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Dying with Miss Nude Galaxy
by Doug Crandell



There were six ampoules in the sun, the liquid inside them shimmering like it was a golden sex potion. It was, however, indisputably medicinal.

But with the small bottles lined up on the rail of the deck like that, and the naked women with their coifed and configured pubic areas taking turns striking poses under the glaring sun, I thought that maybe the bottles had been placed there as a kind of purfling, like how restaurants will line their walls with fake containers of oil or sauces. As I stared at them, I recalled something my college Marketing professor said four years earlier. In his nasally voice he testified why the restaurant chain stores decorate their entries with such items. “They do it to make you want to eat, and fully enrobe you with the notion of hunger.”

I tried to apply this same logic to the nudist colony I now found myself in. Yes, I thought, those are not real vials of an opioid, each holding one dose of what was needed to keep my father-in-law’s pain from shooting up his spine, but rather they had been added by Ms. Suze for the effect; a way to secretly entice us into craving what we ordinarily might not.

But it only took the sight of Ms. Suze, herself completely nude except for the turquoise bracelet that hung limply around her small ankle, assisting my father-in-law from the hot tub, and guiding him to the round picnic table, to make me aware that it was all happening without any type of deliberate concoction. She sat him down on one of two long benches and went to the rail to get a bottle of the pain medicine. When she sat down herself, she spread her legs and rested the syringe on the top of her tan and freckled right thigh. Ms. Suze, I never found out her first name, was a woman of about forty with brown, curly hair that turned reddish around her face where small wisps of it fell down and made her look like she was always busy. Her body was bronzed from the sun and she seemed as though to not have any idea she was naked. She never talked about it, or commented on those, like myself, who were invited to come to the The Homesteaders Sun League and were not willing, initially, to disrobe.

The annual spectacle was something I attended out of veneration, the kind of feeling that accompanies a certain sense of phobic thinking; to say no would have set in motion all the elements needed to breed a catastrophe. That was the exoneration I allowed myself to make nearly palpable, as I watched the contestants parading past each of the colony’s rentable mobile homes; all of which were equipped with newly built sun decks for those who were fortunate enough to book one for the Miss Nude Galaxy Pageant. Meanwhile, Ms. Suze held one of the opioid ampoules above her head, and flicked the side of it with a long painted fingernail that matched perfectly the blue-green stones attached to her ankle. From where I was leaning all alone against the cheap fiberglass siding of the trailer, I could see the gold loop that pierced Ms. Suze’s clitoris. It glittered in the sun as she continued to fill the syringe, and I stared at it in awe. My own attempts to fully fathom that part of the female anatomy had been moderately successful at best, and now, watching her perform the task of shooting up my wife’s father without any outward indication that she was even aware of the pierced area, made me feel awkwardly envious.


Henry Butterfield owned the land that the nudist colony sat upon. He had been a hog farmer and had also planted and tried to cultivate around 300 acres of corn and soybeans, but in the end, after he auctioned off all the equipment and livestock to pay the bank, he was left with only the ground, and no means of making money. He had become notorious all over Indiana. His move to get the nudist colony, which previously had been located on a small plat of land west of his farm, to re-locate and use his facilities and grounds for lodging was touted in some area newspapers as being ingenious and cagey. One newspaper, The Garvey Time-News, did a story on him; its headlines read, “Foreclosed Farmer Brings Porno to Small Town.” The article is laminated and can be found all over the colony, usually posted outside the many Porta-Potties that Mr. Butterfield purchased to accommodate the 200,000 people who flock to the farm each year. I was a senior in high school when his antics were covered in all the newspapers from Gary down to the bottom of the state where the Ohio River separates Indiana and Kentucky. It was there on the bridge where he was arrested while returning home from a vacation in Florida. It marked one of the thirty or forty arrests that he would be subjected to before the State gave up trying to charge him with violating its obscenity laws. Mr. Butterfield was a small, petite man who had lost one of his arms after it had been gobbled up by a corn picker that lurched into gear as he pulled tangles of feral Morning Glory from its head. His right arm was left with a small nub that puckered at the end. The skin on the tip looked like a chicken waddle, and it was precisely that attribute which got the colony, and its Miss Nude Galaxy exposition, the most notoriety.

