The five lost senses of.., p.1
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       The Five Lost Senses of Carl, p.1

           Deckfight Press
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The Five Lost Senses of Carl
The Five Lost Senses of Carl

  by Mel Bosworth & Christy Crutchfield

  Copyright 2011 Mel Bosworth & Christy Crutchfield

  A PDF Edition with full artwork is also available at


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  When Carl Gave Up His Sense of Taste

  He stocked the pantry with bulgur wheat, yogurt, and whole soy. He’d already bid farewell to his brownies, scraped the crumbs from the corners of his mouth. Carl was prepared for a life of responsibility and health, fueled by hunger, not by cravings. Fueled by fuel, which, he’d been reminded on countless occasions by Liz, was what she wished food could be. 

  Carl told her she was just being weak. Giving up taste couldn’t be that hard. Liz told Carl his head was hard. Some people just can’t stand to be wrong.

  Carl had considered every possibility. A diet of raw foods would not be possible because he wasn’t giving up his sense of touch. He considered unquenchable cravings for steak tips and burritos, but he figured conditioning would teach his body to know better.

  There were, of course, those first few slips, raiding the discount candy bin at the drug store, desperate digging for any remaining crumbs under his nails. But when the taste of corn syrup still did not spread across his tongue, Carl knew he’d mastered his body.


  The change was almost immediate. He felt his blood pump louder. He swallowed farm stand beets without any concern for earthiness. He felt strange but encouraging pricks in his skin as sprouted wheat went down clear. Everything tasted clear. When he went for walks, when he taught a successful class, he’d say to the stop sign, to the chalkboard, “Oh, it’s my new diet.” He’d smile about his fridge full of fiber, the brown-sacked fuel waiting for him in his office, waiting only for when he was hungry. “See,” he’d say to Liz at the breakfast table. “Not as hard as you said it would be.” But, of course, Liz was not there.


  And instead of every possibility, Carl had really considered many. After a few months, he realized he hadn’t considered that an addiction to individually wrapped chocolates wasn’t an addiction to taste as much as unwrapping. He hadn’t considered eating with one’s eyes, that one can crave the lazy run of a perfectly yellow yolk onto heavily buttered toast as strongly as one craves the silk of it. He hadn’t considered that when a day or house is empty, eating is a way to fill it.

  While Carl considered touch, he’d completely forgotten smell. Not only its glimpse into alfredo but the memories attached to the olfactory. Carl never remembered what his exes tasted like, but he could recall detergent and breath for years after they called him arrogant. He hadn’t considered he might still remember the smell of a match, a hand-rolled cigarette.

  Carl also hadn’t considered sound. I Told You Sos sounded as empty as the living room where they were uttered between the crunch of clear potato chip after clear potato chip.


  When Carl Blinded Himself It Was Unintentional

  Carl thought volunteering at Chester Cobb’s organic farm wasn’t so much volunteering as it was forced labor. Back when he’d joined the co-op with Liz, she’d signed them up for twenty hours of work per season. Carl wasn’t crazy about the idea of working shoulder to shoulder with stinky dreadlocked folks, though it was necessary if he wanted to keep up with his new, tasteless diet, and he’d been struggling of late.

  For weeks Carl strutted around the farm. When working low in the dirt, he not-so-subtly knee-walked away from his acrid neighbors, and he took his breaks alone behind the hay barn. During one of these coveted breaks, Carl slapped the dust from his thighs and then stared out into the fields. He caught himself smiling. He caught himself thinking that working on the farm wasn’t so bad after all. It was a thought he’d try to shake off like the hay chaff from his shoulders, but it was a thought that would linger long after he’d lost his sight.

