A Guest Presentation on Mental Health from Your Post-Secondary Institution
Hong Nguyen-Sears | Allen Forrest
A cat had her tongue. It was sitting in the first row, right in front of her, barely a meter away. She gaped. Its tail swished back and forth, lazy and smooth. It sat on the seat cushion, looking too small to be in the massive lecture hall with its rows on rows of students. At its paws and creating a damp halo in the fabric was her bright pink tongue, cleanly severed.
She covered her empty mouth with a hand. There was now an abyss between her chin and nose. She wasn’t even sure she still had teeth. She wanted to run her tongue over them, reassure herself. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t swallow. She just stood in the silence, staring and being stared at.
The cat blinked. Its tail stopped and wound itself around its rump. Its ears twitched.
Saliva was beginning to pool in the abyss where her tongue should be.
One either side of the cat were bleary-eyed students, also blinking at her. No one seemed to care about the cat, unattended and without a collar and without shame. Had anyone seen it happen? Had they all closed their eyes at once, missing the cat leap up and pull her struggling tongue from her mouth?
She steadied herself against the podium. It teetered with her weight, her laptop wobbling dangerously. In a sudden jerking movement she slapped the spacebar and her presentation transitioned smoothly to the next slide. Two hundred and seven pairs of eyes darted to the screen above her, which showed her contact information, credentials, and a picture of her standing triumphantly at the end of a hiking trail.
The cat picked her tongue up, holding it delicately between its teeth. It leapt to the ground. Her tongue flopped, useless. She watched the cat sashay to the doors, left slightly ajar, and she watched the cat slip through and out of sight.
Moments ticked by. She waited for the cat to return, forced herself to breathe. It wasn’t coming back. It had her tongue and it wasn’t coming back.
“Jess,” Derek said quietly, coming to stand next to her. He flashed his students a grin that none of them returned. “Jess, can you start now?”
How could she start? How could he ask her to? Could a cat be called a thief? Could she say that it had stolen her tongue?
She couldn’t say anything.
“Jess,” Derek said again. He jerked his head towards the rows on rows of students. They were an introductory psych class. There was an empty seat with a wet spot where the cat had placed her tongue before fleeing the scene with it. “Jess, they’re waiting.”
She lowered her forehead to the keyboard of her laptop, beginning to uselessly mouth the beginning of her presentation. Above her, the slides began flashing as the presentation carried on without her. Each fired advice at the waiting students: don’t forget to sleep! to eat! to talk! here are anonymous voices you can always talk to!
She began to cry.
Derek touched her shoulder. “Time to go, I think.”
She lifted her head to look at him, tears streaming down her cheeks and her mascara running and her lips trembling.
She wished she could do the presentation. She wished she could find the cat. She always carried a mini sewing kit in her bag. It would be easy to reattach her tongue. It wouldn’t take more than a minute. Two minutes.
Derek turned to the class again. “Everyone, please thank our presenter from the Mental Wellness Center!” The room exploded into applause, Derek smiling and clapping along. He leaned over to whisper in her ear: “This was part of the presentation, right?”
She vomited onto her shoes. The students stopped clapping.