The nudist colony is located near Whimer, Indiana just on the edge of the Illinois state line.

To get to it, I rode two hours from Ft. Wayne with my father-in-law in the hearse he had bought as a joke after finding out he was dying. He called it his mobile deathbed, and in the back of it he kept his adjusting table, a valise stuffed fat with something I assumed could not be clothes, and the fresh vegetables he used to blend together a rusty-orange drink he called the post-cancer julep. On this trip however, my telescope, poetry books and backpack also sat where a casket normally would.

We drove past fields of blooming soybeans whose violet blossoms I could only make out as streaks of purple streaming by the window as we sped down the old gravel roads and county lanes that Dr. Dan had come to know by heart after spending nearly twenty years, as he would say, “in route to ogle the pensive breasts of nubile girls.” I always felt silly calling him Dr. Dan, and had once mentioned to my wife, before he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, that chiropractors were not really doctors, and that I would prefer to address him as Mr. Wilkes. She was folding clothes at the time, something she had very little patience for, and ceased putting any more of my items under her chin when I made the comment. She said, “Call him what you want. He’s been a lotta’ things.”


All around me, naked people, mostly women, scurried across the deck sipping tall glasses of red drinks chock full of different kinds of fruit that I overheard a white-haired man with a low slung scrotum calling Hairy Buffaloes. As they passed in front of me my view was blocked, each person’s brief presence before me seeming to artificially advance the spectacle of Ms. Suze doctoring my father-in-law, like stick figures on the corners of a tablet that you flip fast with your thumb in order to make them come alive. A cattish woman named Clair stopped in front of me to allow the only other dressed person, a niece of one of the event’s organizers, to squeeze by her in the narrow space between the trailer and the stairs of the deck. Her breasts, bare and reddened a salmon color, pressed against my chest as she leaned into me to get herself out of the way. She smiled, showing a set of broad ultra-white teeth that instantly made me wonder what parts of her were real.

Now with his veins coursing meekly with the pain reliever, Mr. Wilkes climbed back into the hot tub with two contestants who had stopped to mingle with the crowd on our deck. The group was made up of some of the veterans of the colony, and I lost track of how many people lolloping by shouted, “Hey Dr. Dan” and either saluted him or gave him a thumbs up. The contestants were rated on personality and crowd interaction in the overall judging, and there was a separate award for this part of the contest, just like in the real beauty pageants. The winner got to wear a sash that read Ms. Cuntgeniality and it, along with the other sashes, which spelled out even more, degrading titles, hung on an old clothes line with poles that looked like the cross at Calvary. A sign at the bottom read, “Come on girls! Show us everything you got and you could be proudly (not) wearing one of these!”

The event was a weeklong extravaganza of which we had arrived for the last two days. On the drive to get to the colony Mr. Wilkes gently tried to coax out of me what my level of comfort would be with both being naked and seeing others in the same condition. “I would think a person with a degree in Literature might find this sort of thing degrading, he said. “Would I be right? That you think this is a demeaning undertaking?”

He was a man who enjoyed listening to others and he seemed disappointed when I answered him by merely saying, “I will be fine”. We had only been alone together during the times when his daughter would pester me until I went to see him so that he could adjust my spine in an office he operated out of an old grain elevator. It always smelled of mouse turds, and while I was lying on the Naugahyde table waiting for him to come work on my back, I could hear the vermin scurrying above me. Their feet would make tiny clicking noises on the plexi-glass that guarded the fluorescent lighting, and from underneath you could see their murky shadows scampering between the tubes. When he would come into the room and approach the table rubbing his palms together like he was cold, he would talk about the mice, “Everyone says that I should pay a professional exterminator to get rid of them, but I like the way they sound up there. It’s like someone is up there typing out a story, recording what I say and do with each patient.”

