by William Bradley
I’m trying to think of a word. It’s a word that I’ve forgotten, that I suspect we’ve all forgotten. We knew it once, it’s on the tip of our tongues, something just reminded us. No, it’s gone. Love? No, no. Good? Well, close, but not quite.
It’s like, when I was born, wrapped up in a white blanket, and put to my mother’s breast, my guardian angel leaned in to me and, with breath reeking of Maker’s Mark and Marlboros, whispered it to me. He said “Here it is. Check it. Dude, it’s all that you need to know.” And I understood, and felt at peace. And I know that I won’t remember what the word was until my heart monitor stops beeping and they disconnect me from my respirator, and my guardian angel returns, pulling the pack of cigarettes out of the pocket of his jacket and offering me that smoke I’ve waited so long for, since I quit in order to prolong my life on earth. He’ll hook me up with a match, light his own cigarette, then smirk at me with that arrogant, knowing grin of his. The dick. “You remember what I told you?” he will ask. “Almost,” I’ll answer. “God knows I’ve been trying.”
It’s the word that we’re missing from all of our common vocabularies, regardless of language. It is all parts of speech, but it is not a vulgarity; far from it. It is the word that connects one idea to the next, that links one narrative to another, that clears up all misunderstandings. The Christian, the Jew, the Muslim, and the atheist could find all that separates them made insignificant by its utterance. “Oh, that’s what you meant,” they’d say in unison, then have a hearty laugh over the misunderstanding. It all seems so obvious, once the word’s been spoken.
The word names the bond shared by all who live. It soothes us when we worry, it alleviates our fears. It is the name of the universe, and the name of the universe’s creator. It is the knowledge that brings us closer to the Supreme Person, it expresses the best possible tidings to those who have faith and do good works; in the beginning, it was there with God, and it was God.
My guardian angel will lean in closer to me, excited. “Do you give up?” he’ll ask. “Just give up. None who lives ever remembers the word, even though they all want to.” And then he’ll tell me, and I’ll shake my head and groan at my ignorance. It was there all the time. How could I have missed it? It will all seem so obvious, when I’m dead.
In the meantime, though, I’ll get by the best I can, with my ignorant, half-formed ideas formed by my insufficient vocabulary. Most of the time it doesn’t even bother me. Hardly at all. I stand in the kitchen, stirring the pasta and watching the clock. The house fills with the scents of the dinner that will be ready soon. These are the moments, I know, when my wife loves me most. This is when I love her most, too—during these relaxing hours after we have escaped from the office but before we start preparing for the next day’s labors. And when we’re loving each other the most, the word love seems insufficient. So my wife comes into the kitchen and stands behind me while I stir. Her left arm goes around my waist, and she stands up on her toes to kiss my shoulder.
“I love you,” she says with a sigh that indicates frustration with the word’s inadequacy.
“I love you too,” I say, sympathetic to the shortcomings of our language but content in the knowledge that we understand each other regardless.
William Bradley’s work has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Normal School, Brevity, The Bellevue Literary Review, and other magazines. He teaches at Chowan University in Murfreesboro, NC, and he can often be found acting like a know-it-all on his blog, The Ethical Exhibitionist (http://ethicalexhibitionist.blogspot.com).