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Short Story
3,138 words
SHJ Issue 13
Fall 2015

Re: Connected

by Robert Kerbeck

I’d heard the big thing for the upcoming Christmas shopping season was wearables. I was so slow—as well as techno-phobic—that it took me a couple of times to get that the radio announcers and TV commercials weren’t blathering about clothing. They were talking about technology that could be worn, as in glasses or a watch. Here I’d been wondering when people were going to get the message that technology was destroying their lives, as it had mine, and yet it kept getting worse. Wearables? At least the phone was in your pocket most of the time, unless you were one of the idiots who put it on the table at every meal.

My thirteen-year-old, Dom, had been driving me crazy to buy him one of the aforementioned wearables, a smart watch he’d been researching, as his Christmas present from me. It was to be our first Christmas since Deb’s and my separation.

“Please, please, please, please,” Dom had begged when I’d called to make arrangements for our weekend together.

Recently, I’d gotten only sullen silence. Four words from him was practically a Shakespearean soliloquy. It wasn’t that Dom was unable to speak. He just had no motivation to interact with human beings as a result of his mother buying him an LG phone, a Microsoft Surface tablet, and a Mac desktop computer, all in a misguided attempt to assuage the boy’s pain over our breakup. Deb also allowed him unlimited (and unmonitored) access to the web, and since I no longer lived at home, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do when I’d heard his grades had plummeted. Indeed, anything I did to try to restrict my son just made me the asshole.


In an effort to mitigate the hatred inspired by my efforts to get my son to go outside or have a conversation (or forgive me for what I’d done to his mother), I agreed to buy him another device, this time a wearable one.

“We have to buy it online,“ Dom said when I mentioned going to the mall to get the watch. “They don’t sell stuff like this in a mall. Plus I need to be running multiple screens to cross-reference the latest specs.“ When he sensed I was having second thoughts about my decision, he threw in, “And pricing.“

At least he was making an effort to save me a few dollars. More importantly, he was talking to me. But “shopping“ with Dom would mean going into his room, where his computers were set up as if he worked on the NASDAQ trading floor, if the trading floor were also covered with candy wrappers, dirty underwear, and ancient Legos.

“Okay,“ I said. “When I come to pick you up Friday after work, we’ll buy the watch online. But then we’re going out and doing something fun.“

“Sure, Dad. Sounds good.“

Let me say that this was the most pleasant conversation I’d had with my son, as well as the most complex words (non-tech-related) I’d heard him utter in some time.

On that Friday I greeted my aging but beautiful wife in my aging but beautiful home as she rushed out for an over-fifty happy hour speed-dating event. I thought about jokingly offering my credit card to pay for the drinks but realized I was already paying. Just as I was still paying for the house, and Dom’s braces, and, I guessed, all his tech. I was afraid to actually calculate how much my cheating had cost me. I should have just bought a canary-yellow Porsche 911 like most guys having a midlife crisis seemed to have the good sense to do.

“Where’s Gramzilla?“ I asked.

Debbie rolled her eyes and I noticed she was wearing fake eyelashes, one of them somewhat askew. Something she’d never done during our twenty-year marriage. I pondered what else she might now be doing.

“Mom is in her room reading. She knows you’re here.“

Even though Deb and I had been separated for six months, I hadn’t seen my mother-in-law in that time. I blamed Gloria for our separation and she knew it, so she kept herself locked away whenever I came by. She’d moved in with us when Deb’s dad had died, so she was 24/7 in my business, and my wife’s ear, when Deb had found out about my brief and, to be honest, rather pathetic affair. I got tagged on Facebook in a picture out with the chubby young waitress I’d barely started seeing and had slept with all of two Viagra-enhanced times. I didn’t even know what tagging was until Deb showed me the picture on her laptop and asked me what the hell was going on. I was as bad at technology as I was at cheating.

