Saturday
Jul262014

Introduction of Tongue

Matt Dojny


 

Captain Josiah Perkins Creesy was a curious fellow indeed. In the field of naval conflict, he was famous for his unparalleled ferocity and valor—yet as a suitor, he was shy and retiring, verging upon the milquetoast. I myself enjoy lively conversation, but repartée was a thing the Captain did not readily provide: he was prone to lengthy, gloom-wracked silences, and it was often difficult to rouse him into civil discourse.

Still, we enjoyed our share of lighthearted moments. During his previous visit, he had playfully tied a piece of package-string 'round my finger and suggested we take a trip to the courthouse. I hadn't thought much of it at the time, but when I related the anecdote to Ĉiela, my handmaid, she gasped and—grasping my hand in hers—informed me that the Captain was undoubtedly attempting to determine my ring-size.

Shortly thereafter, the Captain sent along a note inviting me to accompany him to a plein air performance of Seksalloga's La Sovaga Virga de la Arbaro at Hintermead the following Saturday. Although I had laughed off Ĉiela's suggestion, I now had to admit that a marriage proposal was not completely out of the question. And, despite Captain Creesy's failings in the conversational realm, he did possess a dozen other fine qualities—his equanimity; his broad and well-built shoulders; his self-deprecating wit; his noble, Grecian mien—so, when Saturday at last arrived, I found myself looking forward to his visit with a mixture of trepidation and excitement.

That morning, I carefully bathed my body in fire-warmed wellwater, then perfumed the same with a tincture of rosehip and barley-clover. After slipping into camisole and drawers, I stood before the mirror and studied my figure with no small degree of satisfaction. Ĉiela materialized behind me, lightly caressing my shoulders as she too admired my pale reflection. Then, wordlessly, she slid her hands down my frontside, her fingertips cupping my bosom, and with an impetuous giggle declared, "Kiam la Kapitanaj rigardoj al la plena grandiozeco de via beleco, li certe faros rapidecon fari vin lia edzino!"

I slapped her hands away and responded with comical hauteur, "Lasita ne akiri antauen de ni mem, mia kara Ĉiela!"—although, in truth, her words made my stomach somersault with anticipation.

Ĉiela helped me into my ensemble—a canary yellow walking-gown of fine Malaysian cashmere, trimmed with grospoint de Venise lace at the hem; and, over that, a belted blue redingote with heavy braiding in the "Hessian" style; and, upon my head, a crêpe bonnet trimmed with delustred satin and banded with ribbons of chameuse—and then I retired to the study, awaiting the Captain's arrival.

The clock had already struck noon, but I knew my suitor to be habitually tardy—his other significant character flaw—and so I made myself comfortable, lowering my eyelids and conjuring forth the details of my new role as a Captain's wife. Within moments, I had fallen into a deep, engrossing sleep.

I wish I could say that what followed was merely a delirious nightmare: but, if that were truly the case, then it is a nightmare I have yet to awake from.

 

I was ushered back into consciousness by the shrill yapping of Martine, our Lhasa Apso, who traditionally entered into paroxysms of distress whenever visitors came calling. I shook the cobwebs from my dozy brain and hurried into the greeting-hall, where I discovered my mother, father, and the Captain huddled together in the foyer, murmuring in soft, conspiratorial voices. Sensing my presence, they each took a half-step backwards, as though disavowing their relation to one another, and regarded me silently.

"Good gracious!" I exclaimed, laughing with affected brightness. "You three appear as if you're scheming to defame President Fillmore!"

Neither of my parents responded to this quip, although their faces spoke volumes: my mother's jowls were as pink as young gooseberries, and a moist patina shone on the eyeballs of my father. As for the Captain, he gazed fixedly at the Oriental carpet, a curious half-smile on his lips.

Rather than waiting for these three mutes to find their tongues, I resolved to hasten my destiny along. "Captain Creesy," I said. "Would you be so kind as to escort me to the plaza of Hintermead?"

My boldness effectively aroused my suitor from his somnambulant state: the Captain bowed at the waist and, smiling gravely into my eyes, said, "A thousand pardons, Miss Prentiss. It is for that express purpose that I have traveled to your home this afternoon."

