TONGUE | from Roomers #62

1978, a birthday party. One of those once in a blue moon family dos where a local hall gets hired, there’s catering, a DJ. The adults end up drunk and misty. Someone overdoes it, creates a spectacle. There’s a fight. No blood’s spilled, but there’s harsh words, someone gets upset, there’s tears and the gin gets blamed. And so on. That kind of a night.

I spent most of it watching Tommy and trying to pretend otherwise. I’d always thought of me and him as the same age, nearly, but since the last time he’d become old enough to drink and smoke and that was ages away for me. He danced a lot towards the end. Swaying, tie loose, long legs. The combination was unbearable.

Then the goodbyes. My eyes stinging from the late hour and the cigarette smoke. Nancy came over for a hug. Dad’s sister, so Aunty I suppose, but just Nancy she preferred. Dad always said she had a soft spot for me.

She pulled me into her damp chest, powdery and boozy and that sweetly alcoholic scent she’d sprayed fresh on her neck. It was nice, her smell, the layers. The soothing scent of late nights, and I wanted to be tucked up in bed with it.

She told me she was looking for a houseboy, and I’d be perfect. She chortled. Her breath had a hint of spearmint. The houseboy stuff was her usual joke. I knew she wasn’t serious, but all the same I used to think it’d be fun.

She released me, touched my face with the cool backs of her fingers, hoisted her handbag up. She leaned down, palms on my shoulders, eye to eye, and she was on about the houseboy again, and I was tall for my age, and asking a question I couldn’t catch with the chairs scraping and people laughing round the hall. ‘You’d be perfect,’ she said again. I caught that.

She stopped talking for a while. There were tiny cracks of blood in one of her eyes. Then her eyelids closed slowly and her mouth opened a bit, and she swayed and her weight was on me. ‘Oops,’ she said, eyes opening, dabbing at her mouth with her fingers.

Then quiet, and she kissed one side of my face, then the tip of my nose, then that dent just above the lips. Soft pecks, they tickled. Over her shoulder was Mum and Dad talking to Uncle Ray. Ray was telling a joke, a long joke, the comedian of the family. I searched for Tommy, his son.

‘I wonder where your mind goes,’ said Nancy, guiding the bottom of my chin so I was facing her. ‘Dreamer,’ she said. ‘Don’t go changing.’ Another hug. Pressed into her, her face at the side of mine, cheek to cheek. Then my right ear filled with close moving wet heat. Then just as quickly, a cooler damp. I put my finger inside my ear and it came away glistening at the tip.

In bed that night I thought of Nancy’s tongue. I was able to turn it into Tommy’s. Hot and wet is what his tongue would feel like too, I thought. A tongue’s a tongue. It’s Tommy’s if I put my mind to it, in then out, so vital, then in again and probing, and oh my god, and that’s all I needed to get the job done.

Nancy’s tongue never really left my ear. I can recall its sensations now, after all these years, hot and wet, in then out, alive in my ear. It’s Nancy’s, but I can easily make it into Tommy’s or anyone else’s if I want to.

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