Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from July, 2020.
I. Delectus, n.
With Will going to Basic Training this fall, his old Camry would just sit in the garage for who knows how long, especially if he gets stationed somewhere far away. So, naturally, I asked him if I could have the car. “You can’t even drive yet.” He shakes his head, looks back at his phone. “But I’ll be able to soon. You know my birthday is at the beginning of September. I can take the test then.” He scratches his head. “Why can’t you just use Mom’s car? That’s what you practice on.” “I won’t be able to drive that car to school, Will. I’d need it to get a job, too. Come on.” I feel my back tighten. He sighs, rolls his eye. “Fine, Nate. But—“ I freeze mid-fist pump. “You have to earn it.” “What?” “Being goal-oriented, showing determination, grit are values I wish I had learned when I was your age. What kind of big brother would I be if I didn’t try to help you grow, y’know?” “You’re serious? I need to pay for it? How much?” He types and scrolls on his phone. “Kelley Blue Book says the car is worth $2000.” He raises his eyebrows, sees my eyes widen. “I’ll give you the family discount of $1000. You have two months of summer left. It’s possible.” I exhale through my nose. “Fine. If you say so.” “I do. Deal?” He sticks his hand out to shake on it. I grab his hand. “Deal.”
II. Coxcombery, n.
Of course he would get on some sort of high-horse nonsense in this whole thing. Always has to have the moral high ground. I lie in bed, stare at the ceiling, brainstorm. What can I do to get some cash? Yard work is obvious. People probably don’t want a stranger cleaning their house. I can walk dogs? Keep it vague. I get a piece of paper out of Mom’s printer, a sharpie and a roll of tape from a drawer in the kitchen, make an ad for help with “odd jobs” with my name and number on it, tape it to the side of the neighborhood mailbox.
III. Jibbons, n.
Mrs. Plover is a retired nurse who lives in the house at the end of the street. She’s the first person to call me, says her vegetable garden needs tending. “Be careful with those,” she calls from her lawn chair, maskless, as I turn some dirt. “I started those as seeds in an Aerogarden my daughter got me for Christmas.” “The stalky things?” I ask. “Yes. They’re spring onions,” she answers, looks at the clouds in the sky. “I transplanted them a few months ago, just after quarantine started. Hurt my knee somethin’ fierce that day. Haven’t been able to work that low to the ground since.” “I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am. Would you like anything else done when I’m finished with your garden?” I spread compost between rows of stalks, holding my breath best I can. “Not today, Nathaniel. Maybe something will come up soon.” “Just let me know. I can help with whatever you need.” Whatever can get me paid. Mrs. Plover nods, smiles, closes her eyes, takes a deep breath of the summer air. “That’s nice of you,” she says in a tired voice as she relaxes in her chair and falls asleep.
IV. Ambigue, n.
Just gonna be honest: I think Mrs. Plover gives me work so she has someone to talk to. The day after I work in her garden, she asks me to take out the weeds in her front yard. She sits in a camping chair by her front door as I work, talking about her favorite books. she gets quiet as the Danielson’s park their Explorer in their driveway. They wave as they walk inside. She waves back, watches them enter their house down the street on the other side of the mailboxes. “Never felt very sure about those Danielsons,” she says. “I’ve dealt with people like them before.” I put a handful of dandelions in the bag, wipe my forehead with the hem of my shirt. “What do you mean?” I ask. “At the hospital,” she says. “People like them would always exaggerate their pain for prescription drugs.” Don’t know how to respond to that. “That certainly sounds frustrating,” I say, bending down to pull up more weeds.
V. Brigue, n.
My relationship with Jessica has been rough during quarantine. She wants to FaceTime every day, which I’ve been happy to do, but now we can’t do that as often since I started doing work around the neighborhood. Last night was bad. I was exhausted after weeding Mrs. Plover’s yard, and I started falling asleep on the call while Jessica told me about her day. She was upset, said it’s apparent she’s not important to me. I told her I need the money, but that wasn’t a good reason to her.
