When I first came to town, they were all around me, the words. They waved at one another in the street and chatted at parties. I was careful then because I was a newcomer and it is not my personality to stride right into the center of things and announce myself, especially since I am invisible. But I noticed it at once: some words looked good together.
In a few rare cases, like with “sword” and “play” and “rain” and “storm,” they found their way to each other, but most words didn’t really know what was good for them. “Trouble” liked “coat,” and “sweet” liked “bone,” and “air” spent years pining for “pickle.” Can you imagine?
After a few months, I had made some friends. They still didn’t see me but they liked to talk to me, especially the older ones, who weren’t so insecure. I finally worked up the courage to ask why the right words didn’t seem to pair off, and “head” had an answer. It was something about the attraction of the random, or the randomness of attraction. I wasn’t really listening; I was looking at “first” and thinking how good it would be with “head.” “I have an idea,” I said. I stood. And then, just like that, I stretched out one arm to one of them and one arm to the other and pulled inward, as hard as I could.
You should have seen the expression on their faces: you could call it delight, but it was something more, a kind of shock at confronting the most central parts of themselves, as much pain as pleasure, something seismic that went through them.
After that, everyone wanted in on the action; “head” and “first” were authority figures, and they went around town telling people that I was providing a valuable service. (“Head” was especially helpful, since he got so much more than “first.” He got “light” and “lock” and “gear” and “land.” He got fat.)
And so I pulled “dog” to “house” and “bird” to “bath” and “hell” to “cat” and “quick” to “silver.” I pulled “news” to “paper” and then “paper” to “work.” Once, on a dare, I pulled “long” to “shore” to “man.” The crowd around was thunderstruck; the performance helped me acquire a motorcar and a houseboat and several other conspicuous markers of wealth and power. Things were good.
Good, that is, until I was driven to the brink of breakdown. My reputation was spreading like wildfire, and though I tried to stay upbeat and levelheaded, I could feel myself sinking, like I was in a whirlpool. And so I started a side business convincing words not to pair off. I told “car” that it didn’t really need “park.” I spent hours persuading “screen” that “time” wasn’t any better than “play.” I am especially proud of “blow job.” It was nearly impossible to keep those kids away from each other.
For a while there, the seesaw balanced perfectly. We were at equilibrium, a kind of standstill. And then it ended abruptly. Two modest words, slender four-letter ones, stood near each other at a gallery opening. I liked the looks of it, and I joined them together. If I had known then the monster they would become, I would never have done it. Thinking about it now, I feel like drywall awaiting a sledgehammer. I am in a tailspin, heartsick. And I cannot even get relief from that state—to bring my hands to my mouth I would need to free them, and then “pin” would fly away from “wheel” and “out” from “fox” and “lock” from “jaw.” It would be a Pandora’s box, words whirling around without their other halves, angry and confused. It would be a disaster, an airpickle, the downfall of us all. Of course, it would have one silver lining: if all the other pairs came apart, those two four-letter words would come apart as well, and there would be no more monster. That thought is in my head. I am thinking of it. It is all I think about. Just imagine: face book.