Earlier, as the ordeal unfolded, we crouched near the killer for long hours, close enough to see its awful face. Henry James believed that nearness to death makes characters more interesting, and this thought prompted me to nag at DL that I'm his character, waiting to be made interesting. I felt a spiritual retreat was required to handle the challenge properly. We were sweating anyway, so I suggested to DL that we visit and refurbish an ancient sweat lodge I had discovered in the Mojave, an assemblage of stones where for centuries men gathered to sit naked around coals to sweat and reduce themselves to an essence. I explained that only men were permitted in the sweat lodge because they had their own essence, which was not the same as a woman's essence.
DL was sold. We went to the Family Dollar Store in Pearblossom and bought food, water, charcoal briquettes, lighter fluid and matches, then we located and occupied the sweat lodge.
We sweated so long in the sweat lodge that, as noted, DL's polemics melted. Towards the end of two weeks, when it seemed that we were either to die or find ourselves, two visitors arrived. Usually in the desert I commune with beings known to my readers- various deities and my overly practical companion Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster- but the sweat lodge was for men, so the first visitor was a man who had been so real in his time that he became real again. He strode into the sweat lodge at the moment of our despair, naked, tall, muscular, young, with an ostentatious erection that seemed to broadcast his thoughts. He announced himself:
Greetings, Harry the Human! I am Standing Penis. I am a man and I have come here to reduce myself to my essence, so that I may know what a man is.
Greetings, Standing Penis!
I was in a wry mood, for a change, and asked: Is it necessary for you to have a prominent and permanent erection?
For purposes here, yes, because an erection is the essence of a man.
Really?, I pursued, That seems anti-climactic, so to speak. Is a man's essence merely to supply sperm? Is that sufficiently noble or impressive to justify all the display?
There is more to it, Harry. The essence of a man is to be excluded. His mother and his wife have sent him away, to hunt for food, to be far from home. He does not belong home. He belongs isolated, in the wilderness where no one belongs. The erection is a link to home. There are other links in his mind. He brings things from the world of his isolation back into his home.
In my culture, Standing Penis, the man's erection is considered problematical.
Yes, you have taken over the earth, both your men and women have, and now there is no distinction between home and beyond, between erection and aggression.
What will happen to us?
You will stop being men and women. Your essences will combine.
At that moment the door flap flew open and a tall, naked woman stepped in.
Weeping Vagina!, exclaimed Standing Penis, You may not enter the sweat lodge, even in these decadent times!
Greetings, Standing Penis! Do not call me "Weeping Vagina." That name was not given by my sisters, but by you. I have my own name.
I had stood, seeking some sort of courtesy or protocal, aware of my diminutive stature among these figures.
Excuse me, I'm Harry the Human, I stammered. How shall I address you?
Of course, Harry, we know you, she said. My name is Waiting Vagina. Turning to Standing Penis, she continued, Were you not saying as I entered that the essences of men and women will now combine?
Yes, Waiting Vagina, I was saying that, yet I was hoping for a moment from the past....
Waiting Vagina joined us to sit around the smouldering coals. Our bodies glistened with rivers of sweat. She continued, looking wistfully into the steamy red circle:
It is no joy for me to give up my female essence. We die in here today. When our essences combine, we will be neither male nor female any more.
We were silent for a few moments.
I asked, When we combine in here, will the entire human race outside die, all the men and women, no longer men and women?
It has already happened, Waiting Vagina said, Men are killing women for excluding them from the earth, not knowing that women are excluded too. Women are killing men for not staying excluded, for coming home, not knowing there is no home.
Standing Penis stared into the coals.
Suddenly DL called out from within me, My polemics! How can I be right and others wrong now? At the least, I should know that my politics are right, my view of human life is right, my interpretation of history is right, my way of expressing myself is right. Right?
Waiting Vagina and Standing Penis chuckled softly. It was reassuring to sense a unity between them.
I asked, Waiting Vagina, what is the meaning of your name?
Harry, she answered, I am waiting to be the type of the new human brain.
What will this brain be like?
It will wait. It will not think it knows. It will know only that it does not know.
What's the point of that? I had to ask, and Standing Penis added an approving grunt. Don't forget, Waiting Vagina, that people are moving into outer space. There is still this excluded zone, where men will go when the women expel them from earth.
Yes, Waiting Vagina conceded, you will use the emptiness of space so that some among you can resurrect the old feelings, but you will die anew on each celestial body, as you replay earth again and again, with the same result each time.
Then the face of the covid death appeared in the coals. The rivers of our sweat carried us into the death, and we merged. There were no more men or women. There was no more right or wrong. But there were still people. The people had minds, and their minds were quiet.