This piece was submitted by Toh Enjoe as part of the 2014 PEN World Voices Online Anthology

Toh Enjoe’s event: Asia Society and The Japan Foundation present: Monkey Business

Hello!the little girls say sweetly, passing through me yet again. They’re my son’s girlfriends. He can’t go to school, so they come to him, bearing homework and playground gossip. When I see their bright smiling faces, I think how nice it would be to have girls of my own. They really light up the room. I want to have a daughter next, but my husband sees things differently. It seems like he lost all interest in me as soon as I became pregnant with our son.

“Not at all,” he counters. “But how can you even think about having another child in your condition?” Then he launches into a spiel on the psychological damage it would do a child to see his parents in the act. “And, in our son’s case…” He pauses. He still doesn’t want to admit it: our son is a world-class chick magnet.

“No,” he continues, “My son is my son—no matter what.”

“It’s okay,” I tell him. Same as always. “He’s just a little behind schedule. That’s what the doctor says.”

“But it’s already been…,” he raises his voice, same as always. And, same as always, he gets it wrong: “Ten years.”

“Eleven,” I correct him. He never includes the ten months I was pregnant.

I have a son, but I haven’t given birth yet. Sometimes I wonder how it would feel. I tend to think the pain would be too much for me. Ages ago, when I used to visit the doctor for regular check-ups, he told me to be careful I don’t get too big. Apparently the added weight would keep the anesthetic from working. Ideally, you only want to put on what the baby weighs. I started getting bigger about five months in. I’ve been growing consistently larger since then.

“It doesn’t make any difference as long as it works out in the end,” my mother-in-law said to cheer me up when I was feeling depressed over my inability to control my own weight. “People become emotionally unstable when they’re pregnant. Just don’t push yourself too hard. Remember, it doesn’t really matter what you do, the baby will come out all on its own. My midwife was a witch doctor—always smoking grass. And my baby still turned out all right… Besides, they used to say mothers-to-be ought to pack on a few extra pounds.”

As the due date grew closer, my mother-in-law stopped by practically every day. Now she only calls once in a while.


My mother-in-law’s questions—worn threadbare over the last ten years—are as short as army code.

“Not yet,” I respond. “But the girls came over again today.”

“He has his grandfather’s blood,” she says, in reference to her husband. Necessarily, then, he’s also my husband’s father, but saying it that way never feels right. I’ve seen his photo on my mother-in-law’s memory wall. “It doesn’t do any harm to leave it up,” she explains. I agree—it really would be a shame to take down a picture like that. The man in the frame is thin with somewhat androgynous features. The sort teenage girls go crazy over. Something about him feels oddly unreal.

Shortly after I got married, I asked my mother-in-law if her husband had died after they “split up.”

“Hardly,” she told me. “He’s fine… he lives one town over.” Apparently, he always has a different woman at his side. The two of them bump into each other every so often. They even share the occasional cup of tea. Age, it seems, has done little to alter his appearance. My mother-in-law told me I’d know him if I saw him. But it would be best, she hastened to add, if he and I never crossed paths.

“My father is…,” my husband said, “that sort of man. I don’t really hold it against him. Sometimes I see him on the street. He’ll wave and come say hello. But not like a father. Not like a baseball coach, either. More like—what—a classmate, I guess…”

My husband looks nothing like his father.


My doctor says my son might be born at any minute. But I don’t see that happening. We go to counseling, but it never leads anywhere. My son’s the one who does most of the talking.

“He doesn’t understand it, either.” The session comes to an end and, as the doctor exits my body, he points out the pointlessness of it all. “He says he has no idea what’s stopping him from being born.”

“Is it psychological?”

“Seeing as there’s nothing physically wrong, I suppose it has to be.” Apparently the mind is more than capable of putting the body in its place. Same as always, I leave the doctor’s office. I’m so used to it by this point that I don’t even think about it. Sometimes I wonder why we come to the hospital at all.

People can’t observe what’s going on inside their own bodies, so there’s no way for me to meet my son. All I have are pictures and videos. It’s an odd thing to say, but I haven’t breastfed my unborn son. I haven’t even lactated. When it came to feeding my son and taking care of his other needs, I had to rely on my mother-in-law, my husband and the babysitter. I still do. Everyone says he’s a beautiful boy. And, judging from the glow in their eyes, I’m sure they aren’t just saying it.

Once my son hit the seven-year mark, swarms of neighborhood girls started coming over to see him. His uncanny ability to attract girls without ever setting foot outside of me really attests to the awesome power of my father-in-law’s blood. I’m not some public park, open for all to use as they see fit. How did the girls meet my son? I had no idea. Soon, though, I discovered that girls were sneaking into me while I was asleep. They did what they could to cover their tracks, but—as if by instinct—they left certain traces behind: a hair tie, maybe, or a stray hair. I wrote a letter to my son, asking him to be sensible. “If you were going to school, you would be in middle school now. So I understand your interest in the opposite sex, but please don’t go overboard.” Yet he had recently entered a rebellious phase from which there appeared to be no exit, and didn’t bother responding.


Of course I knew that day would come eventually. I wasn’t completely oblivious to what was going on. I could see the signs. But understanding and emotion can be hard if not impossible to reconcile; sure enough, it threw me for a loop when we got there.