I accepted the Captain's proffered arm and addressed my parents. "We shall return in time for tea," I said. "But not a moment sooner!"

My mother, still blushing furiously, pressed her lips to my brow and whispered: "Good-bye, my angel." A wild titter then escaped her lips, causing her to cover her mouth and duck her head as though she had emitted a belch.

Papa's worried eyes interrogated the cloudless sky through the open doorway. "Do you not think it might rain?" he murmured, seemingly to himself.

The Captain gathered himself up to his full height and placed a reassuring hand on my father's shoulder. "Worry not, Dr. Prentiss. If the weather turns inclement, I pledge to provide a safe haven for your daughter."

"I know you shall, Captain Creesy." My father turned away, apparently overcome with emotion. "Farewell to you both."

The Captain's solemn gravitas; my mother's nervous embarrassment; Papa's bittersweet aura of resignation: they all seemed to indicate one single possible scenario.

What would you have thought, were you I?

 

Captain Creesy squired me down our granite-lined footpath and onto the wide dusty throughway that leads one into town. Walking arm in arm with the Captain down the lane, I experienced a mellow but joyous satisfaction as he and I gossiped of simple things—the death of Thompson Bledsoe's new quarter horse; the unjust imprisonment of Mrs. Hewitt's nephew for indigence; the infant born in Swampscott with only two digits on its left hand. I felt so exceedingly comfortable in the Captain's presence, it was as if he and I had been married for fifty years already and were partaking in our daily constitutional.

As we approached the marble archway that frames the entrance to Hintermead, I observed that the park was teeming with strolling families and yammering children and all manner of week-end enthusiasts. The presence of these strangers had an immediate effect on Captain Creesy's demeanor: his speech grew increasingly mannered and self-conscious with every step that brought us closer to the hoi polloi. I introduced a flurry of fresh conversational topics to spark the Captain's interest—my breakfast of coddled eggs and asparagus tips, my new dogskin gloves, the beauty of the noonday moon. I even recited a humorous piece of nautical doggerel that I thought might strike his funny-bone—For a month we'd neither wittles nor drink / Till a-hungry we did feel / So we drawed a lot, and, accordin' shot / The captain for our meal—although, in retrospect, the poem's themes may be less amusing to one who has spent long months confined to an ocean vessel.

Regardless of my efforts, there was no denying that my companion had slipped into one of his inexplicable malaises. By the time we entered the park grounds, we were barely speaking at all, and I began to wonder: Had I been deluding myself in regards to the Captain's intentions?

No, answered a voice from within. Impossible.

Turning a deaf ear to the antic fluttering of my heart, I found myself making a wild, unpremeditated, and wholly inappropriate suggestion—one that haunts me to this day.

"Perhaps," I said to my Captain, "we should take a turn through the Copse?"

 

If you've never had the good fortune to visit Marblehead's grandest park, then allow me to paint a portrait for you of Hintermead. Imagine gently undulating grassy slopes, crisscrossed by a series of gravel-strewn paths, each of which wends towards a central plaza situated on the highest hillock—the ideal vantage point from which one might view the glimmering crests of the distant Atlantic. And, off to one side—delineating the southeastern-most aspect of the park, as a hem of ermine might limn a handkerchief—is a densely wooded swath of land that is informally, but universally, referred to as "The Copse."

Ever since I was a girl, the Copse has held a unique fascination for me. It is common knowledge that the trees were planted in the previous century by a husbandman named Childacre, back when Hintermead's grass-topped knolls provided sustenance for his sheep and scare-goats; and, in the ensuing decades, the branch-tops of these closely-planted trees have intermingled with such complexity and density that—when one is in the heart of the wood—it is difficult to know if it is day- or night-time.

It is said that Childacre was a blackguard who was discovered, one afternoon, doing unspeakable things upon a pallet-shaped boulder in the center of the Copse with the daughter of a neighboring farmer, and was slaughtered on that boulder by that same farmer, who then strung Childacre's body up from one of Childacre's own tree-branches; and it is said that the specter of Childacre dwells now in those same black and knotty branches—and, too, in the thorny brambles that choke the labyrinth of pathways within the Copse—and that this unfriendly spirit sings a courting-song in an exquisite and womanly voice, and that the lonely and the love-lorn are lured into this forest by Childacre's beautiful singing; and that, once the poor bewitched souls are ensnared within the brambles, their eyes and tongues and hearts and unmentionables are removed and gobbled up by the gluttonous spirit of that heinous granger Childacre.

