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Funny Coming of Age Fantasy

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 don’t belong being swallowed. She asked me if there was some kind of extenuating circumstance that led to me ingesting 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 in the store. I fight it, and when I do, I tell myself that 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, because when you argue with my mother, she quotes Proust to you, and you spend hours trying to determine what it is 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 in my throat, and soon I was leaning over the side of my bed regurgitating a pile of books.

This did not shock me since I had done some research when I got home from the shop and discovered that Saint Jerome is the saint of libraries and translations. Indeed, all the books I had puked up were translations of famous works. 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 room service plates.

Then I slept quite soundly.

When I woke up, it was just before dawn. I stepped out of bed 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 I 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 stacks of 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 the message. 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 the books 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 rather short and I’m not a very fast walker. When I reach the store, I notice there are no books covering it. In fact, I don’t spot any books 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 walk in.

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.

December 08, 2023 23:38

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15 comments

David McCahan
08:10 Dec 12, 2023

I agree with Malcolm. This is the singular most unique, entertaining short story I’ve read. I completely ate it up. And then ruined it with a horrible pun. It’s brilliant.

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Story Time
20:12 Dec 12, 2023

Thank you so much, David! Glad you enjoyed it.

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Robert Egan
22:31 Dec 21, 2023

Definitely Kafkaesque, as Malcolm mentioned. I loved the weirdly brilliant details, like the first round of books being all in Portuguese and the boy being able to speak but not read it. This is one of those stories that finds a way into reader's brains and never really leaves.

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Story Time
01:53 Dec 22, 2023

Thank you so much, Robert.

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Kailani B.
22:52 Dec 20, 2023

This is so strange, and yet kinda quaint. It reminds me of the character Gluttony (from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga) who eats everything in his path. Thanks for sharing!

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Story Time
00:45 Dec 21, 2023

Thank you for reading!

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AnneMarie Miles
15:11 Dec 16, 2023

Always surprising how original your mind is. I'll admit I cringed a bit when he started eating all those knickknacks and had a flash of his destined stomach pump! This is why children need supervision 😅 I never know where your stories will go and it's my favorite adventure. Especially because you have a keen skill for always landing us softly with your final line, and this story is no exception. Thanks for sharing another masterpiece.

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Story Time
05:59 Dec 17, 2023

Thank ou. This one was fun to write.

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Rachel Kroninger
03:22 Dec 15, 2023

The point-of-view you created of an intelligent 9 year old is comical, fun, and brilliant. I wanted to keep rereading the story just so I could stay laughing. Such a creative thought process and take on the prompt! Well done :)!

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Story Time
15:05 Dec 15, 2023

Thank you so much, Rachel! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Hazel Ide
01:31 Dec 14, 2023

Strange, peculiar and a very entertaining take on the prompt. Loved it.

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Story Time
20:08 Dec 14, 2023

Thank you so much, Hazel. It was a strange experience writing it as well ha

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Malcolm Twigg
11:47 Dec 11, 2023

Who said Kafka was dead? This is probably the most remarkable and imaginative piece of writing I have ever read - and enjoyed (although I did have to google 'tchotchke' - new one on me). The first line set this up perfectly and you absolutely knew what you were in for. Thoroughly enjoyable.

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Story Time
23:03 Dec 11, 2023

Thank you so much, Malcolm. This is way out there (even for me) but it was a lot of fun to write.

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Mary Bendickson
02:53 Dec 11, 2023

Boy, he just eats up knowledge!

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