Are You Man Enough?


fiction by Steven Sherrill


“Mr. Sprankle, do me anal,” the babysitter says, climbing into the shower with me.

“Hey!” I say, too stunned to cover my nakedness. “Mandy! What are you doing? You can’t…I mean, you’re not…I mean, I…where’s…!”

In truth, I’ve tried to imagine that firm little twenty-one-year-old rump many times. But…

“Come on, Mr. Sprankle, do me anal.”

I mean, I can’t deny that those words are, that phrase is, heaven-sent. But…

Mandy turns, wiggles her ass, and backs toward me.

I mean, I’m married. To a woman I love. To a woman in the next room. And, I’m not that kind of guy. And, she’s our babysitter. And, our daughter is in the other room, too. I think. But, there’s a little tattoo of a spider right at the top of her butt crack, and the temptation is too great.

“No,” I say again, mostly to myself. “Mandy, please,” I say. But the meaning could go either way. I brace against the shower stall, and just as flesh is about to cleave unto flesh, a bubbly stream of rosemary scented shampoo trickles into my eye. Stings the bejesus out of me.

“Oww! Oww! Oww!” I say, turning my face up to the spray of water.

I’m nervous. I mean… confused. I’m eager. I don’t want to miss… I want to be wholly present for…I mean, I…

“What are you doing there, Timothy?”

“What?” I say. That’s not Mandy’s voice. I open my eyes, despite the burn, to see Dr. Yangstrom, my old History professor— my mentor, my thesis advisor, lo those many years ago— mercifully clothed, but no less surprising, there in the shower with me. With us. With me and Mandy.

“You’ve got to keep your eyes on the big picture, Timothy,” Dr. Yangstrom says. His glasses steam over. He tugs them to the end of his nose, looks back and forth between my nakedness and Mandy’s nakedness.

I’m not clear as to why it’s taking me so long to respond.

“Are you keeping your eyes on the big picture,” he asks.

“Yes sir,” I say. “But what…I mean, why…I mean, I…”

“What you need,” he says, reaching behind my head, to the shower caddy. “What you need is a little soap for that thing.”

Dr. Yangstrom lathers his palm well and reaches for that thing.

“No no no!” I say. “No no no!”

I look for an escape route. I pull the dripping shower curtain aside. Go to step out. But can’t. My way is blocked.

“Hey Timbo!” they say. They being two of my mother’s elderly cohorts from the Locke Mt. Presbyterian Women’s Wednesday Morning Circle group. They with a combined age of at least a hundred and sixty years.

“Jesus Christ!” I say.

“Watch your mouth, Timbo,” Mrs. Brackett says, fiddling with her girdle.

“I thought you were dead,” I say to the other, who I only ever knew as Boots.

“Oh, don’t you worry yourself about that,” Boots says to me, her eyes verily sparking. “Would you look at that little Johnson, Myrt! Isn’t it the cutest little nubby you ever saw…”

Then Boots, and Myrtle Brackett, and Dr. Yangstrom all reach, for my nubby. And I’m trapped. I need help. I call out for help.

“Mandy!” I shriek. I fight back. I sit up, pulling the covers off Mallory.

“I mean…Mallory,” I say.

My heart pounds. And I’m a little dizzy. If I’m lucky it’s a heart attack.

Mallory is my wife, sleeping there, on her side, with her back to me. I love that she sleeps in my boxers. She makes the cutest little fart and mumbles something about being cold. I’m confused, but I am also really, ridiculously, aroused, and I pull the covers a little lower.

“I had a dream,” I say, resisting the urge to put my cold hand on Mallory’s thigh.

“Good for you,” she says, sleepily, and pulls the quilt up to her chin.

I give it a few minutes and pull it back down.

“I had a dream,” I say again, then very slowly ease the palm of my hand along the curve of her buttocks. She doesn’t respond, so I wiggle my fingers.

“Timmy! Cut it out…I’m…what time is it?”

I look out the window, see the gigantic illuminated star on the side of Locke Mountain. I hate that mountain.

“Christmas time,” I say. I love that mountain. “Hey, does Mandy have a tattoo? A spider?”


“Never mind,” I say. “Are you ovulating?” Her scent intoxicates.

She scoots away, draws the blanket tight.

“It’s happening,” I say. “Just like they said it would.”

