Inside the main room
of Zen The Mental Journey, the monk placed his shaved head against
my belly and slid his ear up and down. "Nothing."
"I'm afraid," the monk remained bent over, his hands
on my hips. I had on a grey t-shirt, a picture of Bernie Mac in
the center, Bernie grinning like a Cheshire as the monk pressed
his ear harder, then stood and smoothed out the front of his purple
vestment. "Perhaps there's a different source."
"You think it's in my head?"
"Well yes, but not in the way you make it sound,"
the monk smiled at the wordplay, bowed through the shoulders and
slipped his hands inside his sleeves. The old house smelled of
incense, with silver urns and Ace Hardware doorknobs, a blue rubber
welcome mat and cat hair covering the six Buddha statues. I stepped
back, thought of the others who tried to diagnose my condition
without hearing the tic-tic-tick, how they insisted, "Your
problem lays elsewhere." "Tinnitus." "Inner
ear infection." "Stress." "Auditory hallucinations."
"Some personal trauma."
"All in my head?"
"A very real manifestation," the monk agreed.
"But in my head?"
"Yes, yes. In your head."
"And what of this then?" agitated, I bent over and
dropped my pants, allowing the monk to inspect the four inches
of tail extending fuse-like from the center of my ass.
Mikie says she loves me, but things have gotten queer. She blames
herself and wants to know, "What are we to do?" I press
the cotton deeper inside my ears, adjust my blue earmuffs in an
effort to deaden the sound, and raising my hands, say the only
thing I can. "What, what? I've no idea."
I work for WQPD radio, writing news copy, condensing local and
national stories into neat ten-second sound bites. I also host
a Sunday program for local poets and writers, called 'Words On
the Air.' Mikie is an events coordinator for Gabatine Books. We
met last winter at a reading by Patience Agbabi. ("I ram
raid man-made rules/accelerate into the sunset.") Mikie calls
me TomTom - "Because you beat on my heart." - while
in the time before the tic-tic-tick took over my head and turned
my sphincter into a freak hole, I found living with Mikie glorious
and life affirming.
Four weeks ago, in the middle of the night, I woke to a strange
sound, and rolling over, felt a vibration just below my ribs.
I located the tapping with my hands, and listening again, said
"Weird," and switched on the lamp.
Mikie stirred, went "Hmmm? What is it?"
"I don't know. Can you hear?"
"This," I reached for her hand and put it on my belly.
"Tom, I was sleeping."
"No, no," I let her pull her hand back, then shifted
and patted where I wanted her to lay. "Just listen."
Mikie heard the flow of food and blood in the intestines, the
stomach acids and everyday gurgling - the borborygmi - as air
and gas moved along, but nothing else. "Go back to sleep,"
she said. "It's indigestion. It'll be gone by morning."
I rose on my elbow, Mikie's face in the lamplight softly lit,
neither pale nor tan, a sailcloth on which my lips were ever eager
to paint. I leaned in and kissed her shoulder. She yawned and
smiled reluctantly. "Turn over. A massage is all," she
pushed at the sheet and began rubbing my back.
Beneath her touch I was distracted, while as a tease Mikie's
hands explored inside my shorts, her fingers dipped then stopping,
perplexed and reaching again, she pulled down my drawers, scooted
closer and stared at the distention which had only then appeared.
"This!" she took my wrist and guided my hand until
I caught hold, tugged and pinched without effect, and jumping
from bed, I went to the mirror on the bedroom door, twisted left
and right for a better view. "Jesus."
"What is it?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean?"
"Are you telling me you didn't put it there?"
"Of course I didn't."
I pushed my ass closer to the mirror, the tic-tic-tick a snicker
as I bent over and tried looking between my legs. Mikie from her
knees on the bed, "Does it hurt?"
"Feels like rope."
"And you swear?"
"I told you."
Mikie got up quickly and inspected her own ass. Relieved, she
yanked on her shirt and jeans. "Come on, come on," she
said, and drove me then to the emergency room at St. Felicity
of the Valley.
The attending wore yellow latex gloves, the fibers imbedded
in the folds of my ass supporting the claim that my tail had grown,
"Or was not recently inserted." A sample was snipped,
the specimen placed in a sterile plastic container and sent to
the lab. X-rays of my belly revealed no additional abnormalities,
though the tail ran some six inches up into my large intestine.
"We can cut it free," the attending was confident, excited
by the discovery, already imagining the possibility of articles,
grants and prizes. "Once we have a full report from the lab,
including a complete blood workup, and oncology has a look, we'll
"You think it's cancer?"
