- Lisa Bouvier
The Word Collector
Art by Paul Rios
I collect words. I catch them when they are not yet spoken, when they are little smokey silver strings or bold blue gold clouds. Some of the words are filled with bubbles; others are solid, like rocks or tables made of marble. Some are big. Some are small. My favourite in my collection at the moment is medication. I think it bounces nicely of the tongue when you say it. Also, it has got a beautiful light green colour, like a spring forest or a redhead girlfriend’s eyes. I normally don’t care about the meaning of the words. Words can mean so many things, and words have meant so many things and words will mean so many things. It is hard to keep track.
I’m a word collector, you see. I suppose you don’t really know what that is. Maybe you have never heard of a word collector before. That is fine. There are not many of us. At least that is what I have been told. A word collector collects words. It is quite self explanatory really.
Words are collected by me. Some come easily. It is like they are a dog seeing its owner when the owner comes back after a very long day at work. Or like they are a pony speeding up on the way home because he knows there will be a hay net put up when he gets into his stable. Or like they are you meeting your boyfriend at the airport when he has been away for more than a week. Some words are harder to collect. I have to sneak up on them, walk quietly, and wait patiently, like a lion or a tiger or a housecat. And then strike. Fast. Once the word is caught, it is normally pleasant to deal with. I put it in my collection.
I collect words. I catch them when they are not yet spoken. You know when you want to say something, but you cannot find the word you are looking for? When you got it on the tip of your tongue, but are not able to get it out? That is me. You know when you want to swear loudly at your boss because he is an arsehole, but all you do is smile and say “right away, sir.”? That is me. You know when you want to tell a good old friend how much you appreciate them and love them, but you just can’t because it is too hard? It is not too hard. It is me.
I’m a word collector. It is a bit like being a dream catcher, but with words instead of dreams. My sister is a dream catcher. If you know how to call upon her, she will catch your bad dreams and hide them away from you. You will be blessed with nothing but good dreams, dreams about sunshine and long days on the boat in the glittering sea you can dip your feet in when you drink your lunchtime beer and about kittens and kissing people you cannot kiss in real life because they are already married. I haven’t spoken to my sister in a while. Maybe not in a couple of hundred years. It is not that I don’t like her, she is my sister, I love her. But if you spend most of your time surrounded by nightmares, you do get a little bit weird.
I tried it, you know. Tried to catch the bad words. I thought that would make the world a happier place. It did not make the world a happier place in the long run. There are too many bad words out there. I got sort of depressed carrying around all those bad words. They seemed to be heavier than the good ones, and they smelled. You might think that words do not smell, but they do. Humans cannot smell them, of course. Cats can.
When I have collected a word, I keep it. I bring it into order, catalogue it among others, categorise it, make it feel at home with old friends and new familiars. I let it rest. Sometimes I keep it for years. Sometimes only for a few seconds. It is all up to the word in the end. You cannot hold a word against its will.
This is a story about when I collected the biggest and greatest and most legendary word of them all. The Word with a big W. The Word Noah whispered to the unicorns before he left them on the shore and sailed to his death on his Ark. The Word Hitler shouted to Eva Braun when she gave birth to their third child (a son). The Word Ghandi did not say to the young girl with an old face and a big gun before she blew his head off. The Word Jesus growled to his dad (God) just after he had to go to hell because he fucked that prostitute. The greatest word of them all.
Obviously, I cannot write The Word down. I do not have it any more. I did not lose it; I set it free. It wanted to go. It was its time and when it is time, you have to be able to let go. It is possible I will never see it again. It is not used very often. Besides, words are not meant to be written down. It is just a few thousand years ago the human race started writing words down and lost the ability to remember. Do you remember? When you were little, too little to read. Do you remember when words were shapes in your head instead of ink on paper? When words had a colour and a certain way to move about? You don’t, do you? Sucks to be human I guess.
I take a cab. That is a weird little fact I will always remember and never forget. Why I take a cab, I do not know. Maybe I don’t fancy the tube or maybe it is too far to walk. It is quite far. I go pass Victoria gate and Marble Arch and down Park Lane and down to Victoria and down one of the bridges over the (motherfucking) river and down past Vauxhall and I think the cab driver gets a bit lost somewhere here, cause it seems like we are going in circles for a good ten minutes, but to me all houses in south London look the same so I actually don’t know.
We go pass Brixton station and we turn right. We go up a hill and the cab driver makes the cab do an excellent fly jump over the big hole in the ground. It is one of the Big Holes that you can find here and there south of the river. They remained there after the alien invasion a few hundred years ago and no one has been bothered to fill them or build fancy flats mostly made of glass on top of them. The council does not care. “Walk around the holes” they advice their citizens. “Oh, and try not to shoot each other in the head all the time.” At least that is what they should say.
After the big hole we drive into the parking space of an old estate. I pay the driver and I tip him as well. I am a very pleasant customer. Why not be pleasant when you can? I get out of the car and I look around. It is empty and it is deserted, if you don’t count the crows and the pigeons and the unsupervised children and the smoking teenage boys with too big jeans and the smoking teenage girls with too little clothes and the angels sitting in the naked trees, complaining loudly about the state of things.
