The unfinished text about words

Words with more to say

by Mary Paterson

/

‘As soon as they hear my voice,’ says my mother, ‘they know they will have to listen.’ She means her ringing RP accent, sharp enough to cut glass, rich as a venison stew, designed and manufactured to make other people follow orders.

My son comes home from nursery with a glottal stop in the middle of ‘water.’ ‘war-TER’ I shout at him emphatically, and I pretend that it’s so he can learn to spell, but really it’s because I don’t want him to travel with a baggage label strangling his vocal cords.

‘You could tell she was foreign,’ says my mother, ‘but she wrote in perfect English.’ She’s talking about her own mother’s voice: suspicious, Jewish, hidden.

‘When you’re drunk,’ says a friend at university, ‘you sound like a comedy cockney.’ She means my attempts to flatten my vowels, drop my t’s, divest my voice of its closed rooms, its stains of venison.

*

Words are porous things. Sometimes they have a hole in the middle, and I will fall right through it, whatever you say to stop me.

*

‘What is what’s what?’ says my mother-in-law, her language now a disintegrated tongue, her words ravaged by brain disease and the boredom of days spent yawning in front of the television.

On the day of the US election, when a man who trumpets post-truth politics has become the so-called leader of the so-called Free World, I hold my mother-in-law’s hand, as fragile as a sparrow’s wing, while she cries. Her husband was spirited away in an ambulance in the hours before dawn, when we still thought the post-truth was not coming.

‘He,’ I say, pointing at rolling news coverage of a man trussed up in a suit and a wig like a circus animal, ‘thinks he’s President of the United States.’ We laugh. We laugh and laugh and laugh. We laugh until she cries, and then I repeat the trick.

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