“Is It Possible to Fracture Your Penis?” NEW from the novel “Pushing the River”

 

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a reminder to my family and friends with wild imaginations: this is FICTION

She didn’t think about Dick as often as she used to, which struck Madeline as remarkable.

But when she did think of him, she often thought of his…boomerang.

She had long heard the giggles and rumors from the mutual friends who ultimately introduced the two of them. They saw each other every day for two weeks after the evening of their meeting, their words becoming so much chicken scratch, background noise, to a deepening enchanted spell that took hold of them both. Still, in their demure newness, she took the first shower – separately – then waited while he took his. When the sound of the running water ceased, Madeline was unable to wait a second longer.

She opened the bathroom door to an entirely pink-tiled world heavy with steam. Dick pulled back the shower curtain, wiping the water from his eyes, and opened his arms to her.

When she pulled back from their embrace and took his hand to lead him to her bed, there it was. Her eyes widened. “It’s my boomerang,” Dick said.

“Because it always comes back to you? No matter where it’s been?” she said.

Dick laughed. “No. Because that’s what I call it.”

The dazzling sun of the summer afternoon dimmed to dusk and then to dark before Madeline and Dick uttered their next words. “So. Boomerang. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

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Dick laughed and kissed her on the temple. “It got broken.”

“Oh, stop. That’s not possible.”

“Obviously it is. Possible.”

It was many years before the internet. Many years before Madeline was able to type the words “broken penis” into the google search bar and get the following from the Mayo Clinic website:

Is it possible to fracture your penis?

Answers from Landon Trost, M.D.

Yes. Although rare, penis fracture can occur when there is trauma to an erect penis.

During an erection, the penis is engorged with blood. If an engorged penis is bent suddenly or forcefully, the trauma can rupture the lining of one of the two cylinders in the penis (corpus cavernosum) responsible for erections — resulting in a penis fracture. The trauma most often occurs after accidental injury during intercourse, but can also occur due to aggressive masturbation or taqaandan, a cultural practice in which the top of an erect penis is forcefully bent.

A penis fracture is a painful injury. Signs might include a cracking sound, immediate loss of the erection, or the development of dark bruising of the penis due to blood escaping the cylinder. Sometimes the tube that drains urine from the body (urethra) is damaged as well, and blood might be visible at the urinary opening of the penis.

A penis fracture requires urgent medical attention. The injury can usually be diagnosed with a physical exam, and prompt surgical repair is typically recommended.

Left untreated, a penis fracture might result in deformity of the penis or the permanent inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sex (erectile dysfunction).

At the time, however, Madeline only knew what she had seen. And experienced.

“Does it hurt?” she asked. “Do I need to worry about hurting you?”

“Not at all,” he said.

She giggled, then said, “I’m sorry to laugh. You broke your penis!”

It wasn’t so funny when it happened. It hurt like a mother. And I heard it break.”

“You’re kidding?!” Madeline said. “What in the world happened?!” Dick took a breath in preparation to answer, but Madeline took her index finger and held it to his lips. “No, wait. Don’t tell me. No history. Not right now. Just this moment. Just the two of us. And Boomerang.”

boomerang construction

“Lachrymose.Febreze.Get Shorty,” NEW from the novel “Pushing the River”

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“Nope,” Madeline thought to herself. “Nope, nope, nope. Bathetic, mawkish, maudlin – that’s what I’m being. And, my personal favorite – lachrymose.” Sometimes Madeline was goddamn glad that she had spent part of one summer studying lists of words to expand her vocabulary. “Lachrymose,” she let the word swirl around inside her. It wasn’t every day that you could find a reason to use one of your very favorite words of all time, but when that opportunity was suddenly there, boy howdy, that was a banner day. That could turn a shit of day right around.

“I. Will. NOT. Be. Lachrymose. No sirree Bob.” Madeline marched up the staircase with intent, paused at the top to wiggle back and forth in a little dance, and two-stepped her way into her bedroom. Carefully moving aside the freshly laundered pile of clothes, she proceeded to rip the sheets off her bed with a vengeance, then crumple them into the smallest ball she could. She held the ball in front of her, arms fully extended, the entire length of two stair flights to the washing machine. “Ha. I knew I saved this for a reason,” she thought, ripping open a sample packet of laundry detergent that had arrived in the mail months ago. Tide with Febreze. Guaranteed to eliminate your toughest laundry odors, it said. “Well, then, my detergent friend, be true to your word. Eliminate, eliminate. When I lay my weary little head down on my pillow tonight – alone, in my own bed – I don’t want a single whiff, not one hint of a whiff, not a hair of a tinge of a mite of a pinch of a speck of a trace of a hint. Of Dan.”