"An external tubercle. Most likely nothing more than an
elongated polyp," he showed the tips of his teeth as he tried
out further names to see which rolled easiest from his tongue.
"At worst an excrescent sarcoma."
"And what about the ticking?"
"The tumefaction is probably altering the flow of blood
which in turn creates a mild vibration manifesting itself as a
tick." The attending felt my stomach for tenderness, examined
my eyes, throat and ears, and grinning, moved around me once more
and asked, "Do you mind if I take another look?"
Two days later, the report from the lab came back. "It's
not cancer," the doctor on the line was an older man, more
sober in tone than the attending. "There are no signs of
carcinoma. Your tumefaction does not even contain living cells.
How this protrusion of yours grows as you claim is hard to fathom."
The doctor paused, then said "I'd like you to come in for
a second exam."
"So we can observe and then discuss the best form of treatment."
I didn't like the word 'observe,' imagining then a glass cage
where I sat beneath bright lights while physicians gathered on
a circular platform stared down at me. "A witch hunt."
I asked for specifics, wanted to know, "What sort of treatment
are we talking?"
"We can't be sure until we take a closer look. Your condition
being what it is."
"And what exactly is my condition?"
"As I said," the doctor answered.
"Everything's fine," I told Mikie that night. "A
benign growth is all, like a hemorrhoid gone mad." I explained
how the doctors saw no need to surgically remove the tail. "They've
given me a salve and some pills that seem to be working."
I didn't want her to worry, had earlier used a tweezers and a
large cuticle trimmer to probe deep inside my ass, cutting back
the fuse as far as I could. "See?" I pulled apart my
cheeks, showing Mikie a tail-free anus, saying exactly what the
doctors couldn't, "I'm fine. Really, I am."
How vulnerable, a man with his pants down at his knees and both
hands separating his butt-cheeks. Mikie appeared beautiful standing
behind me. I watched her upside down, the blood rushing to my
head as I recited Robert Creeley's, "If the moon did not.../no,
if you did not/I wouldn't either, but/what would I not do..?"
I saw Mikie smile, uncertainly at first and then laughing, the
whole ridiculousness of the situation making her think how happy
she was to be with a man willing to expose himself this way, and
how disappointing when her _expression changed and became a panic.
I released my grip, turned again to confront the mirror, the nub
inside my ass a grinning snake, alive and passing through my fingers.
"What next?" Mikie decided my affliction must be an
allergy, and on her own scrubbed the apartment, mopped the floors
and dusted the walls. Disappointed when this, too, failed, she
made a list of other possible interventions, introduced me to
the monk at Zen The Mental Journey, appealed for me to give St.
Felicity of the Valley another try. The second visit lasted several
hours, with three more doctors feigning to be clever, debating
Beta blockers such as propranolol designed to slow my heartbeat
and retard my condition, sedatives and sonograms, MRIs and radiation.
Other doctors wanted to experiment with stimulant variants, dialysis
and electric shock, all clueless as they reviewed my chart, drew
blood, took additional samples from my ass, scratching their heads
while inviting me to stay overnight. "For observation."
"They don't know," I refused to go again.
Mikie agreed reluctantly, had me see an acupuncturist, and later
a hypnotist who introduced precognitive suggestions.
At work I began running searches of my own, reading up on migraines,
meningiomas and tumors in the thalamus, the effect of pressure
on the brain, growths in the cerebellar vermis, along with mutant
forms of sarcoma. Other than the occasional article concerning
babies born with elongated tailbones, and the story of a man with
tinnitus cutting off his ears, I found nothing remotely similar.
"Needle in a haystack," Boddy ran the board for WQPD,
came over to my desk the morning I arrived carrying a white noise
machine. "What are you doing? That thing's just creating
static, man. It won't help," he said, and made me pull the
plug. "As your friend, Tommy boy, listen to me. You can't
cover old noise with new. Here, take this. Go on, go on,"
he reached into his wallet and handed me a card.
"Psychosomatic," the psychiatrist I went to speak
with the next afternoon said of my condition. "The body does
not play tricks. For all manifestations there's a reason. Depression,
for example, can produce recurrent myocardial infarctions and
increased endothelial activation. Ambulatory blood pressure can
rise due to stress, carotid artery atherosclerotic progression
shows up in times of trauma. Tell me, Thomas, are you sad?"