VI. Alembic, n.
The summer sun, alone in a cloudless sky, relentless as I mow yards of several houses. On my break, I look at my phone to check for more jobs, check how much I’ve made, calculate how much I need to make per day to stay on track. I drink some water, wipe sweat from my brow, wring sweat from my mask, then push my lawnmower to the next house.
VII. Ambarvalia, n.
Sacrifice. How does she not get it? I know it’s hard now, but the benefits of having access to a car infinitely outweigh the current burden.
VIII. Thingism, n.
After a week of working around the neighborhood, Mrs. Plover asks me to mow her yard. She offers me a glass of water when I’m done, cold and damp with condensation. She takes a sip of her glass, shakes her head. “So materialistic,” she sneers. “Vain.” I follow her gaze to the Danielson’s driveway, see Mrs. Danielson behind their Explorer load her arms with canvas bags full of groceries out of the trunk to avoid a second trip. I take a long drink of water. “Mrs. Danielson?” I ask. “The whole family,” she says. “Spending their money on such frivolous extravagance.” I can see the Kroger-brand chip bag peaking out of one of her bags. “Are you sure?” I pause. “Seems like normal groceries to me.” “It’s not just the groceries, Nathaniel. It’s everything. They always flaunt their wealth.” I look at their house and yard— identical to every other one on the street. “Huh,” I shrug, finish my water, thank her, get my money, leave.
IX. Ayuh, adv.
I was a bit surprised when Mr. Danielson called me to mow their backyard. I don’t know why. I guess I assumed that they wouldn’t need the help based on how much money they have. That’s what Mrs. Plover said. Even if it’s just a pity thing, it’s still money. I accept the job.
X. Nomina Sacra, n.
When you go to a rich person’s backyard, you expect to see fancy stuff— a pool or a tennis court or whatever. But, the Danielson’s yard looks just like ours. A clothesline stretched to the back fence, lawn chairs on their small patio by an upturned cornhole board. Above it, next to the sliding glass door a placard that says “OKE” with a line over it. Mr. Danielson catches me staring as he winds up the garden hose. “You alright?” He asks, setting the hose behind their barbecue. He wipes his hands on his jeans. “Uh, yes, sir,” I stammer. “Sorry.” I shake my head. “Just admiring your yard. It’s nice.” “Thank you, Nathan.” He tilts his head at the placard. “You have no idea what that says, right?” I blink, shake my head. “No sir. I was curious.” He chuckles. “No one ever does. It’s an abbreviation for ‘Mother of God’ in Greek. Reminds us to be thankful.” “Oh cool.” I nod, look at it again, then around the yard. “I didn’t realize how similar all of our yards are.” “Really?” He laughs. “They don’t make special houses for Black people.”
XI. Dreich, adj.
When I was young, my mom scolded me when I asked about race at all. “That’s rude,” she’d say, then apologize to whoever I asked about, whoever was around. “You judge a person by the content of their character, not the color of their skin,” she’d say; something that was echoed by every teacher I had in elementary school in the month of January.
XII. Bricole, n.
I stammer through an apology as an automatic response. “Oh, sir, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to imply— I was just— I’m sorry, sir.” Mr. Danielson laughs so hard, he bend over, hands on knees. After a deep breath, he says, “Don’t sweat it , Nathan. You’re not the first white boy to assume racist stereotypes about us.” He wipes a tear from his eye. “I just like messing with you guys.” “No, sir, please.” I shake my head, wave my hands like windshield wipers. “It wasn’t about race at all, I swear.” “Oh, it wasn’t?” He asks skeptically. “Not at all, sir. I just thought—“ It turns out, this is even more awkward to say out loud. “I thought your family was wealthy, sir.” Shames washes over me. First, talking about race. Then, talking about money. My parents would disown me. Mr. Danielson furrows his brow, leans back. “What would have made you think that?”
