Fiction — From the October 2009 issue

The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear

I do not think I shall visit my blog anymore. It is not so much the smell that discourages me—gulls have skeletonized the corpse in the entranceway, and the lapping tide has salt-rinsed the floorboards where the intruder’s blood was once caked as thick as fruit-leather—as it is a certain malodor of memory persisting there. The stink of my disappointment being that stink which the sea’s salt can never rinse.


I study my blog through binoculars from the distance of the boardwalk, but never approach. Gulls wheel over my blog’s entranceway, vultures at my kill, much as they do above the splintery planks of the boardwalk, scavenging the greasy paper sleeves containing, if gull should be lucky, some remaining tidbits of cakey frankfurter bun, the last dark rejected french fry like a withered witch’s finger. Let anyone imagine I gaze at the horizon. It is a kind of horizon at which I gaze, an inner-made-outer vanishing point, a place where feeling ventures out to make a meeting with language and finds itself savaged.


I will not forgive The Whom. He would not forgive me.



I thought I would see justiny at last, but the tiny bird has flown. The question I cannot allow myself to ask: Were they not two, but one? Was The Whom pretending to be justiny? Or was justiny pretending to be The Whom?


It was him I killed. He is not unnamed. He has a name, even if inadequate, bogus, contrived. The man I killed, The Whom. It was The Whom who tried to enter my blog and it was The Whom I wanted to keep out and The Whom I laid low with a single remorseless thrust with the blunt editorial object I had carried with me hidden on my person and with which, gripped knuckle-tight, I lay in wait inside the entranceway of my blog. It was The Whom I wanted to reduce to gibberish with my disemvoweller, it was him I wished to see undone and unspeeched it was him who poisoned the well and stole the goose it was him who could never would never be silent I tell you it was never other than The Whom.


A man tried to enter my blog. I killed him at the entrance there. In order to make you understand I would have to go back to the beginning and that is impossible. I am not trying to hide anything, I swear this.


I could never have protected anyone. I don’t know who or what I was trying to protect. Since the day I killed the unnamed man there has been no one else remotely near the blog, no evidence of justiny, not an extinguished sasparilla candle, not an herbal-cough-drop wrapper. justiny has gone, if he or she ever dwelled here. justiny, I now believe, was as frightened of me as he/she was of that malignant other, the man I killed. And will I go unpunished? I have come to believe so. My blog is a site on no map, is sanctioned in no precinct, patrolled by no militia. Its occupants have only ever constituted its sole authority. The three of us, if it ever was three. Or two. Now gone.


A man tried to enter my blog last night. I killed him in the entranceway with a blow to the head. I felt in the impact as I heaved my cudgel and met with his grunting pumpkin-thick skull that he was dead, and I discarded the brain-oiled implement in the darkness there and ran upstairs and hid in a far high corner of my blog in bereavement and horror at what I had done not so much to the man I killed, to that rotting gourd full of evil, but at what I had done to myself and to my solitary majestic kingdom here, to my elegant elaborate and irreplaceable redoubt now beshitted in revenger’s shame. But it was done. He is silent now. I will need to pass his body there in the entranceway if I am to leave, the mouth-stilled black form slumped in the dark joint of wall and floorboard with its dumb black legs blocking the threshold. I am not afraid.


I wait in the dark huddled like an animal now, but it is an animal I have come here to meet, an animal I am seeking to purge and correct, and to do so I have had to turn myself into an animal too. The time for tender thoughts is adjourned.



What is going on here jaw i am so scared and freaked out this isnt funny any more why is the whom doing what he is doing and is he even who he says he is???? there r times when i cant trust anyone or anything even myself justiny


I’ve secreted myself in one of the upper rooms. I hold in my hand an implement, an editor’s tool, the exact weight and shape of my indignation at the doings of The Whom. My blog must not be spoiled. I will defend it, I will defend it with my life. I need look no further for a cause than dear little justiny, of whom I see no sign. I suspect the poor creature has pocketed her- or himself in a cupboard somewhere, nibbling on stale crackers or fingernails with teeth chattering in fear of Whom’s depredations, to reemerge only when the foulness has been purged. The quarters of my blog must be made safe for those who’ve come for solace here.

Previous PageNext Page
1 of 2
’s eighth novel, Chronic City, will be out this month. Two of his essays from Harper’s Magazine were included in his 2005 collection, The Disappointment Artist.

More from Jonathan Lethem:

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada


October 2019