Signs and Symptoms
A paper is due in three
days. I walk up the center aisle of the grocery store, past the sixty-percent-off
pool toys and the still-small shelf of Christmas ornaments, past the Bob
the Builder picture books and hula
hoops. I stop in front of the Halloween candy.
I always spell Halloween with the apostrophe. People tease me for it.
I cant stop.
The shelves would bulge
if they werent strong. Chocolate disappears
quickly, and the high needs to last three days. Chewy candy could
crack a tooth, and a paper is due in three days. Candy in fun-size
boxes is complicated to open when a paper is due in three days.
A bag of Tootsie Pops
is on the bottom shelf. It is the size of my pillowcase. NEW FLAVORS shouts
in red letters. The bag will last three
days, and then I will be able to rest.
The room where I work is dim. My notes are stacked against a window
that was open last week, but is too chilly on the inside glass to open
now. The pillowcase-bag slouches on my desk, then moves to the floor.
The Tootsie Pop NEW FLAVORS are pomegranate and blue raspberry. Blue
raspberry is not really NEW.
Each Tootsie Pop I close my lips around is mostly smooth, with exactly
two sharp rifts in random places. My job is to finish the paper in
three days and find all of the rifts with my tongue. Sometimes the
rift edges slice my tongue before I know Ive found them. Sometimes
they catch my tongue where Ive already been sliced. After three hours
in the dim room with the stacked papers and the cold window and shiny
snaggy Tootsie Pops, cola tastes like blood.
I bite my Tootsie Pops after the stick is soggy. The melted sugar,
colors, flavors settle into the corners of my mouth. When the stick
is empty, I tuck it inside the wrapper and throw it in the
wastebasket. I dont look at the wastebasket. I reach into the plastic
pillowcase. I throw back brown Tootsie Pops, but keep the rest. My
lips creak when I open them to start over.
I throw back brown Tootsie Pops because their surfaces are medium
grade sandpaper, because even though the ingredients are the same,
they dont taste like they hit my bloodstream like red or orange or
blue raspberry. Brown Tootsie Pops taste like they are meant to be
savored, and I am not interested in savoring.
When the three days are over and the stack at the cold dim window has
turned into a rugged fan, the paper is done. All of the Tootsie Pops
in the pillowcase are gone except for nine chocolate ones. I could
throw them out. I could take them to the kitchen and put them in the
communal candy bowl, where they would be consumed – eventually – by
I eat them. I eat nine in a row, without stopping. I cant feel my
tongue and the back of my throat is scratchy and my fingers are
wrinkled and there are places on my face that are sticky even though
food never goes there.
When the last stick is in the wastebasket, I pick up the plastic
pillowcase. I open the hole slightly more, and put it on top of my
head. I walk into the kitchen, where my daughter is eating carrot
sticks. “I love your hat, Mommy,” she says. “Can I have a