XIII. Pacation, n.
I did my best to end the conversation as quickly as possible. “I’m not sure, sir,” I told him, seeing Mrs. Plover’s scowl in my head. “Well, it’s alright, I guess,” Mr. Danielson said, confused. “Don’t worry about it,” he added, his hand on my shoulder. “You’re young and have plenty still to learn. Just be conscious. You’re a good person; I can tell.” I swallowed guilt as he pointed around the yard to warn me about molehills, soft patches that might need an extra push as if nothing had happened.
XIV. Bastille, n.
I finish mowing the yard, hurry home. Once in my room, I put Mr. Danielson’s ten dollars in an old Folgers tin, update the running total on a sticky note under the lid— only a third of the way there. I take my phone out of my pocket, see multiple messages from Jessica, lay it face down on across my bed. I lie down and stare at the ceiling. How had I never realized the Danielsons were the only Black family in our neighborhood? Why did Mrs. Plover say those things about them? How much do I not know?
XV. Travertine, n.
I do only thing I can think to do: Talk to my mom to figure things out. “Nathan, it’s inappropriate to talk about such matters,” she responds immediately. As I expected. So, I try my brother. He shrugs. “I don’t know, Nate. Mrs. Plover was a nurse for forever. I think she’d know what she’s talking about.” Something still feels wrong. I talk to Jessica. “I don’t see why you have to make it all about race.” She shakes her head. “It could be anything, like their jobs or whatever. Or maybe they’re from Tacoma.”
XVI. Staycation, n.
My turn to do the dishes after dinner. My phone face-up by mom’s coffeemaker next to the sink. A notification for a voicemail from Mrs. Plover stares at me— an angry cat’s eye, blood red. I wet the sponge, squirt soap onto the baking sheet. I scrub the sheet in small circles slowly growing bigger. When she called, I dropped my phone on my comforter, let the ringtone echo until it ended on its own. I’ll say I was busy. I’ll say I needed a break. I’ll say my mom needed my help. I’ll say—
XVII. Simplicitatrian, n.
I turn off the faucet, drain the sponge in my hand. I place it in the holder, and a gleam travels across the room from my dad’s dog tags hanging on the key rack by the front door. I stand frozen at the sink. He would be so ashamed. He was direct, cut through pleasantries when he needed to address something or someone. I need to be more like that.
XVIII. Bombogenesis, n.
Mrs. Plover asks me to sweep out her garage, clear her driveway, admitting to looking for chores to “help such an industrious boy like yourself.” Before going to her house, I rehearse a bunch of “call ins” that I found online to be more polite, just in case. I collect dead leaves and broken twigs in a dustpan behind her Volvo when she finally makes a comment about the Danielsons. “Those Danielsons always play their music so loud.” She shakes her head, places a palm over one of her ears. I empty the dustpan into her garbage bin, look down the road. The Danielson kids were drawing with chalk in their driveway. A rumbling bass vibrated the frame of a car further down the road. Familiar— a Camry. Will’s Camry. “That’s not the Danielsons, ma’am. It’s my brother Will’s car; he must be vacuuming it out and turned it up.” “Hmm.” She squinted to see the source of noise. “You might be right, but that family does have a habit of being way too loud. So inconsiderate.” I gulp. “Mrs. Plover, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve never noticed the Danielsons making any sort of noise.” “You haven’t??” She asks, aghast. “No, ma’am. It usually my brother Will, I notice, playing his music so loud. Just because it’s hip hop doesn’t mean it’s the Black family playing it.” She leans back in her chair, clasps her hands in her lap. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she says slowly. “Thank you for that insight, Nathaniel.”
XIX. Abrodietical, n. and adj.
For the next week, Mrs. Plover doesn’t call. For the next week, fewer people called in general. Maybe people are vacationing or on road trips. Hopefully.
XX. Don’t-carishness, n.
Most people stopped calling. I see them around the neighborhood when they said they’d be out of town. So what? It’s nothing. I can still do it. There’s definitely something I can do.
XXI. Ryotei, n.
Jessica tells me about the restaurant she and her parents went to. Some place with a French name I don’t know the letters for, finally accepting reservations after reopening from the coronavirus closure. My eyes dart between her FaceTime window and my half-empty Folger’s tin. She talks about eating on their patio under a forest green umbrella, the sun setting over the sound as her parents clink crystal glasses. I chew the inside of my lip.
