For his birthday David Allan was going to get a cake, a big one with chocolate sponge and nuts and fondant icing, and a tongue with which to taste it; he was going to have candles on his cake, one for each year he’d lived, and a tongue that could curl into a little tube through which he could blow air and puff the candles out; he was going to get presents, and a tongue with which he’d say thank you. So many different tonguey tasks! And David might have thought all that required three different tongues, but he was assured that a single tongue could do the lot of them – it was a very versatile piece of flesh. Indeed, it could do all that and more besides, it could do rather adult things. He was too young to be told what they were yet, but he’d find out for himself soon. Very soon now, this year. This year was his time, they were certain.
David was so excited he could barely sleep the night before. Or was he nervous? No, excited, what did he have to be nervous about? He lay in the dark for hours staring upwards at the bedroom ceiling, and he’d put his fingers into his mouth, and feel about inside – and it seemed like such a very small space, what with all the teeth hanging down like stalactites from above and thrusting up like stalagmites from below. He wasn’t sure how anything else could be expected to fit in there. He mouthed the words ‘stalactite’ and ‘stalagmite’, and tried to visualise how the tongue would help pronounce them just like Mrs Dempsey had taught him. Mrs Dempsey had been teaching him lots of long words recently; they wouldn’t be easy to say out loud, granted, but this year he really ought to aim to impress. “Throw in a few extra syllables,” she’d told him, “and you’re going to knock this one right out of the park.” Mrs Dempsey knew what she was doing, she’d helped hundreds of kids get their tongues. David had a crush on Mrs Dempsey. Sometimes he imagined he would tell Mrs Dempsey he loved her. Sometimes he imagined this would be the first thing he’d say when he could speak for himself.
He must have fallen asleep eventually, because his mother and father were shaking him awake, and were standing right over him, and their smiles were so wide and hopeful. “Happy birthday, champ!” said Daddy; “happy birthday, darling!” said Mummy. They enunciated their happy birthday wishes so clearly and precisely, David could see their tongues flicking about with such practised ease. They had presents for him to unwrap. He was given a tongue straightener, and a tongue brush in David’s favourite colour (green), and a little box in which David could keep his tongue brush. Mummy laughed; “I know it’s a bit premature, but I just know you’re going to nail it this year!” – and Daddy laughed; “He certainly is, this is going to be his best birthday ever!” Their tongues wagging away all the while, as if urging David on.
They had him put on his second best suit. They had him wear a tie. No school today, not on his birthday, and maybe never again. Yesterday Mrs Dempsey had made a special announcement at the end of class, and said to everyone that David Allan was turning thirteen tomorrow, and that she had a treat for him. Then she presented him with a good luck card, and she had signed it, and she’d had all the kids sign it too, and inside everyone said that they’d miss him. David was the biggest boy in class by a head, and all the younger children looked up to him. He was going to miss them too. But he thought it’d be embarrassing if he was forced to come back and ever see them again. “Don’t you worry, dear,” said Mrs Dempsey, “I’ll be there tomorrow night, in the front row, cheering you on!” David rather wished she wouldn’t be in the front row, and would have told her so had he been able.
The government buildings were grey concrete, and didn’t look as if they housed anything magical at all. Maybe that was the point, David didn’t know. The guard at the front desk demanded to see David’s birth certificate, and Mummy and Daddy handed it over, and the guard gave it a cursory inspection. “Happy birthday, lad,” he said. The guard had a dark commanding sort of voice; David hoped he’d get a voice like that. He told them to take seats and wait to be called. They sat down with other families, lots of birthday children in their second best suits, and mummies and daddies looking flushed with pride. Some of the children could barely sit still for all the excitement, some of them were still very young. David was old enough now that he could sit still and keep his back straight, he could hide his nerves. “Keep your back straight,” Mummy whispered to him, which seemed a little unfair, because it already was.
“David Allan?” And at last there was someone for him, a woman all in black, and wearing small round glasses that made her look like an owl. David thought she might have looked quite friendly if she’d only wanted to try. She asked to look at his birth certificate, it was given another brief inspection. She smiled. “Happy birthday, if you’d like to follow me?” She led the family down some corridors into the very heart of the building. “Is this your first time? If so, there’s nothing to be worried about.” She must know it wasn’t his first time; he was older than all the other kids, perhaps she was being nice. Perhaps it was just something she was paid to say. The narrow corridors opened out into a wide courtyard; the ceiling was a glass dome that let all the light in, and it shone down upon the tongue.
