The Lick

Jessica Plante


I can't remember when the licking started, maybe while scanning my twitter feed and seeing her face and imagining my tongue sliding up her soft perfumed cheek to feel the oily granules of her make-up massage my taste buds. Maybe it was when that woman in the food court at Pleasant Heights Mall put a yellow blanket over one shoulder and hoisted her baby into the invisible where I imagined milk had begun coursing from the woman's engorged breast into the tot's practiced mouth. Or, while at the post office standing behind the old man who kept pushing his package along the grey Formica smiling like it was his first outing in a week. When he purchased an entire roll of stamps my mouth began to fill with saliva, my tongue fat as a sponge.

I began to fixate on the mechanics of the lick, watching in slow motion the three parts of the process: the unclenching of the jaw; the steam of the mouth exhaled as the tongue slowly arches out of its cave—like a great sea slug exiting a cradle of shadow or an abandoned shell—the lower mandible crushing into the larynx; and finally the resistant pressure of the object being licked, in my case often the bathroom mirror or my own fist.

It was not the object itself I craved. At first I didn't understand this and thought it was a problem of desire, that I wanted—amoeba-like—to wrap the object into my soul, the achy bruise of my heart, which was otherwise so vacant with its thrum, thrum, it's hassle of parading through my body its red desires, its fleshless intensity which I felt deeply in my clitoris as well as my toes. But I understood over time that this was false, it was not desire in a carnal sense that made my tongue ache, it was knowledge and experience. It was a kind of rapacious empathy. If I could lick it, I could understand it; I would know its surface, its temperature, its finish. I could ingest its point-of-view.

I started to lick door knobs to better understand how it felt to be a doorknob, to know how a palm grips its cool face and turns it as if it were nothing more than an impediment. I licked cars in parking lots when I thought no one was looking to know how the air must contour over their bodies, how the rain must slick and bubble and stream their curves at 20, 30, 80 MPH.

It was a heady time. Once my tongue was free I licked as many things as I could. I can tell you the minute differences in a hundred different varieties of tree bark, their coarseness, their flavors. I kept detailed graphs and charts and spreadsheets of all the objects I licked. I began to believe I was creating a new science, that humans had somehow lost their way in the world because we had stopped tasting what was around us. Think of it! We had become so limited—we tasted our food, most of it over-processed in factories, even our meats injected live and dead with chemicals and salts, sugar and fats. Our tongues know nothing. They are dumbed, murdered with boredom and repetition, luxuriating in having become like the rest of our lazy mollusk innards.

Instead, my tongue was coming alive. I purchased my groceries by the taste of their packaging—I'd eat nothing that had been contained in cheap alloy cans, I preferred the cold indifferent flavor of glass. It became difficult. I had to surreptitiously move through the produce section pulling heads of lettuce to my face, darting my tongue over the supple paper-thin leaves. Oh the delicacy! The timid tender bitterness like a young girl at the cusp of realizing her own beauty. If there were too many shoppers in the vicinity I might be reduced to closing my eyes and rolling a peach over the inside of my wrist, imagining it was my tongue.

This entire time in my life lasted only a few months. I began to get too reckless. I made mistakes, took too many risks. I climbed up to the top of Crow's Peak, the highest lookout point in the region, so that I could lick the outer edge of stone that clung to the precarious solidity above the pine-studded abyss. I wanted to feel each indent and flake of stone to learn what it was like to truly live on the edge. Don't laugh! The stone did taste of something peculiar, a pensive stoicism bordering on melancholy with under notes of the wildest bliss. Addicted, next I convinced a herpetologist to let me hold a number of poisonous snakes while I pretended to be a matriculating graduate student. Each time he turned his face away I'd let my tongue scan the snake's satin, pungent skin. Each divot in its rippling leather tasted of a chemical anger, a disappearing act, the reflection of our own fear. I could almost calculate with my taste buds how soon its next molting would occur.

Not long after, I was arrested for running my tongue over a woman's décolletage as we were both exiting the local Walmart. She wore a tukwi, and her skin had the most beautiful sheen. I believed she was foreign, perhaps Botswanian. I'd never been to Botswana but wanted a taste. I was sure she must have spent years applying the same oil to her body—she looked as highly polished as any human being I had ever seen, like a piece of acacia wood that had come to life. If I could place my tongue on her I'd know the truth, feel the slight variations in her grain, taste the tannins and the years she had stood out in sun and rain.

She clobbered my head with a gallon jug of milk and as she struck me I bit my tongue almost clean in half. If it hadn't been for my injury, which clearly proclaimed my guilt, I might never have stopped. In a way I must thank her for saving my life. I taste her each time I press my tongue's scar to the roof of my mouth.