It happened the morning after Sylvie downed a bottle of crème de menthe so she would smell good when she whispered uncouth nothings into Peter’s ear. Peter from the office. Peter with the hair. Through the wet wool of her hangover, Sylvie managed to recall the taste of his earwax. (Sour.) And the pine- green chunks she’d puked onto the oiled leather of his shoe. Her lips were crusty now. Her throat was dry. The sunlight in her eyes shone sharp as tacks. Motherfucker, she said, or tried to say. What came out instead was a floppy non-word that sounded like Muff, but also, somehow, not. She tried other syllables, succeeding with certain consonants: Buh. Vuh. Fuh. She noted, yawning, a new and airy vastness in her mouth.
For hours, Sylvie found herself hunched over any mirrored surface she could find, scrutinizing forgotten body parts: the backs of her teeth; the uvula. She’d heard stories about drunken hazes, bathtubs full of ice, missing kidneys. But the flesh in there was a healthy pink, and smooth. The thing just was, as her mother might have said, clean gone. Sylvie leaned up against the wall to think. She thought how she ought to develop a taste, so to speak, for soups. Mashable veggies, jams, etc. She thought about the word Mute. Spelled it forwards and backwards in her mind; thought she’d maybe like to write it down.
The notepad by the phone had the beginnings of a grocery list for the barbecue next week: Fried chicken, Popsicles, Oysters, Chips. Underneath Chips, Sylvie wrote Applesauce. She also scribbled Mute. She did this again in cursive. She flipped the paper over and wrote the word in caps. Took a shower, rouged the apples of her cheeks, pinned the sheet of paper to a nicely pressed lapel. As she ambled down the sloped and winding walkways of the city, the pedestrians who did not avert their eyes felt the urge to talk at her. Somebody said Dumb Bitch. Most of them said Sweetheart!, or, What a looker!, or, Care for a coffee? The man who asked about the coffee was quite a looker himself. The opposite of Peter. Bald. Broad. Blue-eyed. Sylvie flashed her molars at him, which – she was surprised to find – meant Yes.
They sat together at the table and he was so very handsome. Clean-eared, too. She looked him up and down and thought he seemed a perfect thing, sculpted out of new wet earth. He caught her arm, kissed the tips of her fingers and said, Espresso fine by you? He was up then and winking at her from the line, where he ordered and did a little dance to please her. Sylvie smashed her face into her hands and marveled at the heat in her cheeks. She imagined future joint activities: frolicking, screwing, the clasping tight of clammy hands.
He returned and handed her a miniature white mug that made her feel like a giant. It was a simple gesture. One kind thing. He bent over the table to kiss her. Sylvie had no name for the shivery shivers she felt when he placed his tongue onto the soft wet floor of her mouth. It crackled cool there, like peppermint, and she supposed that it was simple, what she felt. Filled up.
He talked with her about his job, his mother, his kids. He asked her questions and she answered by making shapes with her hands. (The letter L on her forehead. Crossed thumbs: a bird flapping its wings.) Outside, the sky was ink-black and the moon hung low. It was blood-orange, eclipsing, a piece of it missing. Sylvie had forgotten all about the eclipse but remembered now her plan. She was going to watch it from the roof of her building, maybe Peter by her side or maybe alone with a camera and a thermos warm with cider. It was going to be a good enough night. And now she was here, in a different neighborhood entirely, without a roof she knew to climb to. The pile-up of unsaid things got thick in her throat. It had become quite hard to breathe. She thought she ought to release some of the pressure, so she hummed an old good song, with sad lyrics but happy notes. At first the sound of her was so very small she thought no one could notice. But then he hummed it too. They were suddenly That Table with the Fucking Hummers, and for no good reason she switched to shrieking. Maybe, she thought. If she put her hands on this man’s hairless perfect head. If she squeezed just so, he might crumble into dust.
Katie Wudel’s work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Beeswax, The Benefactor, and on Nerve.com. Recently, she was awarded a fellowship from Hedgebrook and was accepted into the Tin House Writer’s Workshop.