Thoughts on Music, Community, and Spirituality
09 April 2017

A Strange Symptom (Sunday Psalms Series)

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Sunday Psalms: Fictional Narratives & Poetry Inspired by the Psalms, Proverbs, & Other Biblical Works

Merlin Till woke with a thick sensation in his forty-five-year-old tongue. At first he accounted it as a consequence of last night’s drunken altercation. After downing several pints of beer at Slippery Pete’s, Merlin had found himself cursing a river at Stanley Biddle. Yes, Merlin had unleashed a venomous streak that could equal any man working along the docks in 1876. Stanley had rewarded his mouth with a swift wallop.

“Stupid Stanley.” Merlin smacked his tongue about. He could still feel the ache from the sailor’s thick knuckles meeting his teeth. What he needed was a drink of water.

Uttering a deep groan, Merlin peeled away from his thin mattress. Along the route to the cracked mirror and sink, he tripped over muddy boots and discarded clothing. Ever since Evelyn had passed on to the heavenly realm, Merlin had forsaken the notion of tidying up.

The light inside Merlin’s bedroom was dim. A small window provided just enough sun for Merlin to examine himself. Thinning hair, glassy eyes, yellow teeth. And there on the end of his tongue, he could make out a tiny bump.

“What the devil?” Merlin took his tongue in his fingers, twisting the pink slab of muscle every which way. To be accurate, the bump was more like a bud, the kind that grew from the branch of a rose bush.

Last night Merlin had enjoyed more than a responsible share of ale. He slapped his cheeks to make sure it wasn’t the hangover.

By the time the nine o’clock hour rolled around, Merlin’s bud had doubled in size. He found it challenging to sip his breakfast tea. When the bud morphed into a bright red flower, there was no possibility of chewing his daily slice of sourdough bread.

With careful fingers Merlin picked the flower from his tongue. He turned it over in his hands, rubbing the silky texture of the petals. When two new flowers (pink geraniums) replaced the first, Merlin pounded his fist against the cracked mirror. His reflection wobbled. Something must be done.

Clad in his gray coat and wool cap, Merlin stormed down the stairs of his apartment building. He rushed into the cobbled street with his head down, his mouth closed.

“Excuse me, but where might you be going in such a hurry, Merlin Till? Don’t you say hello anymore?” His downstairs neighbor Mrs. Bentley jumped out of the way, clutching her infant son to her as he breezed past. Merlin, who would have normally replied with some rude retort, merely grunted.

It was a Saturday, full of sun and windy bluster. Tree branches swayed to and fro, fat white clouds breezed south. Merlin ignored his pounding hangover and ran at full capacity along the pier. He didn’t stop until he arrived at the tiny exam room on the second floor of the flat near the church with the bright green door. Merlin did not bother to knock.

“Merlin, you can’t barge in like this. You know that.” Doctor Oxley turned from the female patient perched on the edge of his exam table.

“Da. Ma uhng. Ook a i.” Merlin proceeded to vent a garbled list of frustrations with his constricted tongue. The eyes of Oxley and his patient widened at the sight of the miniature garden blooming inside Merlin’s mouth. Oxley quickly scooted the woman out the door with a bottle and instructions to take two pills with a full glass of water.

“Whuts wong wit eye ung, Ock?” Merlin mumbled his message as another petal floated to the floor. Oxley shook his head, and pulled card from his rolltop desk. “I’m afraid I’m not the one to help you, Merlin. What you need is a botanist.”

Merlin wiggled his shoulders up and down in that common gesture men make when they are confused.

“A botanist like Professor Hayworth specializes in strange plants. If anyone can help you, she’s the one.”

Merlin sighed. Couldn’t Doc just give him a pill or something? Clean his mouth out with some strong soap? Wasn’t anything easy anymore?


Merlin arrived at Professor Hayworth’s just as the morning wind died down. The address had led him to an enormous greenhouse on the edge of town. Through the windows, Merlin spotted a woman engrossed in the workings of a shiny microscope. His desperate knock rattled the transparent walls. He never had been known for a gentle hand.

