Soap by Paul Hiers

While still in diapers, a boy gets his first erection. Lying on the changing table, he stares into his mother’s loving eyes, feels the gentle caress of the wet nap against his soiled bottom, and grows erect. Most mothers must laugh at the absurdity of these little boners, at the pure egotism of the tiny piece of flesh that’s warming up years before game time. But I doubt my mother did. She probably heaved a sigh, arched her chin toward Heaven, and asked, ‘Why?’ She wanted from nature a moral order that nature couldn’t provide. I imagine she pointed a red fingernail at my face and said, ‘No, Stan. Bad.’ I must have giggled and cooed.

I’m speculating about her reaction, of course. There’s no way for a man to remember his first erection, even if there is, at least in my case, the first erection he remembers. I was seven years old, standing beside the upright piano in Sunday school, singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ as blue-haired Mrs. Wittenbach moved her hands, knotted and twisted with arthritis, along the keys. I loved that song: I felt protected by its uplifting melody and happy message, both of which stood in bold relief against the sermons Mrs. Wittenbach, a fire-and-brimstone Baptist, often delivered. Even on her most gentle Sundays, when a smile would crease the caked on make-up around her lips, the best she could offer us was the Holy Ghost. I was just a child. The thought of any ghost, with the notable exception of Casper, scared the hell out me.No doubt the song had something to do with my erection. But there was also Cindy Method, a doe-eyed girl with curly brown hair, a dimpled face, knobby knees, and all of her front teeth. She was standing so close to me that my arm was nearly touching hers, hairless and tanned, and I could smell the soap on her skin. It was Ivory, I think. Soap at its most basic. I breathed in her scent, and my penis grew some more. Despite the erection, or maybe because of it, I was singing loudly. I didn’t know I was tone deaf and, like I said, I loved the song. I slipped a hand into my pocket. Why was my penis poking its head up? What was it trying to say?

A synapse closed in my brain and I answered the first question. I often got erections when I was near Cindy Method, inhaling her soapy fragrance, and it didn’t matter if I was singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ or Mrs. Wittenbach was drawing an oral map of Hell. Cindy caused my little boners’a girl, a known carrier of cooties. I brushed my arm against hers. Eureka. Electrified by my discovery, I shoved my hands into my pockets and went out to the sanctuary to find my parents.

I still had no idea what my penis was trying to say.

I grew up in a sleepy little neighborhood in a sleepy little town in Ohio. I grew up in the seventies, before cable television brought sexual enlightenment to children. The most suggestive thing I remember seeing was Ginger make a pass at The Professor on Gilligan’s Island. I had finished fifth grade before I even heard someone utter the word sex.My father’s voice woke me in the middle of a warm June night.

‘Well, I don’t want her hanging out with him. It’s dangerous, Marilyn.’ My parents were in their bedroom, adjacent to mine. I knew he was talking about my sister, Elaine, who was fifteen. Recently, she had started dating Phil Vance, older brother of my best friend, Gary.

‘It’s not dangerous. What makes you think it’s dangerous?’ my mother said. She often talked to my father like this’first flatly denying whatever he said, and then inquiring about his logic. It didn’t seem to bother him. Most things didn’t.

‘Well, for one thing, he’s sixteen. He has a car. He lives next door. It’s too goddamn convenient.’

My ears tingled: I’d never heard my father swear. My mother said his name’Jack’to admonish him for taking God’s name in vain and then said, ‘I think you’re overreacting. We can trust her. And she’s in love.’

He sighed. ‘Love? It’s not love. It’s geography. Or biology. And I’m not overreacting. God’Elaine is’Marilyn!’ He stopped and sighed again. Then he said it: ‘Phil’s a sixteen-year-old boy. There is little he thinks about other than sex.’

That word penetrated the wall between our rooms, then vibrated and echoed in my brain. Sex. What did this dangerous word mean? I heard my mother refute my father’s statement’she said it was love, innocent love, and that Phil was a nice boy. My father groaned and said, ‘If that’s what you want to believe.’ The bed squeaked and I knew he’d turned his back to go to sleep.

What was Elaine getting herself into? I lay awake theorizing, but nothing made much sense. Phil didn’t seem particularly dangerous, even if I had seen him beat up Gary a few times. So I decided my father’s concerns had something to do with Phil’s car. But what did cars have to do with sex?