I open the cab door again.
“Is this really it?” I ask him.
“’Sfar as I know, mate” he says.
I nod and close the door silently. The boys and the girls and the children and the pigeons and the angels are all watching me. I am a stranger here. The crows don’t give a fuck, though. I am grateful for that.
I walk towards the staircase on the left side. It is obvious that I have to take those stairs. I do not know why it is obvious, but it is. I take those stairs. All the way to the 7th floor. Then I walk to a door with a number on. The number is 42. It is obvious that this is the flat. I do know why it’s obvious, so I open the door. It’s not locked. Of course it’s not.
I hesitate a bit before I go in. An angel has followed me up the stairs, and it is now standing behind me, a little bit too close. I can feel it not breathing in my neck. Angels. No sense of personal space. I look over my shoulder and see it hanging a few inches above the ground, casually, like it had every right to be there. Which it has. Angels have every right to be everywhere. That is sort of the point with angels, however it is sometimes annoying. Especially when you are about to collect The Word, and that is what I am doing. I am a word collector.
”Do you mind?” I say.
”Not at all” it says.
I sigh and take a careful step over the dead cat in the hallway. The angel hover over it and I know the cat was not a real cat. Very few cats are real cats. It has something to do with the state of things, and angels are experts on that. I leave the angel to do his thing, whatever that is, and continue into the living room.
The carpet was probably once green. It is not green anymore. There is a little path between pizza boxes and cans of coke and other stuff I cannot be bothered to tell you about and I follow the path towards a child and a father. At least I think he is a father. He could be an uncle maybe, but it makes no difference to me. The child is just a child. They lie in the sofa and they stare at the TV. The TV is not on. The father (or uncle) has got his arm around the child and they both breathe deep and slowly. I find it interesting that they watch TV. I did not think I was going to find The Word in a place where people watch TV. My profession has taught me not to be surprised, so I’m not. But interested.
I sit down next to the child and I stare at the TV. The angel comes into the living room, but it lingers near the doorway, near the exit. Angels are fucking cowards. Fuck angels. I wait. The child looks at me, but it doesn’t say anything. Maybe it smiles. That would make this even more interesting. Let’s say it does. Let’s say it smiles. I don’t smile back. I wait.
I wait for a long time. Hours, maybe years. It is hard to tell. I focus on the waiting and I feel the waiting fill me up, little by little, big by big, until my whole being is made of waiting. I pick out my word tuck from my pocket. You don’t really need a tuck to collect a word, but it makes it easier. And I do need all the help I can get now. I take out my word bag from my other pocket. It is empty. I haven’t collected a word for quite some time. I have waited. All my words are neatly organised in my collection back home. I have several rooms filled with words. Words on shelves. You could say it is a word library, but I don’t lend them out and I don’t organise them in a way anyone else would find them. Fuck Dewey. And fuck angels. The angel is silent and it waits by the door. I feel slightly aroused by its presence. I do like to fuck angels.
“Are you going to be long?” it says.
“Hopefully not” I say.
We look at each other and the angel nods gracefully and slowly and we both know.
And then, suddenly, it always happens suddenly, it happens. The father (or the uncle) turns his head and look at the child. Then he opens his mouth. This is it. This is when The Word comes out and I have to be precise, and quick, and well timed. The father says something. What he says is not important. The child is about to answer. I get on my feet and sweep the tuck through the child. It is like cutting butter with a warm knife. At least I think so. I have never cut butter with a warm knife, but if I do, I will report adequately.
I sweep the tuck again and again and again and again and there, there it is, The Word is in the tuck and I have to be quick and I hold out my bag and I put The Word in the bag and then I run because the child has become a monster with teeth like a shark and claws like a dragon and the TV switches on and the father watches it and the house starts to rumble and the angel grabs me by the hand and we jump through the window.
Glass shatters. The child screams. It totally gives me the creeps to hear a child’s little high pitch scream coming out of a mouth filled with teeth like a shark.
Angels can fly but they are not strong enough to carry someone else with them. Useless creatures. However, the angel breaks my fall slightly and I just stumble momentarily when I hit the ground. The estate building collapses behind us and turns into hell. The child screams again. I run. The angel flies.
I run until I reach the Big Hole. There, I stop. I turn around and can see the smoke from hell rise behind me. The fire brigade has set out to rescue people and the ambulances has set out to save some lives and the police has set out to see if they can punish someone, but they will not get to me. The police do not know anything about words and they do not know anything about hell.
The angel looks at me.
“That was close” it says.
“Not as close as it could have been” I say.
“Where do we go from here?” it says
“Bayswater.” I say and hail a taxi.
The angel follows me into the taxi and then into my flat and then into my bedroom and then into my bed and then into me. Afterwards, we arrange The Word into my collection together. I sometimes do things that are not good. Angels are normally those things. I do not have The Word anymore.