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"Why the Mouth," short story excerpt

Wednesday 10/5/22

Why the mouth? Because it’s warm and wet? Can that really be sufficient to impel desire, such that one says, “Here’s what I want to do with her! That would be tops!” Or, if not tops, locked into a solid second place finish.


People don’t say the word “tops” that way anymore, but we know what it used to mean regardless if we’ve encountered it in that fashion previously. All anything has to do is mean something. That strikes me as an easily attained standard, but then I think about all of the things which don’t rise to it.


The teeth are part of what is going on with the mouth; specifically, that they won’t be used to bite. The teeth are all but saying, “You can trust us, you can trust her, you’re good here.”

You know what, though? I feel like teeth are deceptive. Because they’re also saying—by way of canine implication—that you’d go for it anyway and run the risk of their chomping. The threat they pose won’t stop you.


So maybe teeth are wise with a profound understanding of human nature. Certain body parts have a more obvious claim to wisdom than others. Sexual organs aren’t considered very bright. The one belonging to the male is commonly idiotic. The female sexual organ is more generous. Could also be the lack of thrashing about, though. People talk about being filled with love and light. Being open to both. So the female sexual organ has that going for it, from the filling perspective. It’s quieter. Closer to being at peace.


Don’t sleep on peace. By which I mean, don’t underestimate it.


I’ll often hear someone say that the goal of life is to have fun. Life is short, so maximize fun while you can, or be a sucker, sucker. I don’t agree with either statement, either about the goal or the duration. I grant that I may be a sucker.


A child’s birthday is three months away. A long time to the child. Their sibling just had his big party and now they want theirs. The girl’s brother had so much fun. I can sit the child down and say “Three months is nothing! What kind of party do you want to have?” We can begin to plan. When is it too early to plan anything? Before you’re born? Actually, no. But I can’t convince the child that three months is not a vast amount of time.


I had an evening once with a woman I wasn’t going to know again. I’m unable to say that I loved her very much. That’s how this is supposed to go, right? Why else would I be telling you or retelling myself? When we tell someone a story about an experience we’ve had, we’re pretending to ourselves that it’s only for them. We want to hear it, too. Why? We lived it. We know it. But we feel as though we can know it better, and that will help us. Help us to do what? It must be important. Help us to heal? I suppose it could be that. Don’t quote me. Which is something people say when they really want to be quoted, before teeth get in the way. Sure: blame it on the teeth.


We had a final night together. We weren’t meant to. I was going back home, out of state. The snowstorm had begun. It went about its business as a prodigious snowstorm faster than was forecasted. We hadn’t said, “Today is the last day for us!” but we both knew.


And thus our bonus evening happened. It made me wonder—in the months after its completion—about other times when myself and someone I was with knew the same thing without either of us saying that thing aloud.


Because you know what? I don’t know that she knew. I should be more honest. I’m not saying I’m lying. But I am relating what happened, and I’m thinking about it again. I don’t know that I knew. I ascribed knowledge to myself after the fact. I wanted to view myself as having known. I’m not sure I ever have, though, in real time, in the moments that count most. That’s why I don’t take offense with the whole sucker bit. I shoulder that blow like boats shoulder waves. They’re just there. This is how boats think: Here comes another.


My father and I went on a fishing trip when I was about ten. We went all the way to Canada, which was like Thailand to me. That far away. Other side of the world, but with fir trees and flannel shirts.


My father was not someone who spoke emotionally. He would yell in the stands during youth sporting events, but that was everyone, and his voice was naturally louder, so he just seemed more worked up. Plus, he had standards. He wanted me try to the best I could. His standard was singular, you might say, but it housed all of the other standards. Their third cousins. Even their ghosts. He was excellent at knowing when I didn’t try my best. Do you know who is themselves the very best at that? A person who makes you say—but just to yourself—“Yeah, actually, they’re right.” It’s news to you. But was it really?


We wore waders and fished before dawn. We fished after dawn as well, but we began before the sun arose. I wasn’t tired any of the mornings of those days that we were there. I was up to my hips in river water, my father to his knees, and we cast as we stood side by side. We could have stood further apart, but we didn’t.


As I was saying, there are many people who say the point of life is to have fun. Wiser people state that happiness is the goal. For decades you may agree with the second idea, and believe nothing surpasses it, so you don’t give it much thought. But then there is peace. To be at it.


We don’t use that “at” with anything else quite the same way. I’m at happiness. The words would never come out of your mouth. Peace is what you get to. You have to go there. To go there, there’s much you passed through. You wouldn’t have to be happy to be at peace, though. Peace is beyond happiness. It’s a different exit on the same road. The one that takes you home.