The whole thing from last week with the image of Prof. Dalton on the balcony merging into an image of Spinoza holding forth from an apartment in Old Jewish West Palm Beach — there’s a story there, but I’ll save it.

 

It was what I was going to tell before this old guy’s intestine crept out his side and a whole more vivid lore sprung up around that.

 

All the papers reporting on the event used the phrase “crept out” as if by some consensus designed to euphemize what must, in reality, have been fraught with a kind of genuine violence (I mean, the thing had to’ve broken the guy’s side-skin somehow), and to express the obvious: that it crept them — and us — out as well.

 

So there he is, a retired tractor mechanic named Murph, pushing 80, sitting in a lawn chair in the center of town with a good two feet of intestine pouring out his left side, submerged in a bath of saltwater on a foldout table beside him.

 

He came in around sunup one morning, straight into the Country Doctor’s home office, the length of intestine bunched up in a pizza box under his jacket. Woke the Dr. up, asked to go out back with him, under a drainpipe, someplace private, then popped open the box and laid out what the situation was.

 

“I see,” said the Country Doctor, coughing into the handkerchief he habitually coughed into.

 

He reportedly went on to say, “I know just what to do,” but the reports either go cold or diverge there … and now here Murph is, propped in the square with his intestine in saltwater, a long line of people stretching away from him.

 

I think there was a day — at least a morning — when Murph got to sit there alone, practicing breathing, fingering the hole in his side, trying to get used to the pain and the texture, plaintively squeezing out shit onto the cobblestones.

 

BEFORE the first Sipper showed up.

 

Maybe it was only an hour. Certainly by the time I’d heard about it and went down there to check it out, the line was long.

 

People were taking turns leaning in, hoisting the intestine out of its saltwater, moistening their lips, and sticking it into their mouths, sucking out whatever they could get.

 

Murph looked glazed and absent after the first few Sippers had taken their turns, like once it’d been purged of whatever physical shit was present in its tract his body had gone on to offer up deeper and more vital things, closer to the core that was keeping it afoot.

 

Of course this only attracted Sippers on a grander scale: the Shit Sipper may be a rare breed, but the Vitality Sipper is nearly everyone.

 

Even kids were lining up, jockeying to go first, stuffing the intestine down their throats and trying to siphon as much as they could get, like Murph was some kind of animal gas pump.

 

You start to see men and women taking victory laps around the square after they’ve sucked their share, showing off their juiced muscles and looking like they feel ten years younger.

 

*****

It wasn’t long until a couple of Barkers showed up and started charging.

 

Whatever flux Dodge City may be subject to, the nearness of willing Barkers is never in question.

 

So there they were and by the time I’d waited my turn tickets had leveled off at $35 and the intestine was pretty clearly tapped out. Murph lolled, or canted, to the right, away from the intestine, like his body wanted to separate what was left of itself from the mouths that’d been sucking it dry.

 

I paid up and stepped past the rope the Barkers had set up, inside the place where it would happen.

 

I did a kind of bellydance as several waves of nausea rocked me, one after the other, causing me to retch but not quite spew. I wiped my lips on my collar, then nodded that I was ready.

 

One of the Barkers hoisted the intestine out of its brine, shook the end to dry it off, and handed it over to me. I looked at it, greenish blue and bloody at the end where hundreds of teeth had been at it.

 

I lick my lips, breathe out through my nose, and stuff it in my mouth.

 

Rubbery as I’d feared, but no worse. Like a tough marinated mushroom. It tastes silty, like underwater dirt and pebbles, like this frog I chewed on sometimes when I was a kid.

 

I breathe in, trying to get a feed going. Nothing but gas comes out. I work its end with my teeth. Murph’s groans sound far away. I may be dizzier than I think I am.

 

I try once more, suck down more gas, swampy as a hot spring, and then the Barkers yell Time!

 

*****

That someone would sooner or later fuck the intestine is a given.

 

When someone finally does, it’s almost perfunctory, like he’s only doing it because no one else has and someone’s got to.

