It is in the third grade that I begin to consider the possibility that Georgie will be a better writer than I am. I’m picking him up from school when he turns to me and says, “The homeless men will ride lobsters.” I nod like I do when I’m not a good enough mother to care about the oddities that fall from my child’s mouth with increasing frequency. I nod like I do when I think something sounds stupid. But he goes on. “And the police will ride in shopping carts. Who do you think will win?”
“The police,” I say. “The police always win.”
“But the homeless men have lobsters,” he says and pulls out the old-school Gameboy I gave him for Christmas.
It’s later in the year when I receive a call from Georgie’s teacher. She asks if I’ve ever read Georgie’s writing. “Oh, yes,” I say, although I haven’t, not because I’m not a good enough mother to care about Georgie’s writing, but rather because I’m too good of a mother to read Georgie’s writing instead of fixing him lunch or carting him from baseball practice to dance lessons. “Yes,” I say again, more firmly.
“So you’ve read about the lobsters,” she says in a tone that strikes me as far too serious.
“Um,” I say.
“The homeless men on lobsters,” she says again. “Fighting the policemen in shopping carts.”
“Who wins?” I ask.
“The homeless men,” she says. “They have lobsters.” She thinks that Georgie is a brilliant writer. She thinks he is the Next Great Thing—perhaps a surrealist or a magical realist. She wants me to confirm her hunch by sending Georgie’s piece off with my byline, to lend him credibility. “I know you’re a writer,” she says, “so I thought we could… you know, give it a shot.” She draws up a list of literary magazines that might be interested in the work. She sounds sincere. I agree to send off Georgie’s writing.
Georgie gets published. His story wins first place in a contest and the judges send me three thousand dollars and ten copies of the publication, only—of course—the story runs with my byline, so I hide the copies in the attic and open a savings account for my son. I deposit the three thousand dollars and decide that each month, forever, I will deposit $100 into Georgie’s savings account. I tuck him into bed, kiss his forehead, and say, “You’re a really great writer, Georgie.”
“Thanks,” he murmurs back. “You too.”
Years pass. Georgie writes a story about a woman who keeps getting pregnant but never has any babies. He writes another about a little girl whose reflection is always blurry. He writes one about a man who wins the lottery, but when he goes to claim his prize, his bank accounts have disappeared and nobody can find his social security number. Eventually he gives up and passes the winning ticket on to a homeless person. Now when Georgie talks to me in the car, I sit rapt as he recounts to me his literary whims. I sneak onto the family computer after he falls asleep and read his stories. I change his name to my own—just to see what it looks like—and then I change it back again.
One day a letter from The New Yorker arrives in the mail. It’s addressed to me. The editors would like to inform me that my story “Lottery” will be published in their forthcoming issue. They include a check for seven thousand five hundred dollars. I stare at the letter. I caress its heavy, elegant stock. I deposit the check into Georgie’s savings account and sneak back onto the computer. The story has not been touched; Georgie’s name remains on the document. I check my email; I did not send an email to The New Yorker.
Later that month, two more letters arrive. And then another. Georgie’s stories are to appear in McSweeney’s, Glimmer Train, and Tin House.
Though Georgie is now in the sixth grade, I rush to the third grade classroom on parent-teacher night. “Are you doing this?” I ask his erstwhile teacher.
“Doing what?” she says.
I ask if she’s read about the lottery ticket or the blurry reflection girl or the pregnant woman.
“Oh yes,” she says. “He’s really quite a prodigy.”
Two hundred and thirty days after I submit it, a story that I actually wrote comes back from The Kenyon Review with a note that says, “Atrocious.” I bring the letter up to the attic and place it in a small box along with a couple dozen similar letters. Georgie’s box—the one with all of his published stories—looms over my tiny rejection box as though it wants to mark its territory. I flee the attic and run to my computer where I proceed to type absolutely nothing.
Around Christmastime, Georgie and I go on vacation to my in-laws’ house in Santa Fe. They are the chic sort of old people who have clearly used their time on earth well: their walls are adorned with tasteful photographs of all of the places they’ve been and all of the activities they’ve done and all of the people they’ve met. They drink espresso in the way that chic old people drink espresso—a wink and a nod to my caffeine-obsessive, neurotic coffee guzzling as they sip their tiny little cups and wax poetic about crema. We lull into silence when the conversation seems like it’s heading towards the topic of Georgie’s father. When we pick the conversation up, my mother-in-law says, “I read your piece in The New Yorker. It’s marvelous.”
“Yes, simply,” says my father-in-law.
Georgie pouts because I didn’t let him read it.
“When you’re older,” I say.
“I’ll never be older,” he says.
We ponder this.
That night I write a story about a woman who eats her only child. She does so slowly, cutting off bits and pieces that he won’t miss while he’s asleep. She keeps him in a dark room for a while so that he won’t miss his eyes. She gives him piggyback rides everywhere so that he won’t miss his feet. She whispers, “Your nose is so very ugly,” all night while he sleeps so that when he wakes up one day without a nose, he is delighted. After a while, however, she grows regretful, and one day she breaks down and apologizes.
“Why are you sorry?” says the boy to his mother.
“For eating you all up,” she says.
“But,” says the boy, still confused, “isn’t that what you made me for?”
My story is very successful. The New Yorker offers to print me again. There’s talk of inclusion in an anthology. When my copies arrive, I place all but one in a new box in the attic with my name written meticulously in black Sharpie. I place the last magazine on the coffee table in my living room. I do not highlight my name or leave it open to the first page of the story. I stroll past it all day long, pretending to eye it as I would any other issue. It’s just a copy of The New Yorker that happens to feature a story that happens to be written by me. A couple of friends stop by for coffee and not one of them picks up the magazine or flips through it or asks about my writing, and even then I remain calm.
When Georgie gets home from school he plunks his backpack down in the entryway, walks to the living room, and picks up The New Yorker. “You’re in this one,” he says, as though it’s news to me. When he sits down to read it, my palms become sweaty. I chop an onion in order to distract myself, but I finish with the onion before he finishes with the story, so I chop another onion, and then another, and then another. I cry profusely while chopping these onions until I hear Georgie stand up.
He walks into the room, still holding the magazine. “That was way gross,” he says. Then, “What’s for dinner?”
“Onions,” I say, holding an onion.
He shrugs and looks down at the magazine. “I think I liked mine better,” he says.
“Oh,” I say. I lower the onion.
“Maybe next time you could throw in some lobsters.”
© Noah Bogdonoff
[This piece was selected by Katrin Gibb]