It started off as a small lump just under my tongue. I remember the day I first felt it. It was a Sunday; we were at Burger King. We’d just got the kids settled into their places and I took the first bite of my burger. This pain shot through the top of every tooth—figured it must be a canker sore or something. I ate the rest of my meal careful to avoid it.
For the next week, the thing refused to disappear. I did everything right: gargled with saltwater, like, three times a day. I’m pretty sure I aggravated the problem too, though. You know how it is when there is something goin’ on in your mouth—yer tongue becomes possessed, constantly playing with whatever it is. I remember when I got my wisdom teeth out in grade twelve… I was always filling the holes with the tip of my tongue until I tasted the bitter, sour blood at the bottom of the cavernous gum.
Two weeks after I noticed the thing, it was still there: seemed to be getting’ bigger too. My wife told me I should go see the doctor, but I’ve always hated that guy. He seems a bit too excited to gimme a prostate exam: every time I go in there, he brings out the rubber gloves and Vaseline, swear t’ Christ. I was a little scared too: I quit talkin’ about the thing, hoping she would forget. She did, for a few days. I tried to forget about it too.
Must’ve been about a month after I first noticed the thing that I finally went to the doctor. I was sick of eating around it. My tongue was sore from constantly playing with it, analyzing it. I gave the lady at the front desk my health care card and sat down and waited my turn. The only thing I do like about going to the doctor is sitting in the waiting room. I pretend to read the old magazines they have there, while secretly trying to determine what the other folk are in there for. It was particularly busy that day: I had lots of time to speculate.
“Ah, she’s definitely got a yeast infection. Her kid has croup. Him, hmmm, he’s limpin’ a bit, but I don’t think that’s what he’s in here for… looks like an older injury– he’s probably here to get some Viagra. That kid is still cryin’, fuck. Ok, how ‘bout him? He’s young, looks healthy… probably got an STD, he’s in for a hell of a surprise. God. The clap is no fun. I wonder who gave me the dose before I met Karen… fuckin’ bitch…”
I stood up and put my magazine back in the rack and followed her to the little room way in the back.
“Alright, so what brings you in here today, Glen?” She didn’t even look at me; bothered me for some reason, though I’m not sure why… they were busy after all.
“Well, it’s kinda embarrassing, actually… sure it ain’t nothin’… just got this little canker sore, or somethin’, that’s givin’ me grief… won’t seem to go away.”
She gave me a knowing look before lookin’ at my file again.
“How long has it been bothering you Mr. Douglas?”
“Oh, bout a month or so… sure it’s nothin’”.
“Alright, I’ll get you to take a seat in here and the doctor should be right in.”
She didn’t wait for a response as she ushered me into the little room while closing the door all at once.
I sat on the crinkly paper alone. I hadn’t even told my wife I had an appointment that day. We were way past tellin’ each other about the little details of our day by then. I probably wouldn’t have asked her to come in with me anyways. I felt silly.
I looked at all the instruments on the wall. I looked at a detailed depiction of male and female anatomy. I looked at jars full of sterile Popsicle sticks and Q-tips. Then, I looked down at my own feet. They caught my eye, for some reason. Still clad in work boots, covered in dust and torn on the sides, my feet dangled like those of a child on a swing. Everything else in the room, hell, the city, disappeared for a moment; for the first time in a month, I wasn’t conscious of the thing under my tongue. It was then that I heard the doctor fumble for my file beside the door.
He walked in the way doctors always do; hurried and professional. “How are you today, Mr. Douglas?” How is one supposed to answer such a question? I stumbled on my own words for a second before he cut me off: “So, I see you have something in your mouth that’s bothering you. Do you smoke?” Predictable: I had prepared an answer to this question before I’d even made the appointment.
“Nope. Quit a couple years ago.”
He didn’t seem to care one way or the other. He opened the glass jar containing the oversized Popsicle sticks; he grabbed a glove outta the box too.
“Alright, let’s have a look.” He struggled to fit the glove over his hand. I opened my mouth. He held my mouth open by my bottom, front teeth with one hand and pushed my tongue to the side with the stick.