“My, my,” said Daddy. “That’s a big one, isn’t it, champ?”
And so it was. David had never seen a tongue so huge. The one he’d visited on his last birthday, that must have been half the size, surely? And that one had been stood about thirty feet tall, and David had refused to be frightened of it, no matter how much it twisted and coiled, he’d just pretended it was a tree. But this new tongue was more like a thick wall of red meat, David couldn’t even see round the trunk of it, and it stabbed up high into the air, the very tip of it was licking at the ceiling. “Some of them do grow pretty big,” the woman agreed. “In this job I’ve seen some that are even bigger!” Mummy told David to stand a little closer to it, and the woman nodded, and Daddy gave his most encouraging smile. David took a couple of steps forward. And as soon as he did so, the tongue seemed to spasm, it thrashed about wildly from side to side, and David saw saliva spray off it as hot steam. “I think it likes you!” said the woman.
And a man came up to them, he was wearing a white laboratory coat and carried a clipboard and looked really very scientific. He asked to see the birth certificate, it was shown one last time. “Happy birthday,” he said to David, “now, you want to get up real close, you don’t want to be nervous of old Tommy here. Tommy Tongue, do you see, he’s the oldest we’ve got, aren’t you, Tommy?” And he actually patted an overarching stump of tongue, and smiled with what looked like affection. “Truth is, Tommy doesn’t even know we’re here, most like. He can’t see, he can’t hear, can’t smell. As far as we can tell, all he can do is taste. Take a look at him. What a beauty.” And David couldn’t help but look, could he, he was right up next to it, and Daddy was close behind him, he had his hands firmly on his shoulders. David could see now that the tongue wasn’t that red after all – or, if it were red, it was a dead red, there was something lifeless to the hue, something flattened out. But there was blue, there were thin blue veins crisscrossing all over the tongue surface, and there were motes of speckled white, there was green. It wasn’t as smooth as David had supposed either; chunks had been torn out of the flesh, and David thought that probably wasn’t natural, that would have been the birthday children who had queued before him. And there was saliva pooling in the holes that had been gouged out, and dripping forth, and down; in fact, now David watched, he saw that saliva was dripping everywhere.
“You know what to do, right, kid?” And the scientist handed him a knife.
David looked back then, and there was Mummy and Daddy, both looking so proud, and the woman with the owl glasses, she was looking proud too, David couldn’t even guess why.
“Reach up, and there’s a nice bit just above your head,” said the scientist. “Yes, reach up,” said Mummy, “up on your tiptoes,” Daddy said. Some people believed that that the higher from the tongue you cut, the more intelligent it would be. But Mrs Dempsey had told David that was a nonsense, that he mustn’t worry about things like that, it was the man who maketh the tongue and nor the other way around. And besides, David had always cut high before, and it had never done him much good.
So this time he bent low, he actually stooped. Daddy protested, but the scientist said, “Each child gets to choose his own tongue. That’s the way it’s always been.” David remembered just the way he’d practised on apples and grapefruit, to make one clean single slice – “You’ll have to dig deep, the dermis is a bit thick down there,” the scientist said – and David stuck the knife in, and felt all the wetness ooze around the incision, and he pulled the blade down, three jerks of the wrist the way he’d been taught – in, down, and out. And there it was, flapping about in his hands like a fish. “Well done,” said the scientist, “well done,” said everybody else, and they clapped the birthday boy, and the scientist took the hunk of meat, gave it a slap, and washed the blood off.
“Now, open wide,” he said, “as wide as you can go!” And David did his best. He drooped his chin towards the ground and aimed his nose towards the sky, and the strain made his jaw hurt. “I’m coming in!” said the man, and he chuckled, and suddenly David’s mouth was full, so full it made his eyes bulge, and there were fingers and there were knuckles and there was tongue and he couldn’t tell which was which. “Steady, it’s a bit stiff,” said the scientist, more sternly now, “it’s always a bit stiff with these older kids,” and so David rooted himself to the spot; the scientist stuck his own tongue out in concentration as he felt for the right slot. “Got it,” he said at last, and there was a snap as the tongue locked into position, and out came the knuckles and out came the fingers. And there was some relief to that, but horror too, because David thought his mouth was still full, the tongue was too big, he’d never be able to breathe, and it was darting about all over the place, dabbing at each of his teeth, dashing at his palate, writhing about and knocking against the small confines of its new prison. And spraying spit everywhere it went. David gagged, he began to choke.
