Jaw Song by Andy Gottschalk


For years, I’ve played the penny whistle without sheet music. I hear songs on the radio and try to match their notes. Some of the ones I know best are “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC and every song by Paula Abdul. This year, in the winter, I had nothing to do but 1) play the penny whistle, 2) feed my outdoor cat, who was living in the glass atrium until the snow thawed, and 3) eat stew. Some barometric shift in the freezing dry air must’ve messed up my jaw while I was eating stew, though; it was hard to chew, my teeth crunched, and I couldn’t even bite down all the way like I used to. It was like my mouth had expanded. Some days I’d ladle myself a bowl and peter out after just a few measly bites because my mouth felt so broken. I’d walk the bowls out to the atrium, where my outdoor cat licked at them with wet curiosity. She was skinny and cold and surely needed it more than I did.

My jaw got worse, my mouth wider. I took up a stupid smoking habit to see what would happen, and the cigarettes fell out of my mouth and singed my sweatpants. I couldn’t feel my lips too well, so I sucked on them until I realized there was nothing there at all. The cigarettes burned bright narrow holes in my pants, and they stung my legs. I gave up the cigarettes.

By the springtime, I was taking measuring tape to my mouth, quantifying the expanse of my maw, the seemingly endless opening. On St. Patrick’s Day, my nostrils fell into my mouth, and by the spring solstice, the bridge was in there, too. It got really bad by Easter Sunday, by which time my mouth had expanded to my whole face, and my eyeballs began to swim in the opening. All my features hung in a wet expanse at the center of its cavity. I couldn’t even play the penny whistle anymore. I’d blow a few notes of “Straight Up” into the reed, and it would come out all hot and directionless—less like music and more like a wind that has unobservable, searching frequency.

Andy Gottschalk is a writer and artist from Kansas. His films have been exhibited at the Yale Student Film Festival and GIPHY Film Festival. He has prose forthcoming in Post Road 41.