His daughter had not said much when I told her he had invited me to come along with him. “Go ahead,” she had said, “He’s taken Bob and Ryan up there. Besides, I have to work that weekend anyway.” The exchange felt more like we were talking about a fishing outing or a weekend trip with the guys to a sporting event than going to watch strippers from all over the country vie for the titles of Most Fuckable, and Best Tit-Ass Combo. But in the end, I decided to go after witnessing him barely able to eat a small piece of muskmelon on Memorial Day Weekend. He had come to see us at our house in Indy, and we fixed him all the things he had prescribed for himself after a procedure where real doctors took a tumor the size of a volleyball from his stomach. He picked through the beets and was only able to weakly lick the prongs of his fork three or four times before giving up. The way he looked scraping the food off his plate and into the sink, like a child whose favorite game is over, made me ache inside, as if his fork had escaped him, gotten up in me, and multiplied itself, then poked at my ribs to get free and back in his hand again.


I had not moved from where I was standing for hours, grinning spuriously as each nudist passed me by, sizing up my clothed body in a surprisingly flattering manner, as if I were a tease. Mr. Wilkes was gracious enough to allow me to stand ill at ease in my jeans and tucked in dress shirt without artificially trying to alleviate my discomfort by forcing introductions or attempting to include me in conversations. He only periodically shot me a reassuring glance from where he continued to sit in the hot tub’s white rising haze, his eyes so black and sunken that it was easy to begin to see what he would look like lying in a coffin. The cancer had loosened most of his teeth, and he would pull them out within the confines of his apartment as they turned to what he called “wiggly little pillars.” When most of them were gone, he went to wearing a doctor’s mask over his mouth, which he would either tie-dye or inscribe with Chinese Proverbs. He had even written a few lines of my poetry on some of them, which surprised me. No one else knew the words were mine, and it left me feeling like we had a cryptic language that might make him live. The steam from the water would slacken his mask, and Ms. Suze would stop rubbing his back at what appeared to be precise intervals to adjust and re-tie the straps behind his head, the water in the tub purling low around its jets, making frothy heads that reminded me of the tufts of pearl white hair jutting out from the sides of his frail head.

From behind one of the barns that had been converted into a barracks, a trumpet sounded as the crowd exploded into thundering applause and piercing shrieks. In an instant, Mr. Butterfield strolled onto the center lawn draped in a king’s purple robe, his bald head glistening under a crown that sported plastic jewels. Behind him a line of busty women led a family of cattalo in glittery halters that had been designed to closely resemble the material of Mr. Butt’s crown; a name he puffed up at when chanted by the crowd, many of which held t-shirts screen printed with his shiny, round face. One of the naked women removed his robe and laid it over the back of one of the cow-bison crossbreeds.

With the robe off, Mr. Butterfield raised the stump of his arm in the air like a soldier might a weapon during battle cry, and the crowd roared. Before long the fifty or so contestants had lined up before him in an orderly fashion. Each one knelt down at his feet as the crowd fell silent. Another of his female aides handed him a fake metal sword, which he used to dub the bare shoulders of the competitors. They each took a turn at licking and sucking the nub of his arm in what was meant to simulate oral sex, the favored ones using their tongues to flick at the extra skin dangling from the nub’s tip. The crowd selected the three runners up and the winner by clapping for their favorites. A woman in a cowboy hat held an enormous Mylar dildo, inflated with helium, over each contestant’s head to gauge the audience’s response. When it was over, Mr. Wilkes looked at me and shrugged his shoulders apologetically. I took a long drink from my cup, and went out across the yard to pet the wooly heads of the cattalo, standing alone in their herd, chewing the cud of Styrofoam cups.

