Storyglossia Issue 42, February 2011.

What's He Got?

by Nate Liederbach


You have not seen your wife in a long, long time. Not Odysseus-long, not even close, though achy long, certainly. Say two months. But she's flying home, and soon, from that other continent. So in preparation, you thoroughly groom. Beyond haircut, beard trim, fingernail prune, and the comprehensive smearing of non-allergenic lotions and Liz Claiborne for Men, you sheer that magical fur of the crotch. Soon. White and black hairs indiscriminately tumble to the champing of electric shaver. Soon, there will be lust. Soon, frantic and convulsive foreplay. Foot on the toilet seat, knee cocked at ninety, you draw this five-bladed razor, this F5 Phantom, this razor named after your favorite childhood fighter jet, along the yanked-taut chicken skin of your scrotum. Like smooth jazz. Like irresistible. But hair now half-cleared, you're confronted with a blatant seam. Runs the full center of your sack. No matter how swollen, overgrown or sagged with summer heat, this ominous scar tissue remains a reminder that these proud testicles once cowered ovary-like in your body, that this weighty scrotum is nothing more than hyperbolized labia glued with testosterone. Do you give up? Do you retire the razor, rinse clean the Claiborne? No. You press on. You remind yourself of Jesus' declaration in the Gospel of Matthew. "For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught." That's the spirit! Press on, good sir, press on!

Humming now.

Whistle while you work and the Protestant ethic. Mary Poppins' controlled hand on your scrawny neck. After the sugar, the spoon tastes extra metallic. But still we finish the job. Finish, no matter how menial, no matter the frustration, the obstacles, this flaccid cock pushing into the way like a dog wanting petting. And how's about a little Sinatra? Old Blue Eyes, that should lighten the load, keep things clear, keep things goal-oriented. Fingers snapping, women swooning. After the show, me and Sammy D and the King of Cool, we'll eat 'em up, spit 'em out. Show these skirts how to squirt. But for now, croon, baby, croon. For what is a man? What is a man and how is he full if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?

Whoa. Whoa boy—

Shouldn't have gotten carried away. Shouldn't have shaved part of the leg, too. Now, in the heat, a friction, a painful chaffing. With no fibrous buffer, the ball-sack dominates that inner thigh. A blight of quick blisters. Two, great, mirrored rashes. Aloe only burns. And your cortisone cream's expired, flakes. Walking on the outsides of your feet. The sky is falling in a net of black clouds because to top it all off your wife gets home but the dogs get sick. One is pissing in her sleep and the other's swallowing stones. In the night, a single wet cough and a smooth clatter on the slate floor. Head right to the vet and she's your same age but with a little girl's body and your wife's same name. Except where your wife has freckles, this woman has hundreds of teeny moles. When she smiles, they shift like loose spice. In the exam room, she squeaks, "It's excitement, that's what I'm thinking, change. They're just like us, their nerves, they can over-do it." Then she takes Paige away for a urine sample. Roya, the other, tail tucked, does a quick tour of the space. Whining the separation, she claws onto your lap, shivers. You rub her belly. Imagining now pebbles slipping down her throat. Thinking cool, indigestible orbs. Ear to her neck and you're listening for clicking. Until your fingers graze her nipples. Remarkable—how much longer they are than Paige's. Because Paige was nurtured through puppyhood, coddled and regularly fed, but not Roya. Seven years later, Roya still must down a pound of food in a minute, still howl at unfamiliar furniture. When you adopted her at eleven months, she'd been discarded four times. It's what the Humane Society counted. Though they'd spayed her in time, they assured you, so she never birthed. And you're all for spaying. But. But, well, it's got to do a number, right? Think. Twelve and thirteen year old girls, human girls, they menstruate. Nature going, Hey!—in no uncertain terms—Hey, you're a woman now and this body belongs to something greater. No pill or tampon can reverse such knowledge. No sexy undies can catch so much blood. The center of the body opening, burping excess and unused tissue. Or how years ago you had that friend—this was high school, and your friend she was so skinny she didn't have a period until she stopped running track. That was age eighteen. You don't know how that fits, but you're thinking about her now, sitting in this exam room. Your junior year, you and she talked about it once and she said it didn't bother her. You were outside, after practice, tiny running shorts and in the afternoon distance great mountains slept and clouds like fish leapt for the sun and in the wind was the smell of a perfect moment. So instead of listening you tried to kiss her. Or tell her you wanted to. But she was on a train of thought. She didn't pause, only turned the other cheek, telling you, I don't want it, you know? My period? Without it I can focus on track, on school? You know? Focus on the way my muscles work?

No kiss, then, but one now . . .

Roya licks your face. She has the fresh breath, Paige the sour. Paige catches things, brings them back, and drops them at your feet, not Roya. Roya hoards, chews, guards. Would they be this way as mothers, with their litters? You'll never know. And if you think about it too long you'll get wildly depressed. Oh yes it gets bad. Just last night it got bad. After dinner, celebration dinner, homecoming dinner, eyes full of Penelope and Odysseus, you and your wife had much fine wine and unexpectedly lost the clothes. Had the kind of grips on the other you can't leave and easily reclaim. Then crash-landing in the bedroom. But the dogs were in there already. And putting them out meant breaking away. Pets watching you screw, you've never relished this—let's get that straight. But last night was beyond normal discomfort. How terribly, terribly depressing, you found yourself thinking. Thrusting and thrusting past sharp pains of thigh rash, but still you're thinking, How sad for them. How sad having to witness this act of mimed procreation though never know it for yourself. For what other purposes are there for female dogs—especially working dogs, Border Collies—but herding, hunting, nurturing young? No wonder the sleep-pissing. No wonder the swallowing rocks. There you were, pressed to your wife's wondrously yearning skin, but suddenly lost in the concern that watching you moan and stab was filling the dogs with vast pointlessness. It wasn't an option. You broke down, put them out, all the while hissing, Hold on, please! Hold on just a sec . . . But back on the bed your wife, still smelling humid and ripe with foreign lands, well she only smiled. She climbed under the covers. She fluffed her pillow and closed her eyes.

Copyright©2011 Nate Liederbach

Nate Liederbach is the author of the short prose collection Doing a Bit of Bleeding (Ghost Road Press). His work has appeared in Quarterly West, Corium Magazine, Alice Blue Review, Fractured West, Mississippi Review, Permafrost, Pindeldyboz, and more. Currently, he is a PhD candidate in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Utah, and February 2011 saw the release of an anthology he co-edited with James Harris: Of a Monstrous Child (Lost Horse Press).