Subcutaneous Magazine Fall 2016 - Page 50

Curious, she crushed it between her fingers. A putrid, breathy smell rose from the smeared paste. She wiped it off, but the smell lingered on her fingers until she washed them later. That evening, after doing some quick research, Carrie concluded that what she had coughed up had been a tonsilliolith. Over time, particles of the random debris and detritus that wandered through her mouth had been caught in the crypts of her tonsils, calcified and developed into a small, stinky nugget. It fascinated her. Carrie hadn’t even known her tonsils had crypts. She went to the bathroom, flashlight in hand. Opening her mouth wide, she leaned close in front of the mirror. With the light shining in, she could see the folds and fleshy crevices in her tonsils. Carrie craned her neck, yawned and breathed, trying not to steam the mirror. When she flexed her neck muscles, strained the tendons, the caverns widened a little and, there in the pulpy roof of her mouth, just over the drop of her throat, a pale green knob was nestled in one of the folds. She prodded it with the back of a pen she had in her pocket, gagged, retched, then prodded again. Saliva flooded her mouth and she spit, thick and stringy, into the sink. She tried again, flicking at the nugget until it came loose. Behind it was another. Her tonsil was bleeding a little, but it did not concern her. She pressed with the pen until it squeezed loose, flowing to the front of her mouth then into the sink on a wave nausea thickened spit. She fished the nuggets out, crushed them and sniffed them, feeling a profound sense of release and satisfaction. Carrie leaned on the window sill, looking out at the night. The half moon hung low over the skyline, backlight jagged islands of cloud. Carrie felt utterly peaceful, without any hint of the usual nagging revulsion. She showered and went to bed, feeling better than she had in months. Over the next few weeks, Alice checked her tonsils in the mirror regularly. It got to the point that she rarely ever gagged, even when she used a pen to spread one of the openings wide or pressed hard with her finger to express a nugget as if she was squeezing a pimple. She became so focused on her tonsils that she began to forget the parts of her body she usually picked. The usual compulsions started to seem like substitutes, pretending, like the cutting had when she was younger. Unfortunately, her tonsils were not very productive. At first, there was a nugget every few days as the ones she pulled out made way for deeper, harder pieces, but then there was nothing. Days would pass, weeks, with nothing. However, whenever she finally did have the opportunity to purge one of the stinking clumps, the sense of cleansing and relief was enormous. For days afterwards she would feel more confident, clear headed and energetic. The revulsion that constantly clouded Carrie’s life faded away like fog burned off by summer sun. She found she was even able to think about Bill and the things that had happened, though she dared not look too deeply. Bill had been her father’s best friend. He was around the house all the time, almost every day. He’d been like an uncle to Carrie. Then, when she’d been awkwardly stumbling into puberty, he’d started coming over when he knew her parents were out, started making her do things. It always ended the same way: the terrible taste, the tears, the threats. He’d always seemed like such a kind and loving person before, and even when he was initiating the abuse, he was friendly and full of promises. But once he’d finished, he turned vicious, threatening to kill her and her parents if she ever told anyone. It had gone on for over a year before her changing behaviour alerted her parents that something was wrong. After hours of questions about drugs and the horrible music she listened to, they’d finally dragged the truth from her. Her father had broken Bill’s jaw and his own knuckle the next day and that was the last Carrie had seen of the man she’d once considered family. She still knew where he lived though. After her exams, Carrie’s faculty administrator had arranged a number of internship interviews for her at various funeral parlors. Of the three, one found her “unsuited to the job”, one filled the position with another student, but the third decided to give her a chance. She began her internship a week later. At first it was just a matter of following Steve, her mentor, around and watching. She cleaned, helped out, did the usual fetch and carry duties for a couple of weeks. Then she gradually started interacting with the families and mourners, helping to finalize arrangements and finally working in the lab. At first, Steve voiced concerns about Carrie’s awkward nature with the grieving families, but her dissociative and detached nature made her strangely calm and people seemed to relate to her. Though most people found her unsettling to be around, it seemed that those rattled by loss and despair found common ground with. Steve also acknowledged that she was very professional with embalming duties and showed none of the emotional fragility he’d expected of her when she was working with the bodies. During the day, Carrie was doing better than she’d ever thought she could. She was getting comfortable interacting with people and experiencing definite success at the parlour. During the night though, other things were changing. Carrie spent hours scouring her throat looking for any sign of tonsil stones, but night after night she was disappointed. She found that the waves of disgust that she’d been managing for years were now getting out of control. 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