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The machine’s lid sang out as it snapped closed, making a slight symphony with the rushing water and the whistling of the hot water pipe.

Madeline decided to slam the lid again. It felt highly satisfying. But when the last reverberation fell silent, it was as if a little bit of the air had escaped from Madeline’s inner balloon. Her footfalls up the stairs sounded slow and shuffling. There was no dance.

Her intention was to put away the laundry. She swung open the side-by-side doors of the primitive armoir she used as her clothes cabinet. She ran her eyes up and down the stacks of clothes, back and forth across the three shelves. She left the doors agape, and went to lie down on the sheetless bed.

Her flat palm grazed across the mattress pad, and with the gesture, an image: Dan. Also lying on his back, the two of them facing the ceiling. Newborn Dylan, tightly swaddled and sound asleep between their two prone bodies. Their hands reaching toward one another, clasping.

Madeline leapt from the bed and threw open the door of the hall closet, tossing years’ worth of accumulated stuff around, searching for something she was certain had been stashed ever since Kate’s first big camping trip. Febreze. Spray. Mountain fresh scent.

Madeline bounded back into the bedroom and went to work on the pillows, nearly soaking them with spray. Then onto the mattress itself.

“Out damn spot!” She thought: “Wait a minute. Macbeth? Shakespeare?? I thinketh not. Waaayyyyy too literary. How about Ellmore Leonard? Get Shorty?? ‘FUCK YOU, FUCKBALL!!’”

Dennis Farina Get Shorty

“Crooked,” NEW from the novel “Pushing the River”

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You could see it right away when he was born. Something strange with one side of his face. Even as a brand new teeny little newborn, barely out long enough to have dried off and gotten the feeling of air in his lungs. Wriggling around, even though he was straight-jacketed inside that hospital blanket, you could see there was something going on. When that little one went to cry, or to yawn, or let out a holler, one side of his mouth wasn’t cooperating with the other side. One side stayed perfectly, utterly still, while the other did every bit of the work.

Of course, lots of things happen when a baby is going through the whole business of being born. They get stretched and squished and crumpled up pretty good sometimes in that short distance between where they come from and life outside. Lots of them creases and folds just go away all on their own, and lightning quick, too. Nobody paid much mind as they paraded in and out to coo at the new baby, not when he was going home with a mama who had barely reached fifteen years of age.

Them nurses coming in and out of that new mama’s room seemed to have their eyebrows permanently raised up. They looked mostly at the floor, stealing quick-like glances at each other as they passed. If anybody noticed that one side of the baby’s mouth was refusing to join forces with the other, not a one of them said a word.fine-art-newborn-portraits

Dylan did all them things that babies do right on time, like he was reading right out of some handbook. He smiled and gurgled and cooed up a storm. Seemed that little cuss was going to have a tidy sum of things to say when he grew, cause he was practicing and testing out different sounds he could muster nearly all of the time.

Thing is, if you’d have hunkered down to look at one exact half of his face while he was chortling away, you’d have seen the whole rainbow of life’s feelings passing through his sparkling eyes and across his laugh-pinched cheeks and through that lively little mouth. But if you’d hunkered down on his other side, the other half of his face would have set there stone still. His eyelid blinking just a hair slower than the other, the cheek laying flat, and the mouth as limp and unmoving as a fish way too long out of the water.

That little baby was born with a couple of nerves not connected up the way they was supposed to be. Sets one to wondering if this was the hand of God – showing a mighty peculiar sense of humor– or some fluke in a very big and random universe. Or maybe Dylan hisself had some sense of his own unfolding life.

The Male Body, new from the novel “Pushing the River”

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When she thought of Dan, she thought of his shoulder. His right shoulder. The one she rested her head on when they lay in bed. Don’t ever get out of the pool Dan, she thought to herself; because that swimmer’s shoulder is worth dying for.