The next morning, I went into the woods behind our house with Darren Hanson and Gary. They had just finished fifth grade, too, though Gary should have finished sixth. He’d flunked third grade. That’s how we said it then: flunked. He wasn’t ‘held back’ or ‘asked to repeat.’ His failure was his alone. In that way, at least, it was a more honest time.Darren, by far the most frail among us, would throw Gary’s failure into his face every time they disagreed. Their debate would escalate to a swift, gritty violence that always left Darren’s nose bloody or one of his eyes blackened. His behavior might make you think he wasn’t much smarter than Gary, and that he could have flunked third grade, too. But the fact is, he graduated valedictorian of our class, and went to MIT on scholarship. He was smart enough. He just had the temper of a wounded bear.Deep in the woods, well beyond the first line of tall pines and the sandpit where older boys rode dirt bikes, we had built a fort. It wasn’t much of anything, really: a bunch of sticks tied together and leaned against a sturdy oak. It did little besides mark our territory and provide a place where we could huddle together out of the elements. Sitting between Gary and Darren that morning, it occurred to me that my friends might know something I didn’t.

‘Sex?’ Darren said. ‘It’s just kissing and stuff.’

Gary snorted. ‘No it’s not, you retard. It’s more than that.’

I tensed but, to my relief, Darren’s eyebrows didn’t narrow in anger. Gary was gazing beyond the confines of our lean-to and rubbing his chin.

‘Well?’ I said when it seemed he would never speak.

‘Oh, it’s kissing and stuff, all right. But it’s more than that. Much more.’

‘Like what?’ Darren asked in a high-pitched voice.

‘Well, for one thing, the man and woman are naked.’

Bare-naked?’ I asked, in case there were degrees of nudity I wasn’t aware of.

‘Yeah,’ Gary said, lowering his voice to a ghost-story whisper. ‘Bare-naked. And then they kiss and rub each other’s butts.’

‘Gross!’ Darren said.

‘And then the girl gets pregnant,’ Gary added with a triumphant, final flair.

I leaned forward to take in the woodsy air. Pregnant. It was easy to see that my father’s concern had nothing to do with cars.

‘My dad said that all Phil thinks about is rubbing Elaine’s butt,’ I said. In the distance, a dirt bike buzzed. Darren gagged lightly.

‘He’s right,’ Gary said. ‘I’ve heard them do it in Phil’s room.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The bed squeaks and stuff.’

My face warmed. What a puzzling world. All Phil wanted to do was rub my sister’s butt, and this rubbing produced a squeaking bed, and a baby? It seemed impossible to me. But then I remembered the times I had heard my parents’ bed squeak and them sound like they were gasping for air. My father must have been rubbing my mother’s butt’they had two kids, after all’and maybe her butt smelled enough to affect their breathing. On the one hand, the idea of rubbing a girl’s butt made me want to hurl my Lucky Charms; but on the other, it caused a strange sensation to pump through me. There was something here, I knew, something very important, and I became immediately concerned I would die without knowing much more about it.

That night before dinner, I washed my hands, and begged Elaine to do the same. She curled her lip and ignored me, which was nothing unusual. Then, to my horror, she started to set the table. I grabbed the silverware away from her and said that I wanted to set the table, that she should wash her hands. She curled her lip again, shrugged, and started toward the bathroom.

‘And use soap,’ I called behind her.


Gary’s explanation of sex soon came to hold for me the same stature as Euclidian geometry: not entirely accurate, but easy to understand and an apparent approximation of the truth. By the middle of my sixth grade year, I was devoted to the sight of a girl’s bottom. I had even developed an aesthetic of asses: my teacher, Miss Pretz, with her widened hips and rounded cheeks, for reasons I couldn’t fully understand, held the top spot on my list. Cindy Method, perhaps for sentimental reasons alone, was number two. And the rest of the girls were all tied for a distant third. I would think about butts in my bed at night and, to my eternal wonder, the thought gave me the same sensation as when I was near Cindy Method and the soapy smell of her skin. It puzzled me that that the same feeling could be caused by two things on opposite ends of the odor spectrum. But I began to understand my erections had something to do with sex. I needed a more complicated geometry.My father finally enlightened me early that next summer, just before I turned twelve. He was an accomplished outdoorsman who could put a slug in a running buck from fifty yards, track his blood trail for a mile, finish him off with another slug, gut him with a knife, and then pose for a picture while the entrails were still steaming in the winter air. He’d had six of the heads mounted and, after getting my mother’s consent, hung them in his basement den. She thought the killing was cruel, and wanted its evidence out of plain sight. But I was fascinated, and as a small boy I would stare at the lifeless deer heads with their black marble eyes for hours. I begged to go hunting with him, but my mother forbade me until I was sixteen, and by that time I’d lost interest. I was allowed to go fishing, but our trips always ended with me wanting to leave before my father.So it surprised me that summer when my father told me he was taking me on a weekend camping trip. Though I knew we would spend most of the time fishing, I was excited by the thought of sleeping outdoors. In the weeks before we left, in bed at night, when I wasn’t thinking about girls’ butts, I propped my blankets up to simulate a tent and pretended I was already there.