She was standing there in front of me. Her face wasn’t entirely unfamiliar. She had come over a few times (always sans make-up) together with some other girls to see my son. She gave the impression of being generally unexceptional. I’d heard her name before, but couldn’t remember it to save my life.

“Mother,” she said again. “It looks like I’m pregnant.” She sounded like a child waiting for a present to come in the mail.

Stupidly, I asked: “Whose is it?” “Your son’s,” she announced triumphantly. Oh, this kid’s dumb as a brick, I thought. Some girls simply fail to grasp how the world works—my mother-in-law, for one, used to rank among them.

“I promise I won’t forget your name, or your child’s… but you can’t expect the same from my son,” I said. I mean, this kid is trash.

She flashed a confident look, as if to say: Youre wrong about me. She stroked her still-flat stomach.

I was hardly proud that my son had somehow pulled off the incredible feat of impregnating some random girl while still tethered to me umbilically. Obviously. I mean, my son hadn’t even been born, technically. In the eyes of the law, whose child would it be? Mine? Would that make it the offspring of a girl and a pregnant woman? Making my son some sort of penile add-on?

As the girl effused dreamily about a future that she and my son could never share, I thought about how I was going to have to engage with any number of women like this from now on. I was sure I would adjust eventually, but I couldn’t imagine how.

I studied her beaming face as she chatted away. While I waited for the right moment to ask her name again, I thought: at least my son’s a boy. If he had been a girl, and the circumstances were the same—i.e., if she attracted men the way he attracts girls—men would have to go through me to be with her. That strikes me as somehow immoral. No matter what I did to keep it from happening, my daughter would wind up pregnant with somebody’s child; her child would, like its mother, stubbornly live on unborn. Like matryoshka dolls or homunculi, mothers would stack up inside mothers. That’s asking for a world of trouble. What would we do if my granddaughter ended up falling for someone else’s unborn son? Would the boy’s mother go through me, enter my daughter, come face-to-face with my granddaughter, then have my granddaughter go into her? Or, conversely, would I have to go inside the boy’s mother first, find the boy there, then have him enter me and my daughter to finally reach my granddaughter? When exactly did human reproduction turn into such a complicated ritual?


I appreciate all the modern conveniences of civilization—but none more than Wi-Fi, without which I’d have to walk around dragging a LAN cable behind me. In terms of jobs, my son’s options are rather limited. What choice does he really have outside of network engineering? But thanks to that—if I can put it that way—I was finally able to meet my own son, albeit via webcam. Captured by the camera, my son’s image floats through the air, hits the router, travels across the vastness of cyberspace, then—guided by DNS—crosses multiple servers in order to return to our home router, at which point it floats back to the iPad in my hands. Yet, instead of my son, what I see before me is just some guy. When the rest of the world sees him on the screen, he looks perfectly normal—it just so happens that his umbilical cord is intact. He’s sitting in a chic room. A conspicuously empty bookshelf stands behind him. His button-up shirt is coolly undone. He really is the spitting image of my father-in-law’s image.

“Mom,” says the guy on the screen.

“If you want me to order a pizza, you can forget it,” I cut him off. Since I could give birth at any moment, I’m on a diet. Pizza entering my body—and not even through my mouth—is more than I can handle. “That’s not it,” he says, pointing at a brownish growth on the wall. He gives the thing (which looks like a doorknob) a firm twist and a dull pain moves through my belly. “You really need to take care of yourself. This might be a tumor. You should get it looked at.”

Heeding my son’s advice, I head to the hospital and talk to the doctor. My son and the doctor speak at length in incomprehensible jargon—and I start to nod off. Later I learned that, after much debate, they had come to the conclusion that my son could not ditch his umbilical cord and switch to wireless.


In the end, my son wasn’t exactly the brilliant engineer I had hoped. At a minimum, that skill set pales in comparison to his raw talent as a chick magnet. And that’s why he never had the desire to work. He essentially lives off women, parasitically. Sometimes when I start to forget about him, he’ll contact me—almost as if he had just remembered I was there. He’s smiling on the other side of the screen, seated next to some woman I’ve never seen. They look like they’re posing for a family photo. On my son’s lap is a small child, looking at me, trying to wave.

“Gramma,” the little boy says. He looks up at his mother as if to make sure he said it right. I know it would be all too easy to forget that this whole scene is taking place inside of me. My husband, resting his eyes on the screen, sets the stew-filled pot on the table, takes off his oven mitts and stands next to me.

“How’s everything over there?” My husband says with a fatherly dignity. “I suppose it’s about time for you…” He begins to say, then he falters. We can’t do anything about that now. The time to ask our freewheeling son—giving us grandchildren all over the place—to settle down with one woman is long gone.

“What if…,” I ask, looking at my husband, “you went to see him?”

He looks at the screen, then at me. “No, thanks.” He ladles the soup into two bowls. Then, setting up the screen opposite us on the table so we can sit facing it, my husband places a third bowl of stew in front of the screen—like some kind of offering—and sits down next to me. The room is warm and quiet. I pat my large belly gently and, same as always, my husband anxiously eyes my hand as I do. He taps my arm lightly a couple of times.

“When he’s born…,” my husband starts to say, lifting his wooden spoon. He faces the screen: “When youre born…,” he says, as if to himself: “Let’s all sit down at the table and share a proper meal.” 


This is the first appearance of “Time Together.”