I took the pills she prescribed, a dose of Zanex to relax, mixed
and matched in an increasingly creative cocktail with the medications
other physicians and health care clinicians gave me; Zoloft and
Diazepam in the form of Valium to reduce anxiety, Vicodin for
discomfort, Benzodiazepines for sleep, Diphenhydramine, Melatonin
and Valeriam Root when even dozing was impossible. Mikie spoke
with holistic healers, brought home bags of alternative medicines.
I drank herbal teas and whiskey, took milder drugs by day and
a more mind numbing combination of pills at night. Nothing worked.
The ticking went on unabated, thirty beats to the minute, a clic-clic-click
every two seconds, steady as rain.
One night, unable to sleep, I read an article on Dr. Jeffrey
Willick, professor of physics at Stanford University who specialized
in the structure of the universe, specifically dark matter which
he believed composed 90% of universal mass. Dr. Willick's last
published work, 'What In The World Is Dark Matter?' raised the
question: "Does order emerge from the primordial distribution
of mass solely through the process of gravitational instability,
or is there another force?" Attending a conference in New
Jersey, Dr. Willick was eating in a coffee shop when a car crashed
through the front window and crushed him dead. Dark matter? Another
force? I popped more pills, squirmed against my tail and pressed
my fingers harder still into the sides of my head. Later, I stood
in the doorway of our bedroom and watched Mikie sleep. Unable
to cure me, she turned tentative and even resentful these last
few days, like a dancer keeping her distance from a clumsy partner,
she went so far as to wonder, "Is it me?"
"What?" my response was a reflex. "Of course
"How do you know?"
"If everything was alright, this sort of thing wouldn't
"But that's not true. Bad things happen to people in love
all the time. Boyfriends fall out of windows, wives electrocute
themselves with hairdryers, people get sick and die and love isn't
the cause, it's the salvation."
"Is it?" Mikie seemed to be speaking from a distance,
and told me a story then. "When I was a girl, our family
had a collie named Murf. We were inseparable. I was the one who
took care of him, brushing and walking and feeding, but then Murf
got old, his skin developed hotspots and open sores, his hips
failing along with his bladder. My ability to be there for him
then, to rub his head and provide the simplest of comfort, came
less naturally. In time my parents decided to put Murf down, and
I grieved as much for his death as for the fear that in the end
I'd betrayed him. Do you understand?"
I moved closer, wanting to hug Mikie and reassure her, "Everything's
going to be alright. I'm not a dog," I said, and smiled,
hoping she'd laugh, only she didn't find the humor, answered "I
know," and turned away.
I shut the door to the bedroom and let her sleep. Our tv was
on the opposite side of the apartment, and finding the remote,
I adjusted the volume to low and surfed for the news. A reporter
I didn't recognize sat in front of the camera and told the story
of Julio Vasquez, an unemployed baker from Madrid. I felt my tail
tap against my leg as I listened to how Julio stowed away in the
landing gear of a DC747 en route to Newark, hanging on in the
near oxygen-less altitude as the plane descended and his lover,
Angel Miron, waited below. Before the report was finished, I felt
a pressure building from behind, the tail in my ass thrust hard
against the rear seam of my slacks, pushing and poking and bursting
through. At the same time, my head filled with a violent, "Snap!
Snap! Snap!" as if tiny bones were breaking in my skull.
I dropped to my knees, covered my ears, not wanting to wake Mikie
yet terrified just the same, I clenched my jaw in order to keep
from wailing out, "Owww-eeee!" and rolling into the
fetal position, managed to reach up and turn off the tv.
"Shit, man," Boddy listened as I told him what happened
the other night. "You mind?" he asked for a look, curious
to see what the tail was doing. We stood in the front room of
his apartment after work, my pants down while Boddy examined what
he referred to as, "That little piggly wiggly of yours."
"It's not so little," I pulled up my jeans. "If
I didn't cut it back."
"Like hair and fingernails?"
"Something like that."
"Looks like rope," Boddy made a motion with his fingers.
"What do you think, a virus?"
"I don't know."
"How do you feel?"
I raised my eyebrows.
"Right. Ok. And you don't want to go back to the hospital?
Afraid they'll turn you into a lab rat?" Boddy leaned against
the counter near his kitchen. "Sorry," he laughed. "You
know what I mean," he set his beer down, asked more about
Mikie and my episode while watching the news. "You didn't?"
"Tell her? No."
He nodded as if he understood, then said, "So how is she
with the tail?"
"She's dealing with it."
"Kind of throws a monkey into the mix, huh?" he laughed
liked before. I adjusted my pants which had shifted in tight against
my ass. My head ached and I went to the freezer and wrapped ice
in a towel. Boddy walked around the counter and switched on his
laptop. "Weird science," he said again.