On a Friday evening in late June, we drove two hours to Portage Lakes State Park and set up camp in the woods. My father seemed distracted as we did so, not talking much. It worried me. He sold cars for Dawkins Chevrolet and usually talked a lot. The tent raised, we started a fire and roasted hot dogs on wire coat hangars he’d pulled straight. I watched mine as it plumped, and then charred, in the fire. I covered it with ketchup and ate heartily as my father began to talk about the fishing we’d do in the morning, the early start we’d need to get (he claimed to know the sleeping habits of fish), and how good the fish would taste when we cooked it over the open fire. His talking made me hungry. I stuck and charred another hot dog.

An hour later, it was fully dark and mosquitoes were siphoning my blood. The park was mostly empty: the only sounds were the waves lapping the shore below us, the fire crackling, crickets chirping, and my hand slapping my skin to swat the mosquitoes. In the middle distance, somebody was listening to Elvis Presley. He’d died the summer before, and I felt sad to think my father was almost Elvis’s age, though he was wiry thin and, to my knowledge, had never eaten a peanut butter and banana sandwich. He did spend a lot of time in the bathroom, though, and he smoked. He leaned over and lit a cigarette in the fire.

‘Son.’ He paused to take a drag. The firelight danced on his face and made it look pensive. ‘Son,’ he started again, ‘your mother doesn’t want me to talk to you about any of this. So it’s just between you and me, okay?’

My heart beat double time. ‘Sure.’

‘I’m not sure where to start. I’ve never done this before.’

I swatted a mosquito, smearing my hand with blood. I didn’t say anything.

He took another long drag from his cigarette and then held it away from him. He stared at it for some time. His forehead was sweating, though the air had grown cool. At last, he looked directly at me.

‘What do you know about sex, Stan?’

My heart rate seemed to double again. I turned away from his hot stare to look around, but there was nothing to see but a bunch of trees and our ridiculous orange tent. I knew then why he’d taken me there, and for a brief, terrible moment, I feared some type of demonstration.

Unwilling to admit my ignorance, I offered up what I knew. ‘I know it has something to do with being naked’bare-naked’and butt rubbing.’

He stared at me across the top of the fire and shook his head. He threw his cigarette into the flames. He lit another. He seemed to be in shock.

‘A lot to do with those things, actually,’ I said when he didn’t speak. I thought I had nailed it, and now I was showing off. An owl hooted as if to prove my wisdom.

‘No, Stan. Not a lot. A little. I’ll give you a little.’ And then, though I could tell he didn’t want to, he laughed so hard that cigarette smoke came out his nose.

When I didn’t laugh, he apologized. Then he explained it all to me pretty clearly, and by the time we zipped ourselves into the tent that night, I understood the purpose of my erections and the strange arrangement of the human body, with its reproductive and digestive systems sharing the same real estate. I understood, in short, the mechanics of reproduction, and something about sexually transmitted diseases. Hell, I even understood Gary’s misunderstanding.

I lay awake for a long time and listened to my father snore. I thought about Neil Armstrong, and how hard it must have been for him to sleep that first night, after he’d walked on the moon.

A few days after we got home, my mother pulled me aside.

‘I hear your father had a talk with you.’

‘Yeah.’ My legs tensed. He’d told me not to tell.

‘Did he tell you not to do any of this until after you’re married?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, though he hadn’t.

‘Well, good,’ she said. ‘Remember that.’


