Runner Up: ‘Coins on the Tongue’ by Carl Kinsella

She complained often about a feeling of grime on her hands, and insisted that it was more than a feeling. That if she looked for more than a few seconds she could really see grains of silt embedded in the grooves of her fingerprints. It made her scared to touch her eyes, she thought it would make her blind. Sometimes I’d pretend to be reading or scrolling my phone and I’d watch her stare interminably at her hands. She would suck on her fingers in the hopes that her saliva would break up whatever was on her fingertips — even to ingest the dirt was apparently preferable to being reminded of it with every touch. At least swallowing it would get rid of it. She would wash her hands with dish soap over and over for just the momentary peace that would come before she had to touch or pick up the next thing that would inexorably stick to her and leave its malignant trace.

Eating posed a near identical problem. Mucous membrane lumps of digested food that would glob onto her oesophagus and make it hard for her to swallow, or make her tongue stick to the roof of her mouth. After every mouthful she would bleach her throat with an upturned-can mouthful of soda, a desperate attempt to erode the choking sensation. She would drink six Diet Cokes a day and then she would tell me she thought it was giving her osteoporosis. Or somedays cancer. Or burning away the lining of her stomach. She’d get checkups at the dentist who’d tell her she needed fillings and then she’d ghost the dentist.

Coins were her biggest worry. I think she sincerely believed that she was allergic to steel. She could taste the metal when she held it in her hand. A stale and bloody taste, dirty, smudged with all the hands they’d passed through. Sometimes she’d be on the verge of retching from the taste of filthy coins on her tongue, simply after throwing them in for bus fare. And guitar strings. Sometimes she’d play and she wouldn’t notice me watching lifting her fingers to her nostrils and scrunching up her face before setting the guitar down. 

At her funeral I met her therapist and we spoke a few words to each other. I was imagining that we were both totally mired in a sense of collective failure, but maybe it wasn’t like that for him. Maybe this was just a perfunctory part of his job. He certainly spoke in a way that suggested some sense of remove, an elevation, like he was talking down to me when he told me to expect that her friends and family might now perceive me as “a lighthouse in this time of sorrow.” I guess that’s the therapist way of saying “you’re the Dead Girlfriend Guy now.”

He wasn’t wrong, though, in that the very sight of me seemed to warn people away. Looking at myself from the outside, this seemed reasonable. After the initial wave of sympathy, people automatically find you ghoulish, and you don’t really have the energy to blame them. They tolerate you, but sometimes you’ll catch a note in their tone that tells you what they really think – that you should have the decency to stay home and haunt your own place. Parties are for the living, bro. Nobody wants to party at the lighthouse.

You could tell that they were dying to talk about Yasamin, and that they couldn’t do that in front of me. After all, it wasn’t her that they really wanted to talk about, or that she was gone, but to use her as instrument to play out their own little theories about life and death, speculate as to her motives and rapidly transmit bursts of breathless gossip. Had there been a note? Previous attempts? Surely he should have been on the lookout for warning signs. Maybe they even wanted to blame me. That was fine. They could do that in front of me for all I cared. I certainly blamed myself.

About the Author

Carl Kinsella is a writer from Dublin. He has written 66.3k tweets and not as many works of literary merit. 

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Published by sonderlit

New Irish literary magazine reflecting people, our differences and similarities.

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