by Michael C. Keith
That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause,
transform ourselves into beasts. — Shakespeare
It’s a good morning when your ass isn’t bleeding, thought Barry Suskind as he checked the toilet tissue. It had been six months since he had received experimental radiation treatment for a gastric tumor, and the bleeding was not entirely gone as his doctor had promised. Compounding his concern was a growth he had recently discovered on the rim of his anus. At first it felt like a pimple, but with each passing day it grew to where he began to feel that his boxers were knotted between his buttocks.
A trip to the doctor resulted in Barry having to apply a thick salve to the problem area three times a day. After a couple of weeks the growth had shrunk to where it no longer required Barry to walk like a bronco rider. Then he located another growth, but this time it was in his left armpit. Figuring the prescribed butt ointment would shrink his new lump, he applied it to the trouble spot several times a day as well. But after a week it was twice as large, making it obvious the balm was not working, and he called for an appointment with his doctor, fearing the worst.
“Don’t really know what you got growing there. Better see a skin specialist,” advised his primary care physician.
“Is it cancer?” Barry asked with trepidation.
“Doesn’t look like it, but you better get it checked out by a dermatologist. It’s very unusual-looking, kind of like a huge raspberry. It might be some kind of fungus. You been in the tropics since I saw you last?” asked the doctor, his nose inches from Barry’s vexing gob.
His appointment with the skin expert was scheduled for the following Monday. By then the accruing growth forced Barry to keep his left arm away from his body so as not to press against it. While it was not painful, he was squeamish about making contact with it and fearful it might suddenly pop covering him and everything around him with whatever it held.
“Wow, that’s a whopper you got there, Mr. Suskind. Let’s have a closer look,” remarked the dermatologist, poking at the fleshy bulge with a cotton swab. “I’d take a tissue sample, but I’m afraid you might bleed out. We need to reduce it a bit before a biopsy, so I’ll write you a prescription that should help in that department.”
Barry fretted over the word biopsy. Wasn’t it a term always associated with cancer, he wondered, his anxiety growing. He took the pills as prescribed, but after another week the growth was the size of a soccer ball. Then, as the date of the tryouts for Instant Stars that he had eagerly, if not desperately, awaited was finally announced, fortune took a very positive turn for Barry.
In five days he would have to give the singing performance of his life in order to be selected as a contestant on the Celebrity Network’s most popular show. Barry had been certain his rise to fame would begin once the judges heard his trained tenor’s voice, but now he felt the opportunity would be lost due to his bizarre condition.
As days passed and his tumor grew, he decided to make the audition after all. It was too precious a chance to forfeit, and he knew he would regret doing so. If necessary, he would be up front about his growth, and that might even help his chances of being selected, he reasoned, although he did not want a sympathy vote. He was determined to succeed on the basis of his estimable ability, not because of his disfigurement.
By the day of the audition, a third of his upper torso was covered by the growth and Barry was in a quandary as to what to wear. In the end, the only thing that would cover it was a bedspread, so he wrapped it around him and set out for the audition. It took a great deal of effort to get his irregularly shaped body behind the steering wheel, but after several maneuvers worthy of a contortionist, he succeeded and drove to the mall where the auditions were to take place.
The line for the tryouts went the length of the mall and Barry took up his position at the end of it. Some of those queued up gave him curious looks, but he ignored them, keeping his thoughts fixed on the prize that lay ahead. Hours passed before he stood in front of the judges and after he gave his name one of them asked about his strange wardrobe.
“Well, sir, it’s all I could find to cover my growth,” replied Barry.
“Growth?” responded the judge.
“Yes sir,” said Barry, unwrapping the bedspread and revealing his off-putting infirmity.
All three judges winced at the sight of it, and the only female on the panel turned her head away as if about to lose her lunch.
“What is that, Mr. Suskind? Some kind of cancer or leprosy?” queried the woman, returning to face Barry.
