The Prick Garden | Jake Zucker

4 mins read

On the beach just by the power plant, Brett told us about the Prick Garden: “There’s a rabbi,” he said, “just back in the woods. He buries foreskins in his yard. Bris.” Foreskin monuments hidden underground like buildings, grave plots. The word brisses caught in our mouths like masks, and in our canoes Derek asked us, “Why do they do it?” “We do it too,” I said. “But we don’t make a thing of it. We don’t bury them,” Derek said. “Foreskins block pregnancy,” Brett said. “They don’t block pregnancy,” someone said, “but they’re bad luck so we cut them out like tonsils.” “Where’s yours?” Andi asked. She pointed to our groins, one by one by one, and Brett said “The hospital took them for good.” Then Jeffrey paddled off in the canoe he shared with Andi, nearer to the plant, and Brett asked what we thought they did out there beyond the curve of our gaze. “Good deeds. Clean, righteous acts,” I said. The blade of Brett’s oar dripped a path behind us, plunks like nuke clouds. His father’s red-frame sunglasses stuck out far to the left and right of his eyeballs, silver-hinged. “Bury the skins and they pop back up as apple trees,” Brett said, “full of snakes to tempt us. That’s what my dad says they do.” We bowlined our fleet at the rabbi’s dock and with branches torn from his trees we poked the mowed ground behind his red-shingled house. Under the short grass: nothing. Under the picnic table: nothing. No monuments or even fresh-dug earth. “Why did we do that?” Brett asked—canoeing home again. “What if they’d been home?” he asked, paddling his blade now, faster. He plucked his glasses off his face and threw them at me. “We should be able to tell from our bodies who’s not like us. Our bodies should be different to look at,” he said. And when, some time later, starving, we sharpened our nails to claws, we braided our dead neighbors’ hair into rope, we filed our incisors so as to open nonperishable cans. We didn’t leave, didn’t cut our nails. Papers and patches, we burned. What didn’t warm us, we burned. We burned boats, we burned oars, turned sails into tent walls and rough blankets. With the rabbi and his wife gone, I dug their backyard—for medicine, I said, I told myself. But with no medicine to find I dug for skin. Skin. Flat rocks for building, networks of pipes. Skin. They—not us—had the power, we snarled. Dirt under my nails that I’d wash out in our sickly lake. Fingers cutting through dead leaves and roots, though it was Spring. And the skin called from underground and whispered to me: Here, have mine, have mine.

Jake Zucker teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts. His stories have appeared in West Branch and Iron Horse Literary Review, and he is at work on a novel about cross-country running and white-collar crime.