by Zeke Jarvis
So my uncle told me this story, and I know that when you hear that it’s some uncle story, you probably think that it’s going to be about some dumb thing that happened when some dumb dude was out drinking. But I swear that’s not what this is. First, this story didn’t even happen to him, if it even really happened. And the story isn’t just for laughs. It means something, I think. I mean, I know that I don’t know everything about religion, but it felt important when my uncle was telling it to me, though I’d rather not say exactly why he told it to me.
Anyway, the story goes that this guy is in church. He’s Catholic, so he’s doing communion or taking communion or however you say it. And he takes the host into his mouth, but, when he does, he kind of feels like a cut or a nick or something on his tongue. But it’s church, so he doesn’t want to be like, “Shit!” or something, so he just takes the host, does whatever hands things he’s supposed to do and goes back to his pew.
The guy forgets about it after a bit. Goes home, gets into comfortable clothes and stuff. Has dinner, goes to sleep and everything. By the time he’s getting ready for work Monday morning, the tongue thing is totally washed away from his mind. But, then he gets into work, and he and his coworkers are making small talk, like one person says, “How was your weekend?” and then, instead of giving an actual answer, the other person says, “Good, but not long enough” or something dumb like that. So anyway, he’s talking to his coworkers, and all of the sudden, his tongue starts really, really hurting. And so he goes to the bathroom, which he never does that early in the work day. But he does go to the bathroom, and he sticks out his tongue, and it’s white. Like, all white. He freaks out. Not like he throws a tantrum or something. And not like I wouldn’t freak out in his situation. Anyone would panic a little, right?
But he kind of pulls it together, and he looks around really carefully, making sure that nobody sees him with this horrible white tongue. And he sees that his tongue isn’t just white. It’s changed texture, too. Gotten like, papery. Or wafery. Like those cookies that they put in shakes at fancy restaurants. And it doesn’t make any sense, so he’s kind of in between not believing it and freaking out. He’s going back and forth between the two. But the thing is, this guy is supposed to be a churchgoer. Like, a man of God or whatever, and he still saw it as a disease or an illusion instead of a miracle. I mention it, because, although my uncle didn’t say for sure, I think that’s part of the story’s point.
But anyway, even though he’s kind of doubting, the guy can’t totally get rid of the freaking out part of his brain. So he tries to retrace his steps, and he remembers feeling the little nick at church. But, like I said, instead of feeling ecstasy or a miracle or something, he just figures that it must be some weird kind of bacteria that made his tongue turn white and paper. So his first thoughts aren’t, “it’s a miracle” so much as whether or not his family could sue the church if he ends up dying from some weird kind of infection.
To try to put his mind at ease, the guy takes a deep breath, and he pays attention to his body. He sees if he feels poisoned or weak or anything. But he doesn’t. In fact, he feels pretty good. And not just physically, but, when he pays attention to his body, he actually feels uplifted. That was my uncle’s word, “uplifted”. The guy still has a moment where he wonders if it’s a feeling like people are supposed to get this kind of elation before death, but he shakes it off quickly, and he goes back to his desk. When he leaves the bathroom, he smiles and nods at people, but he won’t talk, because he doesn’t want anyone to see his white tongue. It isn’t easy, but he’s able to get through work that day.
When he’s walking back to the subway, though, it’s different. As he walks by people, he doesn’t quite hear their thoughts, but he can feel their hurt, and he can get a sense of their problems. It terrifies him, I guess. Like, he passes by this one guy who’s a hardcore onanist, and the onanist feels lonesome and will probably go to hell, and that bums the tongue guy out. Like, it’s kind of gross, but does that really mean that he should burn for all eternity? This other person on the street is despairing, because they feel like they’ll never get a promotion. In addition to despair, they’re suffering from greed. And the guy feels like he should do something, but he doesn’t totally know what. He’s walking, and he pulls out his phone to distract himself, but he sees that his hand has turned white, and, this time, he thinks that it must be a sign that he needs to do something. He needs to help all these people. But how?
He’s kind of lost, so he just keeps walking, hoping to figure it out. And about a dozen people in, he passes someone who’s just too pitiful, too weak. When he does, he figures out what he’s supposed to do. He’s becoming the host. Like the host bit him back, and he’s a werehost or something now. So, to save this person, he needs to give part of his body. So he’s passing this sad woman, and the guy says, “Excuse me.”
She heard him, but she keeps walking, because she doesn’t know if he’s like, some kind of weirdo or something. But the guy can’t let her go, so he says, “Excuse me,” even louder. “I just want to give you something.”
And the lady turns. She’s still a little freaked out, but she doesn’t want to let things escalate, and it’s still light out. So she turns towards him, and the guy holds out one hand, he grabs two fingers of that hand with the other one, and he breaks the fingers off. He holds the broken-off fingers out to the lady. She looks at them, and she just starts screaming, and she runs away. Which kind of makes sense, if you think about it. I mean, if someone cracked off their fingers and was just like, “Hey, you wanna eat these?” you’d probably freak out too.
So she’s running away, screaming. And he doesn’t want to chase her, because it’s not like he can force feed her. But at the same time, he doesn’t want to waste these things that are kind of his fingers and kind of wafers and kind of Christ’s body or whatever. So he’s walking around holding them out to people and saying stuff about salvation, but everyone is just freaking out and running away from him. And he can’t get someone to just eat the fingers. And that’s it. That’s the end of the story.
So when my uncle finished telling me the story, I was like, “So what happened to the guy? Like did he die or get tossed in jail for chasing people around with his fingers?” But my uncle didn’t really answer. He just asked whether it mattered or not if the guy had ever been real in the first place, and I can’t quite get what he meant by that. I’m still working on it.
Zeke Jarvis is a Professor of English at Eureka College. His work has appeared in Bitter Oleander, 2 Bridges Review, and Moon City Review. His books include So Anyway…, In A Family Way, The Three of Them, and Antisocial Norms.