Inspired by Kafka's A Hunger Artist,
A Swallowing Artist was Ausherman's
first work of fiction to appear online,
thanks to elimae, circa 1998.
The story is also included in his
award- winning collection of short
fiction, Night Weeding.
A Turkish translation inexplicably
appeared at altZine in 2005 and
has since resurfaced on kelimeyiyen
and oezers alternatif forum
His name was Abel Webber, and it was said that his
mother birthed him through her mouth on a November
morning. This Abel believed because his father told him
so when he was still very young. His father, a man of
authoritarian stature with a voice to match, told him that
the doctor said something he didn't understand about
ectopic pregnancies, tainted waters, and her very
peculiar mouth, which Abel had inherited. His jaws
clicked like a ratchet and he hadn't any lips to speak of,
just a gash that split open his face and exposed his
molars to the moonlight at the slightest grin.
That his mother had just puked him forth into the world
then quickly left it behind drove Abel mad at times, and
he would set about the house just swallowing things.
Flashlights, clocks, linens.
Abel was nearly twenty before he heard of a man from
Lubbock who attempted the world record for eating an
El Dorado piece by piece. Though this man was fatally
unsuccessful, Abel realized there was a living to be
made in swallowing things and set out on his calling.
He soon found this line of work crowded, as there were
hundreds of people who could put large and dangerous
things in their mouths. Things he never thought of, like
rattlers and cacti, toasters and bicycle chains.
Abel decided instead to follow a traveling folk festival. One day he got it in his head to drink
paint when no one was looking. Then he stood before a crowd and presented to them a white
flag. This he bundled up to the size of a dinner roll, swallowed, then delicately regurgitated.
The flag, unfurled, boasted designs more intricate than stained-glass spider webs. Many
people applauded, but festival managers expressed their concerns: The act was not suitable
and the flags would never sell.
Confidence unshaken, Abel repeated the performance at carnivals, rodeos and flea markets.
Though he never sold anything, he was arrested several times for not having the proper
permits. During one of these arrests, police informed him that someone in his hometown was
looking for him. His father recently died, they told him. And in an uncommon gesture of
kindness, they bought him a bus ticket home.
It was an open-casket funeral and his father was too large for the box. His chin pressed down
on his chest. Halfway through the service, his arm slipped out and dangled, swinging slightly
for the next few minutes. Abel stared at the watch on his father's wrist until a kind of hypnotic
fit overpowered him. He stood and approached the coffin, then knelt beside it. He trembled
with heaving sobs, and the congregation allowed him the space to pray out his grief. It wasn't
until after the final hymn that they discovered he'd tried to swallow his father's arm, and
choked to death on his elbow.
The short version of Ausherman's
video adaptation of the Turkish
translation premiered in Louisville
and later appeared at Art Basel via
The full 3-minute version
premiered in Ausherman's
The Unfinished Films
The first release of the full-length
audio recording is now available
as an mp3 download from the
Daily Constitutional's Soundcast