- Fiction, Reading, Writing

From the Archives: This Boy’s Tongue, by Peter Markus

Happy birthday, Peter Markus! Celebrate by reading Markus’s “This Boy’s Tongue,” which we published in 2019 and was subsequently selected for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions 2020


This boy is but a boy. The boy that he is, he sees what a boy can see. When he sees what he sees, he says what it is that he sees. Boat, he says, and looks down at what wood holds him up on this lake so that he does not sink like rock or stone would sink to where the lake ends at rock or mud or weeds or sand. Lake, he says, at what this boat bobs up and down on. Sky, says he, and lifts up with his eyes, at the blue that birds swim in as fish do the blue that is lake. Rock, he thinks. Call it stone. Like this, he makes with his hand a fist. Witch in a house. Bird with one wing. Fish. These words make a song in his head. He takes up with his rod from where its line runs on down through the blue of the lake. Reels in his hooks with his bait still there on it. Dead. Then rows back hard, in this boat, back to the lake’s shore, made of sand and mud, grass and dirt. In his head he knows what he must look for, what he must find: the witch. The bird with one wing. Feels with his tongue what is here in his mouth for him—this boy—to feel. He has the taste of mud there, a few grains of dirt to chew on as he says what he knows he must get: a witch. A bird with one wing. When he says what he says and sees what he sees when he says what he says, he can feel the teeth in his mouth grow long and sharp. The tongue in his mouth gets thick. Like this, this boy, back on land, back on his feet in the dirt and the mud at the edge of the lake, he drops to his hands and knees and, this boy, like a boy who eats mud, like a fish in the mud, like a stone fish, a fish who eats rocks, like a dog, or a bird to bread, he eats.


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