by Evan James Sheldon
On my way home from the funeral, I saw a child that didn’t really look like a child. Or maybe he did, but not like a regular human child, more like something you would see in an old animated movie, like the child had been drawn into existence rather than birthed though I couldn’t place which cartoon.
Are you real? You know, like I am? I asked.
The child didn’t respond, and instead gestured to the table in front of him which sat with two legs on the sidewalk and two legs on the grass of his lawn, or what I assumed was his lawn. It was covered with a red-and-white-checked tablecloth and neatly organized parcels wrapped in slick brown paper. I picked up one of the parcels and knocked another onto the ground.
Sorry about that, I said. I really wasn’t sorry though. That’s just something you say. There’s an expectation of progression with most people, a route that must be followed for a proper interaction. I thought maybe I should buy one of the items on the table to really seal the deal though.
The beef tongue is particularly nice, the child said.
I only buy the tongues of things that can speak, I said. This was not necessarily a lie, as I had not purchased many tongues.
I don’t know if the cow could speak. But look at how lovely and thick this tongue is. The child waggled one of the parcels at me.
How are you willing to sell something you don’t even know that much about? I asked, trying to buy myself some time.
If you’re not buying that makes you a stranger. I really shouldn’t talk to strangers.
I nodded and thought about asking what sort of child sells meat by sidewalk stand, but out of everything that had happened that week, this was the first interaction I felt I knew how to handle. I didn’t want to ruin it. Maybe that way, I could look back and remember today as the day I bought the tongue from the kid who looked like a cartoon, instead of remembering the sound of shoveled dirt hitting my nephew’s coffin. That’s fine. Real fine. Do you have anything more exotic?
The child nodded, grabbed a parcel, and bagged it up for me, then double-bagged it so the juices wouldn’t leak.
I took the tongue home and set it on the counter. I untied the package and sloshed its contents out: one huge tongue, the boy hadn’t been lying. It couldn’t have come from a cow. Surely not. I pressed my hands into it, hoping to intuit what sort of animal it had been, and was surprised to find it unspool. It was still a tongue, just the longest, nastiest tongue I had ever seen, wrapped and rewrapped around itself; I couldn’t imagine the words it would speak. I looked it up and it turned out a tongue that long and skinny could only come from a Tubed-lipped Nectar Bat.
Fidget the Bat from The Great Mouse Detective. That’s what the child reminded me of. Something about the eyes. I wondered if he and I might have had great diabolical adventures together in a different world, one where we knew the outcome, where there were no surprises, even if it the ending wasn’t necessarily good for us.
I cooked the tongue with black garlic and yellow onions but only had a couple bites before I tossed the rest out the window, feeding the small scurrying things that no one else seemed to notice or care about.
With the tongue gone, the whole incident seemed unreal. Maybe it hadn’t happened. Maybe the non-event could ripple through time, resetting things gone wrong. Maybe I should drive to my sister’s, turn on an old animated movie, grab his spaceship-patterned comforter off his bed, and wait for him to arrive. I didn’t though.
I was still hungry. I felt like I hadn’t eaten anything so I boiled some water for spaghetti. While I waited for it to cook, I went to the dining room, pulled out a wooden chair, and sat on my hands. When I couldn’t feel them anymore, I pulled my hands back out and stared at them. They hadn’t changed, my hands were still my hands, but as the blood rushed back in, they tingled all over and I thought this would be as close as I could come to pixelating, as close as I could come to an expected conclusion, where the movie plays out just like I expect.
Evan James Sheldon‘s work has appeared recently in the American Literary Review, the Cincinnati Review, and the Maine Review, among other journals. He is a Senior Editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Director for Brink Literacy Project. You can find him online at evanjamessheldon.com.