Madeline became deeply attached to bodies. To the body of her lover. The curve of the calf, line of the toes, rises and declivities of the chest, sprout of hairs on the lower abdomen – every bit of it became an imprint deep within her, just as a baby duck becomes imprinted on the first thing it sees, nothing forever after seeming right, or even possible.

She remembered when she first saw Michael – the previous body in her life — naked. He looked like one of the blue people in the movie “Avatar” – stretched to unreasonable tall leggy thinness. But in a short time, his body was the only one that made sense to her. Legs that were not as long, calf muscles that were less taught seemed…mildly distasteful to even consider.

Hands, most especially, stirred inside of her. If e e cummings carried her heart in his heart, Madeline carried his hands.

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Madeline thought of Dan’s hands. The dense, ropey tendons across his palms from that disease she could never remember the name of. The blood-red tips of his fingers.

My problem, Madeline said to herself, is that I want someone at the receiving end of my thoughts. That voice inside of my head. The “me” voice. I like the idea that someone else might be hearing it. Otherwise it’s just me. Me me me. Seems a little overly self-involved. Seems a little pointless to be doing a running narration of my own life to myself, for myself.

That’s where the body comes in, she realized. That’s why I carry his body around inside of me. So he’s there, too.

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Art, top to bottom:  Judith Roth, Judith Roth, Leonardo Da Vinci

Thinking of a New Year, from the novel “Pushing the River”

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She glanced at Dan’s note, not reading the words, but taking in a general impression of the handwriting, the pattern of the markings on a torn page of paper. She sighed deeply, and inhaled the exhilarating, still-fresh aroma of the delicious Christmas tree. No question that Frasier Fir is the way to go, she thought: it smells as if it were chopped down yesterday. She pictured the Brawny Paper towel guy, axe slung over one shoulder, wearing nothing but his flannel shirt, ancient jeans and worn boots as he trudged through the powdery snow in search of their tree.

She would leave it up until after New Year’s. Maybe another week after. Taking down the Christmas tree struck Madeline as one of the saddest things in the world. Even when Dick had been around, she had always done it herself. He insisted that he couldn’t trust himself to stow away the ornaments handed down from her mother’s family, as well as those from her own childhood; although this was miraculously not an issue when he dove into the tissue-wrapped antiquities with childlike glee when they decorated the tree each year. So be it. Yet another year when she would do it alone. It allowed her a degree of ceremony she would not have otherwise. Time when she could hold the oldest ones – the ones her mother had painstakingly dated, going back to 1919 – and try to picture her long-dead mother as the gangly, sickly, big-eyed child that she had seen in photographs. Carrying an equally skinny, frightened-looking doll with her everywhere she went.

Taking down a Christmas tree was like a death. The death of another year. Pack up and put away whatever was special, or memorable, or lasting. Throw away the rest. Turkey feather. Christmas tree.

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Perhaps, Madeline thought, perhaps I have lived long enough.

It seemed to her, quite suddenly, that she had seen a great many Christmases. That around the tree had gathered so many, many people whose lives had touched hers, and who were now gone. Like a long Dickens novel, where the sheer volume of characters who paraded through the pages was impossible to comprehend.

When she eventually dragged this perfect tree out to the curb, leaving a trail of needles she would find herself sweeping up well into the summer, Dan would be gone, too. I have had so many different lives, she thought. Different little universes, created one conversation cup of coffee glass of wine walk along the lake whispered tender words caresses orgasms at a time. One at a time, day after day, and a world is constructed. What was it Octavio Paz said?

if two kiss
the world changes, desires take flesh
thoughts take flesh, wings sprout
on the backs of the slave, the world is real–

Oh shit, she thought. I must be seriously fucking stressed. Quotes are popping into my head. Bad sign.

bodybag

“A Failure of Memory,” new from the novel “Pushing the River”

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Madeline sometimes exhibited a dizzyingly optimist view of things past, which ranged from sweetly touching to downright frightening. For instance, there was the now-infamous time when John read “Of Mice and Men” for his eighth grade English class. From an early age, John possessed an uncanny ability to predict the outcome of a story from very near the beginning of a book, movie, TV show, etc. He paused the movie, or put down the book, and could not go any further until he asked if the outcome was going to be what he expected. Then he considered whether he wanted to go forward and face the inevitable, or whether to take a pass. He asked Madeline if “Mice and Men” was going to have the tragic, heartbreaking ending he foresaw. And Madeline, over the course of the many years since she had read it, had somehow spun the story into a sparse, entirely lovely Steinbeck tale about the love and devotion of two brothers. Epic fail. Even as a nearly-six-foot, fourteen-year-old who shaved, John took to his bed immediately after dinner the night he finished the book.

