PROFESSOR SAM EDWINE AND HIS GRAD STUDENT LOUNGE AROUND A MARINA, DISCUSSING THE DENTITION AND DIET OF A RIVER HOBO
"The Lord who made thy teeth shall give thee bread."
"What does Kara-kun eat?" asks the grad student.
"If you must know," sighs Sam, "he prefers to get belly-down into the shallows and grab live mud-minnows with his bare hands and consume them whole."
The grad student, whose name is Hank, shifts uncomfortably on his buttocks and asks, "Does Kara-kun actually chew these minnows, or just sort of, um--" He blanches, and hesitates to finish the question.
Sam obliges him with a sound like a frat-rat aspirating a goldfish.
"Does he have any teeth?" Hank shudders. "I never got close enough to look, but you--"
"Sure, he has about two and a half molars rattling around back there, shiny and black as the rest of him, and festering nicely. He savors the hint of corruption these stumps can lend to the minnows when he bites down at just the correct angle."
Trying to sound cheerful, Hank says, "I guess, Dr. Edwine, that you must have tutored him in the rudiments of continental European tastes."
"No, no. Kara-kun learned it from his more airworthy pals."
As if on cue, the characteristic croaking of the birds in question pierces the smog overhead. Sam calls his grad student's attention to a pair of crows, which are harassing an elegantly marked hawk with twice their wingspan. They flap and peck alongside until the hawk drops its prey: a football-sized rat plucked live from the lip of a marina dumpster. The partly masticated rodent flops down, twitching and dying, among the turquoise industrial suds that crackle around the puckering bulrushes.
The crows eat mostly road-kill, but they always prove tougher in such aerial dogfights. They're more than aerodynamically capable of swooping down and retrieving that juicy tidbit in mid-air; but they prefer to let it fall down and mature a few days in the languishing stinkweeds.
Hank murmurs, "God himself must have tutored those black buzzards."
"How pious of you to say so."
"And Kara-kun, in turn, taught me the trick," declares Sam, with an especially big smile.
Several of this Doctor of Philosophy's own molars need root canals. He's shedding childhood fillings at the rate of two or three per semester. But he no longer patronizes dentists, regardless. His enamel has flaked away, his quick is exposed to the light of day, his most intimate pulp throbs.
"Want to see?" Sam parts his lips like receptive buttocks.
By now, Hank is understandably put off. He says, quietly, "Um, no."
"Howcome not? I'm on your committee, right? We're practically colleagues already."
"Thanks very much, Professor, but no."
Sam keeps it up. "The point at which the caries seeps all the way down into the vital nerve: that's where you begin to achieve the more complex bouquets that sometimes require five or six seconds to register fully upon the palate. No sauce contrived by human hands can compete. Chomped down upon with the proper amount of vigor, this humble bicuspid of mine tastes like an A-plus final exam at the Cordon Bleu school of cookery."
"Forgive me for my petite-bourgeois concerns, but doesn't it hurt to chew?"
"Of course it does. The pain is--"
Both men finish the sentence, in unison, Hank anticipating the second half of his teacher's thought: "--part of the pleasure."
"I should have guessed," sighs Hank, his stomach gaining a little ballast now that he's taking the offensive. "You still haven't got tenure, but deep down inside, you're one of those full-fledged, decadent humanities professors, aren't you?"
"Of course," says Sam, unashamed. "Now you've grasped my essence." He unbuttons his tweed jacket and pulls up the Rat Fink t-shirt beneath, to expose a precocious gut. "See? It's a question of not merely jeering at the disintegration of the body, but of embracing it, and exploring its aesthetic subtleties." He caresses himself adoringly. "This is rarefied stuff. These are advanced tastes. Kara-kun is quite a sophisticated guy, his appearance to the contrary notwithstanding." Tonguing a canine, Sam adds, in a moisture-enriched voice, "Ah, yes. Yes. Mmmmm... To get a rabbit this high, you'd be paying top dollar at Maxim's du Pa-ree."
"I don't think I've ever heard narcissism taken to such an extreme." A pleading tone enters Hank's voice. "Pull your t-shirt down, okay? You look like a Neolithic fertility goddess."
Tom Bradley lives at present in Japan and is the author of five novels. His most recent fiction can be found in the current issues of Exquisite Corpse, Big Bridge, Jack, Milk magazine, 3AM, and the Melic Review. Refer to his web site: www.literati.net/Bradley/. He may be contacted: TBradley@literati.net.