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Spring '24

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KEVIN B.

 

I swallowed a statue of Saint Jerome. 

My mother said I could be forgiven because I’m only nine, but she followed that forgiveness up with the clarification that I am a very bright nine-year-old, which is why I go to a gifted school that is secular rather than parochial. She told me that even if I weren’t very bright, a nine-year-old should still know better than to go around swallowing things that shouldn't be swallowed. She asked me if there was some kind of extenuating circumstance that led to me ingest Saint Jerome, and I told her that when I saw the tiny statue in the tchotchke store, I knew I had to swallow it. 

My mother takes me to the tchotchke store every Tuesday afternoon after school, and each time, I feel an urge to swallow everything. I fight it, and when I do, I tell myself I am a bad person. I tell myself that my advanced intelligence is nothing more than evil being manifested as strange desires. 

 

That’s why at night I take a pair of scissors and cut off a small piece of my pajama top. That’s why in the morning, I take my father’s toothbrush and hold it against my armpit for thirty seconds. 

That’s why when I saw Saint Jerome, I knew I had to swallow him. I didn’t even pay for him, first. I’m a shoplifter and a saint swallower. No priest could ever cure me.

When we got home, my mother told me that I will pass Saint Jerome, and I have no idea what she’s talking about. My school is for smart children but we haven’t covered biology, so if there’s some way for Saint Jerome to come out of me other than the normal way, I can’t think of what it is—and it can’t be the normal way because Saint Jerome was not a particularly small statue. He wasn’t large either (I did manage to get him down, after all), but he wasn’t small, and I wonder if perhaps by “pass” my mother is saying “You’ll vomit him up.” 

That’s not a pleasant thought, but better than the alternative. 

Mother sent me to bed without dinner because she said dinner was Saint Jerome. I was still hungry, but I didn’t want to argue with her—when you argue with my mother she quotes Proust and you spend hours trying to determine what she was saying.

 

As I lay in bed, I felt a tickle in the back of my throat. I coughed to try and clear the irritation, but it only made it worse. I tried to go to sleep, but the tickle grew into an aggravation. Then, I felt a pulsing and soon I was leaning over the side of my bed regurgitating a pile of books. 

This did not shock me—I had done some research when I got home from the shop and discovered Saint Jerome is the saint of libraries and translations. Indeed, all the books I had puked up were translations. I spotted Candide, The Old Man and the Sea, and Play It As It Lays—all in Portuguese. I felt extremely sad that I couldn’t read Portuguese, only speak it. My school focuses more on literature than communication. I can speak Portuguese, Danish, Quebecois, and Tanzanian, but I can’t read any of it. I got out of bed and placed the books outside my room as though I were staying at a hotel and needed someone to come retrieve my dirty plates. 

Then I slept soundly. 

When I woke up, it was just before dawn. I stepped out and made my way to the bathroom. I had forgotten to cut up my pajamas amidst all the hubbub of the evening, so I took the scissors my father uses for trimming his nose hair, and snipped off a piece of my left sleeve. Then, I took my father’s toothbrush and reintroduced it to my armpit. Once that was accomplished, I relieved myself and noticed that no statue was produced. Perhaps Jerome had decided to stay inside me. Perhaps he had transformed himself into the pile of books, and now he was free from my system completely. 

Saints could do all sorts of things, couldn’t they? 

When I entered the kitchen, I noticed the table was covered in books. There were books in the sink. Books in a pot on the stove. The fridge door was open and books were spilling out of it. I ran to my parents’ bedroom and there were books all over their bed.

 

I saw no trace of them, however. The same was true of my little sister’s room. I looked out her bedroom window onto our front yard and saw that all the houses up and down the street were buried under mountains of books.

Had I done this? 

Was this my fault? 

I decided I should retrieve the mail, but all I found in our mailbox was a copy of The Life of Saint Jerome by Albert G. Froggen. I understood—Jerome was behind this. I threw the book in the trash because the pull quotes on the back weren’t very effusive. Normally I would donate a book rather than throw it away but the world seemed different now, and along with it, my personal code of ethics. I might have burned them had I the chance. They’d replaced my family. Maybe even humanity itself. 

With no clear direction, I began to walk to the tchotchke store. It was a short drive, but a long walk, and I didn’t reach it until several hours later. Being less than ten, my legs are still short and I’m not a very fast walker.

 

When I reach it, I notice there are no books covering it. In fact, I don’t spot any at all, which is rather surprising, since the store regularly sells coffee table books and the occasional signed copy of The Prince of Tides. The door is open, and I hear the little bell ding as I enter. 

Once inside, I look around, but all I see are things. There’s no one manning the cash register. There are no other customers. It’s just me and the knickknacks.

Unsure of what else to do, I begin to swallow them. First the small ones. Other tiny statues, snow globes, etc, etc. I subsequently move onto glass baubles and ashtrays. By the time the sun has set, I’ve taken in nearly half the store’s inventory. I decide that’s enough for one day, and I begin to head home, promising myself I’ll come back tomorrow to do the rest. 

It occurred to me that if I went to sleep, I may throw up a wild variation of all I’d taken in. Perhaps I would upchuck the entire store, but a more modern version. Expensive paintings and sleek sofas. Instead, when I closed my eyes, I failed to feel the tickle. A prayer ran through my head. Something I’d heard once and quickly forgotten until a moment when it could reappear and ask to be spoken. 

And so I spoke it out loud and said “Amen.” 

I thought the prayer might dislodge at least a small object, but nothing materialized. A little belch escaped my lips, but that was all. 

While I’d like to tell you what I prayed for, I can’t remember now. There’s so much you forget as soon as you fall asleep. 

It’s a miracle we remember anything in the morning.

Kevin B. is a writer and poet from New England. They have been featured in Esoterica, Molecule, Havik, and New Plains Review. They were the Barely Seen Featured Poet of 2023 and the winner of the George Lila Award in Short Fiction.

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