Fiction from Giancarlo Riccobon

Photo: Ankush Minda

Congratulations

“Congratulations,” she says.

If you say, “Congrats, yourself,” and jiggle the tassel on your cap, she’ll say, “Not your diploma. I mean congrats on the—you know.”

If you pretend you don’t know, she’ll stroke the bulge under your black gown (Maternity-Size).

If you recoil and say, “Careful!” she’ll say, “I just wanted to feel him kick, Diana. I’ve never felt a kick before.”

If you say, “What is this, a sideshow attraction? Step right up, folks, and feel it kick!” she’ll say, “Sorry. I thought you’re used to people doing that.”

If you rub your ring finger (heavy from what’s missing) and say, “I’ll never get used to—to people touching me,” she’ll say, “You mean other than your boyfriend, of course?”

Forget it. Better try again.

§

If you say, “Congrats, yourself,” she’ll say, “Not your diploma. I mean—you know.”

If you pretend you don’t know, she’ll stroke the bulge under your gown.

If you say, “Aw, thanks,” and try not to recoil, she’ll say, “What are you gonna name him?”

If you say, “Never got a chance to think about it,” she’ll say, “I thought you already had a name picked out.”

If you say, “Honestly, I can’t see that far ahead,” she’ll say, “Well, I’d be happy to help you name him. Remember in seventh grade, when we were dreaming up names for our kids?”

Scratch that.

§

If you say, “Congrats, yourself,” she’ll say, “Not your diploma. I mean—you know.”

If you say, “But June, what if it’s too much for me to handle?” she’ll say, “Relax, you’ll make an awesome mom.”

If you say, “It’s not that. I just don’t know how much I’ll get to see him, once I start work next week. I’m gonna deliver Pepsi by day and serve drinks by night, remember? And now a full-time mom, too,” she’ll say, “Shouldn’t your boyfriend help with that?”

If you say, “Yeah, but no way that’ll ever happen,” she’ll recoil like she’s the one being dumped and say, “Well, he doesn’t know what he’s missing. You know, I can babysit for you, even if he won’t.”

You want to shake her and shout, Get your own! Except you don’t want her to get her own like you did.

§

If you say, “Congrats, yourself,” she’ll say, “Not your diploma. I mean—you know.”

If you say, “I know what you mean. I’m just not ready to talk, okay?” she’ll say, “Well, when will you be ready? We didn’t used to keep secrets from each other. Not before I spent a semester in France, anyway.”

If you say, “What’s so secret about it? Can’t you tell? It was the two of us in a backseat bed with sunvisor sheets until he kicked me out while the engine was still warm and told me to walk the rest of the way,” she’ll say, “Oh. I didn’t know. How could I? I’ve never had a—you know.”

You can tell.

§

If you say, “What for?” she’ll say, “What else? Your bundle of joy.”

If you say, “So what? It doesn’t exactly take talent to get pregnant,” she’ll say, “Hey, I’m sorry this didn’t go like you hoped, but you can at least be grateful for what you’ve got. If you don’t want to start a family, I bet a lot of folks would gladly trade places with you.”

Words fail you. They dump you on the tarmac and expect you to walk the rest of the way. Where are you even walking? You don’t know anymore.

§

Unless.

You say, “Thanks, but I don’t really feel like celebrating right now. I’m not asking you to understand completely, but can you at least try?”

She says, “It’s okay, no need to be so shy. It’s just exciting for me. For you, I mean. You must be super excited,” and she pokes the only souvenir your ex left behind.

You slap her hand away and say, “Don’t touch me. Please.”

She gawks at you like you’re a stranger. Maybe you are.

You turn your back to her. You may not have many options left, but at least you can save the tatters of your dignity.

You know what to name him now: Eugene. Greek for well-born. Not true, not even close, but for his sake you’ll pretend. Tell him Daddy had to travel far away. Tell him Daddy and Mommy had a fight and now they’re taking a timeout from each other. Tell him Daddy is six feet under. Anything to save your kid’s dignity.
.

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Giancarlo Riccobon is a reader for Helen Literary Magazine, a graphic designer for Alternating Current Press, and a former Second Reader for Polyphony Lit. His work has been published by Star 82 Review, and he has won honorable mention in the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Contest for three years running.

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