“Looks like we’ve got a lively one!” said the scientist, and he didn’t seem too alarmed, so David tried to force his panic down, maybe he wasn’t going to die after all. And there was a hypodermic needle in the man’s hands, quick as a flash, and in a moment the fingers were back inside David’s mouth, and other fingers were wrenching the mouth wide, there was no time for niceties now. And they were grasping at the tongue, they’d got it, they’d grabbed hold of the tip, and the back of the tongue lashed about in fury. Something sharp. The smell of something acid. And then the tongue flopped dully down against the jawbone.
“What was that? What the hell was all that?” Mummy was upset, and the woman was doing her best to reassure her, she said she’d seen this happen a hundred times. Mummy said, “You’ve tranquilised his tongue! You do realise it’s got to make a speech tonight?” Of course they realised, everyone knew the importance of it, and Daddy tried to calm her down, and put his arms around her. Mummy shook herself free. “Get off me.”
“The tongue is fine,” said the scientist. “Some at the base can get a bit frisky, that’s all. And it’s not knocked out, I’ve just calmed it down a bit, I’ve shown it who’s boss. The boy here can use it right away if he wants to.” And it was true, David could feel the tongue flexing again, the extrinsic and intrinsic muscles starting to pull and stretch. It was a little sulky, maybe, but it was quite definitely awake.
“Go on, son,” said Daddy. “Give it a trial run.”
“Say something,” said Mummy.
“Try saying your name,” said the woman. “Whenever I don’t know what to say, I always give my name a go.”
And so David took a deep breath. If he concentrated he could stop the tongue roaming about of its own free will, he could tell it there was work to do. It stopped, stood still, waited for instructions.
“My name,” he said slowly, “is David Allan.” And he liked the way that felt in his mouth, the parts of the palate the tongue had to tickle to get it sounding right. Every time he had to tell someone who he was, he realised, it would give him a little buzz of pleasure.
The scientist smiled. The woman stepped forward, shook hands with David formally. “We’re very pleased to meet you, David Allan,” she said. “Speak well, and speak wisely.”
Mummy said, “His voice has got lower, did you hear that?” Daddy said, “I suppose that’s because his balls have dropped,” and Mummy said, “David, did your balls drop?” And David took a deep breath, and concentrated hard, and visualised the word, and said with great precision, “Yes.”
He blew out all of his candles, one by one by painstaking one. The tongue took no interest in that, he had to blow them out in the usual way, but David didn’t let on. And he ate his birthday cake. It had chocolate sponge and nuts and icing, all as promised. It also had lemon rind, and raw onion, and David was pretty sure the chewy bits were bacon. The tongue recoiled at the lot of it. “I wanted to give you a taste sensation,” Mummy explained. “Not just sweet, but salty, and sour, and bitter.” David nodded, finished his plate, raised his hand to indicate he really couldn’t manage another slice.
He got up to clear the table as normal, but Mummy said, “No, don’t do that!” And Daddy said, “Not on your birthday.” So he stayed sitting where he was, and the both smiled at him expectantly.
“You’re not too worried about this evening, champ?” asked Daddy.
“How about a sneak preview?” said Mummy.
David smiled, shook his head.
“Come on,” said Mummy. “Just a few sentences. What are you going to talk about?”
“He probably wants to keep it as a surprise,” Daddy suggested.
“I don’t want a surprise.”
“He probably wants to practise on his own.”
“No, he can practise in front of us.” Mummy took hold of David’s hand. “You don’t need to be shy with me. I love you. You know that, don’t you?”
David took a deep breath, opened his mouth. Closed it again. Nodded.
Mummy let go of his hand. She got up from the table, walked to the sink, slammed her hand against the draining board. “Christ,” she said.
“It’ll be all right,” said Daddy. “You’ll see. She’ll see, won’t she, champ?”
“It won’t be all right. It’ll be just the same as last year. David standing up there on stage. Opening his mouth, closing it, opening, closing. Like some bloody goldfish! Not coming out with a bloody word.”
“I know,” said Daddy gently.
“Not even a bloody syllable! I nearly died. Do you hear me, David? I’m not exaggerating. I actually nearly died of shame.”
“He knows, we both know…”
“My heart nearly bloody stopped.”