Mallory mumbles something. I take it as encouragement.

“The sex goes after seven years,” I say. “Just dries up.”

I think Mallory is snoring.

“I know a guy…he’s been married seven years… says he only gets blowjobs on Father’s Day and his birthday. Occasionally he can upgrade to a fancy one, but his wife won’t do anything if either day falls on Sunday…”

Mallory mumbles that Father’s Day is always on Sunday.

“Exactly,” I say.

Mallory snores. The dog jumps onto the bed.

“Get down, Scooter!” I semi-whisper and kick my feet under the covers.

“What guy?” Mallory mumbles.

“I thought you were asleep,” I say.

“I am,” she says, digging at a little eye booger with her fingertip. “What guy?”

“This guy I work with.”

“You work with idiots,” Mallory says. “I’m sure they all have blowjob deficits.”

It’s true. I manage 2nd shift at the Hobby Lobby. I spend most of my time in the frame shop, trying to square up corners. It’s harder than you might think.

“Deeter,” I say, and try to work my hand down over Mallory’s breast. Deeter stocks the artificial flowers.

“Isn’t Deeter the guy who tried to breed show-guppies in his basement?” Mallory asks, moving my hand. “Lost all his money?”

“Maybe, but…”

“Would you want that thing in your mouth?”

I lay back on my pillow, to reconnoiter. Through the monitor I hear our daughter, Lacy, talking in her sleep. She’s in the next room. She sounds so far away. I reach over my wife, take the monitor, tap at the buttons until the tiny screen illuminates. And there is Lacy, glowing in a blue-green light, rendered in an inch-by-inch and a half image. Breathing her tiny, mucus-y, toddler breaths. And, Lacy sometimes sleeps with her eyes open. It’s like she’s looking at me. Taunting me. Daring me to parent.

Can you do it?

Are you man enough?

In this particular moment, the chasm is too wide. I thumb the volume down. I turn the monitor over on the nightstand. I prop on my elbow and look at Mallory’s beautiful ear. The cartilage makes the shape of a question mark.

“Remember Miss Plinker?” I ask, softly.

Mallory doesn’t stir.

We met in Miss Plinker’s Creative Writing class.

“Remember that poem she made us read?”

Miss Plinker was the campus Feminist. She had a razorblade tattooed on her wrist.

“That poem where the husband ‘lovingly’ took the pregnant wife’s hemorrhoids into his mouth? I think he ‘soothed the delicate fruit’, or something.

“Arrghhhh…” Mallory says, covering her head with the quilt. She emerges a second later.

“Timmy, are you trying to start a fight?”

“No,” I say, with some calculated emphasis. “But…”

She bites, eventually.

“But what?”

“Didn’t your therapist tell you it took longer to fellate than to fight?”

Mallory rolls over to face me. It’s unclear whether I’m going to get lucky or get my eyes gouged out.

“You read that in Cosmopolitan Magazine, Tim, in the lobby of Jiffy Lube, while you were waiting to get the oil changed. And, I’m not going to suck you off before the sun comes up. And, I certainly don’t remember anything about that disgusting poem. Will you please go back to sleep? Or at least let me…”

“You’re lying,” I say. “You do remember that poem. We talked about it on our first date. We both pretended to be grossed out. But…”

She bites, again.

“But what?”

“I always thought it was kind of sweet, what he did. And a little bit hot.”

Mallory shakes her head gently. Rubs her face. I’m used to this response by now.

“You don’t talk to those morons at Hobby Lobby about us do you?” she asks. “Please tell me they don’t know the details of our life…”

“Of course not,” I say. “Not really. Not much. I mean, not many. I mean, no. I don’t.”

It’s too dark to gauge the look on Mallory’s face. But then she reaches out and turns on her lamp. She looks at me.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I forgot what day it is.”

It’s my turn to roll over and cover up.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say.

Mallory sidles close, pulls her tee shirt up so that we can have skin to skin contact, and spoons into me. She waits. She knows to wait.

“Are we sure about this?” I finally ask.

You have to be sure,” she says.

Through the window, I see daylight begin to creep over Locke Mountain. I pull Mallory’s arm against my chest.

“What if something goes wrong?”

“Like what? He does these all the time? He’s probably done thousands.”

My hand is atop Mallory’s. I feel my heartbeat through her skin, muscle, and bone.

