Archive for the ‘Tales of the Exiled Letters’ Category
Tales of the Exiled Letters: B is for Bureaucracy
Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
After a long delay, here is the second story in the Tales of the Exiled Letters series. The first piece in this series, A is for Authority, appeared in April, 2007.
“But to business,” B said, bending over her bright blue blotter. “Please, be seated.”
X sat on the bare black bench across the desk from B, nervously crossing and uncrossing his legs.
“Now, X,” B said. “How long have you been a letter?”
“Well, I don’t remember exactly. About two thousand years? Maybe twenty-five hundred?”
“And you’ve served as, my goodness, quite a lot of things, haven’t you? I see that in addition to your literary duties, you’ve worked in algebra, codes, Roman numerals, corrections … this list just goes on and on. And haven’t I seen you in multiplication?”
“Excuse me, that’s times,” said X. “He only looks like me. We’re not related.”
“And what sound, exactly, do you make?”
X felt extremely uncomfortable. He did not, of course, want to be expelled from the alphabet, and he’d heard rumors that the alphabet was considered to be running a little “fat” at the moment.
B smiled. “Well, I’ll tell you, shall I? It seems to be ‘ks,’ doesn’t it? Except sometimes it’s ‘kz’ or that sort of ‘kh’ sound, or ‘z,’ or ‘sh’ … really, X, don’t you have a sound of your own you could make? And you haven’t been beginning very many words, now, have you?”
“There’s xylophone!” X exclaimed.
“Be serious,” said B.
“Xanthic,” X extemporized. “Xenophobe. X-ray …”
“Stop, please,” B said. “Don’t belittle yourself. It’s not becoming. I think we both know what will become of you.”
“But me no buts,” said B. She held up a list. “This is the Alphabet, also known as the A-list.” She put it down and picked up another. “This is my list, the B-list. Do you know what happens to letters on the B-list?” She beamed balefully. “They become ex-letters. Get it?” She bore down on a button. “Bring backspace,” she bid.
“This is excessive,” X said in exasperation, “examine–”
“Those words don’t even begin with X,” B broke in. The door opened a bit. X leaped upon B and held her down, muffling her with his vertex.
Backspace entered the room, massive, and eraser-like, but his boss was effectively crossed out. Backspace surveyed the room blankly, found nothing to read, and silently backed out, closing the door behind him.
X muttered an expletive and crossed to the window before B could budge. Glass exploded as X leapt through it, exiting to the extensive grounds.
“You’ll be sorry you dared to cross me!” B blustered. But X was gone as though he had never existed.
A Is for Authority
Tuesday, April 10th, 2007
The letter SH paused in the anteroom of A’s antebellum mansion. She felt cold in the antiseptic air among alabaster statues of aardvarks and A. A. Milne as the butler’s shoes went trap, trap, fading into the interior. SH fingered the reassuringly comfortable handle of her shiv, tucked into a sheath under her shawl. It had been a hard life so far, with no place in the alphabet to live, seldom even recognized as a unit, a shadow of a letter. No more.
The letter A finally appeared, alone, her almond-shaped eyes surveying SH airily. “And what do you want?” she asked. “I thought you were off shirking your responsibilities with Æ and schwa and your other little friends. Surely the homes of respectable letters are not your proper place?” She smiled, a smile absent of any affection. She knew how much SH hated the word “surely.”
“I’m here for my share of the alphabet!” SH shouted. She always shouted: she couldn’t help herself. “I’m a phoneme, I begin words. I want what’s mine!”
“Talk to your parents,” A said absently, brushing an ant off her arm. “I’m sure Lady S will be happy to give up some of her words.”
SH shoved A into an alcove and pressed the point of the shiv against A’s abdomen. “Everyone knows you’re the head of the alphabet,” she said shakily. “All I need is a chance. Give me my shot.”
“You ass,” said A. “There’s no room for you in my alphabet.”
“Shithead,” said SH, pressing the shiv harder. “I’ll make room.”
“At your leisure, Alfred,” A said, arching an eyebrow, and SH froze at the sound of a throat clearing behind her. She turned her head. A’s butler stood in the archway, an antique arquebus angled at SH’s appendix.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to absent the area,” Alfred said crisply.
SH thought about using the shiv anyway, taking A with her, but A suddenly grabbed and twisted SH’s arm, aborting any possibility of attack and forcing the shiv to fall to the floor.
“Au revoir,” A announced.
SH shuffled out the door and toward the front gate, defeated. In the distance she could hear A’s attack dogs. She shivered.