Then there was the time Madeline got serious about her responsibility to ensure that her growing children experienced the wide range of world cinema, and not simply the mainstream American extravaganzas that they all loved. Where to start, she thought. Something with a simple story, little dialogue, stunning visuals, and the far slower, languid pace that characterized films from nearly every other country. Got it, she thought, remembering a film she had seen in college: Nicholas Roeg’s “Walkabout.” Somehow, in her memory, the movie had metamorphosed into a lovely, mysterious trek through the outback where two lost children follow a young Aboriginal boy back to home and safety. She would never forget the expression on both John’s and Kate’s faces when they turned to her, five minutes into the film, their mouths slightly open, their faces pale and clearly questioning her sanity. Madeline’s rosy memory had completely erased the part where the dad drives the children into the outback, kicks them out of the car, attempts to shoot them, then proceeds to douse the car with gasoline and set it ablaze before shooting himself. While they watch.

So there was much precedent for Madeline remembering, at least at first, a happy scene where Savannah tickled Dylan’s newborn cheeks with the turkey feather while cooing and giggling at her baby boy. But with the laundry away and Dan’s quickly-scribbled note in her hand, Madeline picked up the turkey feather from the sofa cushion and remembered the rest.

“He’s wonderful, Savannah. Completely wonderful,” Madeline said. Dylan followed the sound of Madeline’s voice with his eyes, and smiled.

“Yeah…” Savannah said.

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“What’s wrong? You sound like something’s wrong.”

“Nah. I was just remembering when my dad used to tickle me…”

“Oh. Are you…missing him?” Madeline wasn’t sure how to read Savannah’s wistfulness.

“Ha! Miss him? Nah. I mean, he was an OK dad, I guess. Sometimes.”

“Was he, Savannah?”

“ I mean, yeah. No. I don’t know. Things got pretty bad there.” Savannah stopped stroking Dylan with the feather and laid it beside her on the sofa. She wrapped her hands around Dylan’s arms and held fast. “You know he called the cops on me, right?”

“Yeah, I heard that,” Madeline said.

“You know they took me away? Put me into juvey? Did you know that?”

“No,” Madeline replied. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yep,” Savannah said. “Cause I was late coming home. He told the cops I was all violent and out of control. Ha! HE’S the one who’s out of control. After a few days, the cops told me I had my choice, I could go home or I could stay there. Guess what?! I stayed. For, like, more than a week.”

“Really?”

“I knew I better than to go home, until he, you know, cooled off.” Savannah shrugged. “I knew he’d just…be all physical with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’d…you know…shove me around…a little”

“Shove you around? Like, what are we talking about here?”

“I never had to go to the hospital or anything like that…” Savannah said. “Well, just that one time.”

“Are you shitting me?” Madeline said, loud enough to startle Dylan. “What happened?”

“I got taken away. But they sent me back.”

Madeline’s head was spinning. “ How badly did you get hurt?”

“Oh. Nothing broken. Well, just a finger. Stitches and stuff.”

Madeline did not know what to say. Inside her head, she said, “WHEN DID MY WHOLE FUCKING LIFE TURN INTO THE FUCKING JERRY SPRINGER SHOW;” but the words that actually emerged from her mouth were: “I’m so sorry you had to go through stuff like that, Savannah,” which seemed woefully, tragically inadequate, but she said it nonetheless.

“Yeah. Whatever.” Savannah shrugged again. “Now I got this little guy,” she said, as if that explained, as well as solved, every single thing.

