Lou Rowan

          Men have it easier than women. Barring a stiff wind, they pull it out and let go. Their role in reproduction is limited to putting it in, and then, in 73% of the cases, observing the crescent results with appreciation and pride. They faint in delivery rooms while their mates push and scream.

 P would like to do something about these disparities, which the prevalence of prostate cancer only underscores, for its onset is later and its treatment less disfiguring than the equivalent in women's breasts. He wakes up guilty most mornings, amazed at his wife's capacity for pain and inconvenience. He has never hesitated to buy her sanitary napkins.

          His wife rarely complains. Her comments on what the media call "women's issues" are even scarcer, focusing on affronts to women's dignity, not their bodies' humiliations. P is grateful to his wife for her mature stoicism, but he proceeds, as I say, with a guilty, tentative quality in his morning overtures to her, a hesitation she adores, for it separates him from the brash obtuseness of his gender. But her loving his hesitancy, which he will not compliment himself by calling humility, fails to eradicate P's inhibitions as he exercises his freedom to micturate and essays consequence-free lovemaking.

          But again he is blessed, for his wife loves his inhibitions, the shy awkwardness of his approach to her body.

          And so P, whose capacity for original expression is narrow, paused last Sunday at noon, his wife breathing softly and deeply next to him in their moist bed-paused I say after touching his fingertips to his loins and savoring her smell on them, and with joy an idea but not a feeling thought, Really, P, what's wrong with this picture? And he recognized, for in this moderately exalted state novel visions entered P, that it was not his fault that his wife's labia, his genitals and (he would soon see in the mirror) his lips were flecked with blood. He recognized with the force of insight that he did not cause the walls of his wife's womb to break down and issue from her as blood.

          P's sense of humor, habitually self-directed, empowered him to smile at his confusing himself with God or with the program that dictates evolution. That's a good one, P, he thought.

          And this Sunday it occurred to him how many of his male friends were gay. He regretted that Hollywood had not as yet given him a clearer picture of how gay men make love; he could not imagine embracing and licking rough hairy skin. He mused on most gay couples saving themselves the pains of reproduction, but then he remembered HIV, and the twinge of guilt impelled him to roll ever so gingerly from the bed, leaving his wife, whose breathing in sleep was so quiet and smooth he wanted to cry, undisturbed.

          In the bathroom he peed in the sink, to help the environment by using less water to flush, and to preserve the quiet that would preserve his wife's rest.