LANGUAGING • by Jessica George

Some of them even get rid of their mouths. Can you imagine? It gives me the creeps. The shiny, sealed skin; the tubes quietly inserted in private rooms while everybody else sits down to dinner; their unreadable expressions.

Bekah shrugged when I told her and said, “Well, there are all sorts of artificial feeding methods, these days. It’s not as if you need it. It’ll just be decoration for you, too, once you’re done.” Her voice wasn’t kind.

I disagree. The point is silence, not expressionlessness. That’s why the no-mouth thing hasn’t caught on, except with a few weirdoes. The patrons don’t go for it. You don’t talk, but that doesn’t mean you don’t communicate. Without a mouth, how would you smile? Kiss? Sigh appreciatively? Swallow? Guys who don’t even want any of that can just buy a doll or something.

Bekah is a little bitter, though, if you ask me. She thinks I shouldn’t go through with the procedure. Though she’s been politer about it than most — Henri didn’t even come out for my goodbye drink. If I’m honest, I was kind of relieved.

She showed up here earlier this afternoon, had a shiny new reader in her bag loaded with texts by philosophers with Old-European names. She shoved aside the vase of red tulips on my bedside table and leaned over to show me, fingers smearing the screen as she paged through — urgently, as though she was racing to find something. I listened to a song on her headphones because she asked me to. It was an old recording, analogue-soft, not the fake kind of scratchy you get nowadays, and I had to strain to hear it over the beeping monitors until she put the volume up. A woman with a voice sweet and strong as molasses sang about wanting to know how it feels to be free. I didn’t get the connection.

“You used to love music,” Bekah sighed. “You won’t be able to sing any more. You used to be good at English, too. I thought you understood how important language was.”

“I’ll still be able to listen,” I pointed out. “I’ll still read.”

She sighed and shook her head. “You could get into college, easy.”

“Yeah. Get into a mountain of debt, too, then spend the rest of my life scraping by just to pay it off.”

“Then get a job instead.”

“And start scraping earlier?”

She rolled her eyes heavenwards and gave a discontented huff. Honestly, it’s a nice idea, college: I was good at English in school, and I like to read — even aloud, sometimes. As a matter of fact, I got through a couple of things off her college reading-list over the summer, while I was waiting to find out who my patron would be.

But she’s naïve, Bekah. She’s lived her life atop an insulating cushion of money, and I’ll never have the luxury. I want to be stable; silence is a small price to pay.

She shoved her reader into her backpack and stood up. “I’d better go,” she said. She didn’t even look angry, this time. Her face was impassive, her eyes bluescreen-blank. I thought perhaps she’d actually given up on me.

Then she stopped, and fished in her bag again. “I saw Henri earlier,” she told me. “He said to give you this.”

I already knew what it would be.

Henri sat by me through all of our last year at school. He wore crisp white shirts and had skin tanned the colour of golden syrup, which made me think that if I licked him I might find out how sunshine tasted. He smelled like cheap cigarettes and something else, something old and with a faint, dusty otherness about it. I didn’t realise what it was until the first time I went to his house. The sitting-room was walled from floor to ceiling with shelves, and the shelves were stacked with real paper-and-ink books, some of them hundreds of years old. Henri’s mother was a collector. She said she appreciated the sensual nature of things. A book wasn’t just the words inside it, but a physical object, made to be held and valued. I wasn’t sure I quite understood, but it felt right.

Bekah pulled Henri’s little leather-bound volume of the Sonnets out of her bag and set it on the table beside the tulips. It was closed with a black ribbon, frayed at the edges, and I knew what page it would fall open at if I untied it. So I didn’t.

But my eyes are a treacherous little pair, and they keep darting and flickering towards it when they think I’m not concentrating, and my mind is more treacherous again. I can see the page even without looking at it, pretty words about eternal summer and eternal lines floating before my eyes, as though poetry could give life better than a warm bed and a full belly.

I will not think about it, and I hate Henri for trying to make me. I look at the tulips instead, my patron’s first gift. They are beginning to wilt; their tongueless red mouths hang open.

I will not remember the words, I will not. Soon I will not need them. I will no longer be a languaging being.

And would it even matter if I were? There will be no conversation; there will be no-one to know. Probably, in fact, I will speak to nobody until tomorrow morning, when the nurse comes to administer the anaesthetic. And with nobody to listen…

I am not a languaging being. I am not.

I am not.

I am —

Jessica George is a PhD student from Pontypool, South Wales. Her fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Friction Magazine, and The New Flesh.

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