Masterbaters by Paul Juhasz

Grandma, scowling, referred to it as “that nasty habit of yours,” filling my chalice and my stoup with all the guilt she forgot. Dad would usually just smirk and ask what I was doing in there for so long; Mom would wrinkle her nose and threaten that I would have to start washing my own socks.

But when Mrs. Grinshaw mentioned it during her history lesson, I was more than a little surprised. Not because she used the word, but the implications it suggested. Really? Abraham Lincoln did it? Stephen Douglas too? For once, my daydreams did not involve luscious Suzy Sanders, seated across the aisle, with her short skirt and her hair ribbons. Lincoln and Douglas. Great men. Great men who, apparently, limited their potential for greatness through indulgence in this despicable but seductive act.

Is that why Douglas lost the election? A voting public unable to look past his hairy palms? Did blindness prevent Lincoln from seeing a crouching, stalking Boothe? Would I meet them both in Hell, where Grandma so confidently insisted I was headed because of my own robust prolificacy?

But then Mrs. Grinshaw said it again, and this time I heard her more clearly: “Lincoln and Douglas were both master debaters,” and the world reset itself. Alone once again with my shame and the lingering possibility of eternal torment, I invited Suzy Sanders back into my daydream, memorizing every curve, her creamy thighs, the promise of breasts, those taunting hair ribbons, hoping that when I recalled her tonight in my bed, she would not appear in a stovepipe hat, with a Shenandoah beard.