Tales of the Asp: The Asp's Miraculous Foreskin, by Aidan Butler

     A young boy was brought to Beth Olah hospital slightly after two A.M. by a woman who claimed repeatedly to be his mother yet clearly belonged to a different race than the child.

     The woman -- speaking feverishly, her words clustered ungrammatically, verbiage spewing from her mouth like smoke from a burning toaster oven -- said that she had given birth to the boy at City Hospital several hours earlier, but that for reasons unknown to her security guards expelled her from the building before the boy was circumcised.

     The receptionist at Beth Olah telephoned security at City to find out if there had been a kidnapping. A careful inventory was made of the pediatrics ward; there was no indication of any children missing. The receptionist asked if the woman -- who claimed her name was Taliya Stein -- was on record as having given birth at City. No records indicated she had ever been admitted there.

     Nevertheless, Ms. Stein convinced a doctor at Beth Olah -- despite the inconsistencies in her story and her obvious attempts to conceal the boy's origins -- that the circumcision must be performed: the operation had grave religious significance, and a mother's follies, delinquencies or -- heaven forbid -- crimes should not be allowed to destroy a child's purity in the sight of God.

     The doctor dutifully performed the circumcision while the putative mother sat on a chair in the operating room. She asked him increasingly strange questions about the his scalpel and the experience of wielding it.

     How often did he wash it?

     Did he consider it a symbol of his own virility?

     Did he ever take the scalpel home with him to show his wife and children? If so, did he ever use it to cut his food with at dinner?

     Did he ever wish his scalpel was a bit more stylish, more decorative? Like a miniature Samurai sword, perhaps, with abalone inlays or a painted handle?

     Did he ever imagine that the little boys' foreskins were enemy troops, rushing towards him across a muddy, reeking battlefield with weapons drawn?

     Did he ever take his scalpel out between appointments and just sit with it at his desk, holding it, gazing at it, talking to it?

     Did he think his scalpels gained magical power with each circumcision he performed?

     Had he ever missed and severely injured a baby? Castrating it, for example?

     Had he ever missed, and accidentally cut a girl somehow? If so, how?

     Had he ever tried performing a circumcision while blind-folded, just for the hell of it?

     Had he ever considered lining up many baby boys in an attempt to set a circumcision speed record?

     Did he collect the removed foreskins and freeze them, to be able to one day make clones of the men?

     The doctor became increasingly impatient with the woman and her bizarre questions. When he completed the circumcision, he stormed out of the operating room and proceeded to a private doctor's lounge on another floor. There he lit a cigarette, poured himself some bourbon, and stared at the television set. Someone had turned the volume down, but the doctor couldn't locate the remote control and was too lazy to walk over to the set. On the screen, three black women were making puppets out of dough and berries, then ripping them apart; then making puppets out of brown paper bags, and setting them on fire; then making puppets out of raw meat and throwing them at each other.

     The lounge intercom buzzed; the nurse from pediatrics was speaking slowly, exaggeratedly careful with her words, hinting at some unspecified urgency. In the background the doctor heard Ms. Stein saying the same words over and over: "He was fakin' it; he was fakin' it."

     When the doctor strode from the elevator -- his vision softened by the bourbon -- the receptionist silently gestured toward the operating room where he had performed the circumcision.

     Ms. Stein was standing beside the table where the baby lay once more.

     "It grew back, Doc, it grew back."


     "His thing-skin grew back on."

     The doctor looked down at the baby and, yes, the boy had regenerated his foreskin. To be sure the mother hadn't performed some sort of trick, hadn't glued the skin back on, the doctor tugged at it firmly. It did not snap off. The doctor stared down at the baby, who seemed to smile back ever so slightly.

     "This is highly unusual, Ma'am. I'll have to perform a second circumcision on your son."

     This time the doctor insisted that the woman remain silent so that he could concentrate. Ignoring him, she suggested that he try a larger scalpel -- perhaps borrow a carving knife from the cafeteria. The doctor assured her his success had nothing to do with the nature of the surgical instrument.

