This is All So Absurd

This is All So Absurd

Before the absurdity came terror. Of the inability to feel—let alone move—his limbs. Of the vertical lozenge of his vision, fixed on the foot of his platform bed, the parquet floor, the black particle-board front of a six-dresser drawer (four for him, two for Reggie, who’d moved in just last week). Of the memory of a monstrous hangover: nausea, a headache unlike anything he’d felt in his thirty-five years of life, his twenty years of recreational drinking. Still. While Greg had no idea what he was, while he couldn’t conceive of the strange metamorphosis brought on by uneasy dreams, he knew he was warm. And if he was warm, he was alive.

Greg called for Reggie through the bedroom door, and were he not already immobile, he would have been shocked into immobility by the pitch of his voice, high and hollow, as if he were calling from one end of a playground tube slide. He heard footsteps. He heard the bedroom door open. He heard a gasp and a crack, saw broken glass and thick streaks of blueberry yogurt on the floor at the edge of his glaucomal vision.

Holy shit, Reggie said.

Greg watched Reggie’s feet move closer to the bed, toes tensed and prepared to launch their owner back toward the door. He struggled to move something, anything.

Reggie, Greg said in that new plaintive whine.

You can talk, Reggie said.

Reggie, I can’t move. I think I’ve had a stroke.

Greg, is that you?

I can breathe, I can think. I can see your feet, but everything looks weird. Everything’s bloated.

Holy shit, Greg, are you trapped in there?


Your voice. It sounds like it’s coming from the, um, the hole.

Reggie. Stop. You’re not making sense.

Incredible, Reggie said.

Reggie. What. Is. Going. On.

Don’t move, Reggie said.

If only, Greg thought.

Reggie’s feet slid from Greg’s field of vision. From the hallway came a grunt, the bang of something heavy hitting the floor. When Reggie returned, there was a disorienting moment of light and shape, and then Greg’s vision was overcome by—what, exactly? A head of dried skin, pursed vertical lips. Reggie tilted the hallway mirror this way, that way. The image evolved. A soft column of muscle, sleep-shrunk, resting on what looked like a half-empty bean bag. A wrinkled collar of skin, a nest of wiry dark hair. An average appendage looking, in Greg’s strange new vision, swollen and monstrous on the down comforter. Like something from another world, something that had no right to be so large.

Bullshit, Greg said.

Reggie kept moving the tilted mirror, as if to prove otherwise.

Impossible, Greg said.

Reggie dragged the mirror closer and Greg could see now, clearly, without dispute, an enormous penis. Not just any penis. His penis. There it was: that small tag of skin like a pebble halfway up the shaft of the now monstrous tube, the same errant flap of flesh that had plagued him for years, that he’d thought of at various stages of his life as a bug bite, a pimple, a tumor, a herpes blister. On all the penises Greg had put into various parts of his body over the years, there had been none with that simple trademark. Unique, it seemed, in all the world. Incredible, Greg thought, that something he had been intimate with for so long—cleaning it, playing with it, checking it for signs of puberty or disease, expelling it regularly of urine and semen and, three years ago, a tiny asteroid of a kidney stone—could feel so unlike him.

Oh God, Greg said. Oh God, no.

He tried to look away. There was nowhere else to look.

Hey, Reggie said. At least it’s yours.

Had he passed out from fright? Exhaustion? Greg was clueless—even more so because the return to consciousness brought with it a startling change of view. No more reflected flesh, no more parquet floor. Now a strip of white plaster wall, a band of white crown molding. The ceiling, Greg realized.

And something else. His entire self (his penis-self, he thought with disappointment), throbbing like sneakers trapped in a dryer. An ache that felt total and, somewhere underneath the confusion, pleasurable.

