A Bad Spell
Since June of last year the Prince's speech has been limited to one utterance: "I miss her." He's been cursed with that one mantra, that one, singular, obstinate, un-variable phrase, without recourse to any other. Like a stroke victim, he can only chew on the one cry he's been handed.
At first, he tried to break the spell by sheer force of lung power. He went at it with a vehemence, unable to accept that his next "I MISS HER!" would simply be a replica of the last. We hated to say it, because we all felt for him, but he sounded like a toad.
So after July and August, after croaking "I miss her" at every opportunity, after every failed attempt to say, "Pass the pepper," or "I'd like to take a walk," or "It's time to draft a new health bill," he'd begun to realize he had to come up with another way of making himself understood. He grew quiet and withdrew to his study, set upon a way to fashion a new life from that one obsessional claim, like learning to make a meal from one ingredient.
Does he miss her? Who could tell? One could only assume that sometimes, particularly when he was simply staring at the ground, speaking to no one in particular, that he might, in fact, be missing her. (By "her," of course, I mean Ezmiralda.) But the rest of the time...who knew? Since all possibility for total expression was confined to the utterance of "I miss her," how could one know what the Prince meant to express? It could be anything, a request for more sugar in his tea, his annoyance at the extra starch in his tights, or a discourse on The Third Law of Thermodynamics. Surely sometimes he must have intended to say precisely what he uttered, that he missed her, his beloved, his irreplaceable, embraceable, Ez.
Or ...he might simply mean,"yes," a simple plain yes, to a simple plain question like, "Would you like a spoonful of sugar?" As I said, no one knew. In any case, or in all cases, the Prince's expression of "I miss her" was an affirmation, a confirmation of What Is, the one remaining thread of communication with the world.
Through the fall and winter he struggled to create a more subtle vocabulary, a system of utterances in which a listener might be able to distinguish the variance between "I miss her" and "I miss her," which, of course, from his point of view, might in fact be the difference between "That was a lovely soufflé" and, say, "The castle is on fire!"
He finally hit upon the idea of a language in which "I miss her" was like an integer, a lexicon wherein the phrase "I miss her" equaled one. His plan was to make the opposite of "I miss her" equal zero. Thus he'd have the beginnings of a code, a system of ones and zeros, of dots and dashes, like the syntax of the Mores code.
He worked on a means to say "zero", that is, to say, "I (don't) miss her." Sometimes he would croak, "I miss her" and turn his thumbs down, signifying "Not!" Sometimes he would pause between the "I" and the "miss" and shake his head vigorously from side to side, implying the silent "don't". Either way, this negation of his "I miss her" now had the capability to be the negative signifier in his verbiage, having the power to qualify the previous thing expressed, by attaching a zero to it, or simply to mean "no". He now had the two ingredients of his new lexicon.
For a short time we all tried to learn the new language (1+1+1+0+1+0+1+0+0+1 +1+1+11+1+1+0+1+0+1+0+0+1, for example, signified the verb "to agree.") But soon his, as well as everyone's, excitement with the new lingo faded. A word like "legislation" amounted to several pages of ones and zeroes....you can well imagine what it was like to watch him try to articulate it. To say anything complex, anything beyond the most rudimentary kind of talk took hours of croaking, shaking and gesticulating, leaving both the Prince and his court exhausted, drenched in perspiration.
Besides, as it happened, sometimes he'd catch himself in the moment of saying "I (don't) miss her," that is of intending to say "zero," and his face would fall. Such was the expression of a "no" in a language which had its genesis in loss. At such times, it must have been heartbreaking to utter "I (don't) miss her", when such denial threatened to sever him from his one remaining affirmation, the one lasting fact of his speaking self: that he felt the want for Ezmiralda, and could not escape it.
But here's the happy ending: by March our Prince had learned to sing. His range is limited, but like any good crooner, it's all in the delivery. He draws out the sounds of each phoneme so that, for example, when he means to express, "What a beautiful spring day!" he wails his ayyyye, mashes his mmmm, extends the hiss of the issss, breathes a breezy heh, and finishes with a roll to the the rrrr, like the purr of a tiger.
Now when the Prince speaks, each "I miss her" becomes transposed. Within the limits of his pallet there are shades, color and tone, variety, the beginnings of a universe. He is how shall I call it? loquacious these days; no one can shut him up nor would we want to because there's no mistaking his meaning.
Especially when he means to say he longs for Ezmiralda and all she meant to him, which must have been, and is, the world.
Bia Lowe's essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Salmagundi, and Harper's
among others. She's authored 2 collections of essays, Splendored Thing: Love Roses and Other
Thorny Treasures, (Carroll & Graf, 2002) a memoir about falling in love, and
Wild Ride: Earthquakes, Sneezes and Other Thrills (HarperCollins, 1995) which
won the QPB New Visions Award for Creative Nonfiction. "A Bad Spell" is part of a series of prayers/tales/stories called "Slithey Toves in Sondry Londes."