“Unbeknownst to Me”

Unbeknownst to me my husband started teaching himself German. This is exactly the kind of thing my husband does. Our daughter Shea is taking German in a pilot program at the high school, and Ted wants to support her. In his mind, support means to share or to do together. My definition is different: to do the things I’d rather not do, so I can focus, thanks. But in any case. He had downloaded the same app to all of his devices so he could pick up any one of them and drift unnoticed into the other room, to practice.

Last night at dinner, Ted swallowed his grilled chicken, looked Shea dead between the eyes and said das Huhn ist gutes.

Shea almost didn’t notice, assuming it was one or another incomprehensible thing between parents. Then, in the silence, she looked up at him. My husband said it again. Das Huhn ist gutes. Her cheeks burned: this was her thing, why was he meddling? Things are growing complicated between them, and I can tell she suspects that they will never be simple and straightforward again. Just the other day he told her, sure, mac and cheese is delicious, but you can’t eat it forever because you take after your dad. What the fuck had he meant by that? she asked me later in the car.

Normally when my husband upsets his daughter with his good intentions, I can speak up and provide a rationale that keeps the peace. It is harder for Ted to verbalize his reasoning than it is for me to do it for him. But last night I could not step in: we had never spoken of the German. It was clandestine. Honestly, it was so strange to my ears when he spoke it, I wasn’t entirely sure it was human language.

But then a look crossed my daughter’s face: brow furrowed, but with a smile. It’s a look I often see on parents. Then, instead of snapping her father’s head off as she had done over the mac and cheese, my daughter laughed. She had decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. This was work that I was used to doing, as a mother, as a wife. I hadn’t expected it of Shea yet. I saw a new vanishing point on the horizon. I could picture a time when she would become the woman, and I might turn into something else.

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About Steph Karp

Steph Karp is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her work has appeared in Meridian, Miracle Monocle, and Ruminate Magazine.