by John McCall

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The People's Voice

A short story

Generally speaking, as your humble editorializer, we, Barnaby Emanuel Leopold, Esquire, always make an effort to comment on things of general interest; and in this pursuit, we found ourselves seated on a hard chair in between the Morning Post and the Evening Star in the Media Room of the US Press Club in South West Washington, D.C., this evening at 8:15 when we discovered to our amazement something damp and disturbing in the back of our mouth.

That sensation was truly indescribable, but we shall make a dogged attempt: it was a texture not a taste, a feeling of...thickness and nothing more than that to begin with. We decided to hold our tongue, and the sensation disappeared as quickly as it had come. A bourbon and water, our first drink of the day, stood as yet untouched. We thought it might have been something we had just eaten.

Henri was at his finest tonight, and we had gorged ourselves on his Oysters Rockefeller, his rare roast beef, and his peach compote. We even began to worry about our midriff and started to think of some appropriate remark that would reflect the attitude of the majority of us, who must keep an eagle eye on what we eat. The moment we opened our mouth, though, we felt the thing again, thudding, as it were, into our mouth—like a peach, not like the sort in the compote, but having a kind of smoothness that might have been the peel, or the flesh of the fruit, or both made one. We thought we would spit the thing out then and there.

And no sooner had we decided than the thing shriveled, became manageable, of a size that could be spit out. Fortunately for the guests and the general sense of decorum at the Press Club, we caught ourselves in time and brought a napkin to our lips. We shudder to think of what might have happened had we spat then; for Alfy Bonner of the Daily Herald was, at that very moment, being introduced by the second vice—president of the Press Club, since Alfy was about to deliver a talk on freedom and responsibility in covering jury trials.

The thought of spitting in the faces of not only the inimitable Alfy and the second vice-president, but half-a-dozen of our colleagues, who together form what might be called the voice of Washington, fills us with horror to this very moment. But, of course, if no one saw.. .We raised the napkin to our lips with the utmost discretion - then grabbed it tightly, feeling the crush of starched linen. For up from below, or wherever else, came the thing, raw and meaty and clinging to the back of our mouth, our very throat.

Our heart pounded loudly, and quite unreasonably, we had a desire to hide our face behind the napkin. But oddly, though we were gripped by an acute sense of physical danger, it was only then that we remembered the little talk we were to deliver entitled “If the Public could speak up...”, a bit of journalistic whimsey we thought worth discussing.

We pulled our lovely, gold inlaid twenty year pen out of our inside coat pocket, tore the cover sheet of our typed speech, and scribbled a note to the effect that our voice was lost. We were in the process of handing the note to the waiter when we felt the foreign object dissolving, snatched back the note, and yes, felt the horror swell again, again but differently.

So differently.. .Blackness. We opened our eyes, glanced furtively about us, and covered our mouth with our right hand, as though ever so slightly bored by Alfy’s brilliant address in which he was now attempting to shame the “respectable” as well as the tabloid newspapers for encouraging bias. Alfy and his silver tongue, oily. Slimy.

Yes, slimy, the thing in the back of our mouth was covered with some kind of fluid, slimy as oysters. That was what made us go black, the thought of the slime, but even as we pretended to yawn, not daring, of course, to open our mouth, we felt more peaceful. Almost arrogant. What difference did it make whether the others noticed our boredom or not, how many yawns had we stifled to what little purpose? It occurred to us that we might have hit upon a general truth, that we might be expressing something that.. .Our heart, something clawed at our heart, yanked at it, uprooted it.

Roots. We felt roots sprout in the back of our mouth, the thing in our mouth was growing out of us. We would have to bite it now. It was clear, biting was our only hope. We could now feel the shape of the thing - its rim - it was long with a rim as round as the edge of the moon. Moo—moon—moo, it was cud, and cowish as our roast beef. We reached for the glass of bourbon, yes, we knew well that in order to bite it off, we must stick it out at all the others, and that we must hide it in the glass.

So we plunged our tongue and the thing beneath it into the glass. Perhaps it might dissolve whatever it was: smooth and furry as a peach and peach skin, raw as our roast beef, slimy as oysters; we thought it might vanish, eaten up in bourbon. The man sitting next to us from the Evening Star stared at us, made some noise, then subsided stunned in his chair. We almost laughed.

But we dropped the glass on the table, and though we could not see it, we lifted our hand, touched the thing beneath our tongue, and found ourselves holding another tongue.

This is a revised version of the original story.

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Rev 2010-1.