“A Meaningless Exercise in Self-Discipline” by Scott Litts

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He was eating cloves of garlic next to me on the subway, and he was struggling. It wasn’t even peeled. But he was really powering through it. He was not having a good time, and it was pretty brutal to watch.

He shook his jug⁠— he had a jug— and some ice chunks rattled around inside. He tried to get some of the ice, first with his fingers, then with his tongue. He shook it really violently. A woman nearby got up to move. I closed my eyes.

He was grunting too. His thirst was audible. The ice was not melting, and the shards that he was able to get by rattling the jug were insufficient. He needed real water.

I didn’t have any water, so I held my eyes shut.

He ate another section of garlic. I knew this because he chewed it very loudly and made noises of suffering. It sounded like a really big piece. He was torturing himself in front of me all these people.

The smell was overpowering. The whole train reeked. I don’t think he noticed any of it, but people were getting upset.

And I don’t know what came over me, but I opened my eyes, and turned my head to him. He was crying. Or his eyes were watering— he wasn’t sobbing. His eyes were watering, and the tears were running down his cheeks onto his chin, which was steady in stoic forbearance.

His face was expressionless, and now his eyes were closed as he chewed. And the garlic was there in his open hand.

I reached into his hand, took a clove, and crushed it between my molars. He didn’t seem to notice. I chewed, and the taste spread all through my mouth and nose and throat. And then my eyes were tearing up, so I closed them and continued chewing. It was everywhere, and it was burning. And I couldn’t help myself so I started laughing with my mouth closed.

But I had to open my mouth to breathe properly. You don’t understand what it’s like to eat a raw clove of garlic. You have to open your mouth.

So I opened it and couldn’t suppress the laughter. And my eyes were burning, so I had to open them too. And when I opened them he was looking at me. He was chewing and smiling. He tilted his head and looked at me knowingly. His open hand was in front of me.

That was when I really started laughing. I put the unpeeled piece in my mouth, and then he was laughing too, really loudly. His mouth was wide open, and he was laughing so hard that garlic was falling out of his mouth all over his lap and the seat. The smell was awful. Every time I breathed in the air was hot with garlic.

I closed my eyes really tight, to concentrate, and I forced down the puree that was in my mouth. I got it down, and I coughed and laughed some more after I did. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I opened my eyes. He was looking at me, tears streaming down his face. His mouth was still wide open, and he was shaking with laughter. He was holding out a bag. He moved it towards me, nodding and urging me to look into it. I looked, and inside there were so many more cloves of garlic.

Scott Litts is an angry young writer in NYC. You can follow him on Twitter @Scott_Litts_