Read one of the stories from Body Parts:
He woke with a start and saw it on the floor. His watch read nearly noon.
He reached behind to touch her for reassurance, but his companion must have left. Alone on the edge of the bed he closed his eyes, intending to keep them shut until his mind wearied of the fantasy. Yet how would he know the apparition had disappeared? He took a quick peek, but it was still there.
He hadn't realized he'd drunk that much but alcoholics typically engage in denial and they'd sniffed cocaine as well and gotten completely stoned. He thought -- stop thinking for God's sake! -- he remembered harsh words and, yes, a blow; his cheek was tender. And then...he must have passed out.
He'd learned he had a streak of violence which normally he kept under tight control, but what if what if -- what if -- high on booze and coke, he'd committed a terrible crime? Wishing to hide, he made a pillow sandwich of his head, but inescapably visualized pieces of bread containing sliced...
The object on the floor had to be a tongue. A human tongue from the size of it.
Slowly, gingerly, he opened his mouth and ran a finger over his upper palate, lips, wisdom teeth and, ohyesohyes, his tongue. He stuck the organ out in defiance -- the tongue was an organ, wasn't it? Well he still had his.
But what if he'd mutilated his companion in a fit of rage?
He'd find blood, a lot of blood, but saw none on the floor so he raised the top pillow to inspect his hands. They were spotless except for dirty fingernails. His friend had complained about that.
But suppose he'd washed his hands to rinse off guilt like a murderer? He gazed sullenly at the thing on the floor and groaned. What had led to this?
Unable to stop her from bitching, he must have grabbed a sharp knife from the kitchen, killed her and cut off the tongue at the roots. But where was the body? His mind was blank. Perhaps he'd dumped her in the tub to let the blood drain. How would he dispose of the corpse?
He still believed -- hoped? -- he lacked the capacity for homicide but his eyes were again shut to avoid the evidence on the floor. He steeled himself and stared.
The tongue was alive! At least it wiggled.
He'd watched too many horror films -- the culture was filled with horror.
The image projected by his busy brain in living color placed the tip forward, arched laboriously and dragged the root, progress slow but determined. Evidently navigating by feel, it avoided a throw rug, seeming to prefer the hard wood surface. It encountered a chair leg, stopped, quivered. The tip licked, exploring like an antenna, and the tongue went around the leg, humping along like a garden slug. What's the hurry? he wondered. He wasn't going anywhere and the tongue was his, so to speak, since it existed only in his bizarre perceptions.
It was a guilt-tongue, guilt for overdrinking and drugs, for mouthing inanities, for (oh God!) telling her he had another woman.
If he'd expected the tongue to vanish after he'd confessed to himself his sins he was mistaken. Instead, the organ appeared to demonstrate a will of its own. Below an open window the tongue reared, tip against plaster as if for traction, attempted to climb, fell.
The tongue wriggled, upside down, unable to right itself, tip flailing helplessly. He could see blood vessels pounding and a stem that would have connected it with a soft palate had there been one. A tongue without a body had to be a hallucination, could not be real, but he feared to test in case it was.
He couldn't resist. He rose from bed. Stooping, he put out a forefinger, recoiled, forced himself to try again. The tongue cringed at contact, pushing itself against the wall as if to hide from what, eyeless, it could not see, just as earless, it would not have heard his startled gasp.
Could his mind conjure up solid flesh?
Whose tongue was it? Maybe a ghost tongue sent to haunt him for his sins. A tongue of retribution. He had to find the body it belonged to or the tongue would be in limbo forever.
He raced through the small apartment -- bathtub, closets behind the couch, under the bed -- but found no body and no blood. Proof of her departure (he should have looked) was that the chain guarding the front door hung free.
The matter remained between himself and it. In the strenuous effort to turn over, the tongue had become crimson. He wanted to help but to touch the muscle again (wasn't the tongue a muscle?) seemed repulsive and, wearing latex gloves from the kitchen (they'd also protect him from infection) he put the tongue on its bottom.