XXII. Taffetine, n.
The only people who call anymore are the Danielsons. Mrs. Danielson asks for help putting laundry on the line in their backyard. “The factory is hell on my shoulders some times,” she says, placing a bin on the grass. “With all the orders Amazon gets lately, it’s been real bad.” She rubs her left shoulder with her right hand, her elbow like a bird’s beak. “Of course, ma’am,” I say, picking up a shirt. “Do you want them spaced a certain way? Or, like, hung some way?” She flicks her wrist at me. “Psh! As long as they’re all up, doesn’t matter.” She winces, holds her shoulder. “After a few hours, you can come back and pick ‘em up. I’ll have the girls fold ‘em; they need to earn their keep.” She smirks. “No problem.” Stiff clothespins over the taught line, high over the yard. I have to stand on the tips of my toes to hang a pair of jeans. I pick up a scarf, a deep blue, no end, a complete circle, so soft in my hands. Felt like holding a target and a halo and the ocean and a band that holds us all together all at once.
XXIII. Coulrophobia, n.
Since I started working for the Danielsons, it’s felt like a floodlight flipped on— I can see so much more than before. Comments from my mom, from my brother, from Jessica and her parents, from my friends on Instagram echo Mrs. Plover. I always hesitate, aware that my lack of work is directly related to how I responded to her, aware that people who do respond are insulted, ridiculed, drowned in torrents of trite clown emojis and memes. So, my thumbs hover over an open keyboard as I look out my window, down the street, to see Erica, the youngest Danielson, riding her trike around the mailboxes across the street from her house, up and down the sloped curb in constant circles.
XXIV. Fakement, n.
Maybe I need to just act like a garbage white person to get the work. Michael Jordan once said, “Republicans buy sneakers too,” so it shouldn’t be a stretch to say racists need mowed lawns too. Can I really throw the Danielsons under the bus for my own gain? Maybe I fake it to get the work, get the cash, then call them out after they say something awful.
XXV. Sprigger, n.
“... Thank you for the opportunity. Have a good day. Also, Black lives matter.” “... It’s no problem; I enjoy the work. Oh and, Black people have every right to protest without retaliation from the government. America was founded through protest.” “... Of course. I’m happy to help. But, you must realize what you said earlier about, uh, ‘they bring gangs’ is a racist stereotype, right?” “... No, thank you. But, your privilege as a white person gives you opportunities that people of color do not have. It’s not as simple as ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.’”
XXVI. Myriad, n. and adj.
“What the hell are you doing?” My mom’s question punctuated by her dropping a bag from Taco Bell on the kitchen table. “I’ve been getting weird stares while driving through the neighborhood lately, and they keep whispering— as if I can’t tell what they’re doing when they put their hands over their mouths. “Then, then, as I get out my car tonight, Mrs. Meredith has to call me over to tell me that my son— my well-mannered, kind son— has been terrorizing the neighborhood, calling everyone racist. “What the hell were you thinking? I raised you better than that. You know not to talk to people about that stuff. I’ve told you so, so many times.” She pauses, looks over at the key rack. “... your father... “I am so disappointed in you.”
XXVII. Bricktop, n.
I stammer, “I was just trying to do the right thing.” I am small, a child hiding in their bedroom closet. “I was doing what Dad would have wanted—“ “You don’t know what he would have wanted!” She closes here eyes, deep breath in. She wipes her black curls from her face as she exhales. “I know he was bullied for his hair color most of his childhood. I know he spoke his mind, stood up when he saw others getting hurt. I know he joined the army to defend our freedom. I know he died fighting for our country and our rights. “Don’t tell me I don’t know what my father would have done.”
XXVIII. Metempsychosis, n.
She places her hands on her hips, shakes her head. “You’re just like your dad.” She nods slowly, walks over to me, rubs my cheek with her thumb. “You remind me of him so much.” She inhaled shakily, walks back toward the front door. “Now eat your quesadilla.”
