He was gazing into her cleavage with his tongue. The neckline of her dress formed a sharp diagonal across his visual cortex. On one side dark, on the other light. On both sides were soft, gentle folds.
His tongue flickered. Uncertain.
She shifted in her seat, uncrossed and recrossed her legs, but kept her bright, analytical eyes fixed on the screen. It showed a familiar image in a slightly fuzzy, unfamiliar grey.
The movement focused his mind. He concentrated on applying what she had already taught him about discerning a true shape from shadow. Following the diagonal line, he tracked down to the point of the ‘V’.
He held the camera steady with his right hand, although inside he shook. Which direction should he go?
“Go upwards!” she directed. “Don’t be shy but don’t linger. Keep going upwards until I say ‘stop!’”
He did as instructed. Her textured, slightly wrinkled skin sent ripples back and forth along his dorsum. Her twinkling-star pendant felt like popping candy. Its silver chain gleamed beneath the unblinking, headache-inducing laboratory lights. But her navy-blue silk scarf was cool and unresponsive – a blank stripe across his cortex.
She adjusted the camera’s sensitivity and retied her scarf so that a gold thread was visible. “Do you see the difference?”
With his left hand he tentatively pressed the hard button.
“No?” She pulled her scarf tighter and smoothed down the creases. “Now?”
A line of single electrodes fired at maximum strength horizontally across his tongue like a cheese wire. He winced and pressed the soft button.
She unfolded the scarf to its full width, revealing two more gold threads. “Now?”
He moved the camera up then down then up again, trying not to flinch. And pressed the soft button three times.
“Okay. Well done.”
As she spoke he panned further up, catching the opening and closing of her lips in deep waves across his dorsum. A glimpse of her white teeth sent tremors up through his brain. Beads of sweat prickled and popped out across his forehead.
“Look at me!”
He wiped his brow with his trembling left hand and tried to hold the camera steady with his right.
“Look at me!”
Mustering all his concentration and recalling the lessons she had taught him, he slowly raised the camera to meet her gaze.
Her eyes are bright so bright they burn, so bright they dazzle his tongue.
Light floods his visual cortex and washes into his conscious mind. He can find no words to describe it. He lets out a long, low moan.
She smiles and notes down his response, adding as a footnote, “the first taste of success!”
And she looks unflinchingly into his empty eyes, “you’re making progress. There’s still a long way to go but you can succeed if you keep working hard. I will see you again next week.”