In addition to the tales of Childacre, there were other whispered stories of the Copse: stories of the "Dim Imp," a sightless man-child with near-translucent skin, who—abandoned in the Copse by his parents—survived by rooting in the mud for grubs and nightcrawlers and scarabs, and would burst into a terrible sorrowing wail whenever he smelled other humans approach; stories of the half-mad Indian chief, Sachem Nanapashemet, who—back when this land was known as "Massabequash"—slaughtered two-and-twenty Christian men on this site (because one had offended the honor of the Squaw Sachem), and whose tortured spirit was now sequestered in a blood-swamped rabbit-hole; stories of "The Mandrill," a monstrously deformed chimpanzee who'd escaped from a traveling jubilee and lived in the treetops, eating rats and the occasional small child; and, lastly, stories of Dr. Winterbottom, a prominent podiatrist who liked to hide just within the Copse and have inappropriate relations with himself whilst spying upon the parkgoers from the shadows.

Being a grown woman, I did not give much credence to these childish and outrageous tales (apart from the story regarding Dr. Winterbottom, which everyone knew to be the unfortunate truth); and yet, the Copse still held a certain talismanic power over my imagination, and I was shocked to hear myself suggest that the Captain and I enter that untamed forest. Before I could withdraw my proposal, however, the Captain was saying:

"Absolutely, Miss Prentiss. I should very much enjoy a private moment with you."

A private moment!

It is pathetic to recall, in hindsight, how my diffident spirit soared upon hearing those words.

 

Entering the Copse, I was struck by the hushed and remote atmosphere within that weald, despite the fact that we stood a mere stone's-throw from the promenading masses. The slender coal-colored trunks were so densely and evenly distributed, and so similar in circumference from one to the next, that it appeared as if we walked within a maze of mirrors, and that the illusory thicket was—in reality—the infinitely-repeated reflection of a solitary black-gum tree.

As the Captain and I made our way along the winding path, I felt as if I were a child stepping into the pages of a storybook; and yet, inversely, I also experienced the most curious and uncanny sensation of being alchemically translated, changed from a fictional character into a woman of flesh and blood and bone. I cannot explain why the Copse had this effect upon me, other than that a conjuring magic hung in the air—and not the dark magic I'd expected from that small forest. Rather, it was as if the place were a wondrous stage set, created specifically so that the Captain could get on bended knee and speak the words that I knew to be in his heart.

"Perhaps," said the Captain, "you and I could find a comfortable place where we might pause for a few moments and enjoy this idyll—unless, of course, you'd prefer to go straightaway to the music-show . . ."

"I'd like nothing better than a respite with you, my Captain," I responded. "In fact—this fetching tableau would do quite nicely."

We had, by then, reached the heart of the Copse. As previously noted, this grove had an unusual density of shade within it; but, in the spot we now paused upon, there was a slight lessening in the tree-cover, so that the afternoon sunlight illuminated a wide, flat boulder which seemed divinely designed as a natural bench for visitors such as ourselves.

The scene was so picturesque, in fact, it took another moment to recall the similarity of this boulder to the slab of granite that plays so terrible a role in the bloody-minded tale of Childacre.

"A quaint spot indeed," said the Captain. "Based upon its charming presentation, one might presume that the forest itself is inviting us to take a respite here and continue our intercourse."

I hesitated for but a moment; and then, pushing the ugly tale of Childacre out of my mind—for a tale was all it was (and a tale told by children at that)—I gave the Captain a smile and lowered myself onto that boulder, saying: "Then rest here we shall."

The Captain bowed, and installed himself next to me. "An enchanting location," he said, taking in the scene.

"Truly," I agreed, giving him an encouraging nod. "A magical spot."

