In The City There Is Never Enough Ham

I can’t remember when I stopped banging my head against a wall. Probably when I turned 6 or 7 and words finally dropped from my mouth like worms. We watched them, my parents and I, as they wriggled free on the carpet.

It took even longer to grow out the hole in my head.

For years, I would hear speech therapists, shrunk down and ensconced within the marrow of my brain, reaching for chairs, pulling down blackboards. I’d hear the shuffle of their feet day after day as they passed one another in long hallways, and discussed what to do with me, with the hole. I would hear them chat about things after work; kids in college, personal dramas, work rivalries, and such like. Night and day, the same smells – beef casserole, macaroni cheese – would drift like clouds from the grates under my nose as the chefs went about preparing meals for this revolving cast of characters. These chefs worked long hours and all they ever spoke about was the lack of ham. No ham in the entire city, they said.

When I stopped banging my head against a wall, I left behind a cave-in that closed an entrance to my brain. In its place grew toasted freckles like flowers, and a wall of skin the colour of burned caramel. Planted signs grew like warnings from every pore: “danger: uncertain ground”, “warning: uncertain parentage”.

Today, I still hear muffled cries in that dead dialect. The words no one had understood. That had driven me to frustration. I think, then, of the therapists with their soft-soled Italian shoes, easy smiles. I wonder if the explosion of speech caused them to become cut-off from the outside world. I picture them still in there as reluctant cave explorers and cartographers, forced to navigate the terrain of my brain in darkness; now trapping specimens for research, now roasting something terrible over a fire. These men and women; conversing through symbols in the shadow of a lost language, a dead city all around them.



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