“Don’t, love,” said Daddy. “You’re frightening him.”
“Am I? Well. Well then. Maybe that’s what he needs.” And in a moment she was away from the sink, she was back at the table, back grasping on to David’s hand, only this time it was much too tight, and she was hissing straight into his face.
“Listen to me,” she said. “We can’t keep doing this forever. This’ll be the last time. This will be the most important thing you ever have to do.”
“So don’t fuck it up.” At that she let go of him. “What Helen and Nigel make of you, I don’t know.” Helen was David’s younger sister. She’d got to keep her tongue when she was ten, and now she worked at a bank. Nigel was a prodigy, everyone had agreed. He’d won his tongue the very first time, and he’d been only six, and that was two years before kids were even supposed to try. But the school had recommended he give it a go and he’d dazzled the audience and been given a standing ovation. Nigel was a barrister now, somewhere in the city, one of the big cities far away; David never saw his little brother much, only at Christmas.
“I know you think I’m being unkind,” Mummy said, and her voice was softer now, and David looked up at her, and hoped that the worst was over. He felt dead inside, and his eyes were starting to water, and even his tongue felt limp and ashamed. “I only want what’s best for you. I want you to be happy. I want you to go out into the world and be the best that you can be. I don’t want you to end up as one of those muteoid cretins. Cleaning streets and stacking supermarket shelves. I want you to have a life.”
She smiled at him, big and wide, and her tongue touched lightly upon her top lip. She looked at Daddy for support, and Daddy smiled too.
“What do you say?” she asked.
David forced out a word. “Sorry.”
Mummy snorted. “You’re going to have to do better than that.” And she left the kitchen.
Daddy smiled at his son, wider now Mummy had left, but the smile was embarrassed and sad.
“She shouldn’t,” he said. “She shouldn’t use her tongue to say such things. She used to be nicer. Do you remember? Of course you remember.”
David said nothing. Daddy sighed. Daddy seemed to struggle for words, David could see him forcing a deep breath, trying to visualise the words in his head, trying to concentrate.
“The thing is,” he said. “She doesn’t love me any more. That’s the truth of it. She’s met someone else. She’s told me she wants out. But she can’t leave. Not with you here. Not whilst you’re still a child. She can abandon me. She can’t abandon her child. Do you see?”
And he smiled. “I think you see.”
“So you’ll try your best tonight, won’t you, champ? For her sake. Because I want her to be happy.”
“Yes,” said David. It took him some effort, but he got there. “Yes.” He repeated it, for good measure. Daddy beamed at him, and stood up, and ruffled David’s hair.
“I used to,” said Daddy. He stopped, had to start again. But this time it wasn’t his tongue that was playing up, it was the eyes. “I used to be able to say such great things to her. I used to make her laugh. I don’t know how to do it any more. I can’t find the right words.”
David didn’t know what to do. He looked away. He looked right down at the table, and didn’t look up again until after his father had left.
Now David. All on his own. Except for the tongue.
Stalactite, he mouthed stalactite. His teeth hanging down like stalactites, and the tongue rising to the teeth, glancing over the back row for the first syllable, flicking lightly against the soft palate for the ‘l’, rolling into a ball and hissing loud for the grand finale. “St,” is what he said. “St. St. St. St. Stop. Stop.”
And out came the tongue, as far as it could stretch, rigid and firm and forming a right angle to his upper lip.
David went to the bathroom to see in the mirror. The very end of the tongue seemed to wiggle at him, a little cheekily.
He tried to remember all the exercises he had been taught to bring the tongue to heel. They didn’t work. He tried to roll it up by hand, grabbing it wetly between his fingers. He might as well have been trying to fold an iron bar.
If he could just get it back inside his mouth. That would be a start. Don’t worry about it having to speak. Or it having to taste anything. But if it could just stop sticking out like that, it was so rude. Please, he thought.
And the tongue screeched.
He stared at it in horror. And yet it screeched – it let out all its frustration and loss and pain. And somewhere, distantly, he could feel it too – the tongue was a part of him now, he could feel how it had been ripped from its home and from its family, and it was now angry and confused and so very very frightened.
He couldn’t see at first where the screech could be coming from. The sound wasn’t using David’s mouth, or David’s breath. And then as the tongue flared, trying to stand as tall as the huge parent out of which it had been sliced, rearing up on its hind tendons like a panicked horse, David could see the underside of it – those blue veins looked thick and were straining now, the white specks seemed to bulge out like rivets, and there was a hole – there was a hole – there was a mouth – and inside it, he could see were little teeth, and there behind the little teeth the tongue had a tongue of its own.