For some reason, Popsicle sticks on teeth have always given me the shivers. I’d given up Popsicles, especially Fudgesicles, for some reason, long before. The kids always ate them; I had to leave the room when they did—like nails on a chalkboard, swear t’ Christ. Now, there was one in my own mouth, forcefully scrapping against my teeth, having its way with my tongue: I almost gagged. I couldn’t speak.
He reached for his tiny little light to get a better look once he found the thing. He asked me a bunch of questions which, of course, I couldn’t answer. My mouth was salivating heavily; I fought back a cough as the doctor let me loose. He took off his glove and threw it in the garbage before he said anything.
“Well, I don’t like the look of this at all. I am going to get you in to a clinic right away to see exactly what we are dealing with here.” My mouth went dry and my heart exploded.
“So… what are you saying, exactly?”
“I am saying that there is a good chance that you have an oral tumor. If the tumor is malignant, you should be fine, but we just need to make sure. When did you first notice it again?”
“About a month ago.” Everything began to spin. He started writing frantically on a yellow sheet of paper.
“Ok. I want you to go into the clinic on Macleod Trail as soon as possible: this afternoon would be best. They will send the results to me and I will be in touch with you.”
I have no recollection of the next several hours. I must have got into my truck and drove because I ended up at the Sheep River. I’ve always gone to the Sheep when troubled. I went there when my first wife left me. I went there when my dad died, and my mom. I always went there alone too; just watched the river pass me by… something about it, it… oh, I don’t know. I breathed, no longer feeling the urge to survey the lump with my tongue. It was getting dark quickly. I walked back to the truck in a daze.
The truck was reluctant to start; it was a really cold day. I finally got it going and started and put it into four wheel drive. I wondered if I should tell Karen about my visit to the doctor, or if I should wait til I heard back from the clinic. I’d go tomorrow. He said they’d probably get back to him in a week or so. She was probably worried about me: I’m usually home by 4:30. I sped up a bit.
I was almost at 22X when something exploded under my tongue. My mouth immediately began to fill with saliva. I tasted blood, and what I imagine to be puss… it was a thick, sickening paste; I gagged. I tried to pull over before vomiting, but the fever of nausea swept over me before I had a chance. The steering wheel and my hands and my knees were soon covered with bile and blood. I drove the truck into the ditch.
Once the truck had stopped, I opened the door and fell to the ground. The snow was cold on my hands… I remember that. I continued to vomit, violently; the smell was overpowering. I remember the sound of cars driving past me on the highway and I wondered why nobody pulled over. I continued to vomit, though my stomach was empty. Dry heaves. Something was swimming around my teeth and gums and down my throat before being ejected by my stomach onto the cold, cold ground.
I then heard the cracking of branches. In my haste to get out of the truck, I had left it in drive. It started to move, ominously slow, as if possessed, further down into the ditch. The headlights pointed into oblivion. I tried to get up, jump back in the truck and put it in park, but a pain shot through my gut and knocked me down. Again, I heaved.
The sound of breaking branches intensified. My forehead was numb from resting on the snow. Everything was black; my senses had been whittled down to smell: the thick, hot smell of my own stomach acid burned in my nose. I felt thousands of beasts swimming around in my mouth. I spat and heaved, but they multiplied and multiplied… conquering my mouth, swimming through my sinuses and out my nose, tickling tiny hairs on their way out. I could not see them, everything was dark.
I woke up shivering. All was quiet. I saw what must have been the headlights of the truck; they seemed to be miles away. I was soaking wet… paralyzed with exhaustion and incapacitated by the cold. And it was silent. No stars that night. I passed out again.
I awoke again with no idea how long I’d been out for. It was still dark, still quiet. And then something broke again. A thunderous noise rippled through the cracked earth and I was swallowed up. Dirt stuck to my wet nostrils. I was at the bottom of everything. No sky, anymore and no light. Again, the noise… it hit me in the back of the skull. My body felt heavy. I felt as though I was being pinned to the ground by a thousand cold nails. And the sound again; it entered in through every pore. And darkness.