Madeline looked down at the turkey feather and became aware of Dan’s note still clutched in her hand. She pictured the following chain of events that would extend into the inevitable future:

she would put the turkey feather back in its honorary spot on the end table. At some point, Dan would vanish, again, and this time for good. The feather would remain for some amount of time, sometimes striking Madeline as a lovely and poignant token of a person who had stood beside her at an enormously tough time, sometimes as a stab of painful reminder of someone who was prone to vanishing, and would live the entire rest of his life in like fashion. The day would come when the feather was no longer imbued with any particular meaning whatsoever. It would be a detritus. It would get tossed unceremoniously into a large plastic garbage bag, end up covered with coffee grounds and used tissues and egg shells and rotten leftovers. The bag would be hauled out to the alley, and crushed together with other bags. On some Thursday, men would toss it into the back of a truck. It would be squished and compacted and compressed. It would be dust.

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Top to Bottom: Photo of Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Vincent Van Gogh

 

“Turkey Feather,” new from the novel “Pushing the River”

Here is the scene it its entirety:

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Madeline thought she was hearing a kerfuffle of footsteps running up and down the stairs as she folded the clothes in the basement laundry room. Weird, she thought.

Madeline believed tenaciously in the power of simple pleasures. Folding freshly cleaned clothes into an architecturally-arranged, enormous pile that she could carry in one trip always tickled her. She had to rest her chin on the top of the heap and bear down, sniffing deep into the fragrant laundry, in order to manage the load. Her arms carefully cradling the bottom of the stack and her chin planted, she began her ascent of the first of two flights of stairs between her and the laundry’s final destination in her bedroom.

Rounding the landing on the second flight of stairs, saying to herself: hahaha, nearly there and not a single sock teetering, Madeline caught a glimpse of the wild turkey feather, lying on the sofa, where Savannah had been running it back and forth across Dylan’s cheeks while she wrinkled up her nose and cooed at him.

The turkey feather. A souvenir from the day she and Dan drove to the Lake Michigan dunes and took a magnificent hike. They were walking single file on a narrow path, with panoramic views of the forest, the water, the rolling hills, on both sides of the ridge. Dan walked a bit ahead, and they were mostly silent as they looked back and forth, drinking everything in. It was a warm day for the season, with the heavy, thick sunlight of late fall that Madeline had loved all her life. Dan was nearly at the top of the hill when he stopped walking and turned to face her. He smiled at her, and his blue eyes shone.

She breathed a little heavily from the climb through the sand. They stood a good twenty-five feet apart, saying nothing. Dan looked a million miles into the distance, then had his attention caught by something lying on the ground. He walked a little way off the trail and into the thick undercoating of the forest floor, reaching down to pick something up. He walked over to Madeline and held out a long, thin striped feather.

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“A feather!” Madeline said.

“A wild turkey feather,” Dan said.

“Really? Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. I grew up around here.”

“I will keep it forever,” Madeline said. “A souvenir.”

“Of course you will,” Dan said. Everything about his face belied the fact that he loved her, and that this fact made him proud, and shy, and embarrassed, and profoundly confused.

Madeline cajoled the laundry up the final flight of stairs, down the short hall and into the bedroom, where she immediately noticed…some lack. Something not-there that had been there before, the empty space shouting at her. It took her a moment to realize what was absent. Dan’s various paper bags, there in the corner since he had unexpectedly taken up residence a month earlier, were gone.

Before Madeline had time to ponder any further, she saw a single white page, its ragged edge clearly ripped out of a school notebook, lying in the center of the bedroom chair.

Dear Madeline,

I’ve never known anyone like you before, nor any people like your family either. You guys are all amazing – your incredible openness and energy for one another, your devotion, the intensity with which you communicate and love each other. I have truly never seen this before. Frankly, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I need a break. You guys are awesome, but it’s all a little much for me. You may have noticed that my stuff is gone; I’m going tohang out with my family for a while and chill. I’m really sorry for the abruptness of all this, but I just need to go.

Love always,

Dan

What? Madeline thought. I mean: WHAT!?!?!!!

Her thoughts went approximately like this:

–You son of a bitch, who asked you to MOVE IN HERE IN THE FUCKING FIRST PLACE?

–You total asshole douche bag, WHO THE FUCK SAID YOU COULD LEAVE NOW?

–Wait. Seriously?! You couldn’t even fucking wait until I was finished folding the laundry? You seriously had to rush around and sneak out before I even came upstairs? You chicken shit slime bag coward, YOU COULDN’T EVEN FUCKING FACE ME?

And finally:

–LOVE ALWAYS?!?! YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME. LOVE. ALWAYS.

dunes