"What are you doing?"
"I want to try something," he motioned me over.
"I've already done a million searches. There's nothing."
"Yeah, well, let's try something new." A minute later,
three stories Boddy found by way of a general search appeared
on the computer screen. He tugged at my sleeve and told me to,
"Have a look." In order then, I read about Juliane Monroe,
a housewife from White Plains who, determined to save her husband,
provided a part of her liver for transplant; of Able Pierson,
unrequited in his love for Lucy Falkmore, setting his car on the
railroad tracks near Penmost Station, turning himself and his
old Chevy Nova into a tangle of flesh and metal road kill; and
Winston Perimen, looking to impress his girlfriend, Rosanne DeCarlo,
hurdling a fence at the Wintmore High School playground, miscalculating
his lift and leaving two-thirds of his testicles on the metal
Each time I read one of the stories, my tail went hard while
my head pounded with such dissent I dropped the ice and had to
push the heels of my hands against my temples until the agony
passed. "Fucking Christ," I sat on the floor after the
third incident, my tail bent back, the ticking slowly subsiding
to its familiar clic-clic-click. Boddy helped me up, watched me
for a moment, then poured a tall whiskey into a green plastic
tumbler and got me to drink. "Theory confirmed," he
"What are you talking about?"
"Three new tales, three more Tommy breakdowns."
I heard the tic-tic-ticking inside me then like sharp silvery
echoes captured under glass. "It's not what you think."
"It's love, Tommy boy, no doubt about it. It's love that
has you all fucked up."
"You're nuts," I set my whiskey beside the computer.
"All of this is just coincidence."
"It has to be."
"You want to try again?"
I didn't answer, said instead, "There's no way this shit
"I'm just saying."
"Just saying, Tommy boy. Take a look."
In bed that night, I lay flat on my belly, Mikie beside me,
my ass sore, my muscles otherwise slack from the whiskey and pills
I mixed a bit more than I should. Mikie slept facing me, her mouth
parted with the slightest trace of spittle on her lip. Earlier,
stumbling in from Boddy's, I walked sideways toward the bedroom
so Mikie wouldn't see the fresh tear in my jeans. (Before coming
home, I went into Boddy's kitchen for a knife, my tail grown out
again, the fibers thick and weed-like, I tested the density, the
reaction from nerves in the stem, then cut high against the base
and tossed the remains in the trash.) Mikie watched me from the
hall, asked "Is something wrong?"
"No, no," I came back in fresh pants. "I sat
in something is all." We ate dinner, watched a bit of tv,
read for a while and went to bed. Eventually I nodded off. When
I woke, just after three in the morning, the ticking in my head
was a steady tap-tap-tap of bogeyman fingers against a different
sort of windowpane. On her side, Mikie beneath the sheet formed
a soft flow of waves through her shoulders and hips. I stared
in the dark, explored her curves, the same soft arcs and crescent
I'd covered with my hands and mouth countless times before, though
here they looked somehow different and more daunting.
I closed my eyes, opened and closed and opened them again, expecting
each time to find Mikie staring back at me, searching my face
for answers, and knowing I wouldn't get back to sleep, I slipped
from bed, stood and checked the status of my ass. Clipped earlier,
the nub remained a buried seed. I thought of what Boddy said about
how fucked I was, and unsure what to do, went into the kitchen
and got a glass of water, then sat at the table, my blue earmuffs
beside my laptop. I put on the muffs, rubbed my face, the sound
in my head a steady clicking of screws being turned, and leaning
forward on my elbows, worked my fingers hard against my temples.
Nervous, yet hoping to prove Boddy's theory wrong, I switched
on my computer and ran a search of my own. Instead of articles,
I checked for websites, found www.philosfodder.com, clicked and
waited for the site to open. The home page featured a series of
links framing the main text, the day's headline: 'Philos For The
Ages - Hero Or Heartache?' I read of Fred T. Korematsu, the Japanese-America
whose lawsuit against the United States challenged the constitutionality
of interning the Japanese during World War II. "Long a symbol
of resistance against racism and overreaching governmental authority,"
the piece began, "at the time of his arrest in May 1942,
Fred T. Korematsu was not motivated by righteous defiance, but
rather a desire to be with the woman he loved." Determined
to continue the affair he'd started that spring, Korematsu refused
to report for processing and detention, went so far as to alter
his appearance with plastic surgery, changed his identification
to the name Clyde Sarah, his heritage listed as Spanish-Hawaiian.
I read about Korematsu's arrest, how he stood inside the wired
gates at the internment center and howled his lover's name, when
suddenly my head filled again with the sound of hail on tin roofs.
