The man with the musical penis sat in the café, a newspaper folded over his lap as he absently stirred a cup of coffee that had long since grown cold. Even a casual observer would have been struck by the weariness evident in the slump of his shoulders. For he was tired: tired of his organ’s propensity to announce even its faintest stirrings with a note, a whistle or even, if the excitement proved more sustained, a flurry of drums.
Clinks, clanks, whistles, whines, dings and especially dongs: his disobedient manhood had a ringtone for every occasion. And for every occasion he had an excuse:
“I’m so sorry, I forgot to turn off my phone.” or
“I didn’t know you could hear the church from here.” or
“Oh dear – I think I must be hungry.” or
“Isn’t it a bit late in the year for an ice-cream van?”
Medicine had no answers. The white-coats had struggled to maintain their composure, while he had found it hard to attain tumescence before their professionally concerned faces. The result was a few subdued, but nonetheless inexplicable, parps and toots. Declining more intrusive clinical examination, he was referred to the shrinks: but since the trouble was manifestly not in his mind, they made little headway in getting to grips with the problem of his root. The noises were real: and so was the embarrassment they caused.
He recalled, with a wince, the time that he had found himself staring thirty degrees south of a client’s face, lost for a few moments in the maze of pale freckles diving into her cleavage, and his nether regions had announced his distraction with a resonant and enduring bong. The formality of the meeting had fractured as everyone around the long conference table had looked at each other in bemusement. He had struggled to maintain his impassive expression; she had been momentarily flustered but moved on quickly; and so the moment had passed. But they lost the client soon after.
Others would have taken to the stage, run away to the circus, lost themselves amid red lights: but that wasn’t his style. Some men are born to freakishness; others have freakishness thrust upon them. But not all carry the burden easily, and the man with the musical penis was, somewhat to his regret, one of life’s shy and retiring types. He wished that he were suave enough to casually acknowledge and even exploit his rare talent; but he simply could not condone the idea of tooting his flute for an audience.
And the complications of his affliction extended to grave implications for his affections. It is difficult to win a woman’s trust when you are continually stifling your genitals. Even if she did not realise that the sound was emanating from his groin – which was not, after all, an explanation that leapt naturally to mind – his inability to relax came over as shiftiness, and thence to reluctant pecks on the cheek and unacknowledged answer-phone messages.
But even those failures were perhaps preferable to the rare occasions on which he had managed to persuade a woman to come back to his place. He knew that he should really own up to his peculiar proclivity, hope that she would find it amusing – or even, in his wildest dreams, charming. After all, people rejoiced in all manner of sexual peccadilloes: surely sound-tracking the third act was an entirely forgivable quirk.
In the event, however, he had never plucked up the nerve to confess. Instead, he played music on the stereo, hoping it would drown out his own impromptu sounds of passion. But since he never knew whether to expect a protracted trumpet solo, a pealing glockenspiel or the plaintive tones of an accordion, he had few choices beyond loud, experimental jazz: and since even fewer of his few dates had considered this to be appropriate mood music, things had generally gone downhill from there.
In fact, he had only once succeeded in consummating the relationship, but it had been a miserable occasion. Why she had not noticed earlier he didn’t entirely know – too desperate or drunk to pay attention, he guessed – but his ejaculatory crescendo had rattled the windows and shaken the bed, getting her attention rather more effectively than he had thus far managed. She hadn’t stopped to ask questions, barely even pausing to get dressed. More a matter of fright than disgust, he suspected, but either way the result was that she had taken his virginity and left him nothing but his ringing ears and a damp patch for company.
Since then, he had become increasingly resigned to his fate. He had tried to meet deaf women, but they found his signing incompetent and his eagerness creepy. He had tried to soundproof his pants, but the resulting bulge attracted almost as much unwelcome attention as the bagpiping it ineffectively muffled. He had even, in his desperation, tried to date women he found profoundly unattractive, hoping that he might find someone to love in a sexless way. But testosterone always won out, and his penis always found fresh reasons for fanfare.
