“Come See Exciting Delaware” was first published in Juked.
Come See Exciting Delaware
If it was true that: a person could wake up in Box Elder, Montana and greet some of the other 786 residents on the way to Big Sandy airport, board a plane, switch at ICA or ORD and eighteen hours later have a foot massage while staring at the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok and also true that Phil had been given an IV, slept in a sterile operating room, and awoken with one less kidney so that the other could be deposited into his brother Stan’s abdomen, the tissues sewn and checked against host-body issues, and if it was true that a migratory shorebird could fly more than 400,000 miles appearing in Delaware of all places, then it was also true that Dottie’s vagina could be guarded by two knuckle-sized dragons and a knight the size of a cashew.
Under the floral comforter, Dottie and Phil had their legs overlapping like Lincoln Logs they’d long packed away, his leg, hers, his on her knee, hers atop that. She knew, of course, where his hand would wind up and looked forward to it but when they’d unstacked their limbs her body wasn’t as receptive as her mind. It took effort these days to get ready, to find the desire and lock it down before it wisped away, the aroma of a dish unserved.
“Don’t you want to?” Phil asked with his eyes so close to her face her focus blurred, making her husband a momentary Cyclops.
“I do, I do,” Dottie kissed him, guiding his hand between her legs. She tried to connect the mental picture of Phil sliding into her with the physical sensation.
“You’re all closed up.” He touched her left breast, slightly larger than the right, the areola pink and rippled, the nipple winking up at him.
The chimneys needed to be relined. Her college boyfriend had disliked going down on her. Phil jacked off in the shower. Why hadn’t they repaired the ripped screen on the side porch? Was she getting looser? Phil jacked off in the shower, his hand tossing up and down like a good mixed drink. Yes, that was working. The way his mouth slacked like an unused rubber band before orgasm.
“There you go,” he whispered in her ear.
His breath was initially sweet but then muddied with turnip stench. The shower scene evaporated with no warning, boxes in the attic needed to be packed, donated, organized. Dottie was determined not to be the kind of older person who left a bunch of crap on the shelves, life’s detritus and mementos compacted for her adult children to sort through.
“I’m terribly warm,” Dottie said. Phil pulled the sheet down, exposed Dottie’s body.
Phil sighed, patient but disappointed. He kicked off the comforter, too. “Want me to take a look?” Once in a while Phil would rest his face on her bare belly as though listening for a fetal heartbeat, allowing his fingers to roam her pubic hair, soft upper thighs.
“Sure – take a look under the hood.” She’d had a thing for mechanics, gasoline station attendants in their coveralls, a little dirty but with confident thumbs.
Phil swung his body around. “My God! I’ve never seen anything like it!”
Dottie was unmoved so Phil pointed. “You’ve got to see this, Dot.”
Sure enough, it was a sight: two tiny dragons flanking either side of a – my, she reminded herself – drawbridge vagina, the whole crew fronted by the cashew-sized knight.
Dottie hunched over herself, staring. “What can I tell you? I felt a little rustling a few days ago but I didn’t think to look.”
Phil rubbed his hands together, thinking about reaching for the telephone. What was the protocol? Was he meant to phone for help? “Does it hurt? And how long has it been like this?”
Dottie propped herself up and moved her tongue like a metronome across her teeth. “I just don’t have a clue,” she said. How had they gotten there? Did they flee when she urinated or showered? She studied Phil’s face. “Have you known about this?”
“Me? Don’t look at me,” he told Dottie, “How would I have known?”
Phil’s head was perfectly bald, not a hair on top or on the sides, his eyebrows bushy and furrowed.
“It’s not your fault,” she said even though she thought it might be. Maybe Phil had invited the guests to warm up when he wasn’t in her. Hadn’t he entertained the idea of vacationing in a castle at some point? “Who on God’s green earth has seen this before? I mean, maybe I noticed something moving around but…I don’t think so.” Had she grown immune to her own body? “One minute we’re pulling the comforter back so you can position yourself comfortably – not too much strain on your back and the next thing…well, how the hell am I supposed to explain that?” She sucked air in through her nose even though the whistling annoyed Phil. “To think – we’d talked about a bike trip this summer!”
Dot and Phil waited a week – they were not alarmists – but still no change so Phil made the appointment for Dottie while she maneuvered into an elastic-waist skirt just for ease, maybe the visitors – or did they live there now? – needed space, air.
Now, at Dr. Lichter’s office, they were the oldest ones in the waiting room, regarded, Dottie thought, with a mixture of pity and confusion as though they couldn’t possibly need anything from here.
