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170 pages, Hardcover
First published February 5, 2019
I was a generic parent grieving a generic child lost to an inexplicable tragedy. Already there were three clichés. I could wage my personal war against each one of them. Grieve from Latin gravare, to burden, and gravis, grave, heavy. What kind of mother would consider it a burden to live in a vacancy left behind by a child? Explicate from Latin ex (out) + plicare (fold), to unfold. But calling Nikolai’s actions inexplicable was like calling a migrant bird on a new continent lost. Who can say that the vagrant doesn’t have a reason to change the course of its flight. Nothing inexplicable for me, only I didn’t want to explain: A mother’s job is to enfold not to unfold. Tragedy now that is an inexplicable word. What was a goat song, after all, which is what tragedy seemed to mean originally?
What I was doing was that I had always been doing, writing stories. In this one the child Nikolai (which was not his real name, but a name he had given himself, among many other names he had used) and his mother dear meet in a world unspecified in time and space. It was not a world of gods or spirits. And it was not a world dreamed up by me: even my dreams were mundane and landlocked in reality. It was a world made up by words, and words only. No images, no sounds.
Some people life by images, some by sounds. It’s words for me. Words said to me. Words not meant for me but picked up by me in any case. Words in their written form. Words that make sense and words that make nonsense.
I had but one delusion, which I held onto with all my willpower. We once gave Nikolai a life of flesh and blood; and I’m doing it over again, this time by words.
I had an exhausting dream, he said the moment I sat down by him one morning. I dreamed that I was a negative number, and I couldn’t figure out my square root.
It’s possible I said. Wait until you learn the imaginary numbers.
Mommy, I’m not stupid, he said. I know imaginary numbers, but I don’t like to deal with that troublesome i.
I hate that word, self indulgence, Nikolai said.
But I don’t mean you. I’ve never called anyone self-indulgent but myself.
Isn’t that a kind of self-indulgence, too?
I always imagine writing is for people who don’t want to feel or don’t know how to.
And reading? I asked. Nikolai was a good reader.
For those who do.
What happens to sentimental when you take time out of it? Nikolai asked.
You are left with gibberish.
What I said – I was dense ……
The word, Nikolai said. Did you notice time is in the middle of sentimental?
I looked up both words. Etymologically it means nothing I said.
What an inelastic mind you have, he said.
You always say words fall short, he said.
Words fall short, yes. But sometimes their shadows can reach the unspeakable.
Words don’t have shadows, mommy. They live on the page, in a two dimensional world.
Still we look for some depth in words when we can’t find it in the three dimensional world, no?
You look for it, do you mean. I don’t look for anything now, he said.
But still he had indulged me in this world of ours, made by words.