So for all that music was supposed to be the food of love, he was starving. His only hope was that the problem would lessen as he grew older and his hornpipe less jaunty. And so it was that he sat at a solitary table outside the Café de La Lune, stirring his cold coffee, wishing for a miracle. But he did not expect one to arrive: and he was astonished when it did.
“Excuse me,” said a voice: female, sweet, familiar. “David? Didn’t you used to be at Branwell Philstein?”
He looked up. It was his client, the one from that excruciating meeting two years ago. She was as pretty as he remembered her being; her top today was less revealing, but he nonetheless blushed deep at the memory. She smiled at him uncertainly.
“Kay!” he blurted. “Goodness, how delightful to see you.”
She smiled again, waited. An eternity passed as the man with the musical penis prayed that his piece would, just this once, hold its peace. And mirabile dictu, it did.
He had to say something more. She seemed to be waiting.
“Would … would you care to join me?”
“Yes, I would,” she said, her shy smile breaking into a broad grin.
She was holding a cup of takeaway coffee, so there were no formalities to be observed, no business during which he could gather his thoughts. The seconds ticked off one by one until the mass of accumulated silence became stifling. Come on, he thought, don’t chicken out now. “So where do you work now?”
“Philip James Associates,” she said off-handedly. Distractedly. Damn, he thought, boring question. You’re blowing this. As usual. But small mercies: at least the rapid dampening of his libido was discouraging his trousers from making themselves heard. The silence loomed large once more.
“David,” she said abruptly. “I hope you don’t think this is forward, but I saw you sitting here and I just had to ask …” she trailed off, blushed, fidgeted in her seat, crossed and re-crossed her legs – and as she did, he heard, ever so sweet and demure, a twinkle of delicate chimes.
He sat bolt upright, breathless with anticipation. And from his lap, there came a sparkling burst of melody, and just this once it felt not strange, or perverse, but like the most natural thing on earth, and he realised that he had answered her unspoken question. And with the gleam in her eyes, the sheen of tears of relief, she answered his.
(c) Sumit Dam 2009
Sumit Dam lives, works and fails to sleep in London. He's publishing a story every week on his website: www.sumitsays.com
We got nominated, we canvassed, we voted, we hoped, we prayed. Then we went down to Oxford - along with our publishing partners Arachne Press Arachne Press - for the Sabotage Awards and came away with a gong each! We're Best Regular Spoken Word Night 2014 and Weird Lies won Best Anthology.
LL IN GUARDIAN TOP TEN
Liars' League is one of The Guardian's 10 Great Storytelling Nights, according to the paper's go-out-and-have-fun Do Something supplement, that is. And they should know. The article is here and mentions several other live lit events well worth checking out.
ARTICLE ABOUT US IN WORDSWITHJAM
Journalist Catriona Troth came along to our Twist & Turn night, reviewed it and interviewed Katy, Liam, Cliff and author/actor Carrie. See what she said in her article for WordsWithJam here.
BUY OUR AUTHORS' BOOKS!
Longtime contributors Niall Boyce, Jonathan Pinnock & Richard Smyth all have books out which you'd be well advised to buy, then read, then buy for others. All genres are catered for, from novels (Niall's Veronica Britton) and short stories (Jonathan's Dot Dash) to nonfiction (Richard's Bumfodder)
KATY LIAR'S DEBUT NOVEL
Liar Katy Darby's debut novel, a Victorian drama called The Unpierced Heart (previously titled The Whores' Asylum) is now out in Penguin paperback. It's had nice reviews in The Independent on Sunday, Sunday Times & Metro (4*).
OUR INTERVIEW WITH ANNEXE MAG!
They came, they saw, they asked us a bunch of interesting questions. Interview by Nick of Annexe Magazine with Katy of LL: here