Gloria had then proceeded to badmouth me. It wasn’t just my inability to keep my dick in my pants, no, but my receding hairline, my expanding waistline, my drooping...income—all relayed to me via Deb, who’d never complained about any of those things. My mother-in-law (as well as the inventor of tagging technology) had ruined our imperfect but perfectly good marriage.

“Hey, buddy.“

Dom had mounted two desktops onto his wall just above eye-level. He sat in the dark at his desk with two tablets propped in front of him, the light from the screens ghouling his face. My son had four working computers plus his LG phone when I still had my flip.

“Hey, buddy,“ I said again, since breaking through the tech haze required repetition—and often a raised voice.

Dom was hammering away on the keyboard in between the tablets, unaware of my presence. It gave me an opportunity to adjust to the poor lighting and take in his pigsty of a room. He’d always been a bit messy, but since I’d moved out, it’d gotten worse. On the floor I spotted a banana peel, tangerine rinds, and chicken bones, as well as empty packages of various snacks. Toys he used to play with, model cars and ships we’d put together, were scattered haphazardly on the floor.


“Oh, hey.“ After a nanosecond glance my way, he went back to his screens.

There wasn’t another chair in the room, so I dragged one of his night tables across the carpeted floor. In the dark I heard a crunch. I bent down and saw that I’d run over a Lamborghini Murciélago. It wasn’t like it was Dom’s favorite, or even mine, though it had been a pain to assemble. The parts we’d carefully glued together were now separated, as if the roadster had been out for a Sunday drive and got blindsided by a locomotive.

Dom didn’t even notice.

“Let’s go Christmas shopping,“ I said, trying to manufacture some enthusiasm. Though Christmas was less than two weeks away, I wasn’t looking forward to the holiday, my first without my family. I recalled past shopping excursions, Deb and I traipsing through stores in search of gifts for our little boy. Nothing extravagant back then, a Nerf football or a hockey stick or a knight’s castle. She put up with my crankiness about the crowds, too, drawing my attention instead to the Christmas decorations she found so enchanting. Deb had always looked on the bright side (until recently), and even though I’d hated shopping then, now I longed for those days. What I would do to be able to spend eight hours in a jam-packed mall with my soon-to-be ex.

“Here are the main options,“ Dom said without looking at me.

Each of his screens featured a picture of various futuristic-looking watches.

“I’m leaning toward the LG G Watch R since it has OLED, but the Moto 360 has zero bezel, so it has a bigger display area.“

“That makes sense,“ I said, trying to participate.

Dom glared at me like he wanted to puke, the expression reminding me of the one on Deb’s face when I’d come clean about my affair.

“No, it doesn’t. They made a bigger display, yet their processor is stupid slow. What’s the point of that?“

He gestured toward a picture on his tablet. “That’s the Asus Zen, which is the best-looking watch, but it’s the only one that doesn’t have a heart rate monitor.“ Dom threw his hands up furiously like this was a deal killer, that a thirteen-year-old needed to be able to keep tabs on his heart. For a second I thought he was going to punch the screen.

“How about this one?“ I said, eager to change the focus. Dom had recently been suspended for fighting at school, another thing I blamed myself for.

“That’s LCD, not OLED. You can’t tell?“

I didn’t ask Dom what the initials stood for because he’d bark the information at me in such intense detail that it would give me a headache worse than the one I’d had for months.

I couldn’t help wondering, though, as I listened to my son, partly in horror that he had this data memorized yet no longer had any friends, but also partly in awe. Was I judging him, and his obsession, too harshly? And who was I to talk—or judge—anyway? I’d become obsessed with a pudgy, 24-year-old waitress with a tongue ring. Certainly Dom’s preoccupation with tech had to be healthier than that.

After staring awhile at the pictures and specs my son kept rotating constantly, my vision blurred. I could tell my headache would be a bad one, maybe even a migraine. I gave Dom my credit card and told him to order whatever watch he wanted, since they seemed to be around the same price.

