The Word Swallower by Emily Devane

She starts with the woody end of her pencil; the paint flakes away at her bite, the lead draws a metallic line across her lips. Next, her tongue explores the frayed edges of her bookmark. In the queue at the school canteen, she is forced to pay with her emergency one pound note, having chewed her lunch token to a pulpy mass.

Her mother is given a penalty fare on the bus for a ticket now swallowed. She arrives at the supermarket oblivious to the contents of the list that now lines her stomach; she buys peaches and plums, cereal and crackers, raking her mind for the scribbled items now consumed. At home, her mother comments on her omissions, notices when she leaves her dinner untouched.

But she is expanding.

Inside, she is vowels and consonants and piles of punctuation marks. She exhales what she does not need: metaphors, similes, unnecessary footnotes. She ingests letters from her Aunty Meg, her sister’s teenage diary entries, childhood picture books with well-thumbed pages. Her head swims with letters arranging and rearranging themselves into words and sentences, paragraphs and pages.

Over time, her skin stretches thin as a leaf; her spine straightens and sprouts pages, which she fills with chapters of her own making. Her mother calls her name and, though she is silent, her story speaks volumes. She could make a library with what she knows. She sits on her bed waiting for someone to find her; someone who is curious enough to look closely. Now she is an open book, her mother does not recognise her; she simply passes by, lost for words.

Emily Devane’s short stories have appeared in places such as The Lonely Crowd and The Nottingham Review. A former Word Factory apprentice, she won a Northern Writers’ Award in 2017 for her short story collection-in-progress and was a Best Small Fictions Finalist. Emily is a reader for FlashBack Fiction, and lives in Yorkshire, U.K.