I am at my sister’s house the day after my grandma’s funeral and we sit side by side on her carpeted floor unspeaking. She did not cry at the church yesterday or on the day our father told us the bad news, and for some reason this bothers me. This is what I’m thinking about when suddenly she begins to speak, upsetting the silence. Tell me about the things you taste, she says and I am surprised. I have never explained it to anyone and I doubt now would be the best time to but she insists, and I suppose it would be a distraction from our grandma’s death, so I begin.
I start with the first time I Tasted; when I ironed and burned an irreparable hole into our mother’s dress and then stuffed it at the back of the linen closet. Weeks later when I heard our mother ransacking her wardrobe for that dress and I pretended to help her look for it, it was as if I had swallowed something extra greasy that left a trail on my lips, down my throat and had settled uneasily in the pit of my stomach. Guilt smelled like rotten eggs and even as I narrate the feeling to my sister, I have to stop myself from vomiting all over her red carpets.
I tell her about the time I saw a group of friends laughing so hard that one of them stopped walking, dropped her bags and laughed a hands-on-the-knees-I-cannot-breathe, type of laugh while I lingered a few paces behind them gulping down their joy. Her laughter was raucous and wild as it filled the air and my mouth was sweet like I had licked honey, or caramel syrup. When they walked away some of that happiness was left floating in the air and I watched as it floated then seeped into my skin, and the rest I inhaled with the same intensity as though I had been deprived of air.
She asks me what embarrassment tastes like and I say it is bubbly like a fizzy drink and feels like my tastebuds are being rearranged. I tell her I hate it, but not as much as I hate how I knocked over a pyramid of carrots at the farmer’s market and then walked away before the seller could see me. As I watched people help the seller restack his carrots, that uncomfortable bubbly feeling saturated my tongue and I spat onto the grass right beside the lady selling hand-picked strawberries.
Next she wants to know the taste of confusion and it is easy to explain because that taste, sharp and sour like lemons, floods my tongue every time I wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. When I wake from sleep, it takes me a few seconds to determine whether I’m truly awake or just in a vivid dream. One time, I say half-laughing, I found it so hard to stand up that I had to crawl to the bathroom, and the next morning I wasn’t sure if it had actually happened or I was recalling my life as an ant from my dream. Her body shakes from laughter and I move around the floor on my hands and feet for emphasis.
When I’m done talking, the events of the day before fill the spaces where my words once were. She doesn’t ask me to explain any more tastes, nor do I offer up any more stories. Beside me my sister tilts her head up towards the ceiling and says she thinks she can taste something, that she’s been tasting it all night. She says it’s strong like the black coffee she drinks and can feel it making a home in her mouth like the taste won’t ever go away. I nod, because I think she is talking about love (maybe for me after all I have just shared with her). I tell her this but she shakes her head, love cannot taste like this, she argues, and then I realize what it is because for the first time I acknowledge its taste too; it is every taste and no taste and although she said it’s strong I would describe it as overwhelming. So very overwhelming. What is grief but an expression of love? When I explain this to her, she takes my hand in hers and weeps.