Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from November, 2020.
I. Spiritato, n.
Rosa sits between her sister, Haylee, and Uncle Martin. Tired from the four-hour drive across the state. Her grandma asks Uncle Martin to lead the family in Grace. He clears his throat loudly, so that the kids in the other room hear too. His Grace is long— as it is every Thanksgiving— expressing thankfulness for every event in the family’s year he gathered from his Facebook feed. She stretches her neck left and right, looks at each bowed head with closed, reverent eyes— utterly baffled at the sincerity.
II. Volcanello, n.
Uncle Martin closes Grace quoting the priest of his church which Rosa stopped attending her junior year in high school after he gave a sermon about women’s role in the home. She bites her cheek, metal on her tongue, closes her eyes, a scream escapes as a restrained sigh.
III. Pastinaceous, adj.
Grandpa Leo carves the turkey, serves a slice to each person around the table, same as he does every year— a tradition passed down to him from his father, from his father’s father— a taproot reaching down so far no one can see the end.
IV. Overberg, n. and adj.
A polite smile on Rosa’s face as she accepts her slice from Grandpa Leo. He pauses, smiles. “We’re so glad you were able to make it this year.” She nods, fidgets with her napkin on her lap to avoid eye contact. When she looks up, it feels like looking at a mountain range from a fire lookout.
V. Sprusado, n.
The Walker-Estradas are not a sedentary family. As soon as it seems like everyone’s done eating, there is no sit-and-talk like business people during a lunch rush. No, the dining room is abandoned for places to stand— the kitchen, the patio, the living room. Rosa gets up from her seat, pinches the button-up she wore on Wednesday’s shift through her cardigan, flattens any potential wrinkles, adjusts her tie. A deep breath before she grabs her water glass, tentatively walks toward the patio.
VI. Hot-Brain, n.
Rosa didn’t really plan ahead— the decision to drive over the pass to see her mom’s family for Thanksgiving was last-minute. She was wiping down the tables and booths in her section after the last party left— the Wednesday before Thanksgiving always nonstop. All night, she heard people talk about their plans— seeing their families, elaborate recipes. The hosts were talking about it while wrapping silverware in napkins for Friday when the dam broke— she missed home. Afraid of chickening out, she stopped by the Arco on the corner of the parking lot, bought gas and a 5-hour Energy, drove toward the highway. Her only stop was at a rest area outside Srague for a nap.
VII. Cheesed, adj.
Maybe it was a reasonable response, maybe it was because she slept in her car, but when she got to the patio, heard Uncle Martin grimace about “illegal votes,” she groaned, “Oh shut up, man!” All eyes on her, every conversation halted. “Um, excuse me." She sips her water, walks back inside.
VIII. Chedi, n.
Solace in the bathroom down the hall by the guest room. Rosa places her glass on the counter next to a picture of her sister waving from the top of a ladder leaned against exposed plywood. She sits on the toilet lid taking deep breaths to center herself. She stares at other pictures, souvenirs on the wall from Haylee’s white-savior, voluntourism trip to Mexico with her church group.
IX