Immediately the tongue resumed its futile attempt to climb to the window -- it must have felt the draft -- and perhaps escape. Watching the struggle the man experienced sympathy, identifying the stranger with the tongue he felt most sorry for -- his, speaking loosely. Poor tongue! Outside a host, the muscle-organ had no function, didn't know where it was or what person it belonged to in a world it didn't understand.
To show rapport, he raised the tongue which trembled. In some fashion it managed to communicate desire -- or was the desire his? -- and he removed the gloves, cupping the moist flesh in bare palms. The rigidity left and the tongue uncurled, no longer frightened. Nor was he.
"Nice tongue," He said.
The man marveled that a tongue could exist on its own and, to better examine the tissue, he held the tongue by the tip. The organ shook, as if in pain, and he coddled it, stroking the taste buds until calm returned. But not for long. The tip flicked and the tongue began to lose its ruddy hue.
"Have I hurt you? Are you dying? Oh God."
Perhaps the touch of his skin wasn't good for it. He found a shoebox, Jenny's and placed the tongue inside. It stirred weakly and his concern mounted. What could he do for a sick tongue? Should he call a doctor? Not that they made house calls...
He was deep in thought when he heard the front door.
He hid the tongue in a chest of drawers.
Jenny came in with a bag of groceries. "I shopped for Sunday brunch. What's the matter. You're pale."
"Cat got your tongue?"
"I'm a little surprised to see you, that's all."
"Yes. I considered not returning but I thought I'd give you a last chance. You were stinking drunk last night and absolutely awful. Paul, did you mean it when you claimed you'd give her up?"
Paul couldn't recall the statement but, yes, overjoyed at having Jenny back and, well, talking, he'd definitely break with the other woman although he loved her too. "I must have."
"I'm sorry I slapped you, but listen, I also can have lovers. Not that I want to..." She changed the subject. "Let's go out tonight. I don't quite trust us alone together."
They weren't exactly alone though the tongue didn't qualify as an actual person, but he didn't dare leave the tongue by itself. Unless, of course, hungover and upset by Jenny's absence, he'd imagined the tongue after all.
While she unpacked the groceries Paul peered in the shoebox. The tongue lay on its side, almost seeming to pant. As a living thing it must need air. He opened the drawer just a little.
She began making hollandaise sauce for the eggs Benedict but, worried about the tongue, he couldn't sit still. "Jen, I have something to tell you."
"About the woman? I thought we settled that."
"What you said about the cat. I have one," he said, by way of introducing the subject.
"I should hope so," she said breaking eggs. "Where would you be without a tongue? You'd drool. You already do in your sleep."
"You fail to understand. I have two tongues."
"Come on Paul. Even with a mouth as big as yours...."
"No, really. Two tongues."
"Good! We'll cook the other one."
"Jen, it isn't a beef tongue," Paul said guardedly. "I'll show it to you if you promise not to scream."
"A tongue would make me scream? Are you still high. You're acting pretty strange."
"You'd act strange if you found a loose tongue," he said.
"Paul, I'm starting to worry."
"Oh, you'll worry, all right." He removed the shoebox. "I warn you, it'll be a bit of a surprise."
"Surprise me," Jenny said with a full smile. She looked and screamed. "It moves! Is this a trick."
"No. I thought I'd lost my marbles when I saw it, but it's not a trick. The tongue is real. Human, I believe."
"I may gag."
"Don't. It's harmless."
"Christalmighty, I can't believe it. Must be a holograph."
"Flesh." He added, "and blood."
"Whose? Is the former owner dead?"
"I don't know but there isn't any indication of violence. He patted the tongue and inspected it clinically. "The tissue is smooth, without jagged edges, as if the tongue were born as a tongue, as it were."
"Tongues just don't happen," Jenny insisted.
"Maybe it was intended as an implant from China or somewhere," he said.
"Nonsense," Jenny said briskly. "We should call the cops."
"The police? We can't call the police. It's not as though they'd put the tongue in the lost-and-found. They'd ask questions like, do I have a permit to sell spare tongues? Have I a license to display it? Since I lack answers of any kind they'd take me to the precinct or worse." Paul said to the tongue, "If only you could explain how you got here."
"What do you imagine the tongue would tell us if it could speak?"
"That it's hungry, perhaps?"
