There’s a hole in my tongue where your name used to be. I look at it in the mirror. My tongue squirms in a self-conscious attempt to hide the defect. Raw sound rises in my throat, enters the back of my mouth. Cheeks, jaws, pallet, teeth, and reluctant, wounded tongue struggle to shape it, but it finds the hole and whoosh, the sound of air and nothing else.
I go to a bar downtown. I need to find something to fill the hole. I stand at the edge of a turbulent, boisterous crowd. Like a pool at the base of a waterfall, it swirls, tossing things out to splash against me, then sucking them back in a dance of eddies and currents.
She bumps against me. Her eyes are black in the inadequate light of the room.
“What’s your name?” she says. She’s nearly my height, her face close to mine. I can smell her breath. Bourbon. Ice cubes clink in her glass as she sways with the shifting tide.
“Paul,” I answer.
“Pole?” she says, half-question. “You can’t be Pole. You’re too big. You’re fat,” she says, emphatic. “Bowl, maybe, or Spool. Look at you.” She says it, “Lokachoo.” Her lips are full. Her mouth works energetically to shape the words.
“Do you work?” she asks.
I shake my head. My stupid, pointless job does not deserve to be called work. It does not merit mention in casual conversation.
“I’ll buy you a drink,” I say, nodding toward the bar.
“When I’m ready,” she says. She holds up her glass. It must be a double, the glass more than half-full of amber, the ice sharp-edged, dangerous.
She moves in closer. I feel the wall against my back, feel the awkward shape of my own body made more awkward by her gaze. But I don’t care. I’m here for this. For the hole.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
She tilts her head back. Her nostrils flare. She seems taller and her black eyes seem blacker.
“If I told you my name, you wouldn’t be able to say it,” she says.
published 8 June 2016