Greg cried out for Reggie, then tried to maintain what balance he could on the beam of rationality stretching across the abyss over which he found himself. He was, after all, the son of pharmacists. He did, after all, make his living in the editorial department at a medical university. Science, fact, truth—they all still existed, still mattered. Didn’t they? So to calm himself, to avoid plunging into panic, Greg conducted a simple thought experiment. Something to take his mind (did he even had a mind?) off that existential throb. He tried to imagine an aerial view of his disembodied genitals, all skin and muscle and hair. He tried to see them the way Reggie, the way other men saw them: ordinary objects, utilitarian, blunt and obvious, with nothing of the secret mysteries Greg suspected vaginas contained. Those, he imagined, were pleasure grounds. But a penis, testicles? What was there to explore, to discover? What you saw was, inevitably, what you got.

Then Greg tried to do what Reggie, who taught as an adjunct professor of linguistics and tended bar at his sister’s restaurant across town, would do. He thought of the word itself, its derivatives and nicknames. Penis? Awfully clinical but still with that honest, dangling initial letter. Cock? Hot when you were in the middle of it with someone, but too porn-y everywhere else. Willy and wiener and weewee? All best left in the dustbin of prepubescence. Phallus reminded Greg of some third-rate soldier in the Iliad. People names were awkward as well: Johnson, Roger, Wang, Rod. Prick and shaft and fuck stick were too weaponized for Greg’s tastes; organ, member, and manhood were far too vague. Of course, he couldn’t forget the testicles. Balls, nuts, sacs, jewels—how could anyone wax poetic with words like that?

Reggie opened the bedroom door and came inside. From the living room, Greg heard the television.

Whoa, Reggie said.

Reggie! What’s happening?

You’re, um, you’re hard.

Greg heard Reggie take pictures with his cell phone.

Reggie, stop!

What brought that on?

I have no idea! I woke up like this.

Well, think of something you hate. Baseball, broccoli.

Greg struggled against the ache, but agency in this unlikely form was useless.

I have an idea, Reggie said.

The bed shifted as Reggie crawled along the mattress. He scoffed, a sound Greg had never heard from him before. He felt Reggie’s hands against his girth, trying to push it back down toward the bed. Greg’s vision trembled. He caught glimpses of Target wall sconces, the lime-green armchair draped with a knitted blanket Alan—that sex-shy waste of time—had woven for him. The framed Magritte exhibit poster from a recent day-trip to Baltimore. Unpatched watermarks.

Reggie strained in frustration.

Greg strained in fear.

As Reggie pushed, as his hands slipped and sought different points of purchase on hot skin and tangled hair, the violent throb intensified.

This is useless, Reggie said. He let go of Greg.

Don’t stop, Greg said.


Don’t. Stop.

Another scoff, then Reggie’s large hands were back on Greg’s even larger penis.

No, Greg thought. Not on my penis. On me.

Fucking hell, Reggie said through clenched jaws.

Harder, Greg said.

Damn you, Reggie said.

Harder, Greg said.

Reggie pushed down, down, down, and Greg’s pleasure rose, rose, rose, higher and higher until it reached a glorious peak and tumbled over into release and Greg went blind and heard Reggie cry out and fall off the bed. Then the familiar leak and dribble, magnified now into that of a small water feature you’d find in a backyard garden. Slowly, ever so slowly, Greg’s vision returned and dropped back down to the bed, grateful (oh, so grateful!) and relieved (oh, so relieved!) to see the parquet floor still there, unchanged, to feel a wave of gratitude and relief carry with it the satisfaction of accomplishment and exhaustion so palpable that he barely registered his boyfriend’s voice from somewhere on the floor saying, with unmasked disgust, That’s so fucking gross.


When next Greg woke it was dark in the bedroom. Reggie sat in the armchair, toweling his head and looking like a ghost in the glow of his laptop. Greg noticed his vision start to rise.

Reggie noticed it, too.

Stop, Reggie said. I’m not cleaning you off again.

Greg’s vision dropped, sheepishly, back to the mirror tilted against the wall in front of him.

Reggie huffed.

There’s nothing about this anywhere online, he said.

Maybe we should call an ambulance.

You want to be seen in public like this?

Greg supposed he didn’t.

What about your doctor, Reggie said. Can they come here, instead?

My HMO doesn’t make house calls.

How about you try and sleep some more? Maybe you’ll change back.

Now it was Greg’s turn to scoff, the sound aimed at Reggie like a dart through a blow gun.

Okay, fine then. Reggie snapped the laptop closed. What do you suggest?

I have no idea.

Well, what about Doctor Valyakov?

No, Greg said. Absolutely not.

He’s two floors down. He can come up here and take a look, give you his medical opinion. I’m sure he’ll be discreet.

Reggie, Greg said, but Reggie had already left the bedroom, the apartment. Save for the sound of traffic slipping through the bedroom window Reggie had opened to clear the air of semen stink, it was quiet.

Doctor Valyakov. Christ.

They’d met the so-called doctor just last month at a happy hour in the common room of Greg’s building. Greg wasn’t sure where, exactly, Ivan Valyakov was a doctor. Occasionally, Greg or Reggie would run into Doctor Valyakov in the lobby, the elevator, the laundry room. They’d find themselves dragged into an undertow of excited, possibly manic, chatter. Reggie took sympathy on the doctor, saw him as a harmless eccentric. Always proud of his gaydar, Reggie was convinced Doctor Valyakov was family and should therefore be given the benefit of the doubt. Greg, however, remained dubious. Still. Gay or straight or whatever—Greg couldn’t imagine how Doctor Valyakov would help in a situation like this.

The front door opened. Doctor Valyakov’s rapid-fire voice grew louder as it came toward the bedroom.

Yes, he was saying. Yes, I’ve heard of such things before. Rare, yes. Very rare. But not impossible. South Asians growing horns in London, centipedes in Prague, noses and crocodiles in St. Petersburg, mammary glands in Manhattan. This, however, might be a first case. A patient zero.

Doctor Valyakov came into the bedroom, sandals slipping across the floor. He stopped, caught his breath. Ashamed, Greg tried to roll his bulk off the bed, to cover his nudity with the sheets. It was instinctive, but it was useless. All Greg could do was watch Doctor Valyakov’s furry knees and shins, hear him say something in Russian and extend a length of measuring tape.

Five feet from tip to base, Doctor Valyakov said, walking around the room. And erect?

Two more, Reggie said.

Three, Greg said.

Testicles three feet wide, Doctor Valyakov said. About.

The cremaster muscles, you see, make accurate measurements difficult. Pubic mound healthy, if unruly. Best to keep this area trimmed, Mister Greg.
With Reggie’s help, Doctor Valyakov flipped Greg over. Then came a circle of cold from what Greg guessed was Doctor Valyakov’s stethoscope, followed by what he guessed was Doctor Valyakov’s warm breath on the underside of his testicles. Greg felt himself shrink.

No pulse, Doctor Valyakov said. No sign of avulsion. Just smooth, clean skin. Impossible. Yet here it is.

Hmm, Reggie said.

Hmm, Doctor Valyakov said.

Greg, voice muffled by the weight of his testicles, demanded to be rolled back over. After another minute of examination, Reggie and Doctor Valyakov obliged. Doctor Valyakov crouched in front of Greg, who could see the doctor’s belly trapped in lime-greens scrubs, his stethoscope hanging like a noose. Doctor Valyakov took out a small notepad and pencil.

Are you hungry, Mister Greg?




How do you speak, hear, think?

I have no idea, Ivan.

Do you feel the need to urinate?

Not yet.

Well, most likely because you aren’t drinking. Have you had an ejaculation?

Yes, Reggie said from a corner of the room.

Do you have any idea where your missing body might be?

Don’t be absurd, Ivan.

Hmm, Doctor Valyakov said. Hmm. Hmm.

Reggie asked what they should do.

I will consult some books, some online papers. Doctor Valyakov rose to his feet. I am member of an online database at a small medical school in Ukraine. My nephew lets me use his password. Until then, Mister Greg, dim the lights so you can rest. Sleep, after all, is a miracle drug. It does wonders.


But sleep didn’t fix it. Not occasional naps, not long nights of eight to ten hours. When he wasn’t guiding undergrads through elementary logic or slinging whiskey sours at his sister’s restaurant, Reggie would sit in the armchair and look despondently at his phone. He rarely talked to Greg. (In fairness, Greg didn’t feel much like talking.)

When Reggie couldn’t watch Greg, he let the television do it for him. Ah, Greg thought on Day Five of his metamorphosis, as Reggie hefted the flat-screen into the room and set it on the floor in front of Greg. My old nanny. We meet again.

Reggie always left Greg with the news, so Greg had no choice but to spend his waking hours suffering through slices of angry anchors and pundits, forest fires and high school shootings, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump. Every time Reggie came home from work, Greg would cry for him to come and shut off the television.
The periodic changes in altitude continued, sparked not by desire so much as sheer habit, instinct. Arousals that went, unfortunately, unattended. Sometimes there would be a slight leak, but mostly, just when it felt like the awful pleasure would destroy Greg, it would fade, without a mess, and his vision would descend back to the familiar patch of floor, the familiar television with its familiar news.

Twice, Greg asked Reggie to minister to his needs. Maybe they could make a game of it. Reggie wasn’t into the idea. He complained about the amount of lubrication required, or the fact he’d have to do all the heavy lifting (pun, he said, intended). The last time Greg asked, Reggie scoffed and said it would be so much easier if Greg had become a giant asshole because no way was he going to bottom for that monstrosity.

Ever since the first night, Reggie had slept in the living room. At night, Greg could hear the sound of text messages and video chats and recalled the thrill of their own first texts and chats, the exciting tension of the moments between On my way! and Downstairs! Hookups that lasted an hour, then two, then four. Reggie bringing items over: toys, a change of underwear, a toothbrush, work clothes. A relationship growing from the accumulation of small objects, small victories. Now, as the hours and days came and went and Doctor Valyakov still had no news to report, Greg could feel their relationship starting to decay. He had plenty of times to notice the signs, the accumulation of small absences, small defeats. Reggie moving his clothes out of the bedroom dresser. Reggie laughing on the phone with strangers, taking up more shifts at his sister’s restaurant. Reggie forgetting to say goodbye, goodnight.


By Day Fourteen, Greg had no choice but to resign from his job, giving notice into the cellphone Reggie held up to his urethra mouth. With friends, he conducted the barest of conversations, apologizing profusely for wanting to stay in, ignoring inquiries about possible strep throat or laryngitis.

There was also Greg’s mother. She wouldn’t stop calling.

One afternoon, as rain pounded the bedroom window and Greg complained of a ferocious itch on his right testicle Reggie finally agreed to scratch with kitchen tongs, Reggie told Greg to just call her and tell her the truth.

Reggie, that’s absurd.

Maybe it’ll make you feel better. I can’t keep playing secretary for you with her, it’s exhausting. And a little demeaning. Sitting here, attending to your giant whiteness. The next time she calls, I’m going to put her on video and she can see you for herself.

Wait, Greg yelled in a panic, the sound like a toy train whistle. Wait! Maybe a couple of days. Let me build up some nerve. She’ll freak.

Rip it off like a bandage, Greg. Get it over with. She’s your mother. She loves you.

Yes, Greg knew his mother loved him. He still beamed with pride at how she’d shrugged off the gay porn she’d found on the family computer when he was in high school. Literally shrugged—Greg could never forget the gentle roll of her massive shoulders. That’s when he’d realized there was no vessel too small for something so large as love, that its power could be contained even in the simplest of gestures. Fair enough. But could she love him like this?

The following evening, Greg’s phone rang. Greg, who’d woken up half erect and staring at the Magritte poster on the wall, felt his penis-self retreat into its massive pubic mound. If he had a stomach, an esophagus with which to vomit, he would have. Reggie came into the bedroom and picked up the phone.

Francine, Reggie said. Hi. I’m doing well, thanks. You?

Greg heard his mother’s phone voice, small and sharp like his.

No, Greg’s here. He’s alright. I’m going to put you on video, Francine. Greg has something to show you.

Reggie turned on the speaker and brought the phone up to Greg’s urethra. There was nothing else Greg could do but talk.

Mom, he said into the warped face on his phone. Mom, something’s happened. I’m sick.

Gregory! Oh God, Gregory. What are you doing?

Mom, it’s me.


This is me, mom.

Reggie? Reggie, what’s going on. Is this a prank? You boys are being crude.

It’s not a prank, Francine. He just woke up like this, two weeks ago.

Is it…is it a costume or something?

No, Reggie said. It’s your son.

Mom, I woke up like this! I don’t know what’s happened!

Gregory, that is not right.

Mom, I can’t help it!

Oh, Gregory.

Francine, Reggie said. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on.

I just don’t understand.

You think I want to be this way, mom?

Greg’s mother started to cry.

Mom, Greg pleaded.

I can’t, Gregory! I just can’t.

There was a high-pitched wail, then the phone went dark. Nothing now but the finger-tap of summer rain against the windows. Greg imagined his mother’s shoulders, hundreds of miles away, trembling as if preparing to calve from the shelf of her body.

She’ll call back, Reggie said unconvincingly.

Go away, Greg said. Just turn on the TV and go.


While Reggie reluctantly gave Greg his first bath in weeks with the spare towels they kept for kitchen spills, he explained what would happen next.

We need money, Reggie said, working his rag and ignoring Greg’s occasional thickening. You don’t have a job anymore, and I can’t afford this place on my own.

Okay, when you’re done, I’ll walk down to your sister’s place and ask if she has any openings. Host, maybe? Sommelier?

I’m serious, Greg.

So what do you suggest?

As Reggie sponged, he told Greg a story about a childhood trip he’d once taken to the Virginia State Fair. As Reggie wiped, he told Greg about a tent he’d entered labeled Oddities and Curiosities. As Reggie drained the bucket of gray water in the bathtub, he told Greg about the glass box he’d seen in which a tiny black man in a grass skirt and bone earrings sat and said nothing while people dropped dollar bills into a metal dish by his feet.

People will pay for anything, Reggie said. He waved a hair dryer around Greg’s damp folds. You don’t have to say a word. Pretend you’re not real. Fiberglass or something.

Reggie, Greg said.

I already made you a profile. You already have messages.

Reggie held his phone up to Greg. It was the same app they’d met on, with a profile picture of his penis-self captured from overhead in a moment of sleep, looking defenseless. Reggie swiped. There was Greg again, erect this time, gleaming with soapy water.

Look, Reggie said. Just let them enjoy their kink.

Kink. It was, as Greg had known since his sex life began at age fifteen in the basement of a friend’s house after school, everything. Kink—even as harmless as Greg’s penchant for frottage and light spanking—was both carrot and stick. Understand a man’s kink, minister to it with the attentiveness a horticulturalist gives to prize-winning roses, and you have him, as Reggie with his towels now had Greg, by the balls.

Sometimes they came in the morning, sometimes in the evening. It depended on when Reggie was home from teaching or the restaurant to manage the queue outside their apartment, outside the bedroom door he’d covered in heavy red drapes. Using the once embarrassing, now essential curve in his penis, Greg would will himself into a state of semi-hardness to watch Reggie, through a gap in the drapes, collect cash and stuff it into a grocery tote.

The first to respond to Reggie’s digital carnival barking were strange, desperate men who stared Greg down while their hands shifted in the pockets of trench coats and baggy sweatpants. Men who offered Reggie extra money to take a selfie, to rest a palm on one of Greg’s fuzzy testicles. As word spread, different crowds arrived. Men on their way to and from neighborhood bars Greg could no longer visit, pointing and laughing. Men making their second, their third, their fourth visit with friends, lovers, open-minded family members. Men using ten minutes in Greg’s company to spice up their sex lives, to cheat without cheating. Men intensely debating whether those were the cock and balls of a bear or an otter, a flaming queen or straight-acting bro. Doctor Valyakov came several times with people he referred to as his medical students. There were beat journalists from alternative newsweeklies, raucous bachelorette parties, tourists squeezing in a visit between the history museum and the zoo. A gallery owner who walked around the bed with her hands behind her back, scrutinizing every twist of Greg’s pubic hair. Married couples with cold-handed toddlers.

