Too Much Knowledge by Gary Ives

An anatomy student recalls being thrilled and traumatised by an extremely intimate encounter.

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Fifty years ago, and still I think about Him; the Him whose real name I will never know, but the Him with whom I became more intimate than with any other man. Ever.

Anatomy class met twice weekly. Our class of 40 shared ten cadavers, each assigned to four students. Erla Johanssen, twins Sven and Bridget Thorkelsson, and I were introduced to Him on a rain and sleet-blown winter morning. Always conscious of my size, at 160 centimeters and 40 kilos I was by far the smallest person in the class, and probably the shyest, but not timid.

The anatomy lab, kept at a temperature of 15 degrees, seemed all the colder for the sleet slapping against the high windows. The room was large enough for a slight echo and we were hit with the odor of formaldehyde and rubber. From a little glass-enclosed office appeared a short balding man of at least 60 years, a neatly trimmed beard, rimless glasses; a serious man. Did the stoop come from decades of leaning over cadavers? Dr. Lustig was a legend. His assistant, whom we later called Igor, issued lab coats, safety glasses, gloves, and dissection kits. "Arrange yourselves in groups of four and find a table, please."

Under operating lamps, ten tables - each about three meters long by one meter - filled the room, and atop each table a cadaver covered by a grey rubberized sheet. First, a safety lecture emphasizing the importance of avoiding punctures and cuts, then rules for the care and cleaning of our materials, classroom procedures, and what to do when one had to vomit.

"You will go to your assigned tables, please." Once there, Dr. Lustig's voice softened and lowered. "These cadavers before you were once active human beings who, like you, experienced the myriad of human experiences and emotions: work, play, love, laughter and pain. Many have donated their remains specifically to benefit your medical education. As the direct beneficiary, you will be the steward to assure this is done properly, respectfully, and with dignity. Later, as you become familiar, you shall resist taking your specimen for granted. In this room, resist making jokes; in that respect consider this anatomy laboratory as you might consider a hospital, church, or funeral home. And you will never remove from the laboratory any souvenir. Such will be considered grounds for immediate and permanent suspension from the university. If you have questions, hold them until I visit your table. Now, remove the cover."

Before us lay supine a once tall male, nearly two meters long and the color of ashes-tinged brown, shorn of all body hair, a numbered tag attached to the great toe of his right foot. Each of us gasped. This was the only naked man I had ever seen in the flesh. "Each of you is to touch your subject, feel the musculature, heft the limbs, feel the facial features. Any revulsion or strangeness you might feel, I assure you, will soon vanish. When you've had ample exploration, please cover your subject. On Tuesday we will begin with study of arms."

Some of us met at the school's coffee bar, chatting about the experience, all respectful and affected by the experience. Erla said that the touching creeped her out, even though she knew what lay ahead. Lars said he was astonished that our guy was not old. He had heard that the cadavers were generally older people. "Our man looks like he could have been in his 40s or 50s." Sven suggested we call our man Adam, as he was to be a number one for each of us. I had little to say, wanting to hide my naivety.

Most of us held it together those first days, until we cut into the belly. Two buckets were placed beneath each table, one for detritus from the cadaver, the other to catch vomit. All detritus was saved and deposited in a wall locker with each individual's toe tag number. At the completion of the course, remains would be individually cremated, and the remains returned to family. The remains would be honored at a ceremony attended by all of us.

Oh, how we came to know our Adam. On that first lesson, we were all intrigued by Adam's right arm anchor tattoo. Adam became our sailor. Since Adam was so tall, we guessed that he was a Nordic mariner, perhaps a fisherman; Norwegian, Swede, Icelander? Later, dissecting his lungs, we learned that death had come by drowning, which for us confirmed our speculation.

I was 20 years old and had never been with a man. While I could conjure images of Adam at the wheel of a ship, hauling in nets, leaving his ship with a seabag over his shoulders, I could not conceive of him engaged in lovemaking. I fixated on Adam's 17.5-centimeter-long penis. Other than pictures in books and statuary, the only penis I had ever seen was a glimpse of my 15-year-old brother masturbating under the shower. A prick is not a pleasing image. Not for me. Imagining the weight of this large man upon my small body, thrusting a huge, ugly cock into me, utterly repels me still. This, however, did not turn me against Adam; I truly appreciated his contribution to science. In fact, I have taken the necessary steps for my remains to go the university's anatomical lab.

