short prose contest 2016 runner up
A GENEALOGICAL APPROACH TO MY FATHER'S ASS
Olaf Haber, respected oat farmer, ate raw human buttocks in the closing days of the third Silesian War. He never fired his weapon in combat. He never saw the ocean. He never met his son. It is written he was an accomplished kisser. His grandson, Heinrich Haber, suffered a case of debilitating hemorrhoids in his twenty-second year. Unable to sleep in his condition one night, he wandered the streets of Ansbach where he shortly found himself in a tree angling his bare bottom to the moon as instructed in one of Goethe’s poems, convinced the moonlight would alleviate his discomfort. He was shot in the left buttock by the town’s burgomeister, on whose property Heinrich was trespassing. This relieved the pain of the hemorrhoids but not the heart as the musket ball was removed with the help of the burgomeister’s daughter who fell in love with young Heinrich. In Ansbach, it is a local tradition even today that when the burgomeister’s daughter gets engaged her fiancé must be shot in the ass. Their grandson, Karl Wilhelm Habermeyer, became a Lutheran minister in America. Those of his congregation could attest that when the reverend Habermeyer spoke with the power of the Holy Spirit you felt it tingling in your sphincter. Karl Wilhelm attributed his gift to the physical abuse he endured as a young man when his father would swat his backside with the family bible. My grandfather, John Gilbert Habermeyer, designed the gluteal cushions for astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission. It was his heart, not his ass, that gave out in the end. Yesterday I felt my father’s ass. I was helping him use the toilet. He no longer remembered how. The neurons in his head, weary from genealogy, had fizzled into a grey haze. He wrapped his arms around my neck like a baby baboon while I wiped. It did not feel the way I imagined. It did not feel like the ass that held up the belt he slammed against the bathroom door after I called him Jabba the Hut. Or the ass that produced blue darts around Boy Scout campfires. Or even the ass that fidgeted nervously on the hospital chair as he held me the night my asthma wouldn’t let me breathe. It felt cold and limp and alien, heavy with the science of lost futures.
Ryan Habermeyer earned his MFA from the University of Massachusetts and is currently pursuing his PhD at the University of Missouri. His fiction has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has recently appeared in or is forthcoming from Cream City Review, Carolina Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Chattahoochee Review, Fiction International, Cincinnati Review, and others.