I was chewing gum. It couldn’t have happened otherwise. A swirling autumnal breeze, a coincidence of the right conditions. I opened my mouth at just that moment. I sucked in a leaf. Not a big leaf, but a whole leaf. Not a small leaf either, a medium leaf I guess.
It went straight to the back of my mouth. I leaned forward gagging. It caught in the chewing gum and rather than spit it out, I bit down, felt the leaf crunch, I chewed and swallowed. It was a reflex action.
I went home and washed it down with coffee. I wasn’t certain about the type of leaf. I was concerned I’d been poisoned and would die on the spot. But over the next few days I felt fine.
It was mid winter when things got strange. I felt the need to be outside in a sort of primal way. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to be outside. First thing in the morning I would go and stand on the grass. By mid morning I needed to be outside.
By the end of February, it was a habit. I had to sit outside. I would find a spot of dirt and sit down. I would run my fingers through the dirt. I would scratch it into small bits, pick it up and feel it, hold it, rub it between my fingers, into the grooves of my hand. My work key board became so clogged with dirt it had to be replaced. After that I could rarely be found at my desk. I had to be outside.
I did not connect it to the leaf.
In winter the dirt was packed solid and cold, I destroyed my nails digging it up. I tried to force my feet down into it. I tramped dirt along the office carpet. People stared but said nothing. Somehow the mere feel of dirt soothed me. I started to carry a little jar of dirt in my handbag. I sniffed it in the toilets when I couldn’t go outside. I took my bag to meetings and smelled it when I couldn’t cope with being indoors.
I was referred to the employee assistance program. We met in the park because I didn’t want to be inside. I sat on the ground and played in the dirt whilst she spoke. I didn’t hear a word.
I still did not connect it to the leaf. I had completely forgotten about the leaf.
The bag of dirt got bigger. I found myself making mud in the sink and dipping my hands in up to my elbows. I didn’t even try to hide it. It was everybody else that was odd. I developed a sort of earthy aroma. People avoided me. I didn’t answer the email from HR. I just walked out and didn’t go back.
Spring came and went. I sat outside most of the day and night. I wasn’t hungry. By the end of each day I could run my tongue around the inside of my mouth and it would be thick with something akin to honey. I enjoyed the sunshine. I drank water and then more water. I could not get enough water.
I knew I needed help, but the sun and water sustained me. I still did not think of the leaf.
The first rains of autumn came. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, what would make me feel good. I went to the woods. I went off the path. I found a quiet spot. I let the rain soak me until I was wet through. The dirt itself was wet and moist and pliable. It was late in the day. I dug a hole. I used my fingers. I climbed in and lay there. I lay there all afternoon and into the night. For the first time in months I felt sated. I went home in the early hours of the morning but I knew I would do it again tomorrow.
And I did. It rained again. I went to the same spot. I covered myself as much as I could. I lay there feeling it around me, the dirt, the mud, the sense of being held safe in the earth, of it soaking up my wetness. I lay encased in mud. I abandoned clothing on that first day. I needed to feel the earth against my skin. To revel in the dirt and feel it cover me, hold me.
And as the evenings drew in, almost a year since I had eaten the leaf, I kept going to the woods. I took off all my clothes. I let the rain soak me. I lay down in a hole in the dirt. I covered myself in the dirt. I very nearly buried myself alive and yet never felt as if death was near me.
Finally as I lay there one night, I connected it with the leaf. It did not prompt me to act, only to understand.
I knew I could not go on forever. I knew it would end. I even knew how it would end. And so I wandered through my house one day and touched all the important things. I closed and locked the door. I threw the keys into a bush. And went to the woods.
I lay down in the dirt and covered myself. I let my toes, my fingers stretch out. I let the dirt fill my nose and my mouth. I felt it slip down my throat and fill my lungs. I closed my eyes in the darkness. I stretched and elongated. I felt the first earthworms slither over me. Under me, in me. I felt my eyes hollow out, the skin of my knees being eroded away. I breathed out without breathing in again and the weight of the dirt sank me even deeper. I felt like I belonged, as if this was where my roots were. I did not regret.
Based in the UK, Denise writes for enjoyment. She writes on a variety of themes but most recently has been writing more poetry with the occasional flash fiction murder mystery. Her blog can be found at Tuesdaylatte.blog.