Merlin cautiously eased open the door and stepped into the enclosed jungle. The woman held up a hand for him to wait. She was staring through the microscope lens, clicking her tongue, nodding her head. Finally she looked up, and Merlin momentarily forget his blooming tongue.

“Can I help you?” came her pleasant invitation. There was no lab coat or thick spectacles. Her black hair was decorated with a set of gold combs. Her frock was made of a rich purple fabric. She was lovely.

Rather than try to answer the professor’s question, Merlin stuck out his tongue. She gave him a knowing head bob.

“Oh my. Say no more.” As if he could say anything. “I’ve seen this before,” she said, easing off his coat. She indicated he should take the stool in front of the microscope. “How long has it been like this?”

Merlin held up his index finger. “Un ay,” he verbalized as clearly as he could with a trio of daisies spilling from his mouth.

“One day. Alright then.” Professor Hayworth crossed her arms and bent down to meet his gaze. Merlin noted her eyes were the color of tree bark. She grabbed a long wooden stick and indicated Merlin was to open up. He obeyed.

“A very beautiful garden,” she admired, and for the first time that day, Merlin chuckled. “Yes, I must say, it’s one of the most beautiful tongue transformations I’ve ever seen, Mister…” Professor Hayworth paused and reached for a black notebook. She handed the notebook and a stubby pencil to Merlin. He carefully took his time writing it out: Merlin Till.

“Mister Till. Very nice to meet you.” Professor Hayworth gave him a sympathetic smile. “And I’m pleased to say I know what’s wrong with you.”

It was at this point that she began to pace. Her heels clicked along the stone floor. She clasped her hands in a prayer-like manner.

“Mister Till, might I ask if you have participated in any vulgar language in the past twenty-four hours?”

Merlin felt the sting of embarrassment rise to his cheeks. A sunny yellow petal fell from his tongue and he nodded.

“I suspected as much. You see, every incident of this blooming tongue syndrome has come on the heels of a raging bout of verbal calamity.”

She had to be joking. This was ludicrous. Merlin really had consumed too much ale last night. It was causing him to hallucinate and hear strange voices.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but in the last two years and over fifty cases, this is the only explanation I have found. Trust me, Mister Till. I know my plants.”

Merlin did not doubt that. Within the tinted blue glass of the greenhouse, Professor Hayworth had collected an extensive array of palms and ferns and mosses and flowers. She walked from plant to plant, caressing the leaves and blossoms like they were her children.

“That is the good news, Mister Till.” This was the point when Professor Hayworth’s voice took on that sort of gloomy tone humans get when they’re about to deliver terrible information–news like your mum has died or there’s no more work for you or the country is going to war. Merlin was accustomed to bad news.

Professor Hayworth tapped her chin continued: “I’m afraid there’s nothing more I can do for you. At least not right now. I’ve been working on a remedy for this condition but I am thoroughly stumped. Whoever created this strange epidemic certainly wants to keep filthy language out of our town. You have to admit, this infection is very effective. Rather hard for a man to spew curses when there’s a garden spilling out his mouth.”

Death and life are in the power of the tongue; and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. Proverbs 18:21 (ASV)

Question to Ponder: When are you tempted to speak words of anger? Words of love?

Song Recommendation: A Beautiful Mess by Jason Mraz

-Read Previous Sunday Psalms from Season Two: Episode 1Episode 2, Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5,Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8Episode 9, Episode 10,Episode 11, Episode 12,Episode 13, Episode 14, Episode 15, Episode 16,  Episode 17Episode 18, Episode 19, Episode 20, Episode 21, Episode 22, Episode 23, Episode 24Episode 25, Episode 26, Episode 27


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Written by Benjamin & Heidi Beth Sadler, Inspired by Proverbs 18:21 and James 3. Copyright © 2017 Benjamin & Heidi Sadler, All Rights Reserved.


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