"How do you feed a tongue that lacks teeth, a throat and stomach, not to mention bowels and an asshole?" she said primly.
"Let's try milk. Hold the tongue while I fetch some."
"Oh no, I couldn't possibly...."
"You're frightened of a helpless tongue? It wouldn't harm you even if it could. The tongue is friendly. Here."
Paul returned from the kitchen with a saucer of milk. The tongue lapped greedily but the level remained the same. "See? It can't swallow much, much less digest."
"It'll starve," he said with alarm. "You're a nurse. What can we do?"
"Maybe it can absorb blood through its pores. It isn't an ordinary tongue, God knows. Don't let it fall off the table." She came back with a sewing needle. "Give me your finger."
"I sanitized the needle with a match. It won't hurt. I only want a drop."
He let her prick him and rubbed the blood on the tongue's upper surface. The red spot disappeared. "My tongue loved it."
"Your tongue! It's our tongue and it must want more -- it's still pale. Keep an eye on the little darling. I'm going home for a second."
He tried to comfort the tongue while they waited, which was only briefly. Jenny took a hypodermic from a kit.
"Me, you coward."
She took blood from her arm, with Paul tightening the rubber strip around it. He admired her courage. She released the blood into a bowl and, while she bent her elbow over a piece of gauze, he inserted the tongue's root. The blood vanishes and the tongue wriggled, as if happy.
"Our domestic Dracula."
"What now? To live, the tongue requires fresh blood."
"Wouldn't a dog's blood work? We could get one from the ASPCA."
"You can't keep taking blood from a dog. They bite."
"Rob a blood bank? But we might get caught."
"We could feed it our own blood."
"I hate needles."
"Do you want it to die?"
The suggestion shocked him -- he felt paternal toward the tongue. "Certainly not. Sweet baby." He stroked the tongue which licked his fingers. "This is a miracle and we can't let a miracle perish."
"Well, I doubt it needs much. We can each donate a half-pint and keep the blood in the fridge."
# # #
The tongue, placed on a schedule -- a teaspoon of blood twice a day, plenty of rest, playtime -- turned frisky, scampering around, running into things, recovering bravely, displaying no further interest in the window.
"We have fun, don't we?"
"All three of us. It's amazing how the tongue's brought us closer. I rush here from work. You're around anyway because you were discharged..."
"To be honest, I fled. They don't know where to find me. My life might be in danger if they located me."
"Okay Paul, you're being melodramatic again. An endless vacation without pay is how I think of your situation, and the tongue gives you something to do besides mope. You should be grateful. I am too because we never leave home now that I've finally moved in. I'm content, even without cocaine, are you?"
"Oh yes. I don't miss not having company. I couldn't bear losing....we need a name."
"On the tip of my tongue...yes, Tip!"
"Tip sounds cheerful. I couldn't bear to keep Tip cooped up in his drawer. If we let it out people would notice and talk."
"Scientists would take Tip away from us."
"We can't risk that. Jen, shoot a picture of me and Tip."
"Another? You'll have an album before long." She put down the Polaroid camera. "Darling, is that healthy?"
"Letting Tip lick you."
"What's wrong with Tip licking my ear? It licks yours too."
"But not my lips. I wouldn't let it. You do."
"Tip doesn't have germs. And it makes me excited. You ought to be grateful," he said.
"The way it tries to soul kiss you!"
"It's just trying to touch another tongue. Only human."
"Have you considered that Tip might be male?"
Paul hastily pulled the tongue away from his mouth. "A gay tongue. I wish you hadn't mentioned the possibility. I know how we can find out. Let's see if it wants to kiss you, Jen."
"All right, but only once. Mmmmm."
"Why are you giggling?"
"It tickles. Well, the tongue likes me too, so it probably isn't male or female, just affectionate. Still, I'd really like to know where it came from."
"It's my baby, is all I care about."
"Paul, would you have a baby -- a real one?"
"Who needs a baby when we have Tip? It doesn't cry, doesn't need changing...easy, darling. Tip wants to be fed. My turn."
"Mine!" Jenny fetched the blood and warmed it. "You mustn't think I don't love the tongue as much as you do. I adore its every charming membrane. I only wish the tongue could tell us about itself."
