This is why hell tastes like a blue glass whale.
I bought the blue glass whale at a yard sale when I was maybe five years old and I think I paid a nickel (or maybe, if I was a big spender that day, a dime) for it. It was exactly that: a whale, made of blue glass. Beautiful blue glass. Cobalt blue. It looked like a blob. I imagined that if it wasn’t made of glass, it would be jelly. The weirdest jelly in the world, jelly that — I can still taste it, even though this flavor is entirely invented — was the flavor of an unsweetened blue Slurpee and metal.
Terrible flavor, yeah? I may not be describing it quite accurately, since it’s a flavor that doesn’t actually exist outside of my mouth when I think of that blob of blue glass. It’s the closest I can come to explaining it, though. I have a lot of those — words, things, feelings associated with flavors that don’t exist. This is why I have a hard time not wincing when I say I’m confused.
If you can make that make sense, good luck. It’s a trick my brain plays on my tastebuds, I suppose, so that certain things aren’t just what they are, they also taste like something. It’s not always unpleasant, but it is always odd. I don’t talk about it much, because I know it’s weird.
Anyway, I remember very clearly seeing the blue glass blob and wanting it, even though looking at it left a funny taste in my mouth. Why did I want it? I don’t know. Why do five-year-olds do anything? So I bought it and I took it home. Well, not home, exactly, but to my grandma’s house, which is where I spent much of my time when I was a small child, since my mother had to work. My grandmother and I weren’t yet at the phase in our relationship where we were at odds with each other all the time; at that point, I was constantly in her way and peppering her with questions. I thought everything she did was fascinating (not as fascinating as I thought everything my grandfather did was, but close) and so I had to ask her about it a lot. I also enjoyed doing household chores so I could be like her. That didn’t last for long, but it did go on for awhile.
I was in love with the blue glass blob. I would hold it in my hands and try to get the sun to hit it exactly right. I wanted to put it on a plate with toast. I wanted to eat it. I knew I couldn’t eat it, but I wanted to. I knew what it would feel like in my mouth (like jelly, obviously) and I’d gotten used to the tart, metallic taste on my tongue every time I looked at it.
It was around this time that I developed another fascination. I liked swearing. (I still do like swearing, and I think I’m pretty good at it. You should just listen to me go when I injure myself. Which I do with alarming regularity, since I am a clumsy oaf.) I’d learned already that swearing was wrong. (I’d spent an afternoon trying out “Goddammit” after overhearing a neighbor struggle with fixing a screen door. I liked the rhythm of the word, and spent some time sing-songing it to myself until my mother put a stop to that.) I think its wrongness was a major part of its appeal. I’d discovered rebellion. To this day, rebellion remains one of my very favorite things, because while I can help it, I often don’t want to.
I digress. Sorta.
So there I was at my grandma’s house, and we were both in the living room. I’m not sure what she was doing, but she was standing not too far away from me, as I held my beloved blue glass jelly whale blob and flirted with swearing. The word of the day was “hell” and I’d made up a little song. Not really a song. More of a spoken word piece. It went like this:
Hell hell hell hell hell hell hell hell hell hell hell hell hell hell.
It’s obvious that I was a poetic child. I said it over and over, while holding the blue whale, tasting the tart metal imaginary jelly as I swore.
Hell hell hell hell hell go to hell go to hell —
“What did you say?” (That was my grandma.)
— go to hell —
I looked down at the blue glass in my hand, tasting it, tasting the word “hell,” tasting them both together. They have the same flavor now, and always will. Hell tastes like a blue glass whale, which tastes like jelly, which tastes like tart metal.
My grandmother did not wash my mouth out with soap that day, but she did explain how polite folks talk, and to paraphrase her, polite conversation never involves the phrase “go to hell.” In case you were wondering.
Now that I think about it, that blob of blue glass may have been a bird.
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Carrie challenged me with “a blue whale… why?” and I challenged Gehan with “A conversation begins with a lie.” — Adrienne Rich, “Cartographies of Silence”.