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The Word Keeper
Hundreds of words fall from a mouth every day. They roll off the tongue, like tumbleweed in the desert, twisting and turning as they float into the air. To most people, the words that they speak are inconsequential. They are said, and then forgotten through the years; drowned beneath waves of monotony, this thing we call time. They do not think, hear, or feel the weight of their words any longer, for they have floated off to space like lost balloons, creating planets of things said, but not remembered. But what if those planets did not exist? What if the words we said did not float off to space, but remained here with us, weighted to the ground? Imagine a world like that.
My name is Mikah Reedlan, and I can imagine a world like that. In fact, I don't have to imagine, I live in a world like that. Before I forget to mention it, I am the only one who lives in it. No, it's not that I am the last human left on earth, or that the rest of the human population got raptured and I was the sole person left behind. Perhaps that would be preferable to what it really is. If there were no people to speak, perhaps I would not have to see the world littered in millions of forgotten words, like explosions of confetti scattered across streets and buildings. You see, I am different from those around me. They do not see what I see. If they did see, In the busy city of London, life would not be the same.
I stand in the center of Hyde Park, a place that I often retreat to in order to escape the overwhelming smallness of my apartment. Darkness hovers over the still lake in front of me, and the foggy air settles as mist in my hair. The tree that I lean against is still damp from the recent rain, and moisture soaks through the thin material of my shirt. Somehow, I can't find the energy to care that I am shivering down to my very bones; I simply take another puff of my cigarette, exhaling a swirling cloud of smoke into the chilled London air. The few people that still remain in the park do things that any average person might do. If they only saw what I could see. They wouldn't be hiding in the corner, whispering steamy professions of love. They wouldn't if they saw the way the steamy words fell from their mouths, sizzling on the ground as the dampness destroyed their heat . The words become solid pieces of material, like little strips of paper, settling close to where they are spoken. These paper like strips settle around the world in every direction. They float upon the lake water, hundreds are carried on the wind and caught by the branches of trees. A few are kicked beneath the feet of the man walking down the path, an umbrella in his shaking hand. Of course he does not see.
"Honey, I'm working late. I'll see you in a while. I love you." The man says, thinking that his words will simply evaporate into the air, or disappear against the speaker of the cellphone he speaks into. Instead, they pour from his mouth like rain, becoming a permanent part of the earth. The words "I love you" shine a vivid black. The color of a lie. If he had meant them, they would have burnt into the ground, becoming an engraving in the sidewalk. Instead, they will forever be a lie, floating on the wind.
I drop my cigarette butt, grinding its remaining embers beneath my shoe. Water sloshes beneath my feet as I walk, spilling over the edges and onto my socks. I bend over to pick up the strewn words nearest to me, placing them inside the trash bin. My efforts are useless, but I do it all the same. It makes me feel like my abilities have some sort of purpose.
My breath becomes steam before me, the temperature swiftly dropping as the night deepens.
I have to go home.
Just as I am turning to find my way back to my car, a woman appears in front of me.
"Hello." She says, smiling brightly.
I look about me, wondering if perhaps she was addressing someone else. Of course she wasn't. She was looking right at me.
I nod my head uncomfortably. I hoped she would get this over with, so I didn't have to waste any words.
"I don't mean to bother you, but I've noticed you come here almost every night. Like me."
I nod my head again, giving her a ghost of a smile.
She looks at me uncertainly.
"I see you picking things up from the ground and putting it into the trash bin. I just wanted to say how kind I thought that was of you. Most people wouldn't take the time."
I nod at the woman again, trying to give her the friendliest smile that I can muster. She doesn't understand. It's not her fault.
There is silence for a moment as she looks at me awkwardly.
"Do you speak?" She asks suddenly, in a soft tone.
I take a breath. "Yes."
The word falls from my mouth, and I cringe. It lands on the ground gently.
"Oh." She says, unsure.
I don't look at her. I just stare at the word beside my feet. IT is all I can think about. Yes.
"Well, see you around, I suppose." The girls says quickly.
I smile and give a small wave, watching her walk away. A sigh makes it way from my mouth, and I bend over to pick up the word that I've spoken. It is soaked through, dripping water onto my sleeve as I hold it up. Shaking it gently, and then rubbing it against my shirt, I finally set it in the pocket of my jeans. Let's hope there are no more words to add to it tonight.
The chill settles more deeply into my body by the time I locate my car. I take my already icy hand and wipe away the frost creeping up the front window. The next time rain drops from the clouds, it will surely turn to great, sticky snowflakes.
I drive through the London traffic in silence. I do not hear the honking of horns or the soft flow of music from peoples stereos. I do not even hear the thoughts inside my own head. There is nothing but this emptiness. I have learned to shut off the noise. After all, the things I see are enough to send me mad, I'd rather not add noise, or flustered thoughts to it.
My small apartment building looms ahead of me. I pull into the same parking space that I have for the last 5 years, habit being another thing that keeps me somewhat sane in the midst of my crazy existence.
When I reach the entrance, a familiar pair of blue eyes flirt beneath a curtain of dark lashes. My neighbor, Clarissa, stands at the door, a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other.
"How about a smoke?" She asks, in a enticing manner.
I nod my head no, as I have done on many nights over the past years.
"How about you put some more clothes on." I want to tell her. But that would be a waste of words, and words are precious. My "Yes" still sits in my pocket, jabbing my leg now and again, reminding me of it's existence.
I climb the stairs, as I have done every night for these past long years. Each step seems filled with the monotony of life.
I kick aside piles of dusty words before me. A great gathering of them has collected at the corners of the hallway. Outside of Clarissa's apartment, a line of inappropriate words are scattered beside the door, just as I am sure a line of her scattered clothing is to be found behind it.
The lock clicks to my apartment door, and I enter into the darkness. A flip of a switch brings a yellowish light flooding inside the space. It flickers once or twice before emitting a steady glow. I have not had the money to get it fixed, or much of anything else in this place. A broken sink and a shower that only runs cold water are proof of that as well.
I peel the damp shirt from my skin, laying it over a wooden chair. I need to get myself warm, or else risk another cold and another missed day of work, of which neither I could afford. But before anything, I had to deal with the word that was still inside my pocket. I pull it out, its texture smooth between my fingers. It must go with the rest of them.
The light inside my bedroom shines with much more force than the other, almost blinding me upon turning it on. I blink a couple times before adjusting to the brightness.
I walk to my closest, dreading this task as much as I always do. Little sheets of words poke out here and there, from the corners or beneath the closets sliding doors. I pull at them, but it proves to only come out tugging another with it.
Some people collect things, like snow globes, or action figures. Me? I collected words. My own words, and words that others have spoken to me. Good words, as well as the bad.
I tug at the sliding door gently, making sure that my collection doesn't come streaming out like confetti. Pulling the "Yes." from my pocket, I toss it in with all of the others, and it gets lost in a sea of words.
Some people never forget words that are said to them, but at least they don't have to see them day after day. You may wonder why I keep these words, the good ones as well as the hurtful. Why not just toss them out on the wind, to tumble around with the others? You see, I can't do that. Words have become my life. I say so little that when I do speak, it is precious to me.
I am forever doomed to live this life. A life of seeing what others do not, and choosing my words carefully. It is a curse, but somehow, it is still beautiful.