  Carl still had his vision when he was bucking bags of barley onto the back of the wagon. The sun was cutting low across the sky, backlighting the clouds strung above the mountaintops a soft shade of pink. Carl thought, goddamn what a fine day it’d been, harvesting the eggplants, cracking his fingernails on rough rocks just below the soil, cracking jokes with the men and women he was slowly growing more comfortable with by his side. These grubby, dreadlocked folks not only knew how to work, they knew how to live, and as Carl grunted into the barn with a sagging bag of barley over his shoulder, he wondered if these two things—working and living—weren’t synonymous. If Liz could see him now, the better farmer of the two, she’d work the shovel harder. She’d strain a shoulder trying to keep up. She’d at least take back that crack about an academic getting his hands dirty.

  As Carl shuffled through these reveries, the barn cat Mrs. Muffpants—a one-eared, short-haired calico—brushed against his shins, causing him to stop short and then teeter, top heavy, with the bag of barley. Carl didn’t see the danger of falling, not with twilight at his back, not with the barn dust in his eyes. It was like the beginning that way, a fleeting introduction into what would become of his vision, or lack thereof.

  On his way down, Carl managed to plant one knee into a nearby hay bale, slowing his fall enough to allow him to shrug the bag of barley from his shoulder. The bag whapped down dusty, Mrs. Muffpants skittered, and Carl, twisting on the bale, drifted sideways toward the floor. The last thing he saw were two steel fingers cutting hard through the din. The tines of the busted pitchfork sunk into his sockets, and when Carl jerked his head back, his eyes made a popping sound as they exited his face. Like a hooked finger flicked from the corner of the mouth, only in stereo because there were two, not fingers but eyes. Carl’s eyes.

  Carl was alarmed at first, and in a great deal of pain, but as he curled into the side of the hay bale, an odd clarity began to ride the spaces between his hyperventilated breaths: This-suck-could-suck-be-suck-a-suck-good-suck-thing.


  Chester Cobb, who Carl remembered as a leathery-faced man with shoulders like flat-topped tree stumps, had no issue with keeping him on. There was plenty to do at his farm, and a man didn’t necessarily need to see what he was doing to know what he was doing. The dreadlocked folks agreed, mostly, but after a failed tractor experiment that involved Carl driving over the outhouse—unoccupied, thank god—they took care to keep a shovel in his hands.


  Carl's Loss of Smell Came Gradually

  In fact, he didn’t notice any loss of smell until the incident with the stove. Good thing Carl had quit smoking or he would have nullified the kitchen. He’d smelled the burner, heard its tiny fireplace sound once he was close. But judging by the thickness around his face, the air must have looked like heat waving off pavement.

  Since he lost his sight, Carl had been spending less time in the kitchen. He only fired the stove for the occasional pot of brown rice. He mostly relied on weekly lasagnas from his neighbor Sabrina, mason jars of soup and root vegetables from the hirsute ladies and gentlemen of Chester Cobb’s. As a thank you, he’d press their faces between his hands, an attempt to “see what they looked like.” Carl had not been blind long enough to know how features translated to touch, but he liked the sandpaper feel of their faces.

  When he wasn’t eating their dinners, Carl reverted to the bags of corn-syruped delights he’d remained addicted to after his taste loss. But after the stove incident, he realized there was an absence of factory smell in the bags. And there was only a hint of earth and nutritional ye
ast in those jars.

  He thought, this can’t be happening again. He thought, of course this is happening again.

  Carl listened to research on anosmia. The calming British woman his university had installed on his computer read to him about the common cold and sinus infections, told him that loss of smell was often partial and temporary. She warned of permanent loss via olfactory pathways due to: Alzheimer’s (unlikely), malnutrition (only likely on certain weeks), Kallman’s Syndrome (everything seemed to be working down there), Pick’s Disease (he hoped not), and Schizophrenia (he closed his laptop).

  The loss of smell had its benefits: the majority of his volunteer work at Chester Cobb’s was either near manure, patchouli, or the lack of patchouli. This lessening made the calluses building under his shovel possible. It made commiserating on the bumper of a truck after their sweatiest days possible. It made a conversation with someone who still believed she could make a difference in the world possible. Carl thought if his sense of smell went away completely, he could forget the memories he’d been pushing to the far end of his brain, only to find them waving at him from across a lecture hall, from inside a rainstorm.

