the actual Adam’s apple looks something like a cross between a walnut
and a miniature horseshoe crab—one summer in college he worked in
a morgue alongside a young artist who eventually became a highly successful painter whose work once appeared on the cover of Time.
To his surprise, after touring the groin area thoroughly, the cold steel
scrapes over his hip, then along his ribs, coming to rest at last at his right
nipple. It appears to like this supernumerary shred of anatomy. It circles and circles, drawing concentric rings around the bull’s-eye, inching
away before scratching forward again. He doesn’t hear the pliers open,
but he certainly feels them shut, clamping, loosely at first, then slowly,
slowly tightening around the nub of flesh, for which, frankly, he’s never
felt much of anything. Is it possible that men once breastfed babies, that
they too had straws of flesh budding from their bodies so they could
in a pinch double as mothers? We are all hermaphrodites, he thinks.
Makes sense. Nature plans for all contingencies. Or most. We’ll see how
it does when the ice caps finally melt and the ocean swallows New Jersey. Speaking of pinching—it begins, and that’s when he decides he is
definitely not dreaming. “Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming” is a line he’s
heard often enough, though more on television than in real life. He feels
the pliers pressing the soft flesh, the blood trickling down, he sees it, a
rivulet running crookedly down his naked torso and disappearing in
the bulrushes of the groin, and he hears the two lips of the pliers smacking together, mission accomplished, thy will be done, on earth as it is in
hell, and then he falls asleep, or perhaps he passes out.
The next morning, he awakens dressed. Someone must have bathed his
wounds and clothed him. But who? He can’t imagine it was the torturer.
He closes his eyes and thinks about how his mother used to bathe him
and his older brother together in the basin she’d set up in the kitchen
where she worked, cooking jams to sell at the local farmers market every
Wednesday throughout the summer. He loved the smell of strawberries
bubbling on the stove, the sight of jars lined up along the counter. It
was his father’s job as city manager that paid the bills, of course. But his
mother was never able to sit still. She worked, she cooked, she protested,
she ran. If only she had learned to sit on her hands for a few hours, she
might never have met that oil truck that failed to brake at the bike path.
That had been the beginning of the end for his family. Without her to
bind them together, the three males were suddenly orphaned. His sister,