Mouth | Erica Wheadon
Updated: Jan 26
At first, she barely notices.
Normally she’d have to stretch and fumble around the edges
of the shelf where he kept the tins of tomatoes, but tonight
they seem to be only a little above eye level. In her absent
mindedness, she is not sure if she’d accidentally put them on
the lower shelf, where the sauces live—
mustard, barbecue, some kind of teriyaki that they’d bought
but never used,
the small bottle of sriracha that he brought with him when he’d moved in— now half empty and crusted around its red tip.
She kicks the small pantry door closed, cracks the
ring-pull, feeling the yawn of its peeled lid as she empties its contents into the pot.
Eating her spaghetti tidily at the kitchen table, in small bites, she
until it wraps neatly into a small
stack before pushing it into her mouth, taking small sips of wine
between swallows. Later, head nodding and lulling in front
of some late-night sitcom, she is jerked wide awake by the
booming of a man’s voice offering two for the price of
one or three for the price of
whatever it is in a volume so obscene, it vibrates
in the back of her skull and
makes her jaw ache.
Mashing buttons, she blinks to reorient herself.
For a moment she thinks she can sense his body pressed
into the couch in exactly the same place it was every night:
sense the violent warmth of him. His secrecy was monumental—
a gnawing chasm, an airless tomb. Working out the combination
to his affections was a full-time job, one that she repeatedly
Always trying too hard, her words left
spinning in the mud.
That mouth, he said,
that mouth would get her into trouble one day.
The memory throbs in her chest.
Shuffling down the hall in the half-light, pulling her cardigan tightly
around her body in the early onset of winter, she fumbles for the bathroom
door and misses - her hand passing
right through its handle.
Pushing her fingers against her eyelids, she attempts to
mentally replay the last bathroom visit, but accuracy eludes her.
The doctor had told her that she needed more sleep and prescribed some
pills that would help take the edge off her feelings.
She wondered how you could even penetrate the edges of grief,
but she had taken the script and
thanked him anyway.
She can hear his voice in her head. Of course, the handle was
on the right-hand side of the door. How long had she lived in that house?
Five years? Longer?
Long enough to know what fucking side the door handle was on. Jesus.
Flakes of mascara smudge on her fingers.
Weeks pass. She steps out the shower into dark morning fog, walls
heavy and steamed. She knows she should run the extractor fan but
she is too enchanted by the faint condensation hanging
lightly in the
air, the way that it clings to her skin; the heady dampness;
the simple pleasure of ritual.
As she reaches for her towel, she stares, curious, at the floor.
The tiles—a greyish slate, marked with years of chalky
residue which she could never quite get off are now a
shining black - the grout as white as if it was freshly tiled.
A vast mirrored pane now stretched from wall to wall, fog retreating
to reveal her nakedness in its brilliant, gleaming glass.
A memory arrests her—
it was the same bathroom they’d pored over and picked out
of a home renovation magazine, months before he left.
she feels herself crumple
to the floor,
lets the cool tiles drain the heat from her body
until she is shivering.
He had chosen to leave on a Wednesday. The rubbery
smell of packing tape and the rude rip-roar pulled tight against neatly printed cartons
had filled every space for a week,
accompanying the careful divide of belongings. The unmingling
of scents. The thunk of empty cupboard doors.
He was leaving every trace of her behind, as if he was
skimming her from the top and setting her aside. Old Valentines and
birthday cards were placed in a neat pile, filled with her
loopy scrawl, a wallet-sized photo of her sat on top, its edges
curled, and separating from their backing, a
fat thumbprint over her face.
Do you want any of these? Nonchalant - palm full
of postcards, as if he was asking her to pick out a paint swatch,
his free fingers drumming on the counter.
He picked through the spices, the vinyls
Leaving whatever was no longer useful and
peeled his key from its metal loop until it slipped
free and placed it on the kitchen table, as if he was leaving
a summer home. She’d blanched quietly at the hollow
sound it made on the timber, the end of their transaction, as
he picked up the last box and removed himself from her orbit. She tasted
silver and dust and realised she was
biting her tongue.
Her mother told her to go home—back to the life she’d
loved before he’d rescued her from her
wildish ways and deposited her into a suburban cage, but
yet in her dreams, she is running barefoot, streams bubbling around
dust-caked ankles. The image of a girl throwing her
head back and laughing,
burying and unburying herself in creek mud,
spitting water into the sun. The flurry of wings and the screech
of black cockatoos arcing across rural skies,
stretched out thin against the
canvas of her childhood. She listens for a moment
and then throws her head back again and squawks in
wheezy, shrieking bursts, delighted by the
sounds she makes. She wakes up with a sense of
displacement to the
creak of stretching rafters, the shudder of floorboards, the
scrape and grind of new walls shifting into shape and a
low tuneful hum hushing her back to sleep.
Her friends bask in the flood of morning light
It’s good that she is
moving on, they say, inspecting
ivies and aloes in pebbled planters, trailing their
fingers along the base of picture frames, admiring the
tins of beans and jars of pulses in her pantry, pots of
jam organised by colour and usefulness. Putting him
out of her mind, transforming the house into her space.
Whatever she was doing, she should keep it up.
She wants to tell them that she can’t remember letting the
cruel sky through the vast windows but
she knows how it sounds, and so she doesn’t.
That mouth he said,
that mouth would get her into trouble one day.
One morning she stubs her toe on a
new floorboard nail, pain shooting through her leg as
she examines the tear in her skin. A few days later she bumps her head
on the shelf in the wardrobe that she could have
sworn was higher.
Eggs come to a rapid boil, blister and crack
when she turns her back for a moment, and she runs her scalded
hands under water that never quite turns cold enough to
The fog refuses to clear from the bathroom—her face, featureless
smudge under the surface of glass.
Woken by piercing alarms,
fumbling for a
broom, a mop – to jab at her invisible enemy
but the handle never quite reaches the button, no matter how many chairs she stacks to bring herself closer to its terrible,
The light switches tease and confuse, arcing in delight as she turns them on and off one at a time, never letting her darken the room and one
by one, they blow—every bulb she finds
the wrong fit. She learns to cook with less and less light.
Old curiosities slip out from beneath their magnets, drift
to the floor and
collect dust under the refrigerator and the
house begins to shift at liberty. She wanders from room to
room, committing its fragments to paper, the memory of space eluding her—its
cartography a collection of concave angles and intersecting strokes.
Soon she is
sucking on the end of a pencil, she is forgetting what she is drawing
she is writing her name
in a circle.
misplaces her camera and when she finds it—forgets how to load it, forgets
why she needs it, forgets how to use it. Library books
go missing and then
reappear under the sink, in the garden, hiding in
plain sight, spines badly disguised amongst cookbooks and paperbacks.
She can’t remember now if the house has two bedrooms or three, or
one and a study nook. The pantry, once sprawling and laden now reduced to a
chipboard shelf – the sriracha bottle now out of reach. The bathroom
mirror now dark, refuses to reveal her reflection. Bath water empties
the moment she steps in, its tide dissipating, no matter how she clamps the plug hard against the drain. Her keys no long fit their locks, teeth grinding in the mouth of obstinate grooves. The phone plays a drab pavane on a loop before disconnecting at random; packages pile up by a door that has silenced all knocking.
Her dreams are desecrated meadows and vacant skies, as
she waits for clouds to materialise on the horizon, pressurised static echoing
in her head, weight pressing on her lungs
and she wakes up, gasping at shutters banging, furious in the wind.
The house yawns and groans and tries to fold her neatly into its once-covetous
frame. Tape over cracks unsticks. Weeds knot together,
throttling any new life that
up from the earth. Doors lock at their own leisure.
Flat leaves wither and brown and crinkle with decrepitness before reversing back into fullness of green. The television booms canned applause, pleased with itself.
her down the
The fog in the bathroom recedes only to reveal the haggard images of a
woman’s mouth caught mid-laugh. She
awakes to a nest of exposed wires branching across ceilings and down
walls spinning a web around her muted body.
One late afternoon, listless in the fading light, she strains to hear
the shrill shrieks swooping and circling overhead. She listens for a
moment and then starts to chuckle, crest fanned and alert.
She puffs her chest out – a deep squawk emanating from within her breast, and With an
unholy screech, she takes to the sky.
Erica is a writer, editor and photographer from the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Her work deconstructs and challenges traditional storytelling genres and narratives, particularly those surrounding sex, stigma and shame. She has been published in Island Magazine, Stylus Lit, the UTS Writers Anthology, and the 9th International Video Poetry Festival and holds an MA
in Writing & Literature from Deakin University.
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