Swallow by Candice May

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close-up of lips blowing out smoke


1. Six years old, I’m having a standoff with the small, polished red Advil my father gives me. Swallow it, he says, leaving me to stare at the thing, hold it in my palm, smell it, press it to my lips. Instantly it tastes bitter, and I am suspicious. The fever is making me tired, my body a lump. I drink down orange juice and call for another glass. Did you take the pill? my dad asks. I nod. You’ll feel better soon, he says. For several more hours I sit with that round tablet, considering it, pressing it between my fingers, unable to put it in my mouth. Finally it’s bedtime and I tuck it underneath my pillow. My fever rages through the night and I wake, past midnight, soaked in sweat. I put the pill in my mouth. Swallow. I wonder if I will die in my sleep.

2. No, no, no. Every time we visit the grocery store, my mother is exasperated, because I won’t join her in tasting the food samples. I am still small enough to sit in the shopping cart. The sample ladies beam at me, mouths open, arms extending towards my face. They offer Triscuits with olive spread. Sausage rolls. Little paper cups with fruity-bubbly liquid. No, no, no. One day, there is something I want to try. Salted tuna fish on a Stoned Wheat Thin. Yes! My mother buys a case of canned tuna and sings in the car the whole way home.

3. Pharmacophobia: fear of medicine. Cibophobia: fear of food.

4. Red apple is okay. Green apple is okay. But pear is not okay. Even though the juice smells sweet and the flesh is crunchy, I don’t like it. My parents drive me two hours to a pediatric dietician who has a set of chattering wind-up teeth on his desk. He sits me in a room with projector screens, and I’m supposed to raise my hand when a picture displays something I like. Beach ball, yes. Oreo cookies, yes. A young boy playing tennis, yes. Ham sandwich. Pizza with pineapple and cheese. Meatballs. (NO!) I raise my hand or keep it down as the images flick past. The specialist gives my parents a piece of paper with scribbled notes: he has determined, from this near-hallucinatory type of test, that I will eat soup. I will love soup. For dinner, my mother ladles steaming minestrone into bowls. My father slurps, my brother slurps, my sister slurps. I sit under the table, pressing my hands to my ears to assuage the arguing, the frustrated aftermath of my refusals.

5. Favourite fairy-tales: Hansel and Gretel dropping their breadcrumbs, finding their candy house. Snow White biting into the apple. Red Riding Hood skipping along with her picnic basket of bread, cakes, and strawberries. I am mystified by magical food turning deadly.

6. The inevitable happens. A bright summer day, my mother hands me a peeled Brazil nut and says, Try it. You’ll like it. I remember warm sunlight in the curtained windows. The linoleum floor. My mother in her apron. I don’t remember the anaphylaxis, only the blurry face of a stranger when I return to consciousness: an emergency medical technician holding a plastic mask against my face. Inhale, he says. Breathe.

7. Iatrophobia: fear of doctors.

8. Last weekend, a friend serves homemade lemonade on the porch. Freshly squeezed lemons, she says. Sweetened with stevia. (No, no, no.) Every sip, I feel my lips for swelling. I discreetly place my fingers against my wrist pulse. Am I getting dizzy? Are my friends’ voices more echoey?

9. Once upon a time, there was a girl who had a magical throat. Everything she swallowed became a small animal that lived happily ever after inside her body. Bluebirds coursed through her bloodstream. Salmon swam in her irises. Bears hibernated in her belly, rolling over in the springtime, hungry.

10. Once upon a time, I had a dream of nuts and fruits. I walked through the forest, picking leaves off trees. I dug roots from the ground. I ate the red berries, the purple berries. I was the wicked witch; I could do whatever I wanted. I put everything in my mouth and swallowed.

Meet the Contributor

Candice MayCandice May is a writer from British Columbia, Canada. Her work has appeared in Pleiades, December, The Porter House Review, The Masters Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere. Her work has twice been nominated for ‘Best of the Net,’ and she is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Mysi

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