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wet words

Oliviah Lawrence

Decorative Green Leaf with pink stem

Losing my voice had been gradual. Gravel embedding in my tonsils as I woke up. A brush of fingertips along my throat as I scrubbed my teeth. I tried gargling bitter mouthwash to chase the tickle away. Whenever I stopped moving, whether it would be after bleaching the toilet or deboning salmon, my breath would catch as if there was a layer of yellow phlegm caught on my tongue. Furry and popping like algae. Then nothing. No hitch, no groan, no speaking.


     Weeks before I noticed that my voice was gone, Jamie had asked me why I didn’t wear red stuff on my lips anymore, in fact my lips were looking thin recently. That night I dug out my makeup bag, unzipped the metal teeth and dug through the half-filled glosses.


     When I tried to speak and only pain waited behind my teeth, I thought maybe my crusty lip glosses were to blame. All the documentaries that I had binged told me to gut my makeup collection every six months; still I had been drenching my face with the same colour. I threw the stained pink bag and everything that rattled inside into the green bin. I drank two litres of water and carried on.


     It took Jamie two weeks to realise. Where were his jeans? His jeans? Had I washed them yet? I didn’t know but tried to answer. He asked me again, so close that bitter mouthwash licked my eyes. It smelt rotten on his breath like plaque was still hiding in his gums. His jeans had been on the bedroom floor, phone bulging like a caught fish in the pocket.


     At first, he joked that he liked me better this way, that maybe his dad was right, but then he shook me. His lips were thin and strained, making me think of my own, overlined in fresh red.


     At the doctors, we waited for an hour, surrounded by ugly vinyl seats. The thread holding the navy vinyl together was loose, curling towards my thigh. I wrapped it around my finger until it bulged blue but felt nothing, no pain, no pricking numbness.


     The seats had no arms, only metal legs that melted together. Jamie spread his shaking knees wide, smashing against my leg. Needles tore at my flesh, and I pressed my thighs together. Away.


     Nailed to the walls were paintings of pears, boats, and tall glasses of water. Were they promises of how I would feel after three a day for two weeks? Calm and back to washing jeans. I closed my eyes and focused on how I felt now. Hollow.


     Opposite us was a window with rain trickling down the other side. Blood pumped hard in my throat. I wanted to reach up and wrap my fingers around the pain, but Jamie was sitting beside me. I clenched my hands on my knees. The black nylon snagged on my nails, and I imagined the little crescents scarring beneath.


     Jamie reached over and squeezed his large hand over my own. My fingers twitched but I didn’t pull away. He was nervous. He was cheating on me.


🔮


     He hadn’t been acting weird. He had avoided my how was works, guess what happened todays, but no more than usual. Maybe it’s because they hadn’t slept together yet. Or maybe I was as stupid as he thought.


     Before my voice disappeared, I had a UTI from the last time we slept together; when I had been trapped under his arm and dozing to the idea of weeing. I told Jamie it was a water infection. There was a half-squeezed tube of cream waiting beneath the sink and I kept it hidden behind the toilet roll stacks for days.


     My hand had been wedged between two fat rolls when I noticed a flat cardboard tube. It was inches from the small bin. I closed my eyes and swallowed a sigh.


     Tissue caught on my nail as I pulled myself free. The toilet rolls tumbled, vomiting out a black, bulky phone. Hidden, because it was the ring?


     Another woman. As I cradled the phone, she sang to me. Hummed into my skin that he needed to tell me. Or she would.


     She stayed with me, pushed out my voice to make room for her small white words. I reread the messages every night. Mouthed them until I fell asleep. All of Jamie’s dripping words.


🔮


     The doctor isn’t sure if he should remove my tonsils. Their fate relies on the flip of a coin. Some infection has been gnawing at me from the inside and I didn’t realise. My body didn’t even fight it.


     My stomach is collecting pills. Under the bathroom light they are pale and sectioned by the creases in my palms. I swallow them dry. They wedge into the inflamed flesh of my throat. I am glad there is some feeling left.


     Jamie has told me to leave the bathroom door open. I push it closed with my foot but don’t let it click. Downstairs is the crackle of some football game. He’s messaging her right now, I know it. Is he telling her about my silence?


     Steam fogs the mirror. It sneaks over me like seafoam snatching sand. Pale hair peeks through in patches. Pearl skin. Dull eyes. I expect my throat to glow red, to be tender under my fingers but the skin is cool and clear.


     I stretch my jaw open until it pops. Darkness spirals from my lips and down my throat. I tilt my head back, grip my tongue and pull it flat. The muscle is sliced down the sides, chunks pulsing like coral. I scrape the lumps along my teeth. There is no pain, just a thudding that echoes deep within me. Salt clings to my teeth.


     White fluff. I squint and lean into the mirror. My temperature spreads over the glass, melting the fog.


