I Want My Ovulation Please!
By Michael Caligaris
My father, a college football player turned gynecologist, is a walking paradox for the stereotypes that revolve around a “vagina specialist.” He is a massive Italian man with calloused bear paws, overweight from his years as an offensive lineman. And in his dwindling age, his strength and leverage still linger—prevalent as ever—but instead of crushing another man’s sternum he now masters the speculum and the ability to soothe the soul of a first time mother.
Around the age of nine I told my father that I was in love with a girl named Erin that rode the afternoon bus home from school. I told him we were going to get married and he could be the doctor to hand us our baby—for at the time I thought he delivered babies. Upon hearing this, my father found the boyish announcement to be the perfect catalyst to dive into the full details of his professional work. Perhaps this was his attempt to kill two birds with one stone?
The ambiguously awkward “make a baby” speech is a right of passage for every suburbanite pre-teen. They all come in many forms: from whimsical sock puppets, to allusions of a magical garden, or even abstinent-stressed horror stories that leave children in a state of guilt for having their own set of reproductive organs. My father maybe lacked that creative vibe, nevertheless with his plethora of knowledge he would soon violate my mind like every parent before him.
He took me to his office, a civil war themed, mahogany rich cave and sat me down. I remember he opened the blinds, probably as a way to see if color faded from my face. He addressed me to listen very, very carefully and to hold questions to the end—much like I was a co-paying patient, a habit that, to this day, he cannot break.
“Michael, it is time for you to know exactly was your daddy does for work.” He looked stern into me, eyes so massive compared to the tiny spectacles rested on his lower bridge. I couldn’t respond. I just kicked my feet back in forth, sitting on my hands, nodding like an idiot.
He started with something called ov-u-lation.
“In my line of work, Son, this is key for parents to have a baby.” There was a long pause, maybe he was feeling out what to say next as he digressed into the inner workings of ideal procreation, but I recall finding the similarity of the word to my favorite chocolate milk… I want my ovulation, please!
“Michael, look up at me. When its time to ovulate, this is the time for a man and a woman to become intimate…they need to love each other through sexual intercourse.” He watched me blush at his emphasis of those last two words. He loosened up a bit.
“Aw, boy, it's not something to be worried about, its actually the best part of having a baby,” he said with that residual sense of jock humor. He began to point to areas of the body, pulling out a piece a paper to portray the woman’s womb. With a half folded piece of loose-leaf, he guided his finger.
“Now, you take your penis and have to place it into a woman’s vagina.” I began to giggle and he told me this part is not a laughing matter. I couldn’t grasp the seriousness of the side note—and still can’t—but it resonated. After this poor visual experience of intercourse, he transcended into narrative form. He was going to depict a vision of heroic adventure of how the sperm finds the treasure, the ovulated egg.
“Young man, you will release a sperm which will fight amongst many others. That one sperm is the chosen one. He will be the one to journey through the fallopian tubes and find her in the ovary.”
He stood as if he too was about to set off on pilgrimage. Yet once again, I misinterpreted his meaning after such a glorious attempt. I had a friend in Mrs. Brandenburg’s math class who was from the Philippines and I addressed him as Phil because his real name was far too hard for me to pronounce. So naturally I made the assumption that the sperm had to journey somewhere in the Philippines or perhaps, accompanied by my friend Phil. Just a knight and his squire on a mission in an exotic world—which in retrospect, would make an excellent premise for a porno.
After the rescue was made, which by all means had been nowhere as epic as The Princess Bride, he ended the tale by depicting the sperm having sex with the egg, even if it is completely redundant—but that’s my father; thorough. He stressed again how our parts fit together, this binary anatomy, and it all just seemed so complicated. How was I supposed to remember all those steps or use that much power or muster that much bravery? I was still having trouble getting passed Level 3 in Tetris!
I looked up at my father, watched as he self-gratifyingly nodded his head, his walrus mustache twitching from side to side as he produced a smile.
“Wait nine months, Son, and that baby is cooked and ready, waiting to come out,” he concluded, slapping his hands together.
This produced, yet again, another allusion, this time to Thanksgiving. It was when I put my hand inside the cooked turkey’s butt. I saw it on the counter top, this gaping black space with flaps of skin that hung loosely around the edges. I stuck my hand in, felt the warmth of it, as the goop slid in between my fingers. Ever since then I imagined that was what a vagina must have felt like and with my father’s word choice of cooked, he solidified this judgment.
