Issue 2: Feminisms

The Woman Without a Mouth

Sînziana Păltineanu

She has been suffering from an unknown illness, which broke out when she was about 20 years old. She can no longer speak, utter words, build sentences. Nothing. Words kept rolling out of her mouth, until the verbal flow came to a halt:

no Japanese syllables paired up nicely:
/ consonant - vowel + consonant - vowel /
ka - ki - ku - ke - ko,
no Polish crowded wagons of consonants,
no tongue-breaking sequences of Romanian vowels,
no black consonants, no cheerful vowels, no melodic words,
no synesthesia,


Her mouth has turned into a silent cavity with stone-like teeth and a rosy tongue, but without the ability to produce acoustic vibrations.

HER FACE is as round as a plate, of an ambiguously gray color and without wrinkles. Those elements commonly referred to as eyes and nose form a happy little crowd in the middle of the plate, like a couple of olives and a pickled cucumber — possible leftovers of a solid meal. The mouth is visible only when it scarfs down cherries.

She seems to have a mouth only during summers.
Only then can she kiss.

At first, people assume that she has swallowed an UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT that is temporarily blocking access to her Personal Words Bank (PWB), so they run ludicrous tests on her, scan every single centimeter of her body with a sophisticated linguistic machine.

Within months, it becomes clear that the so-called mysterious malfunctioning has a greater impact on the people around her than it actually does on her. They see the “illness” as the woman’s bugbear. They attempt to design new medical devices to understand this condition. They sign her up for sign language classes. But these people impose their knowledge and ignore the very clear fact that the day she became mute and looked into the mirror, the woman peacefully smiled with her bright olive eyes. Only the mirror recorded an unusual sense of relief, which the rest of the people ignore.

Instead, they keep repeating:

“I cannot imagine what that must be like to wake up one day and not to be able to speak any longer. How dreadful!”

And they wring their hands by way of empathy.

Their lack of imagination and understanding gall her so much that each sentence starting with


triggers a medical condition inside her. Instead of flying into a rage to express her anger towards them, crying:

“your lips have teeth, your noses have tongues”,

she begins suffering from selective face blindness. In medical terms, she is developing a variant of PROSOPAGNOSIA. The woman can no longer recognize the unsympathetic speaker, and all faces appear to her like BLANK PAGES. Her brain deletes faces. Or maybe it eats the images of those faces instead of identifying them. At any rate, she doesn’t appear in the least disturbed by this added deficit.

The more time passes, the more her lips lose color until eventually the mouth erases itself from the woman’s face. Authorities withdraw her passport.

The unidentified woman recalls, lips sealed:

“For about twenty years, WORDS kept flying out of my mouth. Like flocks of free birds, they migrated over oceans and continents. I could see with my mind how one day they gathered above a blue mountain and landed on top next to a deep well of lava. And that’s where they remained, all the words that I had uttered in twenty years’ time. Every single day the words whisper around the lava well. Whether awake or asleep, I can hear the uncountable echoes of their whispers vibrating and I know they are doing well. It’s a soothing tape that plays at the back of my head without interruption.”

A blurred photograph shows books lined up next to meters of tapes. One of them reads, in black marker:

“A U D I O T A P E S E R I E S : T W E N T Y Y E A R S O F S P O K E N W O R D S”

Her mind begins inhabiting that generously ambiguous and elastic space that exists between a signifier and a signified, that tip of a tongue in motion about to utter a word which it never actually says.

For a while, every time the woman without a mouth opens a book and attempts to decipher the text, her body is thrown back, as though the act of reading were the same as firing a gun into the book, both resulting in a soft recoil.

She dreams about computer keyboards.

Every night, the woman hears one keyboard key after another falling to the ground,

It’s a mouth with keyboard teeth.

When she approaches the mass of keys on the floor, she sees that all those signs are merely chalk lines of dead letter bodies.