Milk and Bread and Oil and Eggs


fiction by Miriam Cohen


I was in the supermarket for probably the same reason as everyone else: the expensive brand of yogurt was 69 cents today, with the store coupon. There were nine yogurts left, and I took them all, scooping them into my arms four at a time, then five at a time. When I was done, there was an empty space in the refrigerator section, between the cottage cheese and the milk.

I added milk, and then bread and oil and eggs to my cart, because why not. In the bread aisle I saw two parents and a son. Like any person, the son had hands and a nose and a forehead, and everything else, but because they were miniature, he was cute.

“How cute,” I said.

The mother looked into my cart and then back up at me. “You took the last of the yogurts.”

This was exactly the kind of awkward situation I tried to avoid. “Some of them will probably spoil,” I said.

The mother whispered something into the father’s ear, and I waited for them to be done. To whisper into his ear, the mother had to stand on tiptoe and the callused bottoms of her heels rose out of her shoes like dough left out too long.

“What about if we traded?” she said. “The son for the yogurts.”

I thought about it. I had been looking forward to buying these 69 cent yogurts ever since I cut out the coupon. I had not been looking forward to having a son.

“We can always trade back,” the father said. “If you find you don’t like the son.”

I looked at the son. He sneezed just like a person, only it was smaller. He wrapped himself around the mother’s leg, his face disappearing momentarily into her thigh. The mother touched the skin just below his ear.

It hurt my eyes, watching this mother with her son. “Fine,” I said.

I gave the father four yogurts and the mother five. The mother placed the son’s hand in mine, and then I was the mother, and she was the woman in the grocery store.

I brought the son home, and my husband said, “What is this?”

“Who,” I said. “Who is this.” The yogurts would have been a “what”; the son was a “who.” I learned this rule in eighth grade, but maybe my husband didn’t go to eighth grade: this was a question I’d never asked him. “This is a son,” I said.

My husband tried to pinch the son’s cheeks, but I caught his hand in time: who knew where my husband’s hands had been? I put away the milk and bread and oil and eggs, and when I reached for the yogurt, the bag was empty. I reached again, just in case. Empty still. I looked at the son. He had starfish hands, with actual knuckles, and even a palm.

I squatted in front of the son. My ankles trembled. I was older than I used to be. “Where do you go?” I asked him.

“My room,” he said.

My husband and I had only one room, and it was ours. We had one bed, too: ours. My husband was very large compared to the son. He had hair on his knuckles; the son did not. My husband had hair in a lot of extra places, I noticed. I had never noticed before, because I’d never seen him next to a son.

“Was this a bad idea?” my husband said.

“You weren’t really involved,” I said. I felt my husband’s hands almost touch the space on my neck where my hairline continues in a narrow tail.

My husband opened the fridge, and then the cabinets. He began making French toast with the milk and bread and oil and eggs. He dipped the bread into yolk and then let it drip.

“Do you sleep in a bed?” I asked the son.

“Yes,” the son said.

I looked at my husband. He was frying the bread with his enormous hands. There was not room in our bed for him and the son. As it stood, there was barely room in that bed for him and me. Often, I dreamed I was falling off the sky, and when I woke, I’d be on the floor. If the son and I shared the bed, I’d stop having that dream. I’d probably forget I was sharing the bed with anyone, the son was so small.

“Do you need to buy cigarettes?” I asked my husband. When husbands left wives, they said they were buying cigarettes. “Do you need to just quickly run to the store to get a carton of cigarettes, and then you’ll be right back?”

“I don’t smoke,” said my husband, like a husband who was not leaving.

“What about milk?” I said.

“We have milk,” he said. “And bread and oil and eggs.”