By Liz Hufford
When the words began to leave, scattershot, like a party breaking up, Connie resisted. Soon her house fluttered with yellow Post-Its in her own writing—chair, table, sofa. But some words resisted placement—loyalty, trust, beauty. These deserved the ceiling, she thought, retrieving the ladder from the garage.
Her daughter dropped in, one of those surprise visits that were becoming more frequent. “Mom, what are you doing? Here, let me help you down.”
Her daughter June did not put the ladder back but took it in her car. June made Connie an appointment with a specialist who confirmed what Connie suspected. Words, always allies, were deserting. But he also said her notes were an excellent coping strategy. Connie smiled at her daughter and felt smug.
No, she really felt it, and tasted it, and saw it. Smug felt full, solid. Smug tasted like a bit of sugar you find on your lip an hour after the donut. Smug was a quilt in tones of amber and sepia. Smug was knowing the answer to the teacher’s question. Smug was the glance you gave your husband’s ex-secretary, one hand on your protruding stomach.
Connie, who had been lauded for her knowledge and use of words, now saw them in three dimensions, tangible prisms of meanings and implications and memories.
Where was the thing you climbed on? Connie thought. The ceiling was no longer accessible, but Connie had walls, and she was a tall woman. She spent her days attaching and reordering the crisp yellow flags. Then she would walk around the house, her finger trailing through the words, for sometimes, she couldn’t remember if or where she’d already saved the word.
Once, when her pals came to visit—they never came alone anymore—she overheard one say, “Ironic that it’s Connie of all people.”
“People.” “Peephole.” She wondered at how words clung together protectively, each one more meaningful than it had ever been before.
On the days June came, they sang songs together. When her son was there, he played music. She thought the children had all left home, but now they seemed to be returning. “What is that?” she asked, as a tune filled the air.
“‘Unchained Melody,’” her son said.
“Melody.” Her eyes lit. She had that word somewhere. And so the search began across the yellow furrows. She side-stepped back and forth, nose to the wall, crouching as she worked her way down.
She turned to see her son crying. Words came to her. “Mother.” “Pain.” “Comfort.”
“What’s wrong, Jimmy?” she asked, although he’d been James for decades.
He wiped his eyes with his knuckles and patted the sofa beside him. “Could you just sit down here and talk?”
Of course, she could. But what an odd request! Jimmy never listened.
She sat down, but her eyes still scanned the yellow brick road. “What would you like to talk about?” she asked.
“Anything,” he said. “You start.”
Connie sighed and then smiled. Despite the words she had lost, many were still at her disposal. How to choose?
“Well,” she said. “Do you know ‘amber’ tastes like butterscotch and history?”