This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

November-December 2012

3rd place fiction: Man, Woman and Child

Shawn Syms

Kate liked to flirt with the letter carrier even though she suspected he was gay. She appreciated a challenge, craved variety. His portly build and short stature reminded her of Al Waxman from King of Kensington, only the new mailman was terminally shy. His trim beard and baby face conjured Maher Arar’s chubby younger brother. This might sound silly, but she liked the way he knocked on the door. Slow and sturdy. He was the opposite of her husband Sean, a tall, hyperactive wall of muscle.

It was all glances and smiles, cocking her head at an almost imperceptible angle through the half-opened door. The man in blue was already blushing and they hadn’t exchanged a word. He stood before her with a brown cardboard box the size of a Kindergarten boy.

“This parcel is for Les Montague.” The letter carrier read from a yellow paper affixed to the metal clipboard in his left hand. He was sweating. From his exertion and the summer heat rather than Kate’s magnetic lure, she surmised. An industrial-grade metal dolly wedged under the box.

“Our downstairs neighbour.” Les was Kate and Sean’s tenant. Sean thought him bizarre but Kate knew Les was just misunderstood. He rarely left his room. Les worked from home like Kate. She was an accountant; she didn’t know exactly what Les did. “I think he’s home right now. If not, can I sign for it?”

He looked down at the mustard form to verify the status of a particular checkbox. “I can actually leave it on the porch. No signature required.” He looked up, adjusted his cap and made eye contact with Kate for the first time. Brown eyes. “It’s pretty heavy.” He handed her a few smaller envelopes from his sack.

“Do you think you could bring it inside? I have no idea what’s in there, and it’s supposed to get pretty muggy today.” The only time Kate had been successful with her mailman machinations, the letter carrier was a woman. Her name was Verlia and they had a three-month affair last summer.

He put down his mailbag, stood behind the brown box, held it in place with his left hand and tilted the dolly back with his right. “Can you hold the door, ma’am?” Behind him, a little boy in green shorts straddled a tricycle, and sped across the sidewalk past the Canada Post truck. Two older girls with meticulous braids loped behind him chatting. Kate stepped past the brown wooden door and onto the grey-painted slats of the empty porch. She held the screen door open and the man pushed the box into her foyer. She liked his smell.

“Take it right to the door halfway down the hall, past the living room.” She followed him inside, dropping the letters on the hall bureau as she passed. They stood together at the top of the stairs. Kate put her hand on his shoulder.

“I know this is asking a lot, but would you mind taking it down the stairs and leaving it in front of that door?” There were only a dozen steps, but he did say it was heavy. And Kate had felt a lot more tired than usual lately.

Without a word, he leaned back and rolled the dolly downward, bending at his knees and moving slow. She could see the package was weighty from the way it rocked a bit on each step. The mail carrier had a patch of wetness on his sweaty lower back. Kate gazed as if it were a Rorschach inkblot, but couldn’t decide what it resembled to her. At the bottom, he yanked the dolly out and pulled it back up the stairs. He stopped at the top.

“What’s your name?”

“Rish, ma’am.”

“Thanks a ton, Rish. I’m Kate.”

The box sat below them at the entrance to Les’s basement apartment.

The intermittent thunks from downstairs were annoying the piss out of Sean. Les must’ve been to IKEA. Sean decided to check the garbage later for boxes. There was no point in asking the weirdo, who kept to himself to the point of hermitage. Sean couldn’t picture Les shopping; he’d rarely even seen him leave the basement. They had inherited Les two years ago when Kate’s dad moved to New Zealand to be a fag, and gave them the house.

“He won’t give you any trouble,” Mr Verdure had said when made the offer to them. Sean doubted his words, though. The gift house felt like a subtle indictment of Sean’s own abilities to provide for Kate, or his failure to sire him a grandchild. As long as Les the basement gnome wasn’t engaged in some kind of major construction, he thought.