During one of his weekly baths, Greg noticed Reggie’s new bomber jacket, a new smartwatch, creased black jeans he’d never seen before.

I want you to stop this, Greg said.


I mean it.

You can’t be a shut-in, Greg. You need to be around other people.

I’m not around them. They’re around me.

This is easy money, Greg.

I mean it, Reggie. No more people.

But the next evening, Reggie came into the bedroom, more excited than Greg had ever remembered, and said Senator P—— of M——, whom everyone knew was a closet case, was outside with a young congressional aide. Greg waited until they and their security detail were in the room, then, for the first time, he screamed. He spoke in imaginary tongues, let loose with the filthiest language he could think of, cursed their mothers, threatened assassination, dared the security detail to arrest him. He was halfway through describing what he’d do to their small bodies with his giant penis when Senator P—— started to clap. His aid and security detail joined in, and the room filled with applause. Greg fell silent.

Reggie poked his head through the drapes.

Everything alright, sir?

Senator P——was ecstatic. I can’t believe it, he said. How on earth did you get it to talk?

One afternoon, Greg woke from a dreamless sleep—the only peace he was able to enjoy, the only protest he could now manage—to find the armchair repositioned. He stared at the bottom half of a leg bouncing on the ball of a sneakered foot. Then a face came into view, framed by ears he’d once yearned to pluck at with his lips. Then hands, which he’d only been allowed to hold, folded over the blanket they’d once knitted for him as a gift. The only parts he’d been permitted to see, because sex apparently had not an option, and if they weren’t going to have sex, well, what was the point of it all?

Hi, Alan said.

Hey, Greg said.

Alan plucked at the blanket with his fingers. You kept it, he said.

I did, Greg said, embarrassed by his small voice, his large penis. He tried not to show the slightest sign of arousal. An erection now would destroy everything.

How do you feel?

Chilly, Greg said.

Want me to close the window?

Reggie wants to keep the air circulating.

He said I could have ten minutes alone with you for thirty dollars.

Our rent’s not cheap.

He’s online, you know. Flirting with my friends.

Not much I can do about it.

I know.

Greg sighed through his urethra. This is all so absurd, he said.

Time’s up, Reggie said from behind the drapes.

Well, Alan said. Good seeing you.

So this is what it took to get you in my bedroom, huh?

They laughed. Alan got up, folded the blanket, set it on the armchair, waved goodbye.

I’ll be here if you need me, Greg said, and reached for Alan with phantom arms.


Days and days and days. The wind picked up, casting dead leaves from the rooftop garden of the neighboring building into the bedroom, making Greg yearn for the autumn he was missing. The patch of sky Greg often saw in moments of accidental excitement began to darken earlier, brighten later. He measured time by these orange-peel dawns and dusks.

As the light faded, so did the crowds, moving on to the next happening. Ramen shops, underground art galleries, rum distilleries, baby pandas. One morning, Doctor Valyakov came in carrying twin suitcases and apologized for having to leave town so suddenly, it was a visa issue, he’d be back as soon as he could.

Then came a day—the day, because Greg knew where this was headed, had probably known since he’d first woken up this way—when Reggie maneuvered the armchair into Greg’s field of vision, tossed Alan’s knitted blanket on the floor, sat down, and said it was over.

I have needs, Reggie said. You understand.

And who was Greg to argue with that? After all, he’d had needs Alan couldn’t provide, had abandoned Alan at a bus stop in frustration. Still, he’d never admit it to Reggie, with his crocodile tears, his thick boots with a small SIZE 12 sticker still attached to the left heel. Greg thought of his own sneakers, loafers, and sandals—all SIZE 8—stacked in lonely piles in the bedroom closet.

I put some of the money I made into the rent here, Reggie said.

The money you made?

You’re covered through January.

Happy New Year to me.

Look. If you get well, maybe we can try this again.

Reggie shrugged.

Greg? Please say something.

I wish I had a bladder, Greg finally said. A full one. That way I could spray my hate for you all over your face.