Elaine didn’t get pregnant until she was nearly thirty. When she graduated from high school, she went to Kent State to study nursing. Phil went to Ohio State. By Christmas break, they were no longer a couple.I was in eighth grade and an undercover sinner. I could almost not bear to be in church and see that huge wooden cross hanging behind the pulpit. I did not want to think of Jesus’s pure hands nailed to it, as my hands, so whole, hugged each together in vain prayer. I prayed more that year than I had in my whole life. I prayed for forgiveness after masturbating and then for the strength not to do it again. And then I did it again and I prayed again. I imagined God hearing my prayer and saying, with some irritation, ‘It’s Stanley Davis again. The damn boy can’t keep his hands off himself.’And that was true enough. Like Onan, I spilled my seed, though never on the ground. I spilled it into tube socks and paper towels I sneaked into bed with me. I thought I was a sexual deviate. I imagined spending my adult life in jail for some unspeakable crime, and then dying and going straight to Mrs. Wittenbach’s fiery hell. I did manage to quit once for two days the summer before ninth grade, but was foiled in my best intentions when, while I was mowing the lawn, Darren’s mother came outside wearing a bikini, poured her developed body into a lawn chair and, rather dismissively, waved across the street at me. I nearly died: she might as well have been pointing a grenade launcher. I stopped the lawnmower and sprinted into the house. To hell with it, I thought. Nestled in the confines of the bathroom, smelling my mother’s bar of Caress, I finished myself off in an impossibly small number of strokes. I washed my hands and prayed and went back outside. A half hour later, I was back in the bathroom, convinced that, in the brevity of my first session, I had cheated myself. So this time, sitting on the cool, closed lid of the toilet, I imagined myself walking across the street to the bikini-clad Mrs. Hanson (what was her first name?) and she taking me in her arms as if I’a lanky, fourteen-year-old kid who just two summers before would have tried to rub her ass’as if I were exactly what she had been pining for. I took longer in the bathroom this time’much longer’and in the afterglow I prayed and washed my hands simultaneously.

By ninth grade, my behavior was compulsive. It didn’t matter that none of my friends admitted to masturbating, or that to be called a ‘jack off’ was to be placed among the lowest forms of animal life. We boys exchanged the accusation of self-gratification as if none of us did it at all, and I didn’t think to question how everyone knew about it. Shame stifled my rational thought, but not my desire. I masturbated in the shower before breakfast, in the bathroom after school, in bed at night. I clung to the rickety belief that unless I died while masturbating, I would go to Heaven; so I prayed after each session for the forgiveness of my sin. When my hypocrisy finally bested me, it seemed I was faced with a choice: God or masturbation. I chose the latter. I could no longer bother God with the clock-like repetitiveness of my sin. I reasoned that I wasn’t going to stop, after all’not until I was older, much older, perhaps as old as eighteen. I was weak and He was strong, just as the beloved song said. In just seven years, that innocuous erection in Sunday school had ballooned into this: I was on the outs with God.

It was the fall of that year, when I was in ninth grade, that we finally got cable, and the four stations we received increased to twenty-seven. For Christmas, my parents bought me a thirteen-inch color television for my room. I helped my father tack the cable along the ceiling in the basement, above his deer heads, and snake it halfway up my bedroom wall. We plugged it into the television, which sat on the maple dresser at the foot of my bed, and I was in business. I would get home from school on those dark winter afternoons, do my homework, maybe go over to Gary’s or Darren’s for a while, eat dinner and promptly’without prodding from my parents’put myself to bed. To make things look good, I would even stretch and yawn. ‘I’m beat,’ I’d say. ‘I think I’ll turn in.’

It didn’t take too long for my mother to figure things out’my father didn’t seem interested’or for me to understand that her view of masturbating wasn’t as fatalistic as mine. I would hear her stealthy footsteps outside my door and, just as she swung it open, I would rush my hands out from underneath the covers and lace my fingers behind my head. She’d look at me suspiciously and close the door. This charade went on for over three months; it’s amazing for me to consider now that her self-appointed position as Chief of the Masturbation Police didn’t hinder me. But it didn’t. And then came the unfortunate evening during an episode of Charlie’s Angels when she sprung my door open just as I climaxed.

I bit my lip hard and tried to get the world to stand still. At last, she came into focus. ‘Mommmmm,’ I managed, with one hand under my head while the other attempted to stop the throbbing. ‘How . . . are . . .you?’ I gasped. I had been teasing myself for over an hour. It was an incredible orgasm, even if her entry had diminished its intensity.

