Silver Birch by David Hartley (Lucent Dreaming Issue 6)

“Take a seat.”


It takes no speaking to see the doctor now. Just book online, then check-in on the touchscreen, then wait for your name, then open the door, then sit on the chair that is lower than his. She flutters down to it. He hasn’t looked at her yet. He’s looking at her record on the computer. Sparse, bare. She can see trees through the window. Beech and ash.


He turns to her, his smile practiced but genuine.


“What can I help you with today?”


He has a surname that she can’t pronounce – which is another reason to be glad of the website and touchscreens. Outside, a pair of magpies shoot into the beech. She finds magpies unnerving. She sang their song once, just once, and it came true.


“Take your time.”


The smile falters a little. She focuses. She points to her mouth.


“Your tongue?” he asks.


She nods. He leans back to get an instrument, a scope of some kind with a light. His shape opens up to her; broad chest, slim waist, furred arms. His chair creaks like a straining branch. He is not handsome in this room, she thinks, but elsewhere he would be. She would like to see him poolside, or in an airport. His sweat patches are demure, in their own way.


“OK,” he says. “Let’s take a look.”


She opens her mouth. He sees it, frowns. She opens her hand too but he doesn’t look down. She pushes it out and the toothed edges tickle the joins of her lips. He is very still but his frown melts away. Outside, one magpie drops from the beech to the ground and struts.


“Can I…?”


He wants to see it medically. And she allows him that, just this once. She opens wider. He shines the torch and peers at the sutures. She has been assured they were well made. She has grown used to the weightlessness of her mouth. She understands now how central the mouth is to her whole being. How it is always there; wet, hot, hard, full, empty. A complicated landscape, like something installed as an afterthought.


“Right,” he says. He sits back. She holds up her hand. Her tongue is there. Desiccated. He doesn’t take it. She lays it on his desk.


“OK,” he says. This time he means; close your mouth. She pulls it back in and brings her lips together. It tries to cling to her palate but she knows how to let it fall. She waits for his questions. Eating? Drinking? Talking?
He stares at her tongue for a while then he stands, goes to the window and closes the blinds. The magpie is snapped away. He slips back into his chair, leans forward. Here comes the lecture, she thinks.


“Silver birch?” he asks.


Now it is her turn to stare. Eons pass in her cavemouth. He makes all manner of movements. He ruffles his hair, he laughs, he rubs his eyes, he shakes his head, he leans back, he flexes his shoulders.


“OK,” he says, with a smile.


He unlaces his shoes and, with a practiced gentleness, eases them off. He is not wearing socks. His shoes are full of soil. She smells it before she sees it and her glands squirm like earthworms. He brushes his feet clean and shows her. She smiles; her eyes fill with tears and she wishes they were sap. She wants to wake up with her eyelids stuck together, with a wren nesting in her hair, with a lover carving initials into her sturdy thigh. She opens her mouth again, pushes the leaf out.


“It’s all taking too long,” he says, eventually. She agrees.


He wriggles his feet back into his shoes. She blushes while he ties his laces back up. She feels excited to see him again in the future. She wants to take him to an airport.


He gives her an ornate box and tells her to open it. His toenails, all lined up like a family in a picture book. She tips them into her hand and pockets them. She gives him the box back for her tongue. It all fits together so well.


Afterwards, she visits the beech. The magpies cackle and trill in greeting. She knows their nest is up there but she can’t see it and won’t climb. There is a crack in the trunk and she feeds it his toenails. It’s all taking too long, she thinks but she can’t stop smiling. It takes as long as it takes.

Browse issue 6 in full.
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