Sean stripped down in the bathroom upstairs and turned on the hot and cold taps. He pulled the shower curtain across and soaped himself up, paying attention to his thick blond hair and his rank underarms and dirty ass. Fencing practice made him sweat and stink, but he preferred to shower at home, even though the clawfoot tub was small and he always got water on the floor. Sean was built tall and wide like a refrigerator. Negotiating the bathroom of this place made him feel like a gorilla accessing the driver’s seat of a Cooper Mini. But something about the shower room at the Salle D’Armes unnerved him too. The men’s changing facilities were so spare, the tiled floors so cold and ancient and cracked. Each shower head a mere nozzle jutting from a connected section of metal piping, as a dozen guys scrubbed down a few feet apart, fully exposed. The water was always too hot. Something of the room made Sean think of a gas chamber, though he had never seen one.

The woman at the front desk knew not to give him a towel when he came. He thought he noticed her staring on a few occasions.

“She wants your piggy in her blanket,” said his brother Daniel, who was also Sean’s fencing buddy. Danny sometimes talked bitchy like one of those drag queens. RuPaul—only short, freckled, skinny and white. Daniel and Sean looked nothing alike.

“Bro, didn’t she see my ring?” Sean thought chicks who went after married men were scummy. He wasn’t interested.

He poured a capful of Head and Shoulders and massaged his scalp. The banging started up again. It persisted for a minute, then stopped, then picked back up again. Jackass. Sean felt the urge to go downstairs and build the Bennø CD rack or Bërgsbo bookcase for Les himself. Then instruct him to load it up quietly. Sean got a feeling Les was intimidated by his build and demeanor, or at least he hoped so. Clearly not enough to fear his wrath for making a racket so late though. This guy’s got no respect.

“God damn fuck. Jesus fuck. What the fuck. Fuck.”

Sean muttered as he rinsed his hair then turned off the water. He grabbed a towel and pawed at himself with it. He pulled on a pair of grey gym shorts and a red tanktop, stepped on a pile of Kate’s bras and panties on the floor, left the room, grabbed the wooden banister and pulled himself downward two steps at a time. The phone rang and he ignored it, reaching the bottom of the stairs and rapping three times on Les’s basement door.

I’ve got my adult Nuk from Pacifiers Я Us in my mouth, but I’d so much rather be suckling a woman’s breast. Especially if she’s lactating.

My former therapist, Dr Zirknitz, says I like to dress like a baby at 33 because I abandoned my girlfriend and newborn son when I was 18. I think that’s simplistic and predictable. I believe you can like something for no reason, or at least no significant reason. Milly and the boy still live in Hull. I send cheques every month.

I’ve got my favourite xl onesie on. It’s black with yellow rings around the collar and arm- and legholes. It has a picture of a giraffe on it and I bought it on eBay for twenty-five dollars. The reason I picked it is that it reminds me of the home uniform of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I like dark colours. Nothing too flashy.

There are forty-six baby outfits in my closet. You can afford to indulge a little bit when you’re a highly paid human-rights consultant. I help people challenge mistreatment at the hands of the municipal, provincial and federal governments. Right now I’m working on the case of a refugee who’s a part-time postal worker. She was sexually harassed—a pair of managers ganged up on her in the postal-sortation plant at the end of the night shift. I hate this kind of unspeakable bullshit and I am very good at avenging it. We are going to win this case.

I’m moving out of this dungeon in a month; I just gave Kate my notice this morning. But some things can’t wait. My adult-sized crib was delivered this morning. I didn’t see it till after dinner time because I was meeting the lawyers in Avizeh’s case. It took me two hours to put the gorgeous contraption together, including an interruption from that meathead Sean. But I followed the instructions, and it holds my weight. I’m laying in it right now. I’ve got two rooms down here, in addition to my own bathroom. The living room looks like any seventies rec room, but the bedroom is my baby haven. I’ve managed to keep that obnoxious goon from stepping too far onto my turf. Kate’s father used to leave me alone. He was a very polite man.

I used to think I took a basement apartment because of shame or guilt about my adult-baby lifestyle. I started to see Zirknitz in an effort to sort through those feelings. What a waste of time. The old fool thinks everything in my life—my relationship to my mother, my choice of employment, my thoughts on my own penis size—ties into my life as an ab. I think it’s all bullshit. I’m moving into an expensive condo; I can afford it. So what if the movers balk at moving a crib that holds a man who’s five-nine and weighs 205? I don’t need to hide. I do, however, need my diaper changed.