David tried to yell for help, but he couldn’t. Tried to clamp his mouth shut but there was no give. Jammed his fingers in his ears so he wouldn’t hear the noise but the noise was all in his head now and it wouldn’t st st st st stop.
And then the tongue fell limp. It had given up. It had screamed out its misery to the world, and the world didn’t care, no one had come to rescue it, no one could do anything. David tentatively opened his mouth wide to let it back in. It pulled inside, almost guiltily.
He closed his mouth. He wasn’t sure he’d dare open it again for a while. He wanted that tongue locked away.
And he felt the mouth fill with water, so much water he had to open up anyway to spit it out, and David knew it was just saliva, but somehow he believed that the tongue was crying.
They had him put on his very best suit now, they gave him a better tie. Daddy looked smart. Mummy looked beautiful, and she seemed quite calm, as if there had been no upset before. She wore dark shadow around her eyes.
The town hall was packed. There must have been over a hundred children there, each of them full of birthday cake, and speeches to recite, and new tongues with which to recite them. And with the children came two parents each, always two parents, and the smell of musk perfume and aftershave hung in the air like a cloud.
The stage was small, but surely still bigger than it needed to be, it was only children who would be performing tonight. Downstage centre there stood a little lectern, with a microphone in front. At the side of the stage there sat a jury of six. David thought he recognised the scientist. And wasn’t that the woman who’d taken them to the tongue, it was hard to tell, she wasn’t wearing glasses and her dress was pink and she no longer looked like an owl.
David sat between his parents. His father took his hand, smiled at him. With the other David reached for his mother’s hand. She accepted it.
The chairman got to his feet. He addressed them all, and spoke with a tongue that was masterfully assured. “Greetings to you,” he said. “And especial greetings to our children, and happy birthday. These children are the voices of our future. All our hopes and dreams lie in what they may achieve. And tonight, for some, that journey will begin. Tonight they will be given an opportunity to speak. And, if they are ready, they will go from here, as adults, to fulfil their destinies. So. Let us hear what the future has to tell us! Speech is a privilege. And to be allowed that privilege, we only ask that our children tonight speak with clarity, and with the same forthright confidence of their parents. That they say something worth listening to. That they are interesting, and original.”
“Interesting and original,” Daddy whispered to David. “Mummy and me, we were interesting and original once! Can you believe it?”
Since its outburst in the bathroom the tongue had been as good as gold. It was as if it had only wanted one moment of protest, and now it had had its say. It had been a little listless, and David had had to use the straightener on it to improve his diction. But he had managed to practise his speech no less than five times, and each one had been better than the last. It was a speech which expressed a love for speleology he did not feel, but which pronounced ‘stalactite’ and ‘stalagmite’ most impressively.
“We shall begin,” said the chairman. “Best of luck to you all. Speak well, and speak wisely!”
The children were called to the stage at random. It had always been done this way.
The first child got up behind the lectern and spoke coherently for three and a half minutes about his love for his country. It was met with a round of applause, and he shone with pride, and he was now a man.
The second child spoke about her love for her country, and good family values.
The third child focused mainly upon family values.
“Do you mention the family at any stage during yours, champ?” asked Daddy. David didn’t; he was wondering whether there was a way to crowbar it in.
And for the first hour each child passed. It was easy. David saw that the jury wanted them to pass; they wanted more adults in the world. The odd stutter or mumble, that didn’t matter; who cared if the speech was boring? If you got rid of all the boring adults, where would the world be? One child got up and spoke for barely two minutes about the battle of Waterloo and his analysis was frustrating simplistic, and only once did he use a word of more than two syllables, and that was ‘Waterloo’. Still, he was applauded, and was passed.
I’m going to be all right, David told himself. This year, at last, I won’t let anyone down.
Then, the first failure.
The little girl was just too young. Anyone could see that. The audience was on her side right from the start, she looked so pretty with all her ribbons and bows, and everyone loves an underdog. The chairman too was positively smitten. He helped her up on to the lectern, and he’d not done that for anyone else. “All right, dear,” he said to her kindly, as he adjusted the microphone towards her babyish face, “we’re all rooting for you.” And she stood there, and she stared out at the crowd, and tears began to roll down her face. “I want my Mummy,” she said. “I want to go home.” She said it quite clearly, to be fair.
