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by Richard Krawiec

It was a Sunday afternoon. Gregory had finished washing the dishes and setting them in the strainer to dry. He wiped his hands on the yellow-and-white checkered dish towel and looked at the message board on the wall to his right. It was covered with twelve year's worth of photographs of Marilyn's students.

He casually draped the damp towel over the metal bar beside the sink and held his breath for silence. From the living room he could hear the muffled TV sounds and once, in a rare moment of television silence, a hissing burst of steam from the iron. He looked out the window over the sink, the afternoon sun detailing the garden in a crisp brightness, and he felt dislodged from himself.

"Are you forgetting something?" Marilyn asked. Her sudden voice startled him, and he spun to see her standing just inside the open doorway. He took one step forward, thinking to hold her for a minute, but her arms were folded across her breasts, and she had that weary look on her face. She smacked her lips and made a pointing motion with her chin.

He turned back to the sink, but didn't see anything amiss. That made him panicky. The dishes were all done, stacked in the strainer, and the stove and countertop wiped clean. What could she mean? What had he done this time? His mind scattered, he was unable to focus, and the sweat ran in heavy, fast-moving drops from his armpits down his sides.

"The towel," she said at his back, "as always."

Like a man given a reprieve, he let out a loud sigh. He quickly spread the dish towel neatly over the bar. The panic left, and he felt only mildly jittery.

"Do you want me to leave the ironing board up for you?" she asked.

Her hair was close to her skull, with a small wave on top, and he thought of how she used to wear it when they met--past her shoulders and ironed so it'd be straight. She hadn't gained much weight over the years, and he looked her over admiringly. Then he turned his head, ashamed. He knew. They'd discussed it any number of times. Marriage was no excuse for sexism. "Are you finished?" he asked.

"For today," she said. "I have papers to correct." She stared off beyond him, as if trying to recall something without thinking about it.

"Did you want to do anything tonight?" she asked. "Go out?. . .or stay in?" He looked down at the floor.

The kitchen seemed to shrink on him. The broad, white floor tiles loomed up, the swirled ceiling dropped, and the walls angled in at the corners to close around his head. He remembered the light outside, its sharp clarity on the green plants in the garden, and he said, "I'm going out." He smiled tightly at her. "Work in the garden."

"It would make sense, while the iron's hot. . ." she said, raising one eyebrow and smiling. But she didn't insist, so he left.

He felt better outside, not so cramped, and he stood for some minutes in the middle of the garden, taking in the damp earth smell through his nose and telling himself he had a good life. Things were fair. Wasn't that the point? Wasn't that what he wanted? He bent to a squash plant and pushed its broad, scratchy leaves aside, looking for the fruit. What he saw made his breath catch. There, attached to the vine, long, green, and tubular, was not a zucchini, but a penis.

He ran inside, set up the ironing board, and accepted Marilyn's gently berating comments. She teased him, saying, "Did you see a snake in the garden?" But he wouldn't answer. He stood in a silent sweat, ironing his clothes, as Marilyn watched the tennis match, the news, and Wild Kingdom. That night, she was in the mood, and he worked on her with his hand. She said it was fine, it didn't bother her that that was all he wanted to do, but she sounded disappointed.

He checked every evening when he came home from work. The situation worsened. It began with the squash, but soon spread to the tomatoes, where the penises were rounder, but penises nonetheless. From the boughs of pepper plants, curved penises hung by stems. Lettuce sprouted, leafy nests with stumpy penises at the cores. Small, thin penises dangled from the bean vines. Once he dug up a radish to find a plump, red penis rooting from the sprouts.

Everything he'd planted grew into a penis. He felt by turns terrified, guilty, and humiliated. He took to buying vegetables at the supermarket, sneaking them into the garden beneath his suit coat, rolling them in the dirt, and then presenting them to Marilyn as if these were what he was growing. Once, briefly, he wondered if he could eat the penises from the garden. He imagined cooking up a plate of them, rolled in flour and fried, or chopped and steamed, maybe diced for soup. He was certain, though, that Marilyn would never accept it.

At night, in bed, he tossed, febrile, waking in the dark to the pushing sounds of what he was certain were the penises growing. One Saturday, he turned a few of the larger ones under, covered them with soil. When he returned the next day to check on them, they'd already reared up through the earth once more. He was afraid to pick them -- where could he hide them? -- but afraid if he didn't pick them, sooner or later someone would notice.

The more they grew, the harder he worked in the house, doing not only his share, but a portion of Marilyn's work, also. She smiled and thanked him, but took no special notice of it. He lived in fear of the day she'd ask him if something were wrong. What would he say?

The garden was abundant. How long could he hide it from her or the neighbors? For now, the stockade fence would prevent anyone from finding out, but sooner or later. . .Twice, at night, he was awakened by a loud thumping. He was certain a watermelon penis was moving across the lawn towards their house. He sat up in bed, anxious lest Marilyn awake, then crept cautiously from under the covers to peek through the window. Outside, the pale moonlight gave everything a soft, bluish tint. Everything looked like a stage set, not quite real. Yet, when he returned to bed, the thumping continued.

When the sunflower plant, towering higher than the fence, began to unfurl its flower, he knew he couldn't avoid it any longer. Instead of seeds, there, clumped in soft, green rows in the pod, were hundreds of tiny, pointed penises.

They stood at the edge of the garden at dusk. Marilyn shook her head. "These were growing all this time, and you didn't even tell me? What about communication?" she asked.

He held his arms out, his mouth open as if he were a receptor for answers. She turned and strode to the house. He followed her with quick, mincing steps.

He made her a cup of tea and handed her a butter cookie. They sat at the kitchen table. "It's not my fault," he said as she dunked and chewed. A sore spot flared on the tip of his nose and he rubbed it, feeling a slight bump, like a large pimple.

"Gregory, you're the one who planted the seeds." She pursed her lips, looked away, and shook her head. "You certainly had to know what was going to come up. You could've at least told me."

He looked at the formica tabletop. "I had no idea. Honest. I didn't want them to grow. I've been happy." A sudden pain slammed him backwards in his chair. It spread from his nose through his face and made his eyes water. "I'm not that type of person," he told her. Something pushed smoothly out the tip of his nose. Focusing his eyes straight ahead he saw it--a long, straight penis.

Marilyn looked at him in horror, stood up, and backed away. She crouched in the elbow of the cabinets by the sink.

"I love you, I love our life," Gregory said, turning to her. The penis sprouted forward and poked her in the stomach. She put the palms of her hands to its side and swung it away from her.

Gregory grabbed his head to keep it steady. He watched her out of the side of his eye as he spoke. He kept on talking, trying to explain. The penis grew even longer. It burst through the kitchen wall into the living room, then smashed through the plate glass picture window. It passed over their front yard, knocked down a telephone pole, and crossed the street. It extended west, across the country, then travelled to the Orient, then around the world. It plunged deep into the void of space. The sun darkened and the moon rose and he continued talking, all through the night. No matter the words, no matter the sentences, no matter the rationalizations, he just could not get it to stop.

Richard Krawiec has published three novels. You can purchase wherever fine books are sold.

Send email to Richard Krawiec.