     Slowly, cautiously, meditatively, the doctor re-circumcised the baby. He carefully disinfected the baby once again, and washed his scalpel. Its fresh blade gleamed under the fluorescent light as he polished it dry.



     "You didn't cut it."

     "What? No, I cut it."


     The doctor followed the woman's gaze to the baby.

     "My God."

     "It growed back again, Doc! It's like a fuckin' leech!"

     The woman began babbling: She wondered if the doctor could make this happen repeatedly, because then she could sell the foreskins to Italian restaurants, which could deep fry them in batter and sell them as squid-rings.

     "What if he start growin' them skin-tips on his fingers, too?"

     While the strange woman rambled, the doctor glared at the baby. Its eyes were shut, its body completely peaceful as its foreskin slowly grew longer, and longer, like a pale, peach-colored, slender hose uncoiling from some hollow space in the baby's gut. The doctor felt his throat constrict with rage; his hand, once again gripping his scalpel, trembled; he fought the urge to lean over and cut the baby's eyelids off, then point his blade at boy's foreskin and yell at him: "How the hell do you explain that? What is WRONG with you, you ghastly little sinner? What sort of demon lies your heart, that you can defy nature in this sickening way, that you resist the sacred rite or circumcision?"

     But instead of acting, the doctor stared silently at the telescoping foreskin, confused, defeated, hopeless. The doctor's head sank with shame, as if he felt somehow to blame for this obscene abnormality.

     When the foreskin reached two feet long, it began moving as if with an independent life-force of its own: it flopped against the operation table, rose up in an arch, poked at the baby's face, then flopped back down on the cushion to rest.

     Then it sucked in air, and inflated a balloon. After a moment it spewed out the air, shaping its opening in such a way as to make a slender piece of skin vibrate. The result was a remarkably pleasant and melodic whistle. The foreskin inhaled again, and once again piped out a brief, rather enchanting melody.

     The woman was silent. Confused, perhaps. The doctor's hands trembled so violently that he accidentally poked himself in the leg with his gleaming scalpel. And that's when he got the idea to murder the child.

     Clearly this grotesque baby, with his obscure origins, was the warrior-offspring of the devil, or some revolting earth-demon. Clearly it would constitute a public danger to allow the viper-like foreskin to continue to grow and create music. After all, what sinister messages might its tunes conceal? What hypnotic powers might its alien melodies wield over innocent listeners? The doctor shuddered, envisioning the massive popular appeal and -- perhaps -- political influence a rock-star foreskin might have in America.

     Gritting his teeth, his eyes flashing wide, the doctor lunged at the baby with his scalpel. But his assault was not quick enough: with lightning speed the foreskin coiled up like a snake, shot out with the force of a titanium spring, and circled three times around the doctor's neck.

     As the doctor's eyes bulged, turned red from their bursting blood-vessels, as his lungs exploded inside his chest, all of the foreskins the doctor had cut flashed before his mind's crystal eye, and -- unable to take another breath -- the doctor died before he could count them.

     Backing away from the operating table, Ms. Stein mopped sweat from her forehead. For a moment she stammered incoherently, then excused herself as politely as she could. Without looking again at the foreskin she retreated into the hallway. She bolted toward the elevator, raced into the street, and never touched a baby again.

     Meanwhile the Asp's miraculous foreskin was playing with more sounds. Not just musical sounds -- pitches, durational notes, tone-coloring -- but also alphabetic sounds: vowels, consonants.

     The nurse at the reception desk was still staring at the closed door of the elevator the crazed woman had launched into a couple of minutes earlier. It was late at night and the ward was deserted. The nurse's eyes fell shut against her will. On the slippery threshold of unconsciousness she shook herself awake, determined to not fall asleep. As she reached for the drawer where she kept her methamphetamines, she looked up suddenly: she heard a voice from inside the operating room where the doctor had performed the circumcision. But it wasn't the doctor's voice; it wasn't a voice she recognized at all.

     "Nurse!" It called to her in a clear, high-pitched, pure tone, yet a slightly anxious one. "Please come to me," it said, "I... I have something for you."

Tales of the Asp
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