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Words have infested my home.
It started with the odd adjective here or there when I moved into the flat, barely noticeable in the otherwise general mess of a move, but soon they were everywhere. Piles of them. Mounds, stacks, hoards of them.
They cover the bed, the floor, the furniture. They float off my sheets like motes of dust. Every day I dust the surfaces, sweep the floors, beat the curtains and wipe down the insides of all the lampshades. It’s a lot more cleaning than I used to do. I have looked for the source to no avail. (Perhaps they are parthenogenic—“parthenogenic,” incidentally, I found lodged in the battery case of the TV remote.) There are words in my closet, my clothes. They hide in my curls, curl up in the tangles, drop into my eyes in the dark, as if to defend me from sleep. I have words, not pebbles, pricking my toes in my shoes. “Sesquipedalian” was particularly sharp, lodging itself in the flesh of my left big toe. Words dirty my nails, like I’ve been digging up dictionaries, or burying them. Words scratch at the back of my throat. Annoying at first, then painful, then embarrassing. I’m starting to sound like a wannabe-intellectual at work: all the language, none of the content.
It hasn’t been easy.
I need to get rid of them.
My first thought goes to writing—what better way to use up words? But it takes too long to find the right words to string together anything coherent, and frankly I lack the imagination. Song-writing is worse, the time it takes to find an acceptable rhyme is not worth the effort, and the truth is, the only way to get rid of them is to rid myself of the source.
It’s a month before I meet Amalia. She’s kind and funny and extroverted, we go to hers, never to mine, until one day, over coffee, she brings up the fact that she has never seen my room. Wrecked with nerves—how do I explain that I now wade, rather than walk, through my own home?—I acquiesce. My excuses only go so far, and ironically I have no words with which to dissuade her when she so frankly brings up the subject. I open the front door with rising trepidation, she follows me up the stairs chatting away about her new project at work, unaware of the shake in my hand as I unlock the front door.
The words spill out like freshly fallen snow, collecting around our ankles, getting caught in the fuzz of our socks. Amalia shakes her sneakers clean and we move on inside. She acts unperturbed, but the piles of words on the floor sit, unspoken but acknowledged in the air between us as we prepare dinner, sit on the sofa to watch a movie, move to the bedroom and switch off the lights.
The following morning, she kisses me awake, and pulls a stray word out of my hair (“indubitably”), then sits up, raises her eyebrows, and declares that something must be done about the mess.
“It was fine at my place,” she says, picking a preposition out from under her fingernails, “but you’ve really let yourself go.”
“At your place? This happens to you?”
“You talk in your sleep.”
My first thought is, How did I not know that?
My first words, “But I don’t even know all these words.”
“The subconscious is a weird place.” Then she fishes her socks out of last night’s nonsense, shakes them free of most of their vocabulary, and pulls them on. “Do you have a broom?”
We spend the morning cleaning together. At first, we try to collect the words in bin bags, but I don’t have nearly enough bags, and neither of us are sure which bin the words would belong in. We spend a few minutes discussing whether words are organic (my opinion) or recycling (her opinion), come to no conclusion, and go back to cleaning.
In the end, we lose our patience, and the majority of the words go out the window, or are swept into the hallway, down the stairs, and out the front door. They blow away on the next breeze; I see a sentence get stuck in a spiderweb, whose inhabitant quickly sets to cocooning an adverb.
There are still the bags. I consider throwing them out, but after seeing so many of my words float away on a wind, I find myself suddenly loathe to let go. At the end of the day, I decide to donate them: certainly someone is in need of an expanding vocabulary.
Amalia has a better idea.
It takes time, but by the end of the month, we’re set up and ready to sell. We’ve divided the words by parts of speech, connotation, theme. The bags are small and simple, made of organic linen, to mirror the natural source of the words. You’d be surprised by how many people are in search for the right words. The business booms.
It’s been four months. We can hardly keep up with demand; I’ve taken to ensuring I get at least an extra nap every day, in the hopes I’ll say something someone will want. Amalia and I are no longer dating. We meet twice a week, to collect, assess, categorise and distribute. Once a week we go out for a drink, to celebrate the week’s sales. I don’t regret our change in relationship; we’ve found stronger companionship in work than we ever did in bed, and besides, the conversation is excellent.