When awake, Edward complained that light was too intense and colors too saturated. If someone a hundred miles away squeaked falsehoods, he heard them. “Flavors” were salts and acids unable to convey pleasure or nutrition. A handkerchief covered his nose. His sanctuary was sleep, but even with repose came distress.
In his dreams he’d perform heroic acts. Bite clean through the bomb’s red wire, not the blue, in the nick of time. With a strap between his teeth, pull a passenger train back from the collapsed bridge’s edge or dangle acrobatic aerialists high above the sawdust. He was the mastiff from whom no shank bone escaped.
Edward’s friend the dentist enjoyed hearing about imaginings of masticatory courage, but offered a warning. Valor takes its toll on tooth enamel, the dentist-friend said, and erodes molars to nubs. Nocturnal grinding reshapes the smile’s shoreline. A protective device was fitted and became Edward’s new nighttime routine.
Soon, other dreams invaded:
His wife, a stranger to him, put words in his mouth, which he chewed into declarations of devotion.
His son, grown isolated and angry, fed him bark and branches, which rendered enough paper pulp to create a thousand manifestos.
His daughter, who loved shiny things, slipped lumps of coal into his maw. In the pre-dawn hour she extracted diamonds.
Morning arrived without the relief Edward had been promised. Exhausted and aching, he lingered beneath the blankets and cursed his appliance. He’d clamped down upon the cold plastic, or so he recalled, yet there it gleamed upon his nightstand. Black dust shadowed the pillow; he spat mud into his hand. He sprang from the bed and planted bare feet on wood splinters and leaves.
Sudden insight cratered Edward’s heart, hollowed it out. He exhaled bad air until his insides were a void. Emptied, he devoured the bedclothes, lamp, knickknacks, furniture, roof, walls, and foundation. His possessions became fuel to stoke the furnace of his resentment.
From the street his feral-eyed family watched him. Let them manage for themselves the bright, loud, smelly pungency of it all, he said inwardly, where his words ricocheted in darkness. Let them taste regret. His jaws clicked on invisible prospects. How to build a bridge back to slumber?
Edward’s memory, atrophied from neglect, left him unable to conjure the character of anything he’d consumed before this day — to recall whether he’d enjoyed it, or name anyone with whom he’d shared.
Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared in elimae, Ghost Parachute, Longshot Island, The Airgonaut, formercactus, Riggwelter, and elsewhere. He is an editor at Longshot Press. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.