"It would have to speak."
"Maybe it could, with the necessary equipment."
"Are you God's tongue? The devil's?" Paul queried the tongue jokingly. "Some answers might be better not to have."
"Where's your intellectual curiosity?" She mused, "It might not be so hard. In order to speak, Tip would need breath, a palate, lips. Maybe we could supply them. You're inventive and good with your hands."
"We're happy as we are. Why take chances? Suppose what it says isn't good for us to hear? Suppose somehow it tries to destroy us?" he said.
"Our gentle tongue?"
"Temptress! You sound like Eve. But you're right, what harm could Tip cause? Maybe you even possess the truth, you sweet pink muscle you. I'm interested."
"Okay. We could mount it in a tube for a mouth. The top would serve as a palate."
"For breath we could use the vacuum cleaner exhaust."
"False teeth on the end of the tube for the tongue to press against."
"We'll have to find a voice box like in laryngectomy cases....Maybe a thin sponge on the end of the tube, with a hole in it, would work for a mouth. I could help the tongue shape words with my fingers."
The contraption was soon ready. Paul patted the tongue encouragingly and inserted it into the transparent tube in which it was carefully mounted on rubber pads.
As if exploring the new environment, the tongue licked the tube, the false teeth, the sponge, withdrew.
"It's ready. I can hardly wait. Turn on the vacuum cleaner," she said.
"Do your stuff!" she said.
The tongue curled as if in defiance.
"Say something!" he said.
The tongue stuck itself out.
"Come on! Please!" she said.
At last the tongue fluttered a bit in the current of air -- its first attempt, perhaps, to express itself. Jenny seized Paul's hand as they waited. Then they heard, like a deep sigh, "Hop...hel..."
"What was that?" he said.
"I'm not sure. Move its lips for it."
"Hope! Baby's uttered its first word!"
"It may not have been 'hope'," Paul cautioned.
"Help," stated the tongue, in the voice box's bass monotone.
"Did it say 'help'?" she asked.
"I thought it was 'hell'."
"Hello," said the tongue, or seemed to.
"It's greeting us!"
"If that's what the word was," he said.
"Help," said the tongue.
"Oh Lord, it needs help," she said.
"Hope," said the tongue, perhaps.
"For better things. Amen," he said.
"Hell," said the tongue.
"Does it describe its existence? Is it unhappy?" she asked.
"Helope," the tongue grunted.
"There! The message is 'hello' after all," he asserted.
"It was 'help'," she said.
"'Helope'," he claimed.
"It was 'hope'," she said.
"It was 'hell'," he said.
` "It was 'hello'!" she said.
"Can't you understand anything, damn you?" he said.
"It's you who don't," she said.
"Fool," he accused her.
"You're the fool. There's nothing else to say."
"You struck me! Paul, we must get rid of the tongue before it's too late."
"Get rid of Tip?" He sniffled. "I couldn't."
"Otherwise Tip could cause a murder. One of us might cut out the other's tongue. You were right -- we shouldn't have taught Tip to speak. This tongue is evil. Look! It's becoming deeper red."
"It glows like fire! Tip's the devil's tongue, by God. She must be gotten rid of, yes."
"Tip might be found. And he might escape."
"She. The Disposall?" Paul said.
Jenny shuddered. "That would be like homicide."
"Okay. Let's boil the tongue and have it for dinner."
"You want the devil inside you? I personally would rather not. Definitely not."
"Let's run an ad. Maybe someone's hunting for Tip."
"I couldn't give my name or even my phone number. Let's list yours."
"But Mom's home. She has a bad heart."
"I suppose I could take a chance."
The ad ran in The Village Voice.
On the same day the buzzer sounded from the lobby and Paul could hear footsteps ascending the staircase. He could see through the viewer two men waiting outside his apartment door. He went for the shoebox but Tip was gone. He refused to let them in without search warrants.
Jenny was gone for good.
He thought about the other woman. "Helope," he said when he phoned.
|About the author
For more information, please contact author
|or call:||(212) 879-3089 or (631) 537-3068|
|or write:|| Arthur Herzog
PO Box 294, Wainscott, NY 11975
Cover Design by Chris Rush