‘The Woman With Too Many Mouths’ by Cathy Sweeney

The narrator of Cathy Sweeney’s Kafkaesque story is an aspiring novelist whose ambition to “write [a] great novel” is successfully realised and absolutely inconsequential. “Years passed,” he says at the end. “I wrote my great novel. I could write a hundred pages about writing my great novel, but no one would read it. My novel was published. … And then nothing. What else is there?” Well, there’s this, his brief account of his relationship with “the woman with too many mouths”: far fewer words than you’ll find in his great novel, but these words are the more significant ones, particularly because he’s trying to find words to speak about a woman who has more than one mouth and can’t really speak at all. “The woman with too many mouths was almost ugly,” he says; “her beauty depended on the angle of the moon, her perception of my perception, and so on.” As he repeatedly reminds his readers, looking back on the relationship long after it has ended, the woman had too many mouths and strange things happened when she opened them: she spat out rain, she breathed out hay, and at one point, the narrator says, “moths, not two but twenty, the ones you think are butterflies until someone says otherwise, flew out of the woman’s mouth and around my bathroom.” He meets her again after they split up, he reignites their romance, and then things become violent — at her insistence. The narrator’s great novel, which is all that matters to him, doesn’t matter at all in the retelling. All that matters are the memories he can’t shake about his union with that unearthly woman, and this story is his attempt to find the few words that will cleanse his mind of them.

from The Stinging Fly, Issue 19, Volume 2, Summer 2011; read it at The Lonely Voice here or listen to it read aloud by Kevin Barry here