As beneficial as anatomical studies were, indeed, all of med school, the intense detail of what I learned poisoned me against intimate relations. This began with the cadaver, Adam. For this I specialized in radiology, medicine with only limited patient contact. Still, with patients, and more so with strangers, I so often conjure images of their internal and external organs: brains, esophagus, livers, kidneys, lungs, hearts, breasts, uteri, penises, scrotums, et al. My mind's eye imagines in detail organs even though I do not want to. Once at a café in Oslo a tall German tourist rose from his table, approached, and accused me of staring at his crotch. Yes, I was imagining reproductive organs.

When at last my remains lay on a dissecting table, and are uncovered, students will be presented with a virgin.


  1. This was gripping! What a peek into a very odd world! The narrator remains a virgin from seeing a naked man in this context and proportions , which frames the story, and gives it a unique focus. I loved this!

    1. garyives106@gmail.comMarch 4, 2024 at 7:56 PM

      W C Fields' biography mentions that he quit sex after viewing a particularly graphic documentary illustrating the ravages of syphilis. That, and my sons' accounts from med school are the inspiration for this little piece. Thank you for the comment.

  2. When I first began perusing Gary’s fiction and discovered it was medical in nature, I went,“Nuh uh, this is a feeble take on Fantastic Voyage,” but then I knew that Gary would never do that to us. The scene is set nicely: “the sleet slapping against the high windows,” on a relentlessly cold and blustery day; one can readily imagine the scene. It was interesting and doubly effective that the MC narrated the tale and was in fact a young woman. She is an admittedly credulous youngster, though obviously smart (med schools don’t usually accept slow learners and most people don’t get their undergraduate degree by the time they’re 20).

    One is left to suppose that the MC is still quite young, as she had not up to this time had sex, though this does not always hold true. The story ends with this young prig boasting that, when her body is donated to science, her foursome of med students will be presented with a virgin. This was a believable, effective and charming story. Way to go, Gary Ives.

    1. Oops! Until I subsequently read June’s comments, I supposed that the MC was waxing nostalgic over something which had only recently happened. I reread and discovered that it happened fifty long years ago! Yikes. I guess Adam did have a sexually prohibitive effect on the poor woman. But as I said before, not all people become sexual, even as adults.

  3. A really engrossing read with a great character for the narrator. The descriptions are really rich and engaging. The description of Adam's body, and its detail, particularly the precise penis measurement really got into the head of the narrator. Great stuff!

  4. Weirdly believable…or believably weird. Either way it’s an interesting take on a possibly real event. I visited a cadaver lab many years ago. It didn’t haunt me for life but there are to this day some images that will flash through my mind. Good story.
    — David Henson

  5. I feel so badly for this main character!
    Intimacy and sexuality are peak overwhelming human pleasures.
    She denies being traumatized by human dissection yet also uses the experience as an excuse for avoiding all physical intimacy.
    I suspect that her issues with intimacy - emotional, physical, sexual - began much further back in childhood, long before her medical school years.
    I’m obviously biased, but she needs to see a therapist...

  6. Rozanne CharbonneauMarch 6, 2024 at 7:50 AM

    I love the scene in the café. An interesting character. Does she avoid intimacy because she is asexual? Or are there other traumas lurking in her early years, as Adam suspected? Well done, Gary.

  7. Freedom Fiction Journal editor Dey recently told me that Gary Ives “…seamlessly interweaves sex..” into a story line. I appreciate her comment and recognize it as the truth, from having read many of your stories. Just thought I’d let you know.

    1. garyives106@gmail.comMarch 8, 2024 at 9:15 PM

      Thank you, Billl - et al, your comments are much appreciated and why I love publishing in this fine community.


  9. One more comment. In writing this I pictured the young protagonist as someone very much like Stephen King's wonderful character, Holly.

  10. This is an intriguing little piece. Precise description, reminiscent of perhaps Robbe-Grillet, but lacking the universality of narratives specific to the French master. Most of this story culminates in the development of the character, and the end result is individualistic, and not a shared experience for the reader. It's quite well written, though, and a nice experiment in characterization. Specificity has its limitations, and the story struggles in terms of plot, relying on narrative summary to achieve a sense of completeness. However, it is only a sense. We have no real resolution, because the struggle is unresolved. Our distance from the narrator leaves us unsatisfied. A good piece though, and a step up from what I generally see in Flash Fictions published in small press magazines, which are, for the most part, identical to what used to be referred to as prose poems: No plot, no real characterization, no story or resolution, just 500 words as cleverly arranged as possible. This has the makings of an actual story, and in that regard, I think laudable.