“It’s a terrible name for a gynecologist,” Dottie said. “Dr. Lichter. But there you go – you can’t choose everything in this life.”
“That’s for damn sure,” Phil said.
Were they basically contented people? Yes. And yet they’d managed to raise two children who lived in a state of mild dissatisfaction year-round. When the daughter visited she looked as though she had a hair in her mouth she could never quite remove and the son tugged a rolling suitcase of woes he couldn’t unload even on his partner, a man named Brian whom Dot and Phil secretly preferred to their own kids and not-so-secretly hoped Brian felt the same way about them versus his own parents. Would Dottie and Phil share this new predicament with their grown children? Phil guessed not.
Dottie paged through Women’s Wear Daily as though actively searching for a mushroom soup substitute for her next casserole. What if they did a story about her? Or what if they wouldn’t because it was just too odd, made people too upset? Which would be worse?
“You’re up,” Phil said and cupped her shoulder. “Should I…”
“It’s okay, I’ll go in first…you can take a walk if you want.” She didn’t need him any more involved than he already was.
It was the same office Dottie had driven to when she she’d been pregnant. The same room where they’d rolled gel onto her belly and found signs of life all those years ago when Dr. Lichter had just been in training. Now he was in charge, the white egret wings of his doctor coat flapping as he entered the room clapping his hands. What have we here? Spontaneous triplets? Seen it. Stage 5 uterine cancer undetected until right now? Seen that, too. Cystic teratomas, growths with eyes and hair and even teeth, adhered to an ovary? Many times.
He pressed on Dot’s loose abdomen, checked her breasts for what she didn’t know, and then settled onto the stool between Dottie’s knees. She waited for the shock, a gasp from the nurse who stood to the side watching.
Dr. Lichter motioned for the nurse to bring Phil in. Here we go, Dot thought, this is it. Terminal dragons. Emergent knight removal.
Phil helped his wife sit up, stood close to hear the news.
“Huh,” Dr. Lichter said. “They’re certainly present.” He’d seen one twin consume another overnight, a twenty-three weeker survive after a motor vehicle accident, and – a few times – animals of unknown origin appear without warning. These last usually resolved themselves over a matter of weeks or months.
“I suggest,” Dr. Lichter said, “just going about your business. ”
“I’m retired,” Phil said.
“I mean,” the doctor said to Dottie as he removed his rubber gloves with a snap, his mind on the next patient and the roast turkey sandwich he’d ordered from Sully’s, one with thick sliced Italian loaf and mayo flecked with basil. “You should think of your vagina like Delaware.”
“Because it has no sales tax?” Phil asked.
“Because it has a small population?” Dot said. As far as she knew no one was meant to live in a vagina.
The doctor shook his head. “No. Delaware’s a small state, right? Geographically.” Dr. Lichter turned off the Broadway light shining on her genitals. “So it might surprise you to learn that Delaware actually straddles two climate regions: humid sub-tropical and continental.”
The paper Johnny robe crinkled at her hips as she swung her legs over the side of the examination table. “I think I understand,” she said.
“Do you?” The doctor addressed them both at the door. “Delaware still has surprises. Just when you thought there was nothing new, here comes Delaware all exciting.”
“Calidruis canutus rufus,” Dot told her husband while she stroked his penis that night. She and Phil were in bed, following their new routine, waiting to see if the tiny reptiles – that’s what dragons would be, right? – would let him in. Her husband propped his head on his hand, his body next to hers in bed. “That’s the Latin name. I like Moonbird better, though, don’t you?”
“Sure,” he said, making her hand stop. It felt good, too good, and he didn’t want it to be over so fast.
“Twenty-six years they’ve been tracking it – since we got married! Imagine that – maybe on our wedding day this bird got a band on its ankle.”
“Imagine that,” Phil said, flicking one of Dottie’s nipples. He pictured a red band on his wife’s ankle. All along he’d been sure he knew her movements, her habits and routes. What statistics and migratory stories didn’t he know about her? “Anyway, it’s reassuring, isn’t it?”
Dottie nodded. “Moonbird B95. So many names for just one thing. And it’s tough besides – can you imagine being that small and going that far?” She looked at Phil’s face – was that frustration? Disappointment? “Don’t worry,” she told him.
Phil had asked her if she controlled the knight, the door’s opening, the dragons backing off, and she’d assured him she didn’t. True, they allowed her access whenever she liked. Really, the knight seemed to know what she wanted better than her own mind did.
“We’re in this together, that’s the main thing,” she said to Phil now. But it was anxiety producing, waiting to see if the mini-knight would give the signal. Let the drawbridge down, he might say if they’d had strong enough hearing. Phil licked her neck, slowly moved one hand under her ass.