XXIX. Social Climber, n.
“What are you even doing?” Jessica’s face was serious, eyes intense. “Madison said you were making everyone in your neighborhood uncomfortable.” She said it with hesitance, like she was afraid to talk to me at all. “I only made racists uncomfortable by pointing out their own biases against Black people. They should be uncomfortable.” “You can’t just go around making people uncomfortable! You’re just going to drive people away from you!” She shakes her head, face in the palm of her hand. “That whole Black Lives Matter thing was trending months ago. It’s over, Nate; you’re too late.” “Who am I driving away? People who don’t want to see how they’re mistreating others? People who want to allow people of color to stay oppressed? Good riddance.” I take a breath to stop myself from yelling. “Human rights are not a trend. They’re not something that goes away after Kanye says something outrageous. People need help, and I want to help them. Don’t you?” She sighs. “There isn’t anything I can do, Nate. I posted the black square, which did bring a lot of awareness to the cause. I did my part.” I stare. “Have you done anything to confront your own privilege as a white woman since then? Especially as a wealthy person?” She back away from the screen slightly. “What are you even talking about?” “You have a huge platform, vast amounts of money— don’t deny it. Your family just went to an expensive restaurant a few weeks ago. You have thousands of followers on Instagram. Your life is easier because of your race. That’s just how it has been.” “My life hasn’t been easy!” “Comparatively, it has been!” I yelled. I tried not to, but I did. “Is this really how you’re going to be now?” “Are you really going to act ignorant of your power, influence, and privilege?” She ends the call.
XXX. Nuée Ardente, n.
“Dude, what’s going on?” Will enters my room, disheveled, after I put my phone down. “I just got home, and Mom is out there yelling at Mrs. Meredith. You know why?” I sigh, exhausted by the two previous conversations, lamenting another negative response. “Me.” I sit up on my bed. “What? Why you?” I close my eyes, attempt to center. “I was doing some jobs around the neighborhood to raise money for the car, right?” “Right.” “Well, I became aware of the racism in our neighborhood after doing some jobs for Mrs. Plover.” “The old lady on the corner?” “Yeah. She said a bunch of rude stuff about the Danielsons down the road. I confronted her about it, then she told everyone else I was a problem.” “Oh. That’s why Mom’s yelling at Mrs. Meredith? She believed Mrs. Plover?” “... Not exactly. After a while, I called around for work at the places I had heard racist things, so that I could call them out on their racism after they paid me.” “What.” “I know. I stand by it— it had to be done. Mrs. Meredith yelled at Mom when she got home tonight, because I told her it’s racist to believe the Danielsons will ‘prowl the neighborhood’ to ‘loot all of our cars.’” “Oh what? No way. She said that?” “To my face, Will. I had to call her out on it. Those beliefs are dangerous.” I paused, a deep breath. “Are you angry at me too? Mom and Jessica were.” I look down at my feet.
XXXI. Similitude, n.
I can’t tell if it takes him five seconds or five minutes to say, “Naw, man.” He sits next to me on my bed, punches my shoulder. “You stood up for what you believe, fought against injustice— it’s what Dad would have done.” “That’s what I told Mom!” We laugh. I didn’t think I would be capable of that tonight. When he calms down, Will asks, “So you tanked you’re business then?” “Completely.” “How close were you?” “Several hundred short.” He whistles, nodding his head slowly. “You can have it for whatever you got. Antiracist discount.” I can’t breathe, excitement bursts from my chest. But. “No.” “What?” “It wouldn’t be right. I have to earn it, like you said. Just being handed a thing doesn’t happen. You have to do the work. Working for something is important. I want to earn the car.” Will lies on his back, looks at the ceiling. He thinks for a while. “Okay. You’re right. So, I leave in two days. Maybe you can give the money to Mom when you get what you need, and she can deposit it for me; I’ll leave her the keys. That way you can get it when you earn it.” He holds his hand up toward me. I grab his hand for the most awkwardly angled handshake of my life. “Deal.”