“What if there’s a fly in the operating room? What if it lands on the open cut? You know they puke wherever they land…”

“Shhh…” Mallory is trying not to laugh.

“It’s okay to be scared,” Mallory says.

“I’m not scared,” I say.

“It’s okay to be whatever you are.”

I move Mallory’s hand down my belly. She doesn’t resist.

“What if he slips and cuts the whole thing off?” I ask.

“I’ll love you anyway,” she says. “I’d make a good lesbian.”

Scooter jumps back onto the bed, comes snuffling up between us.

“Damn it, Scooter!” I say, a little too loudly. Lacy stirs and mumbles.

“What if…” I say.

Mallory bites.

“What if what?”

“What if something else happens?”

Mallory props up on her elbow to look at me.

“What do you mean?” she asks.

I go soft in her hand.

“What if…” I struggle to get it out. “Lacy…Lacy is our only child. There’re vaccinations. There’s kindergarten and elementary school. There is night and day, for years to come. There’s high school and driver’s Ed and frat parties and drugs and…”

“Shhh…” Mallory says, trying to be strong, but she rolls onto her back, looks up at the ceiling. The vast white space is broken by the three black blades of a ceiling fan that is way too big for the room. I insisted on buying it, and hung it myself, following one of our first epic arguments.

“What are you saying, Tim? Do you want another kid?”

“No. I don’t know. I’m not sure. I mean…I’d like some assurance…some insurance…what if something happens? Do you want another kid?”

Mallory doesn’t answer.

“What if we do this, then…you could change your mind, I mean…it could be something as simple as that…”

“Well,” Mallory says. “It’s reversible, right? The doctor said so.”

“It’s not so easy. Not certain. And, besides, I’m getting older. And besides…”

I couldn’t think of another besides. I look around our bedroom. There are pictures all over the walls. I think I’ve framed every crayon scribble Lacy has produced. My favorite is a purple monkey-looking thing, wearing a red skirt-looking thing, wielding an enormous chicken-leg-looking thing.

“That’s you, Papa,” she said. “Playing a banjo.”

I know Mallory is ovulating.

“You smell good,” I say.

She reaches out and squeezes my arm. I think she’s crying. Just a little bit.

“What if something happened, Mal? What if…”

“Shh,” she says. “What time is the appointment?”

“Eight,” I say. “We have to be there at eight. Which means we drop Lacy at daycare early.”

“Nothing is going to happen, Tim,” Mallory says. She rolls over to look at the clock. “It’s time to get up.”

She eases the covers off of both of us. Despite my worries, I’m hard again.

“Nothing is going to happen, Tim. Not to you. Not to Lacy. And, besides, we only have two bedrooms. We can’t afford to move. And… you can’t just jump into a decision like that. And…nothing is going to happen.”

Scooter scratches at the door. He wants out. He barks the I want breakfast bark.

Mallory sits on the edge of the bed. We hear Lacy cough, then yawn. Mallory looks at the monitor, like it’s an oracle or something. Her red hair is crazy. The imprint of our lace bedspread is pressed into the flesh of her triceps. I take a deep breath and stand, steady myself against the dresser and wiggle into my slippers. Scooter makes that little whiney noise, like he’s trying to keep a secret. Mallory stands as I come around the bed. We hear Lacy’s bed squeak. We hear those heartbreakingly soft footsteps. Mallory reaches for the doorknob. Her back is to me. I rub my face with both hands, waiting for her to open the door. But when I take my hands away I see that Mallory has pulled the boxers down to her ankles. Lacy wiggles the doorknob from the other side. Mallory steps out of the underwear, steps back a little, spreads her legs a little.

I blink. I’m dreaming again, right?

“Come on, Timmy,” she whispers. “Hurry…”

Mallory arches her back and the stunning white globes of her behind rise.

“Mama?” Lacy says, sleepily. “I can’t get the door open.”

“Come on, Timmy…”

So I do. I enter my wife, and nothing in the world could stop the sigh that escapes my lips.

“Papa? Mama? What’s happening?”

I lean into Mallory. Mallory leans into the door, holds tight to the knob. Scooter barks again.

“Nothing’s happening, honey,” Mallory says, though the thin wood panel. “Nothing’s going to happen. Everything’s gonna be alright.”



Steven Sherrill