The sun had slid down the sky, and was resting in a clump of scraggly pine trees as the line of nude contestants sauntering past the crowds dwindled to a few amateur stragglers whose bodies were saggy and dimpled with extra weight. All over the farm, the distant campsites crackled with shooting pit fires, as the tents began to emerge from the dusk as dancing, orange enclaves. The flames from the fires casted elongated figures onto the causeway like scars, and I found myself trying to determine what protruding portions of the shadows belonged to which camper’s breast, penis, or generous mound of pubic hair. Several of the more visible sites had people groping in herds while our own deck had started to turn in on itself. Men and women fondled, kissed and rubbed each other’s cooling, salty bodies as the remaining natural light of the day was sucked into the night, and replaced with the harsh beams of recently installed floodlights. Music was being piped over several sets of gray speakers, which were nailed to leaning creosote poles.

A man’s gravely but cheerful voice interrupted and said, “Let the nurturing begin.” Ms. Suze and another woman wearing only a pink feathered boa, who was considerably younger than her, and who also had pierced nipples and a shaved head and pubic area, lifted Mr. Wilkes from the hot tub, seating him on its edge as they lowered themselves before him, kissing with open mouths on the way down like dancing cobras. When they were completely on their knees, Ms. Suze grabbed my father-in-law’s erect penis, a feat that he had vowed he would continue to muster up regardless of the all out attack on his cells, and stroked it a few times before the other woman used her mouth to envelope him.

The deck area had become brighter from the artificial lighting, and it was now impossible to see out into the camping area where the only remnants of activity left discernable were the popping sounds of firewood splintering into embers. Under the floodlights Mr. Wilkes’ skin stood out among the tanned bodies like a scanty, white birch sapling drooping over among a mass of sturdy brown walnut trees. Now, with nothing to manipulate, Ms. Suze stood back up and bent over in front of him, spreading her legs to allow him access to stroke her with his long, bone white fingers. She was looking over her shoulder at him while muttering something between the clinched teeth of a rapt smile, which I was pleased I could not hear. I worried about his body; that he ought not be exerting himself in such a manner, but the thought slipped away into the darkness as a tension formed in the crotch of my jeans, indicating that I should maneuver past all the gyrating mounds of bodies and make it to the rail, retrieve the remaining ampoules of medicine and go inside the trailer for bed, before I found out anything more about myself that would make it difficult to get to sleep.


The next morning, as I laid face down on the waterbed, I could hear voices outside the rear of the trailer where the bedroom I was utilizing butted up against Mr. Wilkes’ and formed an L shape. I crawled to the end of the wavy bed and pulled on my jeans to go to the bathroom.

In the hall, carpeted with shag and paneled in dun, I could make out the faint whistling sound of my father-in-law’s oxygen tank. The door was ajar about an inch and I went to it, pressing it open further with the side of my bare foot.

The room smelled like the black licorice of his favorite gum. Mr. Wilkes was strewn over the bed; his long legs dangled over the edge as he breathed in shallow scallops of air. Ms. Suze was sleeping on the floor next to the footboard, curled up like a child beside an oscillating fan, which clicked as it swept air across the dank room. On his chest was splayed my most recent book of poetry that contained a dedication to him. Light from the rising sun shone in between the pleats of a set of peach colored mini-blinds, shafting weak rays of light onto the veneered chest-of-drawers that seemed to me to have little use considering its surroundings. Next to the dresser, Mr. Wilkes’ fat valise sat like a boulder with a zipper, the top straining open, erupting with pink taffeta. At once, my father-in-law lurched awake as a cough rattled his chest. Ms. Suze sprung up from where she was resting and instantly was stroking his forehead, breathing out shhhhh, shhhhh, shhhhh’s in what sounded like too fast a rhythm, like she was panicky. She was on her hands and knees, and once again the metal ring she wore stuck out like a flower’s pistil, almost hypnotizing me. It caught some of the early morning sunlight and gleamed with a seizable haze. When he had slipped back into sleep, she crawled backwards like a cat so that she could lie down again herself. As I tried to creep away from the door, my belt buckle scratched against its surface. The ruckus brought Ms. Suze back onto her knees, and she waddled to the door, the height of a midget. She pulled it open further and stuck her head out, smiling at me like she had stumbled upon some type of timid animal in a corner that she was trying to coax out to pet.

