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(Untitled) by Lawrence Morgan (Neondust)
Placed 2nd

    When the soldiers cut out my tongue it was death I was afraid of, not the loss of my tongue. My blood filled my mouth and throat immediately, and I began to choke. I couldn't taste it, but I could feel it welling up from the severed stump and drowning me. I was on my back, and I watched the ceiling fan rotate slowly while the blood pulsed into my mouth. There was no pain at the time; I suppose I was in shock. One can only wonder at the body.
    I'm not certain if they left the tongue in my mouth and I managed to spit it out, or if they lifted it out to have a look at it when they were finished with me. In any case, when I regained my senses it was lying curled and purplish on the mat beside me like a rotten fig. What surprised me the most was that I was still alive. Then the pain arrived, and for several days that was all I could feel. I discovered later that the sergeant in command of the soldiers had cauterized the stump in my mouth with a Bic lighter, which stopped the bleeding and saved my life. What a kind fellow!
    Of course, everything changed in my life as a result of the torture. It's not easy to be a dissident in the best of times; it's even more difficult when one is silenced because of no tongue. My speaking engagements vanished; there was no money in the revolutionary coffers for a speechless orator, and the university at which I once taught had no further use for me.
    I began to write powerful speeches for a young firebrand from a rival faction in return for food and lodging. My ears were hungry for my words, but the inarticulate, hollow noises I was able to produce were unbearable. I wrote eloquently to conquer my silence. Carlos, the young revolutionary, had a robust voice and a way with the crowds. I enjoyed listening to my speeches on the radio.
    A visiting nun brought me a sign-language manual, and I practiced in front of the bathroom mirror for hours on end. I signed at myself until my fingers were numb, with only the rasp of my breathing for company. It was futile; I wanted only to speak, to talk. It wasn't communication I lacked. I craved to hear the sound of my own voice at the microphone, and the roar of the crowd responding to my words. I had to make do with the speeches I wrote for Carlos.
    When the authorities visited me again, they were quite insistent that I tell them who was writing the inflammatory diatribes against the government. I was helpless; they threatened to take my eyes and to pierce my eardrums. I lied. I gave them Carlos.
    Now he and I share a small room, and the silence between us is profound. They put small charges in his ears and detonated them, so he is quite the deaf one. His hands were removed by the military surgeon, rather neatly, really. He even had a packet of morphine tablets in his shirt pocket when they dropped him off. Progress of a sort, if one can regard refined brutality as an improvement.
    He has learned to read my sign-language, but his deafness has ruined his voice. We rarely converse anymore; it isn't worth the effort. I feed him, as he is helpless without his hands. And when he opens his mouth to receive a spoonful of food I watch his tongue, and wonder why I envy him.

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