A Surprise Visit
by William Michaelian

Zabel, I have big news. Khoren is here. I just saw him at the coffee shop. You know what that means. It means youíd better start cooking. Brother or no brother, you know how that man can eat. Zabel? Are you listening? Zabel! Where are you? Did you hear what I said? Your brother Khorenís in town. Heís at the coffee shop right now, devouring a plate of biscuits and sausages. What are we going to do? Heís at least ten times bigger than the last time we saw him. He looks like heís circled the globe, and then ate it. Zabel? What are you doing? Hiding? That wonít do you any good. Where are you, anyway? Oh ó there you are. My God, why donít you get dressed? Have you heard anything Iíve said? Tell you what. Why donít you boil some potatoes and make a big salad, and Iíll go to the store for some lamb chops. That ought to hold him until supper time. Iíll buy some ice cream while Iím there ó one of those big tubs. Itís cheap, but he wonít know the difference. How does that sound? Zabel? Zabel! Whatís the matter with you, anyway? Why are you sitting there like that, all naked? Although, to tell you the truth, I think itís kind of nice.

Zabel doesnít answer. Or, she does answer, but her husband, Mihran, who is known to be a bit thick-headed, doesnít understand what sheís saying, though part of this is her fault because she hasnít said a word. But she has spoken with her eyes. She has spoken volumes. Too bad Mihran is deaf in that department.

Oh, I almost forgot. Youíll never guess who else I saw. Are you ready for this? At first I couldnít believe my eyes. When I was coming in from the parking lot, sitting at one of the windows was ó Zabel? What are you doing? Youíre not crying, are you? You know I canít stand crying. Isnít the world a sad enough place already? Anyway, I saw Krikor. You remember Krikor ó the big fancy lawyer. And what a suit he was wearing. Iím telling you, it must have cost him at least a hundred ó no, two hundred dollars. Itís true. The wool in that suit must have come from wealthy sheep. I would have said something to him, but he was sitting with that miserable grape packer, Vasken Mouradian. God, how I hate that man. He already owns half the valley, but still that isnít enough for him. And he cheats his own countrymen. Let me ask you, what kind of man is that? Never mind, Iíll tell you. Vasken Mouradian is lower than a common thief. I have more respect for a man who robs you in an alley ó at least he is honest about what heís doing. Mouradian, on the other hand, has to hire three accountants to hide his stealing. Three! And the poor stupid farmers who do business with him go home empty-handed. I tell you, itís criminal. Donít they have families to feed? Zabel?

Sitting on the edge of their bed, Zabel looks at her feet, and then at the abundant white flesh of her thighs. She feels cold, even though it is summer, and the bedroom window is open, through which you can see giant dragonflies standing still in the hot air. For a brief moment, Mihran looks at his wife. Her behavior confuses him. What is wrong with this woman? his simple expression says. Why is she crying when her brother Khoren will be here any minute? Havenít I told her everything she needs to know? And why is she naked at this time of the morning? Naked, and the bed isnít made.

Hereís what weíll do. You get up from there and take a nice bath. Iíll start the potatoes boiling and see what we have for leftovers. Lunch is unimportant. Even a sandwich will do. This evening, weíll have the lamb chops and a big pot of pilaf ó a regular big meal. That ought to make him happy. And Iíll open another bottle of arak. Maybe if he drinks enough it will soften up his appetite. Though, I have my doubts. Okay? Really, I donít mind. You take your bath. It will be a nice get-together. Thereís no point in getting all upset. Khoren has a good sense of humor ó Iíll give him that much. Weíll have a fine time. Which reminds me. I guess weíll put him in Margoís room. She can sleep on the couch one night, it wonít kill her. Eh, Zabel? What do you say?

Slowly, Zabel gets to her feet. She is not the woman she was when she was first taken to bed by Mihran on their wedding night. Nor is he the man, though he thinks he is. Still, when he beholds the profound changes that time and motherhood have brought to his wifeís body, he sees her as she was, and feels as he did. Perhaps this is the reason he still cannot understand the tears she sheds, or the sobbing in her throat. The heaving of her great breasts and the gentle curve where her waist used to be are enough to keep him hypnotized ó until, at last, she speaks.

What do you mean, you are expecting? What are you saying? I thought you were ó didnít you say you could no longer ó I donít understand. Zabel, how can there be a baby? So ó this is why youíre crying. Youíre going to be a mother again? Zabel. My dear, sweet Zabel. The queen of my heart. This is wonderful. Donít cry. Please, donít cry. When your brother comes, weíll tell him the good news. Now we will really have a reason to drink. Ha! Imagine! Iím going to be a father! Me, Mihran Setrakian, a grower of figs. Tell me, does Margo know? She is a young woman now ó have you told her? No, of course not. One does not speak with a daughter until the husband has been notified. But she will be delighted. A new sister or brother, while the others are already grown. What a miracle. Thatís what it is, Zabel, a miracle. Come here, my angel, come here.

A few minutes later, while Mihran is rummaging in the icebox, Zabel takes her bath. God in heaven, she says, You do have a sense of humor. She washes away her tears, then starts thinking about what she is going to cook for her fat brother, Khoren, who will no doubt arrive at any minute. In the meantime, the baby waits. Zabel sighs.

William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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