“What are you doing up so early?”

I fiddled with a torn belt loop on my jeans and pretended not to notice her nakedness. “Nothing. I just thought I could get down to the river early. Jupiter is suppose to be visible at five, that’s all. How did he rest last night?”

She brushed the hair from her eyes and pursed her lips while squinting, like she was thinking over an answer she might give under oath. Finally she said, “He had some trouble breathing a few times but he has always been a light sleeper. Did he ever tell you about the time we took his kids on a camping trip to the Smokies and he couldn’t sleep because of all the crickets?” She paused as if someone had just shone a flashlight in her eyes and said in a louder whisper, “Oh, that’s right, your wife was with us. Just a little girl then of course, but anyway he...”

I interrupted her, “No.” My voice came out louder than I wanted it to, causing Mr. Wilkes to cough once before he rolled on to his side. In a more hushed voice I continued, “No, he and I, well, that is, we have, not really. I mean, we have not really done much together.”

She was still on her knees in the doorway, her hands flat on the tops of her thighs like a mother playing catch with a child. She whispered, “You know he thinks you’re wonderful. The poems and the way you love looking at the stars and everything. He has read me every one of your books. He says you’re from another time, that you may have been born out of turn.”

The fan blew at the back of her head periodically, causing hair to form an ebbing frame around her face that made her look as though she was riding in a car with its top down. Mr. Wilkes moved some more, and I tried to use his restlessness as an excuse to get away from Ms. Suze. But before I could go to the kitchen to get the keys to the hearse and retrieve my telescope, she grabbed my hand and held it to her cheek.

“David, don’t think I can’t feel what you think of me and this whole place. But I do really love him. He has always been able to soothe me. I mean, he is more than this, and so am I. Just don’t let this slip by you here. He has gotten so thin and he can’t keep much down now. I think that he is getting closer to...” My finger ended her sentence as I shoved the middle one into the soft velveteen of her mouth.

She had no look of surprise on her face and with one tug she had the waist of my jeans banding the middle of my thighs, the zippered crotch open in a V under my testicles. As if she was trying to switch out a defective mic before an audience without them noticing, she pulled my finger from her mouth and inserted my penis, replacing my hand to her cheek as she bobbed up and down.

The sheets on the bed rustled as Mr. Wilkes twisted on it, while outside a car engine started and then died without its owner trying the key again. Startled, I turned away, my modest length flopping from her mouth like a failing fish. I pulled my hand from her face, examining it as if I thought she had secretly written something on the palm or backside.

When I looked over my shoulder at her, she was already at his side again, her breasts drooping over his face like uneven pulleys; this time though, instead of stroking his head, I could see her manipulating his mid-section. Their breathing picked up and the raspy sounds filled the stale confines of the trailer as I staggered out the front door where sparrows weaved heavily through the early morning pinkness of a hot sun rising. Out there, at once, nothing was sounding. Not a thing. And that was where, while looking through the ground glass of my telescope at flare stars and discs of dust, I felt the ghost lie down, even before my ears rang with the sirens, and Ms. Suze rode off in the ambulance holding my father-in-law’s dead hand. She was dressed in a pink evening gown from his valise, and I was sure she looked more ridiculous than me, when back at home I pulled his hearse into my driveway, and his daughter saw I was alone.



About the Author

I am the recipient of the 2001 Sherwood Anderson Foundation Prize in the sum of $10,000 as well as the 2001 River City Award in Fiction in the sum of $2,000 sponsored by the Hohenberg Foundation. Peter Carey was the judge. In November, I performed a reading of my work at the fall conference of the North Carolina Writer's Network. I have had short stories published in the Nebraska Review, Indiana Review, Evansville Literary Review and Blood and Fire Review. Stories are forthcoming in the Sulphur River Literary Review, the Oklahoma Review, River City, and the Hawaii Review. I live in Georgia.