Taylor spent the day at the community’s pool. After hours of play, the other boys tired, extricated their gangly bodies from the water, and stood clutching their shivering chests. An older father lathered his sun’s legs with lotion. The boy squirmed.
“It’s impossible to get him out,” Taylor heard mother say to a crowd of strangers, “… a dolphin in a previous life. We say it’s time to go, then offer reminders, then threats and yelling. It’s always the same.”
The same? No, today, was different. An odd pressure filled Taylor’s belly. He pulled himself from the water with uncharacteristic haste, then wrapped a towel around his shivering shoulders. Bending down for a sandal, he observed something odd at the trunk of a nearby maple tree: a humming appeared to float motionless in the air. He crept closer, uncovering the secret of some unknown magician’s illusion. With it’s needle-like nose, this hummingbird had punctured the abdomen of another hummingbird, then pierced the moss-softened bark of the tree sufficiently deep to itself become permanently lodged. The sun’s movement cast a shadow over the scene, but Taylor’s eyes remained glued to the remains of these two dead hummingbirds, locked in morbid embrace.
An extreme urge to urinate broke Taylor’s trance. It was in this moment, that he knew something was wrong. Today, Taylor would step to the edge of the stage, to strut and fret his hours upon it. He rushed to the showers, wriggled his swimsuit to his ankles, and waited. And waited. But the urge grew without release. There he stood, still wet, and wetter still with newly-beading sweat on his forehead—a soggy wet rat. He imagined a river, but it served only to bring on an intense nausea. His heart raced. Worried he might collapse, Taylor stepped to the side of a shower stall and leaned against the hard tile.
Trickles of urine began to flow, followed by the kind of unimaginable pain that lifts one up into manhood. An unusual cracking sound sprouted at the base of his skull, flowering into mysterious balls of light, demanding the ultimate submission of everything and everyone in their path. Taylor cried out in pain, wobbled backwards. The balls of light determined him ready to proceed with the ritual. He was unceremoniously breached by plasma suspended in radiation; he passed through solid objects with ghostly ease; ancient javelins and sea urchins passed through the tiny tip of his urethra, spontaneously exploding, if and however they so pleased.
Adult bodies, unrecognizable, skidded about, their faces, if ever close enough to see in detail, were ghostly white, like an out-stretched hospital sheet. Curled up cat-like, Taylor’s stomach twisted and tied into knots. Huge were his eyes, as he fell into this, a disaster of his own identity. Yes, this was his age of exchange. He was lifted up from pre-pubescence, now a man before his time, having never savored the sensation of bodies against bodies, or the lonely, slow, intentful joys of self exploration and seminal pitching.
Little blue men emerged from emergency vehicles and asked questions. But the only calming face was his mother’s. “Do not fear,” she said.
“Fire all of this pain into the sun,” Taylor said, or tried to say, delirious. Every object in the room seemed to glow with an intense saturation. Lost in their halos, Taylor became–in that moment–a century, a signal, an unwitting participant in the world’s smallest crime scene.
“Do not fear,” she said again, more softly this time.
He would not fear. He would fear the cream in coffee. He would not fear being taken at the age of twelve to the alcohol drenched stench of hospital beds, where he would be stripped and covered with warm white towels, where doctors, strangers, would debate in mere minutes his right to father children.
He would not fear the slick wetness that poured from sterile paint tubes, right before razors began to whir, violent machinery hummed, and liquid pulsed through thin tubes pierced into his arm.
“Birds,” he said, with a smile, and started to hum the The Brady Bunch theme song. Everywhere he looked, red and blue lights pulsed. “Red and blue birds,” he said.
And he would not fear the twelfth telephone call from a man, a boy even, threatening his life away into a receiver, nor the bald man grabbing his neck, nor the woman who called the bald man to his hospital bed. Taylor yearned for a white flag to wave; some signal of hope, a permission to surrender to silence.
“There are so many reasons to keep quiet,” he said.
The bald man was keen to tell stories, and Taylor couldn’t manage the strength to respond to his forced, jovial prompts, nor protest their incessant continuation.
“You ever heard of the Toothpick Fish? I used to work in Brazil, and I can tell you… I’ve seen many men survive much worse than this.”
For the first time, it occurred to Taylor that he had no clue what it was that he was… surviving.
“Let me tell you. The toothpick fish. It’s perhaps the most frightening, godawful fish on this great earth. The locals would rather swim in a pool of flesh-eating bacteria and piranhas than encounter one of these little critters. What’s worse, these transparent eels are near impossible to spot with the naked eye. But just like a mosquito, any nearby human will attract their interest. They’ll swim right into your urethra, or even your anus, and erect a sharp spine to lodge itself in place. Living there, it feeds on your blood.”
Falling in and out of consciousness, Taylor could only remember snippets of the conversations that followed. He was otherwise distracted or delirious. For the first time in his life, he came face-to-face with the prospect that he may never receive proper pleasure or conceive proper children. But why?
“Speaking of urethras and anuses,” the doctor continued, “have you ever wondered why God put a sewage plant next to a circus sideshow?”
Taylor recalled the neighborhood boy, and how they would pull their shirts over their heads to shield their eyes, and use their imaginations. A nurse skitted in to give Taylor something for the pain; modern medicine didn’t disappoint.
“A cat ate my poem. It was an origami poem,” said Taylor.
His father eyed him with concern.
“Dad, did you know you carry within your creamy interior a death-knell cell. I’m holding my hand, father listen, just inches from the single cell that becomes your future prostate cancer. It’s a conquistador, like the Spanish Inquisition.”
He was fondled by surgeons, eliciting scream after scream. He was split, much like a rape victim. Yet everyone else was lost in a robotic maturity, bearing down in the name of efficiency.
“I need cyanide and a leach.”
“Don’t joke around. You’ll receive a signal. Then we untwist.”
“And if it doesn’t work?”
All of this unraveled into a spontaneous hell at center of Taylor’s family. There, feeling alone while surrounded by loved ones, Taylor lost himself in the the nurses, and their pacing down what seemed like never-ending windowless hallways.
Suddenly, a hatchback’s modded bass shook Taylor seat, increasing his nausea to near unbearable levels. Ice melted in his mouth. Now out on the road, Taylor saw an old man holding a sign that read, “There’s even a means for an invisible man. Behind me, all or none of my invisible walkers march.”
Did that happen? Was it tomorrow? It was… eventually. He awoke anew, with a history that would no doubt trickle out into a tiny bowl of rumors. But for now, the bowl contained bags of tiny frozen peas. He placed them in his lap, and cried.
Dire Lies and Butterflies, Table of Contents: