A little boy lost his tongue, as punishment. He was unapologetic.
First his nanny kicked it around as the boy watched — she nudged it through the rich garden soil with her skirt held high. She was mindful of any jaybirds that might mistake the boy’s tongue for a fat worm and ferry it away.
Next she stomped on his tongue. Between the coarse surface of the cobble stone and the modest heel of her shoe, she gave it a good thrashing. The boy’s tongue was pliant. No matter how hard she stepped on it, it retained its shape. The boy watched, silently.
Finally, with a dubious look on her face, the nanny put his tongue in her mouth. She chewed — tentatively, at first, then with vigor. She stared at the boy and the boy stared back. He couldn’t apologize, of course, not without his tongue, but the look on his face suggested he wouldn’t have been so inclined, anyway.
When she gave it back, the boy immediately began to cry. He wailed, red-faced, until his nanny handed him a lollipop. Only then was he placated.
“Is it good?” she asked.
“Is it? Stick out your tongue.”
But the boy, wiser for all his troubles, did not.
Finally, when the entire island was on fire, the people gathered on the shore. A girl and her father stood with their backs to the flames.
“What happens now?” the girl said.
“Now,” her father replied, “we board those ships and sail away. The fire is too great to put out.”
“But how do we decide who boards the ships?” the girl said. “Are there enough for everyone?”
“We’ve already decided who will board and who won’t,” her father replied. “What’s important is that you and I have a seat.”
“But what about the animals?” the girl said. “Is there room for them, too?”
“Of course not,” he father replied. “The animals are able to fly and to swim — they know perfectly well how to care for themselves. And so many of them are dead already.”
The girl looked out across the ocean. The fire was uncomfortably warm against her bare legs.
“Where will we go?” she said.
“It’s not important,” her father replied. “What’s important is that we carry our traditions with us. Wherever we land we will call our home — by honoring our ancestors they will always be with us, even as we leave their bones behind.”
So some of the people, but not all of the people, boarded the ships and sailed away. In time they arrived at a new place they would call their home. And the girl, at her father’s urging, joined the other children in starting a new fire.
A young woman was exhausted. She hadn’t slept in weeks.
She was so tired, her hips ached. She was so tired, she imagined seeing things and wondered, occasionally, whether she was truly awake or asleep.
Her doctor was no help. He encouraged her to eat a blander diet.
“How bright is your room at night?” he asked.
“Not bright at all.”
“You need to quiet the voices in your head,” her doctor suggested.
So the young woman listened for voices in her head, but she didn’t hear anything. She put a sign on her door, begging people please not to knock. She gave her cat away. She only ate potatoes — she didn’t even salt them. Chewing was a chore.
She was so tired, the blood refused to move in her veins.
She was so tired, her memories stalled.
The cat came back — it mewled, ceaselessly, outside her window. The young woman didn’t care. She wasn’t sleeping anyway. She put the potatoes in a bowl and left the bowl for the cat, wondering if cats ate potatoes, wondering if she’d even heard the mewling, or if she’d imagined it, too.
She was so tired, she felt reborn. Newly birthed. Or, at times, like she’d been viciously assaulted — bludgeoned and choked, and left in a heap.
She slipped outside the margins of my story.
I wear her weight like a heavy yoke. When I blink, she blinks. When I press down on the keys of my keyboard she winces, a sound like tearing, like ripping. It pains me — I think she knows this. She is remorseless. She grins a terrible grin.
Sleep, sleep, please sleep