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Christmas for the Sick

This is a sample chapter from Supervert's book Necrophilia Variations, a literary monograph on the erotic attraction to corpses and death.

At lunch I joined some doctors in a conference room. Decorations had been hung but it did not look particularly festive. Primping the room for Christmas was like using wrapping paper for a tourniquet or sewing up a wound with tinsel. It was good cheer misdirected. There were children dying of incurable diseases upstairs.

Still, that didn't stop anyone from celebrating. There was turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, and a few bottles of liquor to make merry. A trauma surgeon told a funny story about operating on a drunk driver in the emergency room. "There were reindeer on his boxer shorts," he said, making a joke about how all the deer were red-nosed from blood.

Everyone laughed. The radiologist on my right selected a bottle of mescal from the booze on the table and poured some into a clear plastic cup. He tilted the bottle toward me, grinning, and I held out my cup for a shot. We all must have been thinking the same thing — if the drunk driver's shorts were bloody, what had happened to his penis? — because a pediatrician started telling a story that had happened to him during his residency. A teenaged boy had been brought to the emergency room after trying to castrate himself. "Unfortunately," laughed the pediatrician, "he didn't understand that castration is not, in the technical sense, amputation."

An oncologist held out a bone from a turkey leg and let it drop into some cranberry sauce. "Did you reattach it?"

The pediatrician grimaced. "I couldn't. The boy's mother didn't bring it along. She couldn't bring herself to pick it up."

"She could have used a Pooper Scooper," said the radiologist.

"Or a pecker picker-upper," a male nurse suggested.

"Better yet," said the oncologist, picking the turkey bone out of the cranberry sauce, "she could have used shlong tongs to put it in a cock sock." He rolled the turkey bone inside a cocktail napkin and held it up.

"Does this lesson in gross anatomy amuse you?" asked the doctor to my left, a Brit by the name of Dr. Peterson. "Believe it or not, it's not unusual to see a patient who's tried to cut his member off. But I once had a man who did the opposite. He blew his whole body off."

I downed my shot of mescal. I could feel it burn in my throat. "What do you mean?"

"Back in London we had a car bombing once — the IRA, you know. The emergency workers recovered all the body parts of all the victims, but we had a certain appendage that we couldn't account for. All the male bodies had their penises, but we had a penis that had no body."

"So it must have belonged to a female," I said. "A hermaphrodite, or a pre-op taking hormones." I do not know why I thought this was funny — was it the drink? — but I laughed and reached for the bottle of mescal to pour myself another shot.

Dr. Peterson was perfectly serious. "All the women had their genitalia as well."

"Then where did it come from?" I asked, still holding the bottle in my hand. "There must have been another body. The emergency workers must have missed it."

"In the western world, there are never unrecovered remains. People always claim their dead."

"What if the bodies are mutilated beyond recognition?"

"We have very sophisticated identification techniques: dental records, fingerprints, DNA..."

"So where did this severed penis come from?"

"It could only have been the bomber."

"How so?" I burped, and the alcohol burned up into my mouth again.

"We hypothesized that the bomb exploded prematurely. The bomber's car must have hit a bump in the road and set off the bomb accidentally. He was probably carrying it on a plank or a board in his lap. The plank protected that one area, and everything else was literally blown to smithereens."

"How come no one came forward to claim the — ?"

"The remains? Who would? And what would they do with it?"

Just as I started to imagine a specimen jar full of formaldehyde, or perhaps one of those little coffins they put infants in, the radiologist reached in front of me. I was still holding the bottle of mescal in my hand. "If you're not going to pour," he said, "allow me." He took the bottle and, as he tipped it into my cup, the gusano slipped out. "The worm!" the radiologist hollered. "He's got the worm!" Soon the doctors were banging with their fists on the table and cheering rhythmically. "Eat it. Eat it. Eat it."

I watched the worm, a pinkish nub of flesh swirling in the alcohol, and thought of the bomber's remains. What would his survivors do with it? Bury it in a tiny grave the size of a beer bottle? Or would his widow keep it on the mantle in a jar of formaldehyde? And if so, would she ever be tempted to take it out and — well — in a moment of loneliness... After all, it was a genital, and in the final analysis there's not much you can do to guarantee the sanctity of your remains. "I'll just cremate myself," you say — but then some weirdo comes along to ejaculate in your urn and stir his semen into your ashes with a finger. For every type of cadaver, I thought, there must be a corresponding type of necrophile. No body is safe. Just because we cease to make active use of our sexual organs does not mean that others won't make a passive use of them. In death we become defenseless and, to necrophiles, irresistible. Every cadaver is a sex object, and in that sense the terrorist who blew off his body is a symbol of our common fate. In the end, we are all of us reduced to a dead genital.

I felt a nudge in the ribs. "Go ahead," said Dr. Peterson. "The gusano is not really a worm. It's a butterfly larva. Think of it as a thing with the potential for great beauty. Go ahead. Do it."

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