  He did have his concerns about safety, of course. Without sight, he needed every sense he’d taken for granted, like he’d taken the sandpaper feeling of faces for granted. But, at least when it was too cold to take out the garbage, there was no inconvenience in leaving it another day.

  Carl decided to keep this loss hidden, like his loss of taste. Being a blind man was good enough. People were nicer to a blind man. The students begged to get into his classes now, even his Kant seminar.

  “A blind philosopher,” he’d heard one student say. “It’s like we’re being taught by Homer.”

  Carl corrected the student, but appreciated the thought.

  Still, Carl found himself up at night listening as that pleasant, awful British voice read him the repercussion of this newest loss, mostly about being unable to fully taste food and the resulting dangers of malnutrition and depression. He asked the voice about other losses. Rose perfume recalling your mother’s face, for example. A Port-a-John reminding you that humans are still animals. A lit match bringing you back to a first meeting, a third, and every excuse to escape a room with a woman after that. The smell of a hand-rolled cigarette could even recall that sandpaper feel, only this time on a woman’s legs in January.

  This computerized woman, of course, could not answer. Carl leaned closer to his monitor, trying to smell the static burn of the machine. He inhaled until he was dizzy. He couldn’t tell if he found the scent or remembered it.


  When Carl's Hearing Took Another Bus

  Nine paces from the bedroom to the bathroom. A zig-zag pattern that began at pace #4. The calming swoosh-gurgle of a toilet that only needed to be flushed once a day now, or when guests were expected. The water bill, if Carl could read it, had lessened.

  He learned of this over breakfast, and he felt his face smile, he heard his moist lips click with separation, and he thanked his neighbor Sabrina for her eyes by kindly squeezing her shoulders. Before she left, he leaned close, listened for the soft flutter of her breath to determine where her neck was, and then inhaled deeply, explaining that he was learning everyone’s scent. He told her that she was easy to remember because her scent reminded him of fresh-cut flowers. What he wanted to tell her was that her scent reminded him of Liz, but even this sense memory was fading.

  Seventy-eight paces from his front door to the bench at the bus stop. Carl’s cane—an oak bough, fire hardened by Chester Cobb himself—clack clack clacked against the curbstone. The sound reassured Carl, as did the sound of the bus as it chirped to a stop, as did the sun’s warmth on his forehead and cheeks. Constants did exist, and Carl would abide.

  Carl sat in his usual seat directly behind the driver—where he could hear the scuff of the driver’s soles on the rubber of the pedals—and he fingered through his fanny pack to make sure he’d gathered his materials for the day: voice recorder, plain yogurt, a bottle of what he hoped was orange juice.

  Carl sat back, bobbing along with the jazz variations of the bus. He listened to the chatter, noting the familiar basses and sopranos, and imagined the faces—pig nose, funky ear, pretty eyes. He heard sighs, laughter, and what he thought was a congested snore. He leaned forward, listening for the ding of his stop. When it didn’t come, he strained to hear the grinding gears of the bus as it slowed for pick-ups and drop-offs, and then cupped his ear for the swoosh of fabric as passengers moved past. Carl clapped his palms on his ears, thinking he was tired, knowing that he wasn’t.


  Two-hundred eleven paces from Carl’s stop to the door of his office on the edge of campus, just beyond the pear tree. But Carl didn’t count these paces today. Carl didn’t hear the driver telling him that his shift was over, and that Carl must exit the bus. Carl suspected but didn’t fully realize that day had turned to night until the driver helped him to the curb. The warm hands of sunlight on his cheeks had grown cold. He knew only the moon had hands like that, like he knew that his hearing had left him when he could only feel the vibration of his cane clacking on the curbstone.

  Seventy-eight paces from the bench at the bus stop to his front door. Fifteen paces from his front door to an empty bed. Five-hundred thousand seven paces since last he’d known Liz. Not that Carl was counting.