“Oh – yes,” she sighed. “Can’t you feel it?” She luxuriated in the warmth. The dragons were small but fire-breathing, and their exhales felt good on her thighs. She tried to let the floodgates open in her mind, just like the meditation articles suggested. “All that worry about this bird surviving his annual ten thousand mile migration and year after year – oh, this is good.”
“They’re letting me in!” her husband cried. It was a good night. The bed firm but not too hard, his penis the same, the doorway to the magic land opening. Narnia. His wife’s pussy was Narnia. Honalee.
Afterwards, he reached for a few M and M candies, studying each one briefly before consuming it. He thought they were beautiful, those colorful discs. “Each one’s supposedly the same,” he said to her, his breath still ragged from sex. “But see here? This one’s got a dent.”
She nodded but didn’t like chocolate, which was good for their marriage because he never had to worry about her taking his bedside nibbles.
Dot scooted her bottom up so she could pull her nightgown down. Should she say goodnight to the dragons and knight? Was there etiquette for such things? She fell asleep thinking of the plump Moonbird, imagined flying from the Canadian Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. “Now that’s exotic,” she whispered. “But Delaware?”
A while later, Dot and Phil had a system, which was how all things developed in their marriage. Coping with their son’s dyslexia and coming out, their daughter’s uninteresting first two decades followed by a year of radiation for a tumor that prevented biological children. The pissing away of Phil’s pension by an unscrupulous boss. Sometimes they tried for a full hour, kissing, fondling, openly wishing. They tired of yelling, pleading, begging the knight so other times ignored the whole lot.
Now Dot and Phil they had a system of languor, just sitting on the double bed waiting to see if the drawbridge door would open. At first the waiting was just fine because Dottie was hooked on the next Vampire in the Desert Mystery and Phil liked to listen to sports on the radio. The fake clack of mallet onto wood in baseball and the overt cheer from the announcers made green appear underneath Phil’s closing eyelids along with the comforting sensation of recalling his father’s mitt-sized hand around his at the park as they’d watched games together, the topography of his dad’s veins a map of this person he could only know so much of.
But now Dot was finished with Blood and Sand and had to wait two months until the next mass market was released and Phil’s indigestion kept him from being flat, the twisting ache worse with his eyes shut.
She’d taken to rubbing one foot over the other, which he’d try to silence by touching her toes with his own. Sometimes this worked and the room grew still with the silence of waiting.
But other times before they could both enjoy the quiet thrum of someone else’s noise outside the window, Phil would reach for a handful of those M and Ms.
He kept a steady supply of candies in a ceramic bowl their son had made in sixth grade. Dottie thought he had the bowl to prove how okay he was with his son’s artistic side but in fact Phil had only chosen it because everything was dirty and he didn’t like washing dishes as it irritated his cuticles, a part of his body that was so feminine-sounding he was ashamed to have it associated with his own.
“Do you have to crunch so loudly?” she asked. She did not like to reread novels but eyed the worn stack in case she changed her mind.
He had a bit of blue candy on his upper lip. “I’m not trying to.”
“But you are.”
“I didn’t know the chewing bothered you.” He’d been eating M and Ms every night for five years, just a few while he listened to her turning pages or in between cutting his toenails over the side of the bed.
“Actually,” Dottie admitted, “It’s not the sound. It’s that you leave them in there just collecting dust.”
She picked up a small frame, the two kids when their forearms still resembled doughy hot dog buns. “See how much dust this has on it? And I clean it every week! And you never clean the candy.”
“You want me to dust the M and Ms?” Phil picked at a bit of dry elbow skin. They would have to figure out a system for this.
A sheet tented her knees but it was warm in the room and she could feel the dragons waking up, an uncoiling on her upper thigh. Unexpected. Their nostrils flared fire that she’d worried would burn her eventually but the heat was gentle again, like sitting by the lake as a kid waiting until she was good and ready to fling herself all at once into the morning-cool water.
“It’s just gross,” she said, “All the stuff that floats down on them and then you don’t wipe the bowl you just add more after you get the next bag.”
She knew she contributed to his cycle by ripping coupons from the Sunday circular and carefully handing over her customer care card to accumulate points so he’d get another oversized bag nearly free of charge which he’d then pour into the bedside bowl dropping a few on the floor which remained there until she collected them.
“Why didn’t you say something before about them?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “there was never a good time.” One of the dragons had a lame leg – had he tripped over her? – and she felt its awkward drag on her skin. “And I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
He looked at her and sighed. It made him sad that Dottie hadn’t spoken up. He reached for her hand, his body parallel to hers.
Ahem, a small cough.
It wasn’t Dottie making noise and it wasn’t Phil.
She pointed to her sheet-covered knees and her husband slowly tugged the sheet off, the fabric slipping over her thighs. She liked the feel of it.
There, between her legs. She looked and saw everything upside down – the dragons, the mini knight with his thumbtack-sized helmet. They’d grown accustomed to the odd trio seeking shelter in her labial folds, so much so that they’d barely glanced at them in weeks. She only knew the dragon was lame because she felt an interruption in the pattern of footsteps.
Phil cocked his head, staring. “He looks bored,” Phil said.
She nodded. Up until now she hadn’t thought to address the knight directly, when they’d shouted and begged it was just in general, into the bedroom air, but now it seemed the polite thing to do.
“Are you…do you need anything?” She asked, cupping her words in her hands like a megaphone.
Phil went close to her right thigh and then, to get a better look, moved under it so one leg lopped onto his shoulder. The knight’s outfit was navy and dark gray metal, his eyes not quite visible through the helmet slats.
The dragons were peaceful though fiery, one with its spiked tail high, the other with it curled under him. The knight sighed.
“It’s possible he can’t talk,” Phil said.
“Or that we can’t hear him,” Dottie added.
“Maybe,” Phil said as he thought of something. He let his wife’s leg flop onto the bed and shimmied up the mattress on his belly to reach for a couple of M and Ms. One red, one yellow.
First Phil pinched one candy between his thumb and index finger. Then, fearing the disc was too large, he bit it in half.
“Here,” he offered the knight the smaller piece.
Hesitant or maybe just too tiny to seem confidant, the knight gripped the candy in one hand, the other hand still holding the guard spear. Was it made from a cocktail toothpick and colored in gray marker?
One night Dottie had been sleeping and Phil had put his hand near her vagina only to have the knight spear his palm. It was a small puncture wound but a mark nonetheless so the Phil was careful now, gentle with the offering.
“I hear him chewing!” Dottie said, delighted. She recognized the same tone in her voice that she’d had when their daughter had finally learned to nurse. What a fussy baby with colic and constipation, prune juice dropped in her mouth even when she was only a few weeks old, and it took days filled with shrieking and another woman handling her breast to get the baby to latch on. And now, the same relief and thrill.
“Yes,” Phil husband said, “he seems satisfied. Are you happy, Mr. Knight? Sir?”
“Oh – the doors!” She felt them opening and Phil saw the cranking circular motion, the knight turning and lowering the drawbridge and the dragons backing away.
Finally, a system! Each night at first and then maybe once or twice a week, they had the pattern. Even when the next book in her series came out, Teeth and Mirages, they kept going. Spring training all the way through the World Series. The knight preferred yellow M and Ms so Phil took to sorting them, which also meant cleaning them with a dry cloth. Was it silly to polish M and Ms one at a time, getting them ready for a tiny knight in order to connect to his wife and gain access to her guarded vagina?
No sillier than the Rufus Red Knots that once numbered close to 100,000 on Delaware Bay, the birds whose population declined to a fraction of that due to over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs which left the birds terribly hungry and unable to survive. There was talk in the ornithology world about the bird’s song; had the cries had changed over time? One fellow thought it was the same cherreep-cherreep-twoo but the head of Delaware’s Wildlife Commission believed there was a subtle juun-di! added between the cherreeps.
They fed the knight and had sex and the radio announcer told of a three run homer while Dottie used her pointer finger to hold a place in the pages as she closed her eyes to hear –the knight or the migratory Moonbird or just the rustling of sheets or candies?
“No,” she said sitting up so suddenly the tiny knight and dragons stumbled away from her and she and Phil were stunned. “Do we put them back?” she asked.
“What do you want?” Phil asked.
Did it matter? Maybe she could push them back inside. Or maybe her vagina was seasonal, like coastal properties. There they were, slinking across the mattress off to wherever they had to go, dragon tail scratching the bed sheets, the knight’s spear clinking on his metal helmet with each step.
Dottie could hear it all. She was sure the bird was coming back after all of those winged miles and was sure she could hear it singing, the song unchanged, there is more there is more there is more.
Emily Franklin is the author of a novel, Liner Notes, and a story collection, The Girls’ Almanac, as well as seventeen novels for young adults. Her work has been published in The New York Times and The Boston Globe and numerous literary magazines as well as featured and read aloud on National Public Radio, named notable by the Association of Jewish Libraries, and long-listed for the London Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award.
Image: Flickr / Antonino SCIMECA