises. “I love him more than I love anything! More than I love horseshoes and mahogany! More than I love fire escapes and my parents!”
I told her I loved him more than anything and then named some wonderful things like black pepper and the number eleven. But I did not love him more than anything. There were things I did love more than him and she probably felt the same way once she calmed down. After another session of pretend I slept in my car like I always do, with one hand caressing the dashboard.