Days and days and days—alone. Greg watched the television, which Reggie (out of what he probably imagined was mercy) left on before leaving. Periodically, there was a knock at the front door, the hiss of someone slipping advertisements into the apartment. A voice or two asking for Reggie. A loud bang from the bedroom window that Greg imagined was a sparrow flying into the glass. On the night a nearby transformer exploded and the television cut off in the middle of a news report from a flooding coastal avenue, Greg felt more relief than he had in weeks.

How long could this last, he wondered. How long could he just lie here in this bedroom, alone? Would he ever die? Could he even die? The thought horrified him: being here forever, breathing without breathing, thinking without thinking, his life nothing but an interminable cycle of rising and falling, thickening and softening.


Greg awoke to see the sky turning its delightful, minutes-long shade of orange. The room was cold. He had no idea what day it was.

Beyond the bedroom, the front door opened.

Here you are, a voice said.

Greg heard the familiar whisper of money exchanging hands. The front door closed. A thump, then a slithering sound, coming closer and closer and growing louder and louder until it reached the bedroom and came through the red drapes and took the form of a wide plastic bin. Then hands, knees, ears, a face.

You’re still here, Alan said.

Felt like staying in.

I ran into your boyfriend.


He said you’ve moved back in with your parents, but I didn’t believe him. So I asked the lady at the front desk if someone still lived here, and she said yes, the rent had been paid through January. Then I asked a different person if he’d let me upstairs.

Greg asked Alan what was inside the bin. Thinking: It’s my body, folded in on itself like a blow-up doll with its familiar muscles and moles and stubborn pockets of fat. He found it!

I want to show you something, Alan said.

Instead of opening the plastic bin, Alan stood up, wrenched out his work shirt, pulled apart his belt buckle, and pushed his slacks down his thighs to reveal absurdly large plaid boxers. Before Greg could say something, Alan slid the boxers down to join the slacks at his knees. Below the hairy whorl of Alan’s navel, between skinny legs, was a flat mound of flesh. Polished smooth, it reminded Greg of the plastic dolls he’d filch from his sister’s room as a child and undress and arrange in sexual positions, waiting for Greta to find them and scream.

When I was eleven, Alan said, his blank crotch just feet away from Greg’s single eye, my stepfather started to come into the bathroom to watch me shower. A couple times, while my mom was late at work, he’d step inside with me. I wasn’t doing it right, he’d say. I wasn’t cleaning everything that should be cleaned. One morning, after my mom got rid of him, I woke up like this. We kept it a secret from everyone.

Jesus, Greg said.

I wanted to tell you before, Alan said. I just needed more time. And you were in such a hurry.

Alan zipped up his pants, tucked his shirt back into the waistband.

I don’t think I’m ever changing back, Alan said.

I’m so sorry, Alan.

I don’t think you are, either.

So this is it, Greg said. He wished he could go back to sleep and never wake up.

You’ll learn to live around it, Alan said.

Don’t be absurd.

What else can you do?

With that, Alan began to unpack the contents of his plastic bin while the dusk moved in a thick russet bar down the bedroom wall. He filled the empty dresser drawers with folded jeans and slacks, t-shirts and boxers, sweaters and socks. He opened the closet to hang a winter coat and collared shirts, to set down dress shoes and a pair of snow boots next to Greg’s useless sneakers. He took a bruised laptop, tangled power cord, knitting needles, and balls of wool in red and green and mauve into the living room. He took a stack of towels and a bag of toiletries into the bathroom. Then he came back into the bedroom, removed a yellow lump from the seemingly bottomless plastic bin, and set it on the floor in front of the bed. Dumbstruck, Greg watched Alan unroll a scarf, looking longer and wider and more comfortable than any scarf he’d ever seen. Inside was a matching cap—equally wide, equally thick, equally comfortable—which Alan raised so Greg could see, clearly, the long vertical slit at its peak.


About the Author

Zak Salih lives in Washington, D.C. His fiction and essays have appeared in Crazyhorse, The Chattahoochee Review, The Rumpus, KROnline, Apogee Journal, The Millions, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other publications. His debut novel, Let’s Get Back to the Party, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books in February 2021.

Photo, "mirror," by Ren Kuo on Flickr.