‘Stanley Terence Davis,’ she scolded. ‘That’s it. From now on, your door will be open. And” she stopped and caught her breath ”keep your goddamn hands out from under the covers.’ She stormed away.

When the pleasant tremors ripping through my body finally subsided, shame replaced them. I had moved my mother, as sweet and God-fearing a woman as there ever was, to take the Lord’s name in vain. For the next couple of days, she didn’t really talk to me, and my shame deepened. I was a sinner, or worse: an animal. I stopped going to bed so early, and limited my bedroom television viewing to sports. Sometimes, during commercials, I had to look away. I promised myself that I would eclipse my previous record of denial, the record that Darren’s mother had foreshortened on that summer day the year before when I was cutting the grass. Each time my penis had a lewd idea’and this was hundreds of times a day’I pictured my mother’s disappointed face. I thought that if I couldn’t stop beating off for God, I could for her: she was more real, and more willing to dole out swift punishments.

Six days into my abstention, I was sitting in study hall when a sharp pain shot through my stomach, as if somebody had hit me in the balls. I leaned over the desk and drew a breath. Someone had carved ‘Debbie puts out’ on it, and I wondered which Debbie this was. Throughout the rest of the day and that night, hot fingers of pain raked across my balls and stomach. God, surely, had finally gotten around to punishing me, and all I could say to Him was, ‘Hey, I quit a week ago.’

The next day, when the pain hadn’t subsided, I was convinced I had a fatal disease. I found a medical encyclopedia in the school library and, hiding in a corner, began my research. I read the entry for testicular cancer. Well, I certainly had a feeling of heaviness in my scrotum and an ache in my lower abdomen, though it wasn’t a dull one, at least in any way I’d measure it. So I had two symptoms. I hurried to the bathroom to administer the self-exam.

I locked myself in a stall and dropped my blue jeans to mid-thigh. As tenderly as I could, I held my right testicle between my thumb and forefinger: no lumps, and certainly no painless ones. I switched to the left testicle, squeezed too hard, and dropped to my knees in pain. I tried to hurry to my feet, but lost my balance and stuck my arm into the open toilet. I pulled it out and pressed myself up against the seat, shook the water from my arm, took another breath, and held the testicle more gently. No lumps there, either; but I remained convinced of my demise. That afternoon in class, I imagined a slow, painful death accompanied by an excruciating ball-removal surgery (‘Sorry, Stan, we’ll have to take them off’) and the loss of all my hair.

The weather had turned warm, and every window in school was thrown open to let in the fragrant March air. The world smelled as if it had just emerged from the shower, which aroused me and intensified the pain in my balls until, by the end of the day, I was limping through the hallways, holding my stomach. The bus ride home over the pothole-covered road was like a preparation for Hell. I pressed my head toward the window and prayed for the first time in months. ‘Oh God,’ I whispered with my eyes closed and Mr. Baines driving like he was trying to qualify for the Indy 500, ‘I promise I will honor you all the days of my life if you will only take away my testicular cancer. Amen.’

‘What the hell’s wrong with you?’

I opened my eyes. Darren, in the seat in front of me, had turned around.


‘Nothing? You were praying.’ He had filled out some since the days when Gary used to pound on him, though he was still slender, and his glasses were thick. I looked at his eyes, enlarged by the glasses, and decided I couldn’t trust him with my recent self-diagnosis. I didn’t want my balls to become some kind of joke.

‘Okay, so I was praying,’ I said. The bus stopped with a hiss and some kids got off. It was nearly empty now. ‘There’s nothing wrong with praying.’

‘Or with believing in Santa Claus,’ Darren said.

‘Whatever,’ I said, though I wanted as much as anything for Darren to be right, for there to be no higher form of intelligence than our own, except maybe some innocuous green men a million light years from earth. For one thing’the thing that was most on my mind then, on the last hard seat of that stiff-riding bus’who would punish me in a godless universe? And for another, though more difficult to consider at the time, I could jack off whenever I wanted, as mindless as a dog in heat. It seemed appealing.

When we got home, Darren and I threw the baseball around. I couldn’t really step into my throws, but wanted to be with others so I wouldn’t masturbate now that I knew I was going to die. And, of course, I wanted to keep my mind off dying. It was hard to do. Gary came over after a while’he had his driver’s license by then, and a job working in the meat department at A & P’and wanted to play pickle. The thought of running was too much for me to bear, so I said I wasn’t feeling well and went inside.