He then folded his hands, sitting back in leather, ready for any questions but I had nothing to ask.
“Now, boy, you don’t want any of that until you are an adult. You need responsibility.” I cringed at that word. Mother used it way too often. I just wanted to get out of that office.
My father looked me over, my silent self, and he assessed perhaps he wasn’t as effective as he wished. I got up and he pointed back over to the seat. “Sit on down there, boy. Now I’m going to tell you how a baby comes out.”
This is a whole different story.
Michael Caligaris was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and now resides in Berkeley, California. He is currently a graduate student at St. Mary’s College of California. He has been published in college journals and strives for much more.
* * *
Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
By Bryce Journey
My wife, Laura, and I took our seats at one of the freshly wiped booths in IHOP and picked up our laminated menus. Laura grinned at me. “I don’t know why I’m looking at the menu already. It’s going to take you ten minutes to read through the whole thing anyway.” Laura and I had already been married several years and she was well aware of my idiosyncrasies. I like to study a menu thoroughly before ordering. That way I can make sure to carefully weigh all my options, agonize and debate myself, then spend the rest of the meal wondering if the other choices might not have been superior after all.
This particular Saturday morning promised to be no different. I opened up my menu. My strategy is to first read the items marked with a star, which denotes items new to the menu. Then I go back and read all the classic items and compare the two before narrowing down my choices. The first new item was the Butterscotch Rocks Pancakes, described as “Four fluffy buttermilk pancakes filled with pecans, granola and butterscotch chips, then topped with whipped topping and drizzled with caramel sauce.”
I put down the menu. “I’m ready to order,” I announced
Laura’s mouth fell open and her eyes widened in surprise. She looked at me with a small frown, concerned. “Are you sure?”
I nodded. “Destiny has called and declared my breakfast.”
She couldn’t argue with that.
It turned out that the description was a little misleading. The pecans and granola were sprinkled on top with the caramel syrup on top of the whipped cream. The only thing baked into the pancakes were the butterscotch chips, which melted just a little and flowed outward into the settled batter. This was just fine with me, though. Butterscotch should stand on its own and it’s appropriate that the rest of the advertised ingredients were relegated to garnish. Butterscotch is the greatest of all flavors. Some people are vanilla people – plain and boring. Some people are chocolate people – trendy and popular. I count myself amongst the butterscotch people – a little different from everyone else.
I cut my pancakes into a grid of sixteen squares like I’m fond of doing and stabbed the first stack of four squares with my fork. I put the stack in my mouth and immediately closed my eyes. I felt compelled to blind myself to the outside world. Nothing must interfere with the savoring of this bite – because I could tell right away this was something deserving of savor. The toppings melded with the thick pancakes in an agreeable mix of textures, complementing the flavor of the butterscotch like a lonely man finding love for the first time. The butterscotch cut through the buttermilk pancakes to my taste-buds like a spatula icing a cake. I imagined an angel toiling over a sizzling pan, mixing up the ultimate joy of spiritual enlightenment with some buttermilk and flour.
I let out a contented sigh and opened my eyes. I pointed at the stack of pancakes with my fork. “This is the greatest thing ever,” I declared. Usually Laura likes to steal one of my perfect stacks of pancake squares right out of the middle, just to mess with me, but she didn’t have the heart this time. The pancakes remained pure, unblemished, as I devoured them, starting from the upper left and working my way in a serpentine pattern through the pancake grid.
I resolved to write a poem honoring and praising the greatness of the Butterscotch Rocks pancakes. Food is one of my favorite topics for poetry. The first poem I ever had published was the tragic, long-lined “How I Got Hosed By the Vending Machine.” Recently, I’d written “Ode to Mrs. Buttersworth” and “Ode to the Cheesesteak” and I’d been pondering various culinary candidates to complete my trilogy of food-inspired odes. The Butterscotch Rocks Pancakes were like a gift from the hungry muses.
* * * * *
A month later we returned to IHOP for another Saturday morning breakfast. I didn’t even pick up a menu. I’d been thinking about those pancakes all month and even dreamed about them once. In that dream, instead of the pancakes being set on a table, the pancakes were the table and I ate the entire thing so that no food could be served there again. I hadn’t written that poem yet but I had a few good lines floating around my head and I was looking forward to a second experience to inspire my creative de-constructive carpentry. When the waitress brought us our drinks and asked if we were ready to order, I replied at once: “I’ll have those heavenly Butterscotch Rocks pancakes.”