"Yes. Very magical. And extremely . . . pretty." The Captain gazed about searchingly, as though hoping to discover sentences written in the air that he might speak aloud. "It is truly so very, very, very pretty here," he said—then emitted a plaintive sigh, and fell back into a sepulchral silence.

"Indeed," I intoned; and then, to my dismay, I too found myself at an utter lack for words.

And in the ensuing lull, it seemed as if the opportunity for a proposal had irrevocably passed the two of us by.  

Suddenly, the quiet was broken by a keening in the far distance. Most likely, it was the cry of a child in the park who'd skinned an elbow; for a fleeting moment, however, I imagined it to be the plaintive wail of the so-called "Dim Imp," and found myself pressing my body into the Captain's. Without hesitation, he rested a reassuring hand upon my shoulder, and I turned towards him, eager to accept the comfort he proffered.

And so it came to pass that I placed my lips upon the Captain's.

 

In its first phase, our kiss was predominantly chaste. The Captain and I pressed our mouths together as a pair of childish cousins might, in a mere simulacrum of passion—and yet, even this pantomime of lovemaking was an incomparable thrill. I was overflowing with the heady consciousness of being a blood-filled animal, an animal whose body was pressed against that of another such animal; indeed, it felt as if my blood had been dormant for all of my two-and-twenty years, and was only now stirred from its slumber, and, thus awakened, was distributing itself evenly and exquisitely throughout the whole of my flesh; after several seconds, I felt as if my spirit were divested from my physical form, floating in the cool air above our heads for a time before being pulled into the trees, lost among the twisted branches, so that I had become but a physical vessel, empty of contents, waiting to be filled. And it was then that I felt a kind of madness descend upon me, as though a wild spirit had violated me and taken possession of my body—

And I found myself parting my lips, and gently, incrementally introducing my tongue into the mouth of my beloved.

The shame it brings me now, to tell you how I delighted at the experience of allowing my tongue to penetrate that bulwark! I lost all sense of temporal and spatial understanding, and fell into a kind of ecstatic trance as I delicately probed the fleshy interior of the Captain's mouth, waiting to experience the rapture of meeting his own soft tongue. I was lost in a universe of recreant sensuality, lips upon lips, and it seemed as if the two of us were tipping into the shadows, our bodies floating and revolving, twinned sides of a coin sent spinning through the air; I could not locate myself and the outlines of my form, nor could I ascertain the outlines of the Captain's.

And yet, I was still minutely conscious of the fact that the Captain's tongue had not met my own; and with this consciousness, I was slowly brought back to the world, overcome with attendant shame. I wrenched my face away from Captain Creesy's, filled with hatred for him at that moment: hatred for his rectitude, and his righteousness, and—more than anything else—for his unfathomable silence.

His face was still tipped slightly backwards, bathed in the inky shadows of the trees, and he stared at me dumbly, his pretty eyes bulging. I waited for him to apologize, or to chastise—to proclaim his love, his loathing, anything—and yet he remained absolutely mute apart from a low, uncanny mewling that arose in his throat.

I felt myself go pale, and, before I fully understood my own actions, I had slapped his face with my open palm, crying: "Speak, you brute—speak!"

At this, his eyes grew wider, as though his eyes would grow wider and wider still until the whites might consume his entire face—a terrible image that I still cannot purge from my own mind's eye. His skin seemed to tremble and his fingers rose to his mouth, touching his lips as though they moved of their own volition, like two curious forest animals exploring the face of a dead man.

"O, why do you say nothing?" I sobbed. "Speak what is in your heart—or damn you to Hell!"

At these words, and as though under some manner of enchantment, the Captain obediently parted his lips—first tentatively, then fully, his jaw seemingly unhinged—and the sky above our heads grew crimson as a dull roar filled my ears; and I gazed within the mouth of my beloved, which now appeared to be a bottomless cavern, vast and pitch-black; and I could see that he had no tongue, no tongue at all—and the roaring in my ears merged with the terrible sound that came from deep within my Captain—and a bilious, opalescent fluid issued forth from his throat, pouring from his mouth and onto the forest floor and upon my lap, soaking my gown—and I opened my own mouth to scream, and scream I did—

 

I screamed, and I screamed, and I screamed; and I did not cease screaming, until the hour that the Captain and I were wed.