‘What did you write on yours?’
‘Are we supposed to tell each other?’
‘It’s not like we were making a birthday wish and blowing out candles, Josh. What did you write?’ she asked again.
He looked up at the luminous orbs floating higher, getting smaller but still bright like too-close stars.
‘First you tell me what you wrote on yours,’ he replied.
She smiled and touched her abdomen. ‘I wrote “Making the world a better place for our children”.’
‘I thought we were supposed to write our greatest fear on it,’ he said.
‘Right, that’s what I did. You’re not afraid the world is falling apart and we’re leaving behind a mess for them?’ she asked.
‘Oh, I see. No, that makes sense. It’s a nice thought, Susan.’
An older woman tapped him on the shoulder and asked to borrow his Sharpie. She unfolded her Chinese lantern and wrote the words ‘North Korea’ on it. Josh helped her light the candle and she released it into the air, watching it slowly lift away.
‘I just hate that fat, little dictator threatening to kill us all. May he burn in Hell,’ said the older woman with a stern expression. Josh nodded and turned back to Susan, rolling his eyes and mouthing ‘wow’ through a grin.
The encounter made Josh think of his own mother and the time she’d taken him and his brother camping in the Upper Peninsula when they were kids. His mom still wanted to take the boys out to do ‘manly’ things despite her being a soft-spoken homebody and raising the two children on her own. She had watched a fishing show before that trip and learned how to cast a line just so that she could teach them something a father might. While she was attempting to bait the hook with a worm, she yelled out, ‘Aw, damn it to hell!’ Both boys giggled and looked at one another, then back to their mother who was laughing hysterically.
As the older woman now walked away, Susan took hold of his arm and hugged it, burying her face into his flannel shirt. ‘So, Josh, what did you write on yours?’
He stared straight ahead, still lost in the memory. ‘Josh.’
‘Oh,’ he said, nestling his nose into her hair. ‘That old lady jocked me. I wrote “North Korea” before her. Old lady knows what’s up.’ Then he snorted into her hair like a horse as she laughed and playfully swatted him away.
‘Okay, fine,’ she said with a smile. ‘Be mysterious, as always.’
He put one arm around her shoulder and the other on her stomach. He felt movement inside her and his grin faded.
‘One of ‘em is kicking,’ she said. She took out her phone to take a photo and he looked up at the night sky filled with bright lights, each growing smaller by the moment. Somewhere high up there among Chinese lanterns with things written on them like ‘Nuclear War’, ‘Spiders’, and ‘Public Speaking’ was one that read ‘Becoming Dad’.
MICHAEL A. FERRO's debut novel, TITLE 13, will be published by Harvard Square Editions in February 2018. He has received an Honorable Mention from Glimmer Train for their New Writers Award, won the Jim Cash Creative Writing Award for Fiction, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Michael’s writing has appeared in numerous journals in both print and online, including Crack the Spine, Amsterdam Quarterly, Yale University’s Perch Journal, Chicago Literati, Splitsider, Potluck Magazine, and elsewhere. Born and bred in Detroit, Michael has lived, worked, and written throughout the American Midwest. Additional information can be found at: www.michaelaferro.com and @MichaelFerro