  Carl Understood Connection

  Carl knows you don’t enjoy an apple simply with your mouth. There is, of course, the primary sweetness sliding along the buds, but there’s also the smell of a ripe apple, which offers the complete taste of the fruit. There are the yellow and pink flecks of the Gala’s skin. And there’s the crunch, making it superior to its mealy Red Delicious brethren. That crunch not only announces itself, but the crisp surrender under the teeth makes an apple wholly an apple (Liz had been an avid apple eater, but once bridgework left her with only the option of cutting them into slices, her fruit bowl became a home for citrus).


  He’s known this, but there is another kind of knowing that comes from loss. This dark, quiet, tasteless life makes Carl regret the Helen Keller jokes of his early twenties. 


  Some time after Carl lost his hearing, Sabrina placed a thick hand on his back, smoothed down his brow. She guided his fingers to sheets of Braille. Carl was still learning, but could gather that he was now on disability, that Sabrina would be there to guide him through the house. It was good to have her, the weight of her pushing down on the couch, the creamy oil of her skin, the roughness of constantly changing hair. He often thought about pretending an accidental brush against her hip or thigh. But he knew her shape was not the one he missed, and really, it was the knowledge of Sabrina in the room that he liked best, a feeling in the floorboards of her checking on him. 

  He misses this most.


  The phantom senses started early in the losing process. Sometimes Carl’s mouth would fill with the unmistakable taste of cinnamon on a snow day. A firework crack would knock him from sleep. The room would be overtaken with a cat box stench he couldn’t conceal, even with a palm over his face. If Carl acted out against these phantoms, Sabrina never said anything. At least, she’d never let him know she’d said anything. 


  Now, there’s no way for Sabrina to communicate with him. There’s no way of knowing if she’s here at all.


  Carl wants to ask her if he screamed when he woke that first morning—he thinks it was morning—without a bed. He tapped his hands all around his body, but tapped air. His legs swished around nothing. He realized he couldn’t be sure if he was lying down or standing. And even when he felt for his face, there was only air.


  Carl cannot feel clothes on his body, ground under his feet, Sabrina’s warm hand on his back.  He doesn’t know if he’s in his house or at a park. There’s the o
ccasional rapid beat in his chest or a dizziness in his head, which he thinks means he’s being moved to a prone position, but mostly it’s just Carl’s mind. Carl thinking, therefore being. Carl hates Descartes.

  When he’d lost his hearing, he’d yelled and hummed, tried on voiced and unvoiced consonants.  The buzz was there, but nothing else. He wanted to ask Sabrina if his deaf voice was different, muffled in the back of his throat. He doesn’t try to feel sound anymore.


  Instead, he waits for phantom senses. Walking on grass. Swimming. Even the prick of a blood test is welcome. Sometimes he thinks he’s wet his pants and only knows if he feels relieved. He waits in what he decides is his room, for a phantom hand to squeeze his thigh, to move up his body, waits to feel his own body move. When he feels the hand, he hopes that each sense will spirit back to him, until he can smell the strike of a match, taste the vague metal of skin, hear the shifting against his sheets, and finally see that skeptical look that was always on her face.


  Carl Increases His Percentage

  Carl wants to believe it took him two months to convince Sabrina to buy the drill press and the diamond bone cutter set. He could’ve been naked and howling like a coyote, or moon walking across the carpet, or piloting a small aircraft. He could’ve been eating his own hand, gnawing off his fingers. He could’ve been doing any number of things. When one exists in a perpetual dream-state, nothing is certain.

  Liz liked to remind him of this when he yawned questions from the morning blankets, eyes crusty and blinking slowly. He wishes he could say things to her right now with real words, not imagined words or phantom gestures. He wants to believe the vivid dreams in which he grips a pencil between his fingers and furiously scribbles onto paper aren’t dreams at all, but honest, tangible actions by a man who has so many things to express. He wants to believe that, with a little help, he can tap into the ninety percent of dormant wattage his brain possesses, thus transforming his current AM mind into a window-rattling FM show replete with the boomingest east coast deejays.

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