My mother and father were watching the news, so I sat with them in the living room. My mother still wasn’t talking to me, and I had to refrain myself from blurting out the news of my certain death. Dad asked me about school and I said it was okay. When the business news came on, he said, ‘Goddamn Carter,’ because inflation had gone out of control and the president seemed the only person to blame. My mother looked at him and shook her head. She went to the kitchen to cook supper.

I stayed up that night until my mother made me go to bed. Then I walked to my room like a man facing his execution. I could almost hear the other prisoners’ hands rattling on the bars: dead man walking. Between the pain in my groin and the thought of dying, I almost couldn’t get aroused. Almost. I thought of sex and then my mother’s disappointed face and then sex again and then her face again. It looked like I was in for a sleepless night.

I had a girlfriend by then, one of those note-passing affairs that every few weeks might turn into a make-out session. Her name was Beth Rocco, and she was as refined and sweet, in my eyes, as a person could be. Her hair was long and dark and her eyes were the color of dark-roasted coffee. She, I thought, wouldn’t want me to masturbate. But I was going to die anyway. I decided I’d pass a note to her the next day to tell her the sad news. I wouldn’t tell her I’d brought it all on myself by beating off, because I didn’t want her to think I was a pervert. After all, I had left her out of my fantasies: my feelings for her were beyond the reach of physical slander.

Despite my dirty thoughts and the clean smell of my sheets, I managed to fall asleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke with a start’was I wetting the bed?’and ran down the hall to the bathroom. I threw up the toilet seat and grabbed for my penis, only to find it was sticky and erect. I looked at my hands. They were clean.

I turned on the water and let it run until it was warm. I wet a washcloth and lathered it with soap. Then I washed myself until my jaws clenched with relief.


We’ve made odd progress since those days more than twenty years ago. I often hear people on television and radio joking about masturbation, and it makes me wonder if I would want to grow up now, in a less guilt-stricken age. But perhaps it is the case that boys still call each other jack-offs and deny their nightly rituals, that maybe masturbation is a thing about which we will always be ashamed.I don’t doubt, however, that kids know more about sex now than I ever did, and worry that someday when I explain sex to my son, he’ll tell me things I never learned. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, and so I say we’ve made odd progress. My son, at least, will never think sex is dangerous in the way a car can be, or that it has everything to do with rubbing a girl’s butt. Or, at least, I hope not.By the time I had my driver’s license, I understood that what seemed like testicular cancer was nothing more than blue balls: my brain’s way of telling my penis it was carrying too much semen. By then my relationship with Beth Rocco had progressed from note-passing to making out in drive-ins, and I swear the feel of her soft lips and warm mouth could give me a bad case of blue balls during the course of a single movie. I was a gentleman, and didn’t try to touch her, thinking that girls were more civilized than boys. But, to my surprise, while making out during E.T., which we’d already been to twice, Beth removed her lips from mine, looked at me with those dark eyes, and gently rubbed her hand across my crotch. She smiled. She fumbled with my zipper for an endless minute, and then extracted from my shorts the member of all my shame and pleasure.

‘It feels good,’ she said as she touched it tentatively; there was some surprise in her voice. In the next moment, my shorts were around my knees and she was doing with her hand what she could to make me happy. I threw my head against the seat and she, though lacking my skill, made the world churn in a new way, until everything became one thing: the stars, the moon, her perfume, the smell of her hair, the feel of her soft hand. In no time, I bubbled over, and then we giggled like children.

That night, I walked Beth to her door and kissed her for a long time while the moths beat themselves senseless against her yellow porch light. I pushed her away a couple of times and looked into her eyes. I wanted to tell her I loved her, because it seemed a burdensome truth, but at last I didn’t have the nerve.

When I got home, I stood in my driveway, facing the darkened house, with my head tilted back. The moon was not quite full, and partially covered with clouds. I wondered if God were beyond it somewhere, and what kind of god He was. It seemed inconceivable to me He was the god Mrs. Wittenbach believed in, or even my mother. I could feel Him watching me: a love-struck, lanky kid on a small blue planet, reveling in his first assisted orgasm, buckling at the knees, barely suppressing the urge to sit down on his haunches and howl at the moon.

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