Little Cities

Ann Stewart McBee

Bosley is big. Not fat, just huge—as if not one boy, but three had combined in Karen’s womb. Perhaps on the same night, while I was sleeping sticky and nauseous on her futon, she crept out of her studio apartment and had her way with two more men before squeezing in next to me in the wee hours. That would explain how I, a diminutive man, had anything to do with this child.

Karen didn’t decide to tell me about him until he was five and asking questions. She called me on a Sunday when I was at Kezar’s watching the game with my backpacking buddies, and I wished I had changed my cell phone number when I had changed states. It wasn’t so bad that every time I went to the pharmacy, the clerk had to backtrack, realizing with visible annoyance that I meant the area code and not the prefix, but now Karen was calling.

She had pursued me for months before I graduated. She was six years older, a blown glass artist who refused to use her skill to make pipes “on principle.” Meanwhile, her store was full of figurines of tropical fish and dolphins and frogs and the occasional garden orb, which nobody wanted to buy, because all anybody ever wants from a glass store is a pipe.

Most people have something to say when they call. A question to ask. An invitation to make. News. Karen called nonstop, but never had anything to tell me. Not even how business was at the store or how terrible the weather was. I’d offer some mumbling about how excited I was for the new Twisted Metal, or a project I was working on for school, but she never seemed to be listening. She would interrupt with bursts of the strangest sentiment, like You sound tired. Are you taking vitamins? Or I’m going to write you a poem. Which she never did.

When I finally slept with her, it was just before I moved to San Francisco, a Mecca for techies like me. I had no intention of speaking to her again, and thankfully she never called me either. Until that day. And then she had news. I have to tell you something important, the voicemail said. I thought, Now this is a change, and couldn’t resist calling back.

The sheer size of Bosley shocks me so much that I have difficulty bonding with him. He sits in my living room, fingering my Guitar Hero console like a real guitar, something I neither play nor possess. His hands are so huge, the console looks like a ukulele in his grasp. His hair has been cut into an absurd flat top, and his head resembles an old-fashioned street lamp. His feet are like cinder blocks and are as dense. Every step seems to herald the advance of an army.

I get terse answers to my questions, Are you sure it was me, I mean, look at us, and My God it had to be a C-section, right? Karen continues to drone on about the store, which is in peril of closing. She has moved onto larger art pieces, as opposed to garden décor and knick-knacks. She creates scaled down versions of mythical cities or scaled up versions of fairy villages with mushrooms for houses. Didn’t the Smurfs live in mushrooms, I ask, but she doesn’t answer. She needs money. Evidently not many people are willing to pay above cost for a blown glass Atlantis or Xanadu. I guess that Bosley has never been to the shop, picturing him demolishing the Smurf village like Godzilla tap dancing all over Tokyo.

Out of ideas, I take them on a tour, doing things I myself have never done in Frisco. Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square. We go on a trolley ride, and I swear when it turns a corner that it starts to list on our side. Bosley’s bigness crushes us all into each other. At Pier 31, I hear someone mutter whale, and feel a brief sting, suddenly aware of the stares Bosley is collecting as we lumber along. I point Alcatraz out to him, and he smiles. He doesn’t talk much, perhaps having learned the futility of it with Karen for a mother. He leans against the railing, straining it I think, and quietly contemplates the Bay and the penny-colored Bridge. Maybe they un-size him.

When we return, I write Karen a check for three thousand dollars and tell her there’s more to come. I’m doing well, and I think of what Bosley ate for dinner. Two hamburgers and fries. Plus my fries. A bowl of chicken and rice soup. Loaded potato skins. A glass of chocolate milk. A bowl of mint chip ice cream the size of a swimming pool.

At night I give Karen and Bosley my bed and take the couch. For a while I lie awake and think of Alcatraz—not the prison, but the rock underneath, wondering if underwater civilizations make up stories about what exists there at the top of the mountain. The next morning I find Bosley alone on my bed, the sheets threaded between his legs and strewn over his vast chest. He emits a soft hmm with every peaceful breath. He looks like a toilet-papered house. I think at first that he has pushed Karen off onto the floor, but I know by the time I get to the other side of the bed to look that she is gone.

From the front closet, I dig out my sleeping bags, the new North Face I use for backpacking as well as the old marshmallow-stained one from my childhood, and unzip them both. Then, with some labor, I zip the two together to make one colossal blanket, and with this I cover the sleeping body of my son.

Author Portrait

Ann Stewart McBee was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She graduated with a PhD in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where she taught undergraduate composition, creative writing and literature, and served as an editor for cream city review. She has published fiction and poetry in Ellipsis, Untamed Ink, So to Speak, Citron Review, Blue Earth Review, Palaver and At Length, among others. She now teaches English at Des Moines Area Community College, and lives outside Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband and a smelly terrier. Her unpublished novel, “Veiled Men,” is looking for a home.

View the website of Ann Stewart McBee