The waitress turned big sad eyes on me. My breath caught in my throat. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Those were a temporary item and they’re not on our menu anymore.”
I tilted back my head and moaned. “Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!”
My cry echoed in the restaurant and a few heads turned my direction from across the dining area. Laura shook her head, chuckled under her breath, and tactfully and nonchalantly covered up her wedding ring with her right hand. The waitress took a couple of careful steps backwards.
I opened up the menu and started to peruse the boring old options. My thoughts were heavy and full. One thing I knew for sure – I’d never write that third ode. It would be just too sad and depressing to think of my Butterscotch Rocks Pancakes lost forever. To think that Earthly paradise is available for a limited time only.
Bryce Journey teaches composition at Iowa Western Community College and is an English and Creative Writing teacher with Omaha Public Schools. He has a BFA in Creative Writing, a Masters in Education, and a Masters in English with focuses in Creative Nonfiction and American Literature. His creative work has appeared in Blind Man’s Rainbow, Scissortale Review, Apropos, Temenos, Red Clay Review, Fortunates, Aerogram, Paradise Review, Poydras, Hippocampus, and Cigale. When he’s not entertaining his three-year-old son, Luke Ender, he likes watching bad movies with his wife, Laura, satiating his passion for board gaming, and increasing his skills as an amateur yo-yo enthusiast. His literary inspiration is Richard Brautigan and would rather entertain readers than be taken too seriously.
* * *
Running Away from a Fat Man's Bed
By Cinthia Ritchie
On the weekend I run, miles and miles over mountain trails. “You run too much,” he tells me. He has a belly, soft and welcoming. We lie in his bed. He traces my muscles with thick hands. “Soft,” he whispers. I am not soft. “Your bed is too big,” I say. I crave largeness. I taste pavement on his tongue. He is city-bound, concrete safe. I love his big bed, flannel sheets. “Sometimes I think you don’t like me,” he says. I love his big belly, so unlike my own. Opposites attract. We drink beer in the morning, out on the deck. Watch the tide come in. Salt grass, marsh smells. “I could die right now,” I say. I don’t want to die. I am healthy. I run so that I will never die. He will die early, heart attack or maybe he will defy odds, live to be a hundred, meat and potatoes the whole way. Life isn’t fair. Triangles are more beautiful than circles.
In the dark, sex swims between the flannel sheets. He is too heavy so I am on top. Hair swinging, hips jutting, legs straining. I kneel before him. The body of Christ, my mouth opened to receive the host of his tongue. On and on, we sweat over the flannel sheets, our mouths small animals, whimpering. “Stay,” he says, but I never do. Sometimes I stay, sleeping in his warm bed, dreams twisting and falling so that I am a fat man and he is a runner woman. The Indians believed we could catch dreams, hold them against the night air like fragile moths. “I don’t want to dream,” I say. His eyes are closed. He can’t hear me. He runs in his sleep. He calls this love.
Mornings he eats eggs and sausage, dead pig smells. I eat oatmeal, bland and thick. His lips smear with grease. He savors. I swallow. We lie on the floor with the newspaper. Is it Sunday? We read to one another, halting and slow, the language of children. We are children, lost and afraid. We romp around the floor with the dogs. He smells of dead pig. I kiss him hard. He cups my flat runner’s breast. Our skin hides veins and bone. We ignore our heartbeats. We are flawed, the morning air soft and moist against our ugly feet. We sit on the deck and watch the sky. The veins in his wrist hurt my eyes. “Please,” I say. He can’t hear me, maybe I can’t speak. I wait. Wind licks my hair. I can no longer feel my tongue.
I sneak out of his bed, steal his dogs, escape to the mountains, running. The air smells of devil’s club and clover. It’s mid-summer. Endings can be soft. My breath is hard. The dogs run ahead. We jump over bear scat. Brother Bear, the Indians called them. I talk with bears, but only in my throat. I run for miles, my shoulders wet with sweat. The sun blinks, I could be lost. How would I know? My stomach is flat but inside I am a big man sleeping in a big bed. The early morning sky spreads rich and thick. “I want to run to the sky,” I say, but the dogs don’t answer. We are nothing but muscle and bone. I run so much that I no longer bleed. I miss my blood, my stink. I want to be a fat man sleeping in a big bed. My dreams hurt. My body is hard but inside I’m a circle.
That’s a lie. Inside, I’m a jagged, sharp line.
Cinthia Ritchie lives and runs mountains in Alaska.
* * *
Language of Love
By Holly Vance
When friends ask how my love life is, I answer with, “I am having sex with Freddy.”
Freddy is ten years my junior, which is great for my ego; he's handsome and confident, which is great for my libido; and he's funny, which makes him likable. Nevertheless, our age difference makes a relationship highly improbable: he doesn't want one with anyone, and I don't want one with a twenty-eight year-old.
I am always conscious of the words I use because I want to be both semantically accurate and connotatively sound. Being an English teacher and a writer makes me very particular about language. That is why I am careful to say “having sex” instead of “fucking” because the latter hints at anger and domination. And I am not angry about it whatsoever.
One afternoon, as Freddy was putting on his shoes to leave and we were chatting he said, "I was telling my buddy about this Cougar I'm talking to . . ."
I was curled up in the corner of my couch on the other side of the room, wallowing in post-coital dreaminess. Blinking, I sat up and said, "I am 'the Cougar,' correct?"
"Ya," he said with a laugh. He continued his story, but all I heard "yadda, yadda, yadda" because my brain was stuck on two things: "Cougar" and "talking to."
I don't mind the term "Cougar" so much; it is gaining respectability. Older women are becoming the cool thing to do. I can live with that. As a couple of my younger male co-workers explained when they agreed that I was indeed a Cougar: "It means you have your shit together. And that you’re attractive." What gave me pause was that Freddy referred to me in third person even though I was sitting not ten feet from him. If one is addressed in the third person during conversation, doesn't that mean one is rich and famous? Or a star athlete? I am neither. Infamous--sure. Rich -- no. Athletic --- if drinking wine is a sport, then yes.
I understand the necessity of condensing the details of a relationship into one word. It would be irksome to say, "I am texting, talking on the phone with, taking to dinner and a movie, as well as making out (or having sex) with this chick . . .”. You get the picture. In the case of Freddy and me, a simple phrase could sum up the dynamic of our relationship--and "talking" isn’t the right one. And now that I am the direct object of talking to makes me really want to know the intricacies of that definition. What if talking to involves rubbing jam all over each other’s bodies at every full moon? I would need to know that so I have the strawberry preserves on hand. What if it means he is the only one allowed to talk? The preposition “to” is not reciprocal. And if I am the direct object, it implies submission.
Oh hells no.
I had heard my students say "I'm talking to this guy" before, but I didn't inquire because I figured it would never be relevant in my life. Now that it is, I decided to spend the following day asking each of my four senior classes to define the term.
Teaching them how to diagram a sentence would have been easier.
I asked the class, "When you say that you are 'talking to' someone, what does that mean exactly?"
All I got were eyes shifting away from me, throats clearing, and nervous giggling.
Finally, a precocious honors-dropout raised her hand and told me that "If you are 'talking to' someone it means you text, hang out, and do boyfriend/girlfriend stuff."
Text, check. Hang out? I understand the need for ambiguity on that count because we all “hang out” differently. My “hanging out” includes wine. Someone else’s might include video games or baking. For Freddy and me, “hanging out” includes breath mints and condoms. Boyfriend/girlfriend stuff? That is unnecessarily ambiguous. There are a wealth of things that can be classified under such a term, but it’s more a matter of selection rather than definition. When Miss Precocious means “boyfriend/girlfriend” stuff does she mean arguing over which movie to see or where to go to dinner on Friday night? Does she mean running errands together? Does she mean physical intimacy only? All the above?
A little more questioning and a lot more shifting eyes, clearing throats, and nervous giggles verified that “boyfriend/girlfriend stuff” referred to physical intimacy. Trust me, I did not push for details on how they defined that. As much as I dislike non-specifics, I’d rather risk being unaware of current sexual practices amongst the youth than having the image of my students engaging in anything other than holding hands haunt me forever.
But, aside from the “boyfriend/girlfriend” stuff, I wanted to be thorough, so I bounced the definition back to her, “If you are ‘talking to’ someone, it’s basically the same as being boyfriend/girlfriend but you aren’t exclusive.”
I think I lost most of the class with “exclusive” so Miss Precocious threw me a bone by dumbing it down for them: “Right. You aren’t Facebook official.”
Facebook official? OMG.
“So, in theory, if you are ‘talking to’ one guy you can ‘talk to’ another guy without breaking any commitments or promises to either one? You technically aren’t cheating?” I said.
For a moment, I had forgotten about the precarious temperament of my control group. The chaos of language that erupted as the answer to my question shifted the mood in the room from uncomfortable to nuclear. Once it died down, and because I never learn, I added, “So basically ‘talking to’ and ‘Facebook Official’ are different in theory, but not in practice. Normally, no one ‘talks to’ more than one person at a time?”
The girls nodded, but the boys shook their heads.
I saw the wave of realization and then anger ripple across the girls’ faces. The boys began to panic. Suddenly, one young gentleman piped up as the spokesperson: “When you are ‘talking to’ someone, it means you are considering becoming ‘Facebook Official’. You are just trying things out.”
“So, you are saying that you don’t ‘talk to’ girls with whom you would never intend on committing to? Your intention is to be ‘Facebook Official’ but you just want to make sure she’s the right girl for you?”
“Right,” he said.
The girls’ snarls softened and I commended myself on saving few adolescent cojones with my more amiable clarification. That is until the boys’ spokesperson decided he wanted to show off by throwing in an analogy: “It’s like test driving a car before you buy it. Most people don’t test drive a car they have no intention of buying, correct?”
Cojones back in the crosshairs.
By lunchtime, I had had this same conversation with three different classes and I felt confident that I understand the meaning of the word:
talking to (v)—to communicate regularly, spend free time with, and engage in physical intimacy with someone whom one considers committing to exclusively.
My generation used the metonymy “seeing” instead of “talking to” as our easy-exit-from-relationship label (or for those optimists, the embarking on-a-journey-to-a-relationship label). Instead of the visual emphasis, it has shifted to a verbal emphasis. Ironic. Teens don’t talk to one another as much as my generation did. They text, IM, Facebook, and have face to face contact; therefore, teens technically “read” one another.
This got me thinking: where did the term “dating” come from? After much googling, I learned that it made its appearance in the 1920s, as a specifically American term to mean setting aside a particular time to “engage” with the opposite sex. As far as the particulars of “engage” it is as vague as “getting together with” was for my generation and “hooking up with” is for the current adolescent population: it could mean anything from holding hands to trying out all the positions outlined in the Kama Sutra—with strawberry preserves.
I also noticed that prepositions have become a critical part of the language of love. I think it’s a result of the feminist movement. If a man is dating a woman—it seems more dominant than “getting together with” a woman. The “with” implies more of a partnership versus the woman just being the direct object of “dating.” But this newer generation, with its “talking to” instead of “talking with” is reviving the hierarchy of amour: therefore, whoever is applying the label is dominant. Applying this analysis to how Freddy referred to our relationship, would result in a response something like, “Talking TO me? What am I, a child? Does you think you’re superior? Why not just say ‘The Cougar you are talking DOWN to?’ ”
To waylay such a miscommunication, I did ask Miss Precocious, “How important is the ‘to’? Can I say, ‘I’m talking with’ some guy and it means the same thing?”
She shakes her head, “No. You gotta say ‘talking to’.”
As leery as I am about the choice of preposition, I’m glad I got clarification. What if a student needs to speak with me at lunch and catches me while I’m on the phone with my colleague? I’d naturally say, “Hold on, I’m talking to Mr. Summers.” It’s not a problem because he or she sees me on the phone and the context provides clarity. But, what if my student brought a friend with him or her and that friend waited outside and only heard “I’m talking to Mr. Summers”? Boom, by 6th period Ms. Vance and Mr. Summers are communicating regularly, spending free time together, engaging in physical intimacy and are considering committing to one another exclusively.
Therefore, I will make sure that I say, “Hold on, I’m talking to Mr. Summers about the football pool.” That way by 6th period the rumor will be that I am addicted to gambling, not screwing the history teacher.
Holly Vance wrote her first story, The Castle the eighth grade and her first novel, The Gifted, the Cursed, and the Wicked her sophomore year of high school. Twenty-four years, two additional novels, and a few short stories later, she stumbled into nonfiction writing through blogging to promote her fiction. Go figure.