My tail recharged, shot down my pajama leg. I grabbed onto the
sides of the table and trembled, my water spilling just as the
site clicked over to a different link, landing on a page where
readers were invited to post their own messages. I waited for
my hands to stop shaking, then typed, "What now? What am
I supposed to do? I'm not prepared for this. When did things become
so extreme? I read the articles and wonder why they effect me
so. Am I really supposed to give up a piece of my liver, fly across
the ocean in the wheel of a jet, set my car on the railroad tracks,
or take on the government in order to accomplish what? These articles
confuse me. My life by comparison seems inadequate, my head pounds
with the boom-boom-boom of bassoons and bass drums. Love makes
me nervous, I admit as much. The fear of disappointing M_____,
of not being who she thinks I am, or should be, all this terrifies
me. What does she want? What do I want? Why are things like this?
Why is my head now a kettle of stones? What's wrong with me? What
am I to do?"
I finished the letter and sent it off, then went into the bathroom
where I popped two more pills, 100 milligrams of Zanex and Vicadin,
before returning to the hall. I considered trying to sleep again,
but found Mikie awake in the bedroom, sitting in the dark. She
flipped on the lamp as I came in, a weary sort of "What now?"
_expression in the corners of her mouth.
"Sorry," I said, and sat beside her, my apology ecumenical,
all encompassing. When I reached for her hand, I felt her stiffen.
"I didn't mean to wake you," my head throbbing still.
Mikie stared at me in my earmuffs, pointed until I realized and
pulled them off. "What did you take?" she asked.
"A little something."
"A little more?"
"Just a bit."
"You can't keep drugging yourself."
She got up quickly, as if an idea had only then occurred to
her, and went into the bathroom. I thought for a moment she might
dump out all my pills and followed after her, watching through
the open door as she sat and peed. "What are you doing?"
"Sorry," I turned my back.
"That isn't what I meant."
"I just want to sleep."
I rubbed my head. "I don't know."
"This can't," she began, only to stop. I moved into
the front room as Mikie came out and stood near the couch, the
light from the bedroom behind her, the ticking in my head like
lead hoofed insects dancing, the length of my tail dangling inside
my pajama pants. I extended my arms, waiting to see what Mikie
would do, wanting to hold her, to tell her, but could only say,
"You know what?"
"This can't. You said."
"But that doesn't mean anything," she was angry now.
"What can't you?"
"It's not your fault," I needed her to understand,
though the reference seemed accusatory, and quickly I added, "It's
crazy, that's all." My hands remained out. I waited more,
unsure what Mikie was thinking, not knowing what else to do. "Rats,"
I thought again of Boddy, about the doctors and the pills and
all the rest, and who could understand? "If I could,"
I told her, and finished then with what Creeley started, "(W)hat
prevention, what/thing so quickly stopped./That is love yesterday/or
After several long seconds, Mikie made the slightest of smiles,
the sort of private grin one shows when there's pain behind the
effort; a memory at a funeral, Mikie's lips rolled inward and
puffed out. She came toward me then, avoided my arms but reaching
nonetheless to rub my cheek. I thought of the story she told me
about her dog, Murf, and felt the gesture sadly. But here she
surprised me and held her hand flat against my face, her _expression
changing as she moved her fingers toward my neck, my shoulder
and over my chest. Further then to the waist of my pajamas, she
stepped behind me, knelt and slipped my bottoms down.
My tail in a wiggle, went suddenly stiff. Mikie took the length
of me in her hand, laid me out across her palm and brought her
face close. I turned to watch over my shoulder as she opened her
mouth as a sacrifice, a penitence, a want for love to be as it
should: accessible, palatable, easily devoured. She didn't hesitate,
whatever she thought a moment before still clear enough. Fully
taken, I didn't say a word. When she stood, a minute later, trembling
and hopeful, I hoped, too, and listened for the ticking in my
head as I moved toward her and kissed her lips.
As I did so, the noise in my head increased, the additional
clic-clic-click I realized coming from my computer, late night
readers surveying the same site as me, providing email responses
to my letter. I nearly laughed to think of the world so brimming
with us, and stepping from Mikie, I went into the kitchen where
I opened the drawer next to the stove and found a box of matches.
My tail damp from Mikie's mouth, I dried it with my fingers, then
struck the match and lit the fuse. Mikie's smile was more beautiful
than anything I'd ever seen. I heard another click, and then a
hiss, and felt behind me first and next within the most amazing
Copyright © 2005 Steven Gillis