A trio of firm knocks on the door. Perfect timing.

Kate had missed her period for the first time in a long, long time. Nineteen days late. She was usually like clockwork.

“How was the flight, Dad?” Auckland to Sydney. For a funeral.

“Long, Kat. The movie made me cry. I’m not up for this.” Over Skype from his hotel room, Kate’s father’s voice had a computerized texture to it, like the chorus of Styx’s “Mr Roboto.” He had dated a man from Sydney for a year but it didn’t work out. David was a very large man and one day he just didn’t wake up. This would be the first time her father had seen him since the breakup. She didn’t know whether to pray for a closed casket or an open one. At very least, a sturdy one.

“I’m sorry.” Kate was organizing a pile of financial ledgers while she talked. As she put the top half of the stack down, the phone cord strummed against her left nipple. It felt sore.

“I could use some good news for a change, that’s for sure.”

She took this as her prompt. “I think I might be pregnant.”

His voice sped up, rattling off questions without waiting for reply. “Are you sure? How do you feel? Do you want to keep it? I didn’t think Sean had it in him. Always figured that dick was shooting blanks.”

“I’m not sure.” Kate fanned herself with a balance sheet off her desk. The central air was on the fritz again. She had asked Sean to take a look, but she would just call the repair guys herself later today.

Her father’s voice cracked. “I love you, Katty. Whatever you want to do, I support you. I love you so much…” The impending funeral, she thought. That’s why he’s over-emotional. She decided to pick up a pregnancy test. And make a doctor’s appointment.

“Feel better, Dad. Call me again after the service, okay?”

Kate traced in her mind the times she’d messed around recently. Sean’s brother Danny had put it in for a few strokes before she’d got a condom on him. Kate put the phone down and sat her client’s financial papers back on the desk. She needed to get outside. A walk to the bank. Get the rent cheque and deposit it. She walked down stairs and knocked three times on Les Montague’s door.

Sean’s last client was a plump lady named Mitsuyo who worked for the government. She came to Modern Fitness on her flex hours and Sean put Mitsuyo through her paces. The elliptical machine, an increasing number of push-ups. She would never be a supermodel, but he watched as a seed of new confidence germinated within her. That’s what made Sean feel good.

He wore his gym shorts and tank home. Christ was it humid. The front door was cracked when he got there. Got to deal with that busted central air, Sean thought. He wondered if Kate could take a break. For the first time in ages, he felt horny. Maybe it was the heat. He was developing a visible, potent chub.

Sean picked up the handful of letters on the hallway table. Three for them and two for Les. He went downstairs to slide them under the door, but found it ajar. Sean poked his head inside, and was startled to hear the sound of a crying infant. “What the…”

The noise came from the corner bedroom. Not bothering to knock, Sean shoved the door and strode through the basement ducking his head for the low ceiling. Something was wrong. If Les is hurting a kid, I’ll strangle him. Sean’s rod stopped its earlier throb and his balls moved protectively upward. He knew something was sick about that guy. He pushed the bedroom door wide open.

The room smelled vaguely of fresh piss. Pastel blue walls festooned with a cartoon border: A recurring image of Spongebob Squarepants chased by an electric eel wearing a lime-coloured baseball cap. The balding freak knelt inside a gargantuan wooden bedstead, balancing himself on the frame atop the vertical slats, wearing an enormous black terrycloth jumper. Kate stood shirtless next to the Brobdingnagian crib with one breast cupped in her hand. Les Montague slowly lapped at her tender aureole with a long flat tongue. He paused mid-lick, and offered Sean an infantile simper.

Sean’s remnant semi-erection turned to sand in his shorts. Kate stood still, swiveling her neck at an acute angle to face him.

“I’m having a baby,” she said. “I don’t think it’s yours.”


Shawn Syms has completed a short-fiction collection and is currently at work on a novel. His fiction has been shortlisted for the Journey Prize, and his writing has appeared in nearly fifty publications including the Globe and Mail, National Post, Joyland, The Rumpus, PRISM international and the Winnipeg Review.

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