     The fluff bubbles, swelling into saliva. Clumps of white froth trail from the wrinkling roof and down my throat. I hold my jaw open and swallow. My neck shifts like I am about to throw up, still the froth clings to teeth and tissue.


     I swallow again. Deep inside my throat, pink folds flap and flap like fins. I brush my fingers up and down my neck. Has this always been happening inside me? Steam swallows my lips, elongating my teeth into points before I disappear.


     Something creeps into the corner of my eye. Jamie. He has come to see if I am lying again, like when I curled up on the mattress, crying as the muscles in my thighs spasmed. When I was being dramatic.


     But it is the bath. It is overflowing, the water surfing the plastic edge.


     My knuckles bulge white as I force the stiff tap to turn. As I slip into the bath the overflow gargles my water, polishing each metal tooth. I take a deep breath, hold it close to my chest, then let the water engulf me. After a few minutes of waiting for my lungs to burn, bubbles sneak to the surface.


     White spots pucker on my stomach. I shift in the water, feeling it glide over my skin. The bubbles flatten and reveal red ingrown hairs that I’ve never noticed before. They trail along my ribs and over my breasts.


     I sink deeper until my tailbone smacks against plastic. I cup my breasts, the space between my fingers like the lines on seashells. I don’t want to see myself. I squeeze my eyes closed but she is waiting for me. The smoothness of her stomach, his hand trailing up from her belly button. Would she get the ring? Lose her voice? Maybe we would end up more alike than I thought.


     Rocks thump onto my collarbones, dragging me down. My eyes shoot open and the ceiling swirls, then Jamie’s face floats into focus. He is tinged blue and his eyes are wide, mouth gaping, lips puckering like a fish. Did you speak, did you speak? Fucking talk to me, did you speak? I stare at him until he blurs at the edges. I don’t speak.


🔮


     I start having a bath three times a day, each after I have scraped my food in the bin and swallowed my pills. One evening, Jamie returns from texting her and drags in the pillows from my side of the bed. He squashes them on the fake tiles beside the bathtub before dropping down. Black gunk from his uniform rubs off on the silk case. They each cost forty quid. Will he rest them beneath her hips, between her thighs? Every night I have whispered to them; they already know about her.


     He missed his packed lunch today, the usual ham and cucumber sandwiches, their crusts cut neat. But they worked in a pub so it was fine in the end, he had a beer, a pie and a good laugh. Earlier he told me he had been working at a hospital. Am I confusing the days? Remembering what he has told her instead of me? Recently his words have been raindrops I reach out for; sliding through the gaps in my fingers until all I see is the movement of his lips, the little white letters.


     I close my eyes and then his voice is gone too. The water is cooling down, pricking my skin with goosebumps. I push the tap with my toe, releasing a stream of warmth that caresses the inside of my thighs, moving up and up.


     The wave scratches against my hip. Jamie smirks down at me. His face is warped like it’s being sucked down a drain, swirling and swirling. I shiver in his grip.


     His palm trails over to my stomach and rubs harder as if searching for bone beneath my flesh. I press my thighs together, away; they spread over the plastic, but his hand is a leeching jellyfish.


     He wants to hear me. In the only way he likes. Soft and thankful. Words as wet as his.


     I smile and hum bubbles that ring around his forearm. I open my mouth wide and sing the way he wants. His eyelids droop, his smirk falling away. He begins to drool.


     I bow under his touch, bending so that my stomach almost breaches the water, the promise of an untamed shore. He leans closer, hand slipping deeper into the water.


     Lines ripple the water as I sing to him. He blurs, skin mottling. I clutch at his arm and pull and pull. The water swallows his elbow, blackens his sleeve, sucks at his shoulder. Droplets splash into the sparse hair he calls a beard, like spots ready to burst. Pop, I say and so they do.


     His lips pop too but my singing drowns his words. I watch as his mouth moves, so close to me that I can see his lips, stringy with saliva, pink flesh constricting inside. There are no slices on his tongue, no waving flaps. Then he stops. To him I am enchanting again, a small brunette across the bar, his girlfriend, the only one to hear those little white words.


     Jamie stumbles into the bath. Rain drenches the stacks of toilet rolls, the fogged mirror, the pillows before he could ruin them. His clothes stick to my bare skin. He doesn’t cry or scream but his body fights for him, splashing as he tries to sit up. I dig my nails in. He flails to my hums.


     I hold him tight as his limbs stiffen and slow. His groans echo in my chest until they stop. Jamie slips from my body, arms thudding against the bathtub as he is fully submerged. His skin is tinged blue, blurring and mottled.


     I burst from the water into cold air. Water trickles down my arms. My breathing is heavy and loud, but real. I laugh. Real as it fills the house. Real, real, real.

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