She started to lick things. Walls, trees, carpets, counter tops, kitchen appliances, car tires, doorknobs, money, book bindings, hair combs, shoelace tips, the folded over collar of a stranger’s winter coat when she could get close enough.
She said everything had a taste. The light switch tastes like yellow. These pencils taste like regret. One morning she told me the mailbox tasted like Wednesday even though it was Friday. And twenty-seven days ago, she tasted loneliness on the welcome mat outside our neighbor’s front door. She must have been licking it for hours when I finally found her. Her mouth cracked and bleeding. Tongue like the bark of a dying Joshua tree.
They say that when a person loses one sense, another becomes heightened. A blind man can hear the tiny, splintered crunching of termites in his attic. A deaf woman smells a gas leak five blocks over.
So it makes sense my wife started licking things the same time she lost her sense of numbers. Maybe it was because of all the counting we did: four months since…six months, two weeks, and one day since… eleven months, three weeks, two days, seven hours, fifty-three minutes and nineteen seconds since…
Then one day standing in the gas station mini-mart, she suddenly couldn’t figure out the bills and coins for her two dollar soda. Soon, she collected speeding tickets like Halloween candy. Our kitchen nearly burned to the ground, microwave popcorn set for forty-seven minutes. She missed doctors’ appointments by hours, days, sometimes weeks, and she often went to bed in the middle of the day, confused as to why the stubborn sun was still showing its face.
And so of course, twenty-seven days ago, when I peeled her hunched body off the neighbor’s porch and scolded her for being outside at 1:37 in the morning, she looked at me as if I were speaking Chinese. Then she promptly licked the side of my face, lush with weeks’ worth of stubble, and asked me why I tasted like New Year’s Eve.
Fifteen days ago I couldn’t find her. Had lost all track of time. Counting. I searched every room in the house, checking the usual spots where the paint was now thinner, wood and varnish faded, all in the perfect small width of her tongue. I finally found her in the garage. It was dark except for a few spears of light that stretched the length of the floor and bent up the walls. First I heard it, the slow meticulous slurping, like a cat cleaning its hind legs. Then I saw her. My wife on all fours, licking cobwebs out of the back corner of the garage.
My arm swung under her ribcage to once again pick her up and carry her to bed.
“No.” She pushed her weight to the ground. Her ribs, too easily defined in my hand. “Please. Just let me.”
“Just. Please,” she repeated, and found another wispy tangle of ghost-hair reaching between the wheels of the lawn mower and the cold cement floor.
“Okay, but just five more minutes,” I said, knowing this meant nothing, that I might not see her for days. This was my fault. I was the one who couldn’t stop counting. But numbers made sense. Time was steeped in logic.
Six days ago she stopped kissing me. Said I tasted like Africa and iron and history and all the constellations in the sky, and she was sorry, but it was just too much.
Ninety-five hours ago she stopped speaking altogether. Her tongue a swollen leathery slab of meat like a piece of pork on the grill, neglected and left to overcook.
Forty-two hours ago I got a call from the Parkers down the street. I was converting hours into milliseconds when the phone rang. She was on their roof, bear-hugging the chimney, and with blood dribbling down her chin, she licked every square inch of the smoke-stained brick. The fire department was called.
Yesterday, at 2:13, the police returned her to our front door. Their faces a confused mix of fear and sympathy. They found her at the park, face down in the playground, lapping at the sand like a thirsty dog. A smile on her face, tears in her eyes. But she was scaring the children.
And then finally, this morning at 10:05 it happened. She had licked all there was to lick in our small, sad world. Or maybe her tongue had finally found what it was searching for. I was in bed, counting for the twenty-third time that morning, and I could only partially see into the bathroom. There wasn’t much light, but I sensed shadows. And then I heard it: the shrill metallic scream of old squeaky scissors and the slap of something landing on the slick bathroom tile.
Eric Scot Tryon is a writer from San Francisco. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Willow Springs, Pithead Chapel, Los Angeles Review, Fractured Lit, Monkeybicycle, Cease, Cows, Longleaf Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, and elsewhere. Eric is also the Founding Editor of Flash Frog. Find more information at www.ericscottryon.com
Photography by: Yahor Urbanovich