by Ed Aust
Mr. Mouth made his appearances in a red business suit and had the longest tongue in the world. He could lick his forehead with that tongue and stretch it across to clean either ear. After the Korean War he made a living with his tongue, touring schools and speaking at school assemblies about tooth decay and oral hygiene. The American Dental Association sponsored him; they gave him the name of Mr. Mouth, and he talked fast with a kind of country hick Tennessee accent that made the kids laugh. He never let his tongue out of his mouth until he was finished with his presentation because he’d learned from experience that once he let that thing hang out, there wasn’t much else he could say to calm the crowd. Everyone would scream, even the teachers, but the girls would go berserk. Mr. Mouth learned that it was wise to wear earplugs during his performances to protect his hearing. The kids would think it was the grossest, most incredible sight they’d ever seen. There were always the one or two girls who would faint and have to be carried out, but he would warn the school officials about that ahead of time so they could have the school nurse on hand with smelling salts. This was back in the 50s.
Mr. Mouth’s real name was Leonard Pyle. He told me he’d nearly choked to death when he was born because his tongue got wrapped around his throat on the outside. The midwife came close to cutting it off, thinking it was the umbilical cord, but Leonard’s father stopped her in the nick of time. Stop, he’d said, according to the family story Leonard had heard at least a hundred times. That’s his tongue, and this is one hell of a gifted child. Leave him be. They circumcised him on the eighth day but left his tongue intact.
I learned all this while wheeling Leonard to the oncology department in a hospital wheelchair for his daily chemo treatments. I saw from his chart that he was 66 and had no previous medical problems before his throat cancer. I could also tell by looking at him that he didn’t have long to live. Leonard liked to talk, tough as it was with his larynx deteriorating. As the days passed, his voice gradually diminished to a whisper, and just climbing into the wheelchair left him gasping for breath. He never did show me his tongue, though. I just had to take his word for it.
The day finally arrived when I could no longer wheel him in a chair. With the help of three nurses, we lifted him onto a hospital gurney. As I pushed him down the hall, he motioned to me to stop. He had something to tell me, he whispered hoarsely.
We were alone in the hall between wards. He strained to even open his mouth. Son, he said, stick out your tongue.
I obeyed. He reached up and grasped it between his thumb and forefinger.
Son, God’s gonna use this tongue for his good purpose. His eyes were intense. He told me so hisself. I gotta pass on my gift, son. That’s all I can say. He let go and coughed and closed his eyes.
By the time we got to the oncology lab, he was dead.
That was six weeks ago. It’s not as bad as you might expect. Most people can’t tell that what’s in my mouth is over two feet long and growing. It hides in there, all folded up like a magician’s gadget, but ready to spring out when I want to surprise the hell out of someone.
I don t have the slightest idea what to do with this gift. But I’m sure that will become clear as time goes by.
In the meanwhile, I’m shopping around for a good red suit.