“Gullet” by Molly Tolsky
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This is the winning story from the Electric Literature and Selected Shorts contest.
She threw skins down it and flesh down it, a bite of an apple and a chunk of core. There were meats sliced thin and a crust for ends. She sucked balls of gum. Poppy seeds. A tongue. She poured liquid chocolate and crackers in, chips and rice and wet fruit pies. She slid painkillers through, tablets through, for day and mid-day and the nights she did not sleep. At the age of five, she slotted a dime right in, wanted to see how silver could melt. Her mother had rubbed it against a bar of soap. Acid green suds climbed up like mud. Her mother’s mother had ruined her own, spoke throttled with smoky moans that could only mean no. She’d fill her own with the same sick smoke, later, when other things would not fit. There were throat-taming teas that honeyed the scratch. Items to beckon the excess spit. There were hairs caught there that she could not reach, and the noises she’d make, touches with sound.
She’d open it wide to let snow snow in. It closed for heat and warmed down things.
She had slickened it with liquor and put fingers to it, first other’s, some men, and then her own. And then her own liquids came out from it, a clenched jaw unhinged, a chewed-for regret. She let other’s saliva slide down through it, and worse, of course, there was always the worst. Candies could dissolve to change the taste of it. Mints could breeze and hide the smells. She refused the doctor’s hands at it, or a stick of thermometer or a glass of juice. She wanted the crunch of hards in it, a solid cube of ice crushed down to slush. She liked to feel the gulps in it, the lacks and hurts of her sharp heart come high.
The breath in it was always on its way out.
She took the barrel of her father’s gun to it, to feel the gag of his black metal hands at her chords. She let it close, her tongue gone cold. Or limp, or dry, or stuck. Was it sweat? She freed it up, let flow a pint of water into the holds. She could not remember a time when the way to her heart was through anything but the floor.
She lay down to the rug, shoved down the lint, coughs dropped out with fuzz. She counted teeth and time.
In the night, in her room, she held it up to a mirror and stared. Down. Through. In. She took off her clothes and turned on the lights. She could not see past its swallowy hole. The dark well cut like a curtain. She did not stare long before her eyes began to hurt. She could close it off, extend the wrong glands out. She could fill it with nothing and nothing but none.
— Molly Tolsky’s fiction has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The Fiddleback, Pindeldyboz, MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine, and a few others. She is from Chicago but lives in New York, where she has almost earned an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.
Photo by Martin Cathrae