Bitter Language by Ella Lombard

In the end, she decided, it didn’t really matter. One way or another. Taken by storm, whirlwind, eyes open, falling. That was the way of life, never quite steady, never solid.

Alone, she had given up the ways of islands and lily pads long ago. She was sick of holding on, tired of the deathlike shadows that waited to catch her. She clung to each moment’s existence like the sheer face of a cliff and waited for it all to be over. And she hated it all. Despised, actually, with a fire deep inside her chest that burned like hot bricks underfoot. The way they looked at her, the way they spoke, sharp syllables that flowed over the boundaries of sentences, ignoring periods and commas and the solid world. Hated her class with their harsh language of whispers and loud words. Giggles in the hallway. Every letter a burning coal, a swallowed alphabet of fire.

It was that sort of day, so she knew it was coming. When the teacher said creative writing, she wondered why she was surprised. She escaped to the girls’ bathroom, tried to gulp air into her leaden lungs, but the air only fueled the flickering fire that ate away at her insides. The mirror was shallow steel, the world was bitter white. She tried not to look at the smudge of color that was her reflected face, turned away from it. Better to face the beige tiles that were cracked and splintered, feathered with sprawling graffiti. She didn’t trust reflections.

Write. That was fine, then. There were enough words left in her pen, even if they were a dying breed. Sometimes she thought that true words were endangered, crying out for conservation. That they were almost gone – hunted, poached out of existence.

She smiled when she realized that this could be more than just another assignment. It could be a declaration – a protest against the garbled syntax of her classmates’ bitter words. So she began to write. Ignited a match like a softly closing comma, let the fire spread like run-on sentences, and… there. Truth crept in at the end, lay waiting quietly. Emphasis. There was something genuine in it that she couldn’t explain. Done, she handed it in with eyes averted.

The Teacher read it in a pocket of night, a time between sleep and waking. A windy night. It only took a moment to read it once through. The old house creaked and something whispered.

Another moment to read it again.

Something caught her then, a solitude of aliveness, a shiver of moonlight. A single speck of waking up, something turning over in the endless ocean of night.

Then, silence. The Teacher yawned and went to bed. The story lay like pale stone on the night table.

The next morning, first period, the Teacher’s opening words struck her with the force of a crashing train. It was not enough to write. It had to be explained.

One must cough up literary devices in an endless stream, metaphors and imagery on conveyor belts of tidy production. One’s tongues must be overflowing with justifications, careful choices, commas and semi-colons. But her mouth was too dry for answers, parched by the invisible flames that flickered up her throat.

She clung to the rock face, slipping. It was the end, and did it really matter? She looked up at the Teacher, stared up with blank blue eyes and eyeliner. Said nothing. No words were left. She had used them all. Around her she heard the bitter language of silence.

Because there was no reason why. No great discovery. No calculation of imagery and diction, concocted plans, outlines and citations. No bitter analysis grasped straight from her brain, heart forgotten. Only the language, poured through her and pulled onto paper, and even that was eaten away now, made obsolete by intellect and the stunning discovery that there… were… no… words… left. Nothing but questions in a bitter language. Answers with stiff punctuation that dropped like impassable borders. She walked toward the door. Slipped her carefully-stapled story into the recycling bin. Her footsteps were ellipses, three beats only but a million more implied. Because this story had no careful conclusion, deliberation of closure, grand finale. No bitter-word boundaries.

The next morning, she woke up with heartburn and wondered why…