 

That said, though, he’s not your ordinary dude. To pick him out of a largish crowd of men most likely to fuck an exposed intestine would not be a tremendously difficult feat of discernment.

 

Ten or twelve miles out of town there’s a wide, marshy expanse known to farmers as Matthew Stokoe’s Mind, a fishy stew of acts and images of undeniable fecundity but debatable salubriousness. Nevertheless, there are those farmers who plant and harvest there, especially sugar beets and cabbage, and have been doing so for generations, to their apparent profit and everyone else’s obvious disgust.

 

Produce at the supermarket is supposed to be marked with a special sticker when it comes from Matthew Stokoe’s Mind, but regulations have loosened in recent years.

 

Sometime in the night, in possible homage to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a man rises from it, covered in steam, bile, slime, and — Stokoe’s favorite word — glit.

 

Scraping it off his body, fully naked, he stomps into town, appearing in the square just after noon on the third day of Murph’s story.

 

He approaches the Barkers, hard-on in hand like a credential, and is let through with no request for payment.

 

Everyone is a bit dazed today, weary from the fumes that are basically all that’s left in Murph’s intestine, but Stokoe Drifter’s appearance grabs and holds our attention.

 

He steps right up to it, hoisting it out of its saltwater, and stretches it open and closed a few times. Murph rolls his head in the direction of what’s happening but manages no legible reaction.

 

Stokoe Drifter yawns, then stretches the intestine end even wider and fits it around the end of his cock, working it snug while standing still, rather than holding it still and pushing in.

 

It takes a moment, but soon the material of the intestine appears to be growing straight out of his groin.

 

He yawns again, apparently only somewhat invested in what he’s doing. He moves back and forth, one hand holding the intestine to keep the seal from breaking.

 

When he comes he yawns again, rocking on his heels for a few moments.

 

Then, still synced up, he stands on his tiptoes and angles the intestine downward, to make sure all the come flows down into it rather than spilling out on the ground when he disconnects.

 

*****

After Stokoe Drifter’s departure, the intestine left hanging on the cobblestones rather than placed back in its brine bath, none of us has a next move planned.

 

We kind of disperse, like we need to take some time.

 

*****

BUT it’s not over.

 

No one wants to touch or go near Murph; I think we all (I know I do) hope he’ll just die.

 

But that’s not what goes down. What goes down is, after a day, a little nubbin, like a bulb, starts to grow at the end of the intestine. It caps it off, closing the aperture.

 

This growth seems to bring him back to life, and, by noon the second day, he’s calling out for burgers and fries in a voice loud and clear enough that no one in downtown Dodge City can legitimately claim to be unable to hear him.

 

So burgers and fries, and a case of beers and a bag of Peanut Butter cups, are brought down and placed within Murph’s reach, behind the ropes that the Barkers set up and never took down.

 

No one can ignore the fact that the end of the intestine has gone head-shaped.

 

Murph gorges on fat and carbs and, mouth full, bellows for more, which he gets.

 

We all stand pretty still for several days as the head at the end of the intestine swells further, growing an ass and a torso, and protruding out into what no one can deny look a lot like arms and legs, then even fingers and toes.

 

The consistency of the intestine is changing too, going whitish and reddish, losing its blue-green hue. The growth on the end shifts around so that its head is now free and the point of connection is at its belly.

 

I wasn’t going to be the first to drop the word PLACENTA, but soon it’s out.

 

This goes on another day, a pile of burger and candy wrappers and beer cans surrounding Murph where he sits, the baby growing and growing, eating its way closer to him.

 

There’s a poignant moment near the end where Murph turns his head (which had been averted all this time) to stare at the baby face-to-face, recognizing that baby’s face for the first time. It’s as if the baby is his own self reiterated, a guest born from the energy of its host’s death.

 

*****

WHAT DO THINGS leave when they’re over?

 

In this case, a baby bawling in a mass of spent placenta atop its dead parent.

 

Someone dons a couple of gloves and steps in to extract it.

 

Dodge City has its newest citizen. We huddle around and gape. Questions of naming and foster care can’t be far off, but they haven’t hit us yet.

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