He jumped out of his chair to hug me, which hadn’t happened since before the breakup. In that relatively short time, my son had gotten bigger. A lot bigger. I was hugging him back as much as I was measuring how much he’d grown without me around. He was closer to a man now than a boy.

“I love you, Dad.“ His shoulder blades were moving up and down. It took me a second to realize that my son wasn’t growing more in this exact moment. He was crying. I thought about recommending, even demanding, that Dom buy the Asus Zen watch, the one without the monitor. I didn’t want my son to have any way to quantify what I’d done to his heart.

I broke our entanglement the way men do, as if nothing had occurred, and headed off to get some aspirin. I found myself, against my better instincts, heading into my old bedroom. It was also a mess, but much to my relief, my side of the bed was unruffled. No one had slept there—at least since the last time the cleaning lady had come. This gave me a shocking amount of solace. Maybe it wasn’t too late. After all, I’d openly admitted that I’d fucked up. I’d begged for forgiveness too, explaining I’d had a midlife crisis due to my insecurities about getting fat, growing old, and going bald. But every time Deb seemed ready to forgive me, the next day her mood had hardened again, and I knew she’d spoken with her mother.

I was thinking about these things as I found myself perusing her closet instead of the medicine chest. Had she bought new outfits to go out in? She had. Was there new lingerie? Not that I could find.

I did pull out a black teddy with a red ribbon around the middle. It’d been my favorite and was also the oldest. I tried to remember how many times I’d slept with Deb in that outfit; hundreds for sure. I loved that outfit, the way it made her breasts appear larger than they were. I pulled the teddy close and did a little twirl.

“What are you doing?“

Gloria lurched toward me from the entryway of our bedroom, wobblier than I remembered. Skinnier too, though she had always been thin.

“Uh, I was getting some aspirin.“

“In Debbie’s lingerie drawer?“

“I know. I’m sorry. I got distracted.“

“That seems to be a recurring issue.“

“What’s that supposed to mean?“ I asked, despite being well acquainted with my issues from the couples counseling Deb and I had been attending until—right when I thought I might get to move back in—she had filed for divorce. Gloria swayed herself over to lean against the doorframe of my wife’s vanity area where I was standing, blocking my exit. Otherwise I would have left, believe me. I knew there was no point in getting into it. The woman had made up her mind about me. She’d poisoned my wife’s mind as well.

“You know what it means,“ she said and pointed in the general direction of my belly.

“What?“ I challenged, curious whether she was alluding to my adultery—or making fun of my weight gain.

Gloria shrugged like she didn’t want to get into it either, but she didn’t move. For me to exit, I would’ve had to brush by her. With my girth it felt like I might bump into her, possibly knocking her off balance, even causing her to fall. I could imagine Gloria claiming I’d done it on purpose, convincing Deb to use that to strip me of visitation, telling the judge that I was violent and potentially dangerous.

“Gloria, I’m sorry for what I did. I’m sorry I hurt your daughter. I’ve told her that many times, but I’ve never told you. I made a terrible mistake, one I’ve paid for in ways you can’t imagine.“

“You should’ve thought of that before you screwed that waitress.“

I let her have that one and nodded.

“She served us, you know.“

I nodded again. Deb and I had spent a considerable amount of time in counseling discussing how callous I was for not only sleeping with someone else but choosing a waitress in a restaurant I took my family to.

“That’s what’s unforgivable.“

Something stirred inside me, like I was watching my favorite movie, Risky Business, on my old sofa (“In a sluggish economy, never fuck with a man’s livelihood“) and had the first inkling I was getting jimmy legs. I didn’t know I was getting them, but I also knew something was amiss.

“You humiliated Deb in her hometown, in our hometown. She loved you and you broke her heart. Your son’s too.“

I nodded again, feeling like a bobblehead doll on a trucker’s dash.

“I hope it was worth it. Chase, wasn’t that her name?“

I kept on jiggling.

“She wasn’t even pretty.“

Gloria was right about that. What I’d found most attractive about the girl was her age. I’d spend my days whispering in my head, twenty-four, twenty-four, as if by being with someone that young, it somehow made me younger.

“God, you’re such a cliché.“

Gloria turned in a huff, making a dramatic spin move, but it threw her off balance, and she teetered sideways toward the wall of the doorway or possibly the dresser that sat on the other side. If I hadn’t been there, she’d have smashed into something, of that I’m sure. She was an 85-year-old woman. She’d already had a major stroke. A fall like that would’ve caused a serious injury, probably a broken hip, and then the complications and ensuing hospitalization could’ve started a quick decline of her health—maybe costing Gloria her life.

Instead I caught her.

“Get your dirty hands off me,“ she hollered with far more ferocity than I’d ever seen on my wife’s face—even when I’d admitted to infidelity.

“Gloria, calm down. You were gonna hit that wall.“ She was so thin. It felt like I could compress her, make her smaller and smaller, until she didn’t exist.

“Let go of me!“ She was flailing now to get away but I wasn’t letting go. I held her tight, telling myself she needed this when, of course, it was what I needed that mattered.

My right hand twitched off of her arm and onto the side of her head, slamming Gloria into the same wall she would’ve hit on her own. When she dropped, it was clear I’d been right. She’d suffered a major injury, just as I’d thought. Suddenly I was glad for Dom’s obsession with tech. He would be engrossed in his room. I could sit with Gloria for as long as it took.

She couldn’t speak but she was conscious. I’d even say for the first few minutes she was alert. I could tell she was upset that her life was ending this way and at my hands.

If I’d been cruel, I’d have shared her “dying words“ with her.


We go through the charade, even though we know what’s coming. Dom picks up his Christmas present, which I’ve wrapped as badly as possible. He shakes it and gives us a perplexed look.

“I know it can’t be technology. Dad would never buy me technology.“

“Uh,“ Deb says, “that present is from both of us.“

“I know,“ Dom says and smiles almost as wide as I do. He rips the wrapping paper off in one move. “An LG G Watch R! Thanks, Dad.“ He hugs me so hard I’m afraid he might break me; then he lets go and gently kisses Deb. “Thanks, Mom. I’m going to go link this to my phone right now.“

And he’s gone. Christmas morning has lasted all of thirty seconds. And yet it might be the best thirty seconds I’ve spent in the past year. Deb smiles and I know she’s glad I’m here, that I’m home. But then her smile turns into a frown.

“I didn’t get you anything,“ she says like she’s about to tear up.

“Of course not,“ I say and go to her. “I didn’t expect you to, not with everything that’s happened. Being here with you is my present.“

Out of my robe’s pocket, I produce a jewelry box. Deb’s eyes light up. She grabs the box and turns it over to examine my terrible folds. “Nice wrapping job.“ She starts to remove the paper but then stops. “No card?“

“Uh, no.“ Here I’d thought the expensive jewelry would be enough. I’d forgotten I was still technically in the doghouse. Hey, as long as it wasn’t the jailhouse. You’d be surprised to know how few questions anyone asked about Gloria’s fall. My wife, for example, was simply relieved to know that I’d been there to comfort her mother in her final moments.

“How about I say what I would’ve written?“

Deb’s head bobs up and down.

“I would’ve thanked you for forgiving me. And I would’ve thanked your mother for doing the same.“

This time Deb does tear up. I fold her into my arms and wrap her tightly—her flannel pajamas never felt better—but then my wife pushes me away.

She wants to know what’s in the box.

SHJ Issue 13
Fall 2015

Robert Kerbeck’s

fiction has appeared in upstreet, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Willow Review, Crack the Spine, and Philadelphia Stories. He was interviewed by Crack the Spine as part of their Featured Wordsmith series. He attended the Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop in July 2015 where he worked with novelist Benjamin Percy, and the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in August.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury