Appetite by Belle Gearhart

He told me he wanted to eat the moon. Over pasta I had just made he told me he wanted to eat the moon, and the look in his eye, that look he gave me whenever I said it was time for bed, told me he wouldn’t rest until he got his bite.

So as a supportive father, I put the bowls of pasta into the fridge, and he pulled on his jacket, and I pulled on my boots, and we walked outside, past the pockmarked front yard, down the gravel driveway, past the shed, and Miss Lacy’s house, and the rotting stump of a tree leftover on the corner, up to the hill, just over the way.

The moon hung low; it looked like its belly could graze the fraying grass of the hill. My son looked up at it, daring it to come closer, that glint in his eyes, a stone scattered across placid water. “How’dya wanna do this?” I asked him, my hands shoved into my pockets.

He looked at me like I was an idiot, which wasn’t necessarily new, but then he turned away, threw his head back, and opened his mouth wide. He really stretched those lips open; I could see his molars, his tongue flopping like a dead fish on his palette. I watched him, his eyes gripped shut, and he stood there, drooling little maw of his, waiting to taste something.

When he finally snapped his mouth shut and turned to me, his face was stuck in a stretched out smile, the corners of his mouth crisp and dry. “It tastes delicious,” he said, and I saw him moving something around his mouth, testing it out. “Are you going to try?”

I was starting to feel a bit annoyed. I knew this kid liked to pull my leg sometimes, but dragging me out to stare slack-jawed up at this moon like I was going to suckle at its teat? I may be an idiot, but I’m no fool.

But he was looking at me in this way, and I knew I was going to do it, so I planted my feet and turned away from him, and opened my mouth like my mother was about to pour cough syrup down my throat.

“Bigger!” he roared, and I could see him jumping like a kangaroo next to me, like he was trying to see inside my mouth and judge how hard I was trying to taste something that was millions of miles away. So I did it, I opened my mouth wider, and I stuck my tongue out,  and the breeze soaked up all my spit in there, dried it out, made my tongue feel alien, like it didn’t belong to my body anymore.

He stopped jumping, and I had just been standing here, so I finally closed my mouth and was about to tell him off for making a sucker out of his old dad, but when the warmth came back to my tongue, to my gums, I was tasting something extraterrestrial, but also something that had been inside of me for my whole life.

I closed my eyes, and I was tasting the bottom of the ocean, the inside of my first girlfriend’s thigh, the copper of blood when my brother knocked me out and I lost a tooth. I was tasting what tomorrow should feel like, and I was tasting the moment my son was pulled out of his mother, slid into the world, screaming and moist and angry. I was tasting what it felt like to lose the only woman that could tie me down, what it felt like to watch her body fold back into itself with sickness, that taste, that hospital taste, the taste of hand sanitizer and the plastic from the surgical masks, all of it, living in my mouth.

When I looked back down at my son, my eyes were wet, and his were dry, but there was a depth to them now, like he had been somewhere else, and maybe we both had. He took my hand in his. “You tasted it, didn’t you?” And I wanted so badly to ask him what he tasted; did he also taste the death of his mother? But I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I wondered if these things were supposed to belong only to us.

So I only nodded and wiped my face. He said, “I want pasta, now.” And I nodded again, started leading him back home, the moon over my shoulder, hovering like something miraculous.

BELLE GEARHART — Belle is an upcoming writer with forthcoming work in Longleaf Review, Capsule Stories, and Dollar Store Mag. They are a displaced New Yorker living in Southern California with their partner, child, and many cats.

Art by JACQUELINE STAIKOS — Jacqueline is a largely self taught contemporary artist living in Quinte West, Ontario.  She has exhibited her work in several Ontario galleries including shows in Toronto, Kingston and in New York City.  Her creative process involves working with inks, acrylics, oils and mixed media.  She is currently working out of her home studio in Trenton, Ontario.  More of her art can be viewed on her website, or on Instagram as jstaikosart.