by Jonathan Byrd

My dad lived long enough to be ashamed of me.

To make sure of this, he had himself frozen and arranged for his chamber to be placed in my living room.  There, I would be sure to see his disapproving scowl from all angles: when I come home from the job he disapproved of, played with the cats (who weren’t grandchildren), or had a fuck on the couch with my wife (who wasn’t the woman he would have chosen).

His disapproving sneer simply lit up the room and made every occasion just what it should be.  At Thanksgiving, his chamber would be at the head of the table, surrounded by mom in her jar beside me, my sister and her twelve kids (three sets of quadruplets), and my wife at the far end of the table.  Somehow, dad’s sneer was always my fault.

You push his buttons, my sister tells me as she puts mom back on the percolator in the kitchen.  The bubbles always help mom’s attitude.  You should try harder to make a connection with him: mom’s voice is garbled by the bubbling fluid in the jar.  It’s taken many years for me to be able to understand her, and even now I don’t catch it all.

Later, I push my wife’s breasts out of my face.  She continues to ride me on the couch while I look at dad’s sneer.  I can’t even fuck to his approval.  Can we go doggy style, I ask my wife.  I just can’t look at his face any more.

When I come home from work the next day, dad’s sneer is a lot worse.  I immediately think it’s the plastic coat.  He hates the coat, so I try to remember to take if off before I come in the house.  To everyone outside of the house, the coat is a sign of honor and respect: it is the coat of a professor.  To my father, it is the acme of all of my failings to become his son.

In the kitchen, I hear giggling.  Now I know what dad is pissed about: people have information that they haven’t shared with him.  That is always my fault.  The break down of communication in the house is something I’m supposed to work on.

In the kitchen I find my wife standing near my mother’s percolator.  Near them, the faded purple hologram of her mother flickers.  The projector near the refrigerator holds one of the brain cubes her mother is stored on.  They look up, see me, and start giggling again.

What, I ask.

They giggle again

Oh you didn’t wear that coat in the house, did you, mom bubbles at me.  You know how it upsets your father.

Oh mom, leave him alone.  My wife was trying to head off an argument.  The news she has must be something.

They giggle.  I hate the monotone, metallic giggle the projector emits and my mother’s giggles sound like a water cooler burping.

What, just tell me.

Well, alright, my wife giggles.  You remember that night you didn’t think you would come, but I made you come anyway, the night we did it doggy style?

The mothers giggle.  Her mother lets out a few metallic barks.  Those goddamn projectors are always developing personalities of their own, and they are never good ones.

Well, I guess the position worked, ‘cause I’m pregnant.

They all laugh at the news.

I reel.

Wow, I say after a few moments.  Do you know how many?

Three at least; the doctor thinks I might have another two hiding in there.

Wow, five.  Nice, normal number, nothing odd like Jason at work who had one.  Who ever heard of such a thing?

My mother’s jar bubbles.  Why don’t you go tell your father?  He’ll be happy with the good news.

I walk into the living room.  My father’s chamber has frosted over.  This always happens when he was extra-mad.

Dad, I’m sorry they didn’t tell you.  I know I’m supposed to facilitate better communication with you.

He sneers. I wipe away more frost from the chamber.

Well Dad, I’m going to be a dad.

His sneer darkens.

Yeah, my wife’s pregnant.  The doctor can see three and thinks there are two more in there.  I hope like hell there is.  I don’t want to think of how disappointed he’ll be if there are only three.

Yeah, so I’ll be a real good dad.  Teach them just like you taught me.  They’ll grow up right.

Apparently, this is the wrong thing to say for my father’s chamber frosts over completely.  No matter how much I chip at the ice, I can’t break through, but I know the sneer is there.

I wonder if I’ll live long enough to be ashamed of one of my children.

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