“I’m not sure. We don’t know yet,” answered Barry, fearing he would be eliminated from the competition before even performing.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Suskind. You don’t have to answer that question. It’s courageous of you to even be here. Are you able to perform?” asked another judge, who appeared to be in charge.
“Absolutely,” responded Barry, thrilled he would be able to show the panel what he could do.
He rewrapped the floral bedspread around his body and took a long, deep breath. He then proceeded to give a bravura performance of “Greensleeves,” which prompted a standing ovation from the panel.
“Bravo, Mr. Suskind! That certainly earns you a place in the finals next week,” said the lead judge.
“Thank you, sir. I’ll be there,” said Barry attempting a bow but finding he was unable to bend.
It turned out the final audition was scheduled the same time as his doctor’s appointment, so Barry chose to forgo medical attention in preference for a chance at stardom. Again, he performed brilliantly, winning a spot on the season premiere of Instant Stars to be aired in two weeks’ time.
“You amaze us, Mr. Suskind. Anybody who is going through what you clearly are is already a winner. Where do you get such courage?” asked comedian Ronny Blanche, a guest judge on the first broadcast.
“Well, Mr. Blanche,” replied Barry, whose voice was still strong and clear despite the fact that by now the growth had overtaken his chin and forehead, “I have a slogan, kind of a mantra, that gets me through the lows.”
“And what is that?” inquired another judge.
“It’s the latitude of your attitude,” replied Barry, and the audience cheered.
“Well, you’ve obviously got a great attitude and you’ve got a voice to match it. We’ll see you on the next show.”
While Barry waited the three days before his next appearance on Instant Stars, both his principal doctor and his dermatologist called and told him he must go to the hospital immediately. They had seen the show and were aghast at how he looked, but despite their entreaties, he declined. There was no way he was going to risk being hospitalized at such a pivotal point in his life.
“If you don’t go now there may be dire consequences,” warned his longtime doctor, and Barry promised to seek medical attention as soon as he won Instant Stars.
There was no doubt in his mind that he would win the next contest for the show, and his certainty proved correct. On the final program he performed “O Sole Mio” and brought tears to the judges’ eyes. Every newspaper around the country ran photos of Barry holding his trophy with his only free hand, and during the days that followed he was swamped with offers to appear on talk shows. Then came an opportunity he could not resist. The Celebrity Channel offered him his very own reality show.
“We’ll follow you around as you attempt to do the things normal people do. The audience will love it,” declared the producer during a visit to Barry’s house.
“Great,” said Barry in a muffled voice because the growth now covered most of his mouth.
“Don’t worry about not being able to see. We’ll put a plug in your remaining ear and give you directions. Just leave everything to us and the show will be a big hit, okay?”
“Okay,” replied Barry from inside his fleshy cocoon.
That he was now a famous person thrilled Barry. It was everything he had ever wanted, and while he could not watch himself on television, he was fully aware that stardom and renown were his.
It was not long before Barry could not move because the rapacious neoplasm had enveloped his legs, but the director of the show connected a harness to hoist his bulbous form from room to room and that worked for a short time. Then came the point when Barry was little more than an amorphous blob barely able to communicate or move, and the network pulled the plug on the show because viewers had lost interest in watching a massive globule moved around by a crane.
Finally, Barry was taken to the hospital where he was placed in the isolation ward of the intensive care unit. For several days, doctors from all over the globe examined him and were perplexed that he remained alive.
“We know he has a pulse, but we can’t actually tell if he’s in there, because we can’t access his brain without the risk of hemorrhage,” lamented a noted neurologist, but Barry was fully aware of the attention being paid him.
Oh, I’m in here, he thought, not the least bit concerned, because within the cutaneous orb he inhabited a universe of his own making wherein he was the greatest of all entertainers.
He was happy, so very happy, when finally the giant sebaceous gland he had become exploded, washing the medical specialists surveying him in tissue and sebum.
But Barry was far from extinct because every little splattered molecule contained his essence. What had been one massive crimson membrane were now thousands of duplicated plasmatic microcosms of singing superstar.
Copyright © 2010 by Michael C. Keith