Marla discovers a solution to her immediate problem.
|Marla had grown accustomed to the hole in the wall of her one-room efficiency apartment until the tongue made its appearance. A startling event, one that made Marla question her sanity more than the tongue itself. She was, after all, already broken in the brain department, so why not add schizophrenia to her repertoire. The diagnosis of post-traumatic stress syndrome with a side of paranoia seemed to go well with schizophrenia. When this small circular hole, no more the size of a bullet hole stuck its tongue out, it almost didn’t register. But this was at the end of a less than stellar day.|
Her audition went great, but she was selected as a secondary dancer in a minor ballet company performing six nights a week at an off-off-off Broadway theater. Paulina upstairs had gotten a minor lead. Marla’s Pay wasn’t great, but the dancing was her life’s goal, her education, her lifelong investment, and this was a good start. Only her performance was much better than Paulina’s, even the second director had argued for her, but Marla doesn’t blow for a position like Paulina.
Still, there was a cause for celebration. At least she had an income, and her mother would be ecstatic about that. More so than having landed a dancing role with a ballet company. To celebrate, she’d gotten an enormous cheeseburger with all the fixing. Certainly not an affair for a budding ballet starlit, but with Paulina, she wouldn’t have to worry about that any time soon. Oh, and fries.
Back in her apartment, space once part of the old building’s basement recently renovated for rental living, she unpacked her dinner on the tiny kitchenette table and stuck her head in the fridge looking for a diet coke, what one drinks when having a diner of melted fat on fat, and of all wicked things, nestled in a white roll. Everything in the dinette was of the convenience breed including the miniature upright fridge, the two-burner stove, a two-seat folding dinette, and so on. Considering the new installation of these things and the black and steal color scheme, they were more modern in style than one would expect, but this lent an overall view of utilitarianism.
As she turned from the fridge with a can of soda and a squeeze bottle of no-name ketchup, the tongue made a nearly violent appearance. It was long, pink, a snake of flesh gesticulating and flailing, pummeling, and slapping the wall around the hole hard enough to knock a chair over. Marla backed into the refrigerator, pressing herself, trying to remain out of reach of the thing. Revulsion crawled her flesh on tiny mouse feet, and she wanted to scream but the disbelief held her. This can’t be real. This is a hallucination, not reality. This brain-lock remained until a string of saliva whipped her chest, wetting her blouse. The warmth of the wet couldn’t be a hallucination, could it? Does hallucination cover sensations? Oddly, there was also the stench of bad breath, rotten meat breath, like a refrigerator left without power.
The tongue found the burger waiting on the table, and frozen. Marla could see veins running the bottom of the thing, it twisted once over as it stretched toward the burger. Her mind felt fragile, as it were about to crack down the center.
The tongue pushed the burger a bit, knock the bun aside exposing the cheese on the meat beneath, and it froze again.
“Hey,” Marla said with ineffective outrage. That was her burger. The three-foot snake tongue flopping around her kitchen could go to hell, she couldn’t afford another burger.
Then again, you lick it, you own it, right?
The tongue wrapped around the toppled sandwich knocking the fires from the table. In a swift gesture, the tongue withdrew, the hole widening just enough to swallow her burger whole, and the tongue was gone. The hole had returned to original size and all that was left was the saliva slung about her kitchen and the rotting aroma.
Marla stood, her back hard against the refrigerator door, panting. That was too real to not be real. She could still smell the fetid breath. She’d lived here for nearly 5 months, ever since moving to New York, and this was the first time she’d seen the tongue. Could it have been the meat? Can some things smell with their tongue? Like a snake?
Marla drew a processed cheese slice from the dairy section of her fridge door, unwrapped it, and tossed it at the hole. It slapped in position and hung there like the fake food it was. Instantly the tongue reappeared, slapping, and flailing around until it met the cheese. This time it did not pause, it scrapped the cheese off of the wall, and slurped it into the whole, gone.
“You like cheese?” Marla asked, wondering if she was having a new kind of episode or adopting a pet. Why wasn’t there any chewing?
A knock on her door startled her. She looked around the small kitchen, bent to scoop the chair back to its feet while keeping an eye on the hole as she passed around the fridge and opened the door. It opened inward, which was ridiculous considering the size of the apartment, but no one had asked her. Paulina was there, a small smile dissolving on her face, “Are you alight, Marla? You look frightened.”
Marla scrubbed at her hair with one hand, tossed a glance at the kitchen once more, and back to Paulina, “No, yeah… I’m fine. You?”
Paulina’s smile had slid completely to concern, “Yeah, I’m good, I heard a noise going up to my apartment and thought I would check in on you. You did really well today, you know?”
Marla’s heart dropped in her chest, “I supposed… come in?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Paulina said and strode past with her petite legs and tied blond hair.
Marla closed the door and Paulina, having looked around the little box of a homemade straight for the kitchen table and sat down. The tiny smile had returned, “So, aren’t you excited? You’re in a real ballet company now,” she said, her voice an artificial chirp.
Marla felt a tweak of anger and she headed into the kitchen.
“Bet in no time you’ll get one of the primary positions. You were really good today.”
Anger belched up and before Marla could reconsider said, “Then why didn’t I get one today?”
“Well,” Paulina chuckled, “I was a little better, nothing more. It takes practice, and with practice, you’ll get there.”
Marla could not believe this woman who by all accounts was the same age was talking to her like a child. She knew very well Paulina was humping for position alright, on the director’s couch. Why do the sluts always win?
“You never know, Margo, someone might…”
“Marla,” Marla cut in.
“Oh, sorry, I’m so bad with names, forgive me?” Paulina false pleaded.
Marla opened the fridge, “Sure.”
“Anyone of the primary backups could get sick or injured or something. They would be stupid to not move you up. I know, I’ve been with this company for a year now, and you were really good.”
Marla tossed a slice of processed cheese at Pauline, and comically it struck her face and stuck there, covering one eye as if she were a cheese pirate. In that frozen moment, she felt like laughing aloud, but then the tongue came.
It took no more than a moment, and Pauline was drawn through a much-widened hole and was gone. Marla felt a wave of revulsion and regret. What had she done? Where had Paulina gone? Why was she so hungry? Then she remembered the burger.
Paulina’s purse was still on the table, and she rifled it for $28.44 and a Max Factor base she favored and couldn’t afford. She zipped the purse up and tossed a slice of cheese on that. In short order, the purse was gone as well. It was odd quickly an entire person could vanish. Forget it, time to eat.
Margo went down the street to the dinner on the corner for dinner, and surprisingly had little trouble sleeping.
It took less than a week before Paulina was removed from the primaries, and Marla slid neatly in place.