portion of the artwork for Kristina Ten's story

A Tickle in the Throat
Kristina Ten

The woman wakes up with a tickle in her throat, and when she goes to the mirror and opens her mouth wide, she sees a little creature hanging on her uvula.

“Hey,” she says to the creature. “Get out of there.” But her mouth is open, so it sounds like, “Ah! Ah ah ah ah.”

The creature is tiny and light colored against the darkness of her throat. It isn’t furry exactly, but soft around the edges, and every time it moves, the woman feels the urge to cough. It either has no eyes or is composed solely of them.

“Woah,” says the little creature when the woman speaks, each syllable causing her uvula to vibrate and swing. “Cut that out! You’re going to make me fall.”

The woman thinks, Pfft, I’m not going to let a little creature tell me what to do. But sure enough, she stops trying to talk. She brushes her teeth, careful not to bump the little creature. It giggles as the minty foam lathers around it, and hoots and hollers as the minty spit goes down.

The woman thinks, Oh, well, how long can it possibly stay up there? And she’s right: By midday, her tickle is gone.

* * *

A few days later, the woman wakes up with a sore throat. She looks in the mirror and there’s the little creature, making its way down one side of her tonsils like a climber gripping rock.

“Ouch,” says the woman. “You’re hurting me.”

“Don’t worry,” replies the little creature. “I’ll be done in a second. Just … need … to … get … to … the …”—it says with effort, stretching its limbs downward, then landing on her back molar—“Oof! Ground.”

“That’s not the ground,” the woman says impatiently. “That’s my tooth.”

“Whatever you say,” says the little creature. “I just need a flat surface. I’m having a dinner party.”

“A dinner party?” the woman laughs. “And who will you invite?”

“Oh, it’s a very small dinner party. I don’t expect any guests.”

“And what will you eat?”

“Well,” the little creature says, moving toward the edge of the tooth. “That depends on what you’re serving.”

* * *

The woman develops an intolerable toothache and the gums at the back of her mouth begin to swell. The little creature is burrowing deep into the tissue looking for morsels from her last meal. Its limbs work furiously and the mouth that she never saw but must exist works furiously as well.

The woman waits for the pain to let up, thinking the little creature’s little stomach can only hold so much. But when hours pass with no improvement, she goes to the dentist to get the little creature out.

The dentist peers into the woman’s mouth with his magnifying glasses.

“Looks like we’ve got some inflammation around thirty-two,” he tells the nurse, then turns his attention to the woman. “You’ve been brushing all the way back there?”

The woman says, yes, she brushes and flosses every day.

“Maybe you flossed a little too hard then,” says the dentist. “Better not to go that deep. Though I wish all my patients had so much enthusiasm.” He gives the woman a wink.

She hasn’t been flossing too hard, insists the woman, but does he see the little creature? It’s light colored and soft around the edges. It’s not much bigger than a cavity.

The dentist chuckles. “No cavities here, darling, and no little creatures either. Take a look for yourself.”

He hands her a mirror. She opens her mouth wide, and just like he said, the little creature is gone.

The dentist prescribes the woman a painkiller and a corticosteroid and tells her to keep taking care of those beautiful teeth, flashing a white smile as he leaves the room.

* * *

The woman’s toothache goes away, but soon enough, it’s replaced by a stomachache.

“What are you doing?” she demands in the direction of her abdomen. “You’re giving me terrible cramps.”

“I’m having a dance party!” the little creature shouts up, its voice echoing against the walls of her esophagus. “Why don’t you join me?”

“I can’t join you,” says the woman. “My stomach hurts too much to dance.”

“Fine,” he replies. “But don’t be a spoilsport.”

“Can’t you at least be a little gentler?” she asks.

The little creature is quiet for some time, then the woman’s belly seizes.

“Woo!” says the little creature. “This is my favorite song!”

* * *

The woman sees different specialists about the little creature wreaking havoc on her body. The gastroenterologist suggests she try not eating dairy. The chiropractor says work has got her too stressed out. He kneads the muscles of her back in a shiatsu massage and the woman feels the little creature riding the waves it creates.

“Cowabunga!” the little creature yells faintly behind her.

The psychiatrist asks the woman why she thinks she feels inhabited. He asks about her childhood. Was she close to her parents growing up? Was she always this sensitive? He wants to know if the voice has a name.

“Of course not,” snaps the woman. “It’s just a little creature.”

“That’s enough for today.” The psychiatrist looks satisfied. “I think we’re making good progress.”

* * *

The woman is always sick, one part of her body at a time. She asks the doctors to refer her to other doctors for a second opinion. She asks the new doctors for biopsies, for surgery; she says she’ll pay whatever it takes. She takes the medicines prescribed to her, and on the days she feels better, she thinks it’s possible she may have been imagining it all along. But, time and time again, the little creature reappears as a migraine or a fever, a foot fungus or heartburn, or a dull ache that seems to ride through her bloodstream without a name. The little creature throws a garden party in her nose and the woman sneezes for a week.

Only the pediatrician doesn’t tell the woman that she’s confused or being too dramatic. She hasn’t seen him in decades, and though his hair is grayer and sparser, and his office much smaller and more unkempt than she remembers, he still has the same bowl of candies he had then: the ones that look like strawberries.

“What seems to be the trouble?” the pediatrician asks. The woman tells him about the little creature.

“A little creature, you say? I’ve heard about those. What does it look like?”

The woman explains.

“Ah,” the pediatrician nods slowly. “Yes, that does sound like a problem. Where is it now?”

The woman says the creature is somewhere in the region of her left hip, moving, pinching, so there’s no use trying to see it. Unless the pediatrician wants to try an endoscope …

“No matter,” the pediatrician replies. “Have you tried getting it out?”

“Oh, yes,” says the woman. “When it was in my throat, I hocked a dozen loogies. When it was in my stomach, I made myself throw up. I’ve asked to have it removed, but the doctors don’t see the little creature and they don’t believe me that it’s there. In their minds, there’s nothing to remove.”

“I see,” says the pediatrician, then he doesn’t say anything for a while. Finally, he puts his hands on his knees and pushes himself up to stand.

“Well,” he says brightly. “It doesn’t sound like your little creature wants to go anywhere. So I’ll tell you what I tell the kids: If you’re stuck with somebody, better to make friends. No use being miserable.”

The woman stares at the bowl of strawberry candies. The pediatrician follows her gaze.

“You want to take some for the road?” he asks. The woman says no, thank you, and walks out the door.

* * *

That night, the woman cuts a few long pieces of thread and braids them together. She ties a finger-sized loop at one end and a smaller loop at the other.

She counts to three and takes a big gulp of air. Then she tosses the leash down her throat and she makes the little creature her pet.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 51 | Spring/Summer 2018