The jury looked so sympathetic. “Never mind, sweetheart,” said the chairman. “Next year for sure!” And they took the little girl, and held her down fast, and the red hot tongs were in her mouth before she even had a chance to scream. The microphone picked up the wet hiss, and there was lots of smoke, and then – yes! – the tongue was yanked right out of her head. It wriggled there on the tongs for a moment, high for all the world to see, and then it was cast down upon the stage, and one of the jury stamped on it. And the little girl was crying still, crying for all she was worth, but David thought it was in relief, she didn’t have to be a grown-up yet after all. She could go back home with her Mummy and Daddy and play with her dolls and be tucked into bed at night and be a baby for another whole year. – Or maybe she was crying with the pain, they always said the tongs didn’t hurt, but they really did.
There were some more rejections after that. Maybe the jury had realised they’d been too lenient, and had too many children pass already. One boy got up and gave an account of his passion for stamp collecting; the chairman said, “All very pleasant, I’m sure, but so what?” He tried to run, but they caught him, they ripped the voice right out of him. And as the rejections began to outnumber the passes, and the stage began to be strewn with a whole carpet of spent tongues, David thought he might have missed his chance. He should have been picked first. Then he’d have been safe.
But as the evening wore into its fourth hour, the jury began to get lazy again. They just wanted to go home. All of the audience, they wanted to go home. An end to this.
And David had almost nodded off. In a flash he felt a surge of adrenalin, he got to his feet, he wished he had time to go to the toilet. He made his way to the stage, the applause by now polite at best, most parents saving their energy for their own kids.
Close up the jury seemed like such very small people. Not great figures of authority at all, just older children in older clothes. The chairman was positively leaking nostril hair. “Speak well and speak wisely,” he said to David.
David looked out into the hall. His Daddy waved, his Mummy waved too. And there in the front row was Mrs Dempsey, just as she’d said she would be, and she gave him a brave smile.
David leaned into the microphone. “Stalactites,” he said. It was a good start, nice and clear and full of hard consonants. He could almost feel the keen anticipation of what the second word might be. Would it be as challenging as his first? – the audience seemed to move forward in their seats in their eagerness. What about stalactites, what could he tell them?
David gulped. He tried to free his tongue. But it was locked in position. After that first, promising, brilliant word, it had shot up, bolt upright, and was now full vertical in his mouth like a pillar. It had become both stalactite and stalagmite there. And it wasn’t prepared to budge.
David stole a look at the jury, who were beginning to frown. Dramatic pauses were allowed, certainly, but they had their limits. He looked at his Daddy, whose face was anguished. At his Mummy, who looked just as composed as before – she’d known this would happen.
“Yes, son?” said the chairman.
And David could now feel the tongue tip pushing further. As if it were trying to break through the palate. As if it wanted to go straight up, higher into the skull. It pushed with all its might.
David closed his mouth, opened it again, shook his whole head from side to side. He’d have put his fingers into his mouth, but finger contact was expressly forbidden.
It was trying to drill. It wanted to drill up into his brain. David could feel the urgency of it. It wanted to lick at his brain, it wanted to tell the brain something vitally important.
“We’re going to have to hurry you.”
It couldn’t do it. Of course not, it wasn’t strong enough, for all it strained and battered against the top of David’s mouth. But it would get stronger. Would it be strong enough to do it one day?
David thought it might. He could imagine it now, the day it’d break through the bone – and then the tongue would drive upwards like a bullet, past his nose, all the way to the brain, all the way through to the top of his head if it wasn’t careful, bursting free through his crown like it were an egg.
The tongue had something to say.
Maybe he should let it.
And even then David knew, that one little boy’s tongue couldn’t change anything. Not on their own. But maybe other tongues would speak freely because of his. Maybe this would be the first steps towards revolution.
You had to start somewhere. David knew this. His tongue did too.
“I’m very sorry,” said the chairman. “Better luck next year.” And there were sympathetic groans from the audience, some kindly applause.
David relaxed. And the tongue allowed him to speak.
“No,” he said, calm, clear. “No. Wait. Listen.”
They waited. They listened.
And David thought, all right, you’re on your own. And he emptied his mind. He let his brain go blank. His mouth opened, and he wondered what he was going to say.