November 13, 2016: “The Longest Pregnancy” by Melissa Fraterrigo

Hey there, Story366! Today is Sunday and I spent most of the day on the Cub Scout rocket derby. This all started with me realizing at around 10 a.m. that a) I had forgotten about the rocket derby, which was at 2 p.m., and b) we had lost my son’s rocket kit (kit, as in we had to still put it together). So, not my best moment as a Cub Scout leader or a parent, but with some help from nice people in our group, we were able to acquire a new rocket, put it together, and still get to the event, which I had to take over in a lot of ways, our Cubmaster down with something nasty. It was all fun, too, as it’s neat to watch this mini-rockets get shot way up into the sky, to see the kids’ excitement, and to spend time with my boy. It’s his last rocket derby, too, so we’re glad all went well.

Afterwards, we spent some time at the park, waiting for the super moon, which was indeed super, a lot bigger than normal, which I think means it’s closer. Some movie, some cliché has someone saying that the moon is so big and close, it looks like you could reach out and grab it. Or, at the very least, if I’d kept driving east, the moon would have gotten bigger and bigger and we might have run into it. Something like that.

For today’s post, I’m wrapping up my second Bowling Green Alum Week of the year with Melissa Fraterrigo and her collection The Longest Pregnancy, out from Livingston Press. I knew Melissa when she was at Bowling Green—she graduated three years after I did, meaning I missed her in classes by a couple of years—and also happened to grow up in the same town she did, Lansing, Illinois. We went to different schools, however, and didn’t know each other until she came to Bowling Green, where we got to chatting, realizing our parents had the same zip code. The Longest Pregnancy contains a lot of references to that region, the suburbs directly south of Chicago, both in Lansing and Calumet City, where I lived until I was 12. It was nice to come across those places, malls and burger joints and car dealerships, some real blasts from the past (I would have never thought of the Miner Dunn   chain again, most likely). But I also really like her stories, too, some of which I’ve already read, some of which I enjoyed today. I read a few pieces, about giants and super-strong women, but will write today about the title story, which I so often do.

“The Longest Pregnancy” is told from the perspective of a young girl whose name we don’t get, a girl who tells the story mostly about her brother Pete and a woman named Anesa whom they both meet, separately, but both become enamored with, in different ways. Our narrator meets her at the makeup counter at Marshall Field’s, where Anesa works as a technician, while Anesa saves Pete from drowning one day on a Lake Michigan beach. Everyone lives in a town called Crestview (not a real town’s name, but a part of Calumet City, if I remember correctly). Our narrator is not a popular girl, overweight, bullied, and self-conscious, while Pete is completely in love with Anesa, wanting more than anything for them to move in together, get married, whatever puts him close to her all the time. Most importantly, Anesa is the woman referred to in the title, as she’s been pregnant, with the same child, for six years, which, without looking up any records, would definitely qualify as the world’s longest.

Fraterrigo is wise not to get into logistics, no mention of birth-inducing drugs or C-sections (like yours truly’s entrance), just a lot of confused doctors that promise Anesa her baby will be born any day. After all, it’s been seventy-two months. Fraterrigo sets up all kinds of questions and tensions and suspense, as it’s a really intriguing premise, so chock full of metaphor and symbolism, the story could go in some many directions. Why hasn’t she given birth yet? Who’s the father? What does this mean, in terms of that metaphor?

Even with the fabulist premise, the story is more about the relationships between the characters, namely Anesa and Pete and Anesa and our narrator. She serves as a wife, in a way, to one, and certainly as a mother to the other, and perhaps, that eternal bump is a symbol of both, Anesa placed in roles that are no better represented than by this very womanly state. Pete’s love of Anesa, which is more or less unrequited for most of the story, is particularly detailed and heart-rending, leaving more of the unanswered questions for our narrator, who’s arc doesn’t go as high or quite reach its denouement.

I won’t reveal anything more about “The Longest Pregnancy,” especially not the elephant in the room: whether or not Anesa eventually has her baby. This is all for you to discover, but just to note, there’s a lot of story, a lot  of things that happen, after this point, so predicting it, even correctly, isn’t the point. The point is that the writing here matches the idea, from beginning to end, making this a special piece.

I’m a big fan of my friend Melissa Fraterrigo’s The Longest Pregnancy, from beginning to end, so I’m particularly happy that she’s recently signed a deal with the University of Nebraska Press to publish her next two books. I look forward to those, but in the meantime, can’t recommend this debut enough.