After the usual hugs and kisses and bed-time negotiations I’ve taken four of the five steps needed to get out of Archie’s room to the hall before he lassos me with, ‘Dad, can you tell us one of your stories?’
‘Okay, just give me a second to remember something…’ I say, before closing my eyes and following a stream of word-triggers to lift a bubble of young me from deep inside my subconsciousness and then I see myself reaching inside my pants and pulling out a thin red line with not only a great story to tell but also an indirect way to challenge Lewis on his stubborn refusal to wear undies…
… I’m around four or five years old, lying on my back in the lounge room of a young friend who lived a few houses down from mine. We’re watching TV but the screen is a blur and I can’t remember the program although it might have been Skippy or Flipper because I used to really love those shows and when I got a little older I attempted to write an illustrated story about the two of them teaming up to fight crime with Skippy wearing scuba gear when they were in the ocean but because I couldn’t work out how Flipper could survive on land I scrapped it and… Oh, hang on, we were watching The Incredible Hulk.
Just as David Banner was getting really angry and turning green I looked down to see that my fly was undone and so I did it up as quick as a flash and then, for a moment, just stared curiously at the strange purplish skin that was zig-zagging all the way up the outside of the zip…
‘Okay, I got something,’ I say, to Archie, sitting back down on his bed.
‘Have you got something, Dad?’ Lewis yells from his room across the hall.
‘Yes,’ I say, as he joins us. ‘This is a good one… and you know what, Lewy, this is a great story about why you should always wear undies, every day.’
‘I’m never wearing undies, Dad-oy,’ he says, lifting his chin at me and getting all Clint Eastwood with his eyes.
I kick the story off and take a long time setting the scene before I get back to the image of the purple skin
‘Was it your willy?’ Archie asks.
‘It was that very thing,’ I say, ‘I was lying down on my back while we were watching TV so it was pointing up, I think, towards my chin, and the zip caught the skin underneath right up to the foreskin… it may have even got some ball skin… and then it got very painful, I remember that clearly, and I started screaming.’
Lewis falls off the bed onto the floor and starts rolling around laughing and then runs to the door and yells, ‘Mum, Dad got his willy caught in his zip’ and Archie covers his mouth to stifle his sniggering, before saying, ‘And then what happened?’
‘Hang on,’ I say, as I close my eyes and retreat again. I’m at the hospital and I see Mum and Dad there and then it all falls in to place, although I have to ignore obvious memory errors, like Mum laughing at the Incredible Hulk as he poked me in the genitals with his giant green finger while Dad was signing cricket bats.
‘Dad – your Pa – had just got back from work to find Mum – your Gran – trying to undo my zip as I laid on my side, kicking my legs and spinning circles on the kitchen floor, which I’m pretty sure, by the way, led to my passion for breakdancing because it was only two years after that I flattened a cardboard box in the backyard and tried to do a head-spin on it.’
‘I think I can do a head-spin’ Archie says.
‘I’d rather you didn’t try to do a head-spin, Arch,’ I say, apologetically. ‘Anyway, I wouldn’t let anyone touch it… my willy… and so Mum and Dad carefully cut around it, a little at a time, more and more, until I was left with just the zip and the button and some denim hanging from it.’
‘Did Gran laugh?’ Archie asks.
‘She was very upset,’ I say, and then eyeballing Lewis. ‘Both her and Pa thought I might get gangrene in my penis and have to have it chopped off. It was that bad.’ In response to my eyeballing Lewis falls to the ground laughing again.‘So because I still wouldn’t let them go anywhere near my willy they wrapped me in a towel and took me to the hospital and… hang on.’
Again my memory is coming in a static jumpy way that makes me question it. There are just too many professionals around my hospital bed. One of the nurses is Anne from The Famous Five who was my first real crush and another is George Clooney from ER so I can safely assume they are figments of my intrusive imagination…
‘There were lots of doctors and nurses around me,’ I say, not wanting to lose them. ‘And they gave me something for the pain. They all seemed to be smirking…’
‘Did they give you an injection?’ Archie asks.
‘God no,’ I say. ‘That’d be worse than a zipped penis to a four year old. I think they put a mask on my face and gave me gas and I can remember all of a sudden Mum was sort of laugh-crying because I was feeling all crazy and started saying nursery rhymes and then, over and over again, in the voice of tweety-bird I kept saying, I taught I taw a puddy tat I taught I taw a puddy tat and then just as everyone was clapping – I think to distract me – George Clooney leant over and undid the zip in a white hot flash of movement… and I that’s all I can remember. If you want more we’ll have to ask Gran and Pa.’
Once I’ve re-cuddled Archie goodnight and re-covered his sniggering form with a doona I walk from the room to hear him whisper, I taught I taw a puddy tat, and as I enter Lewis’s room I hear him laugh, I taught I taw a puddy tat, and it occurs to me that although this story is a significant one to me it’s maybe only a funny kind of distraction for the boys and as I promise myself to never, ever, write about it for an audience outside my direct bloodline, I decide there should at least try to ram home the inherent lesson relevant to Lewis.
‘So you see Lewis,’ I say. ‘If you don’t wear undies, bad things can happen.’
‘I’ll never wear undies,’ he says into my neck, shaking his head.
‘Fine. Good. Great,’ I say, more than a little frustrated at having my wise Dad moment chewed on and spat back in my face. ‘Well if you get your penis caught in the zip I’m not driving you to the hospital.’
Lewis clicks his finger at me as I back away toward the door and then infuses me with a kind of defeated wonderment by clicking his six-year old finger into the shape of a gun and saying, ‘Won’t happen, Daddoy!
RM walks by me as I stand in the hall with my pants down a little doing the Hunch Back of Notre Dame. ‘Is it still there?’ she asks, with the nonchalance of someone who has seen me in that position dozens of times before.
Yes it is! As a ring in a thick trunk marks the age of a tree so the faint red line on the underside of my penis marks a significant event in my family’s history and if my own children refuse to appreciate its importance well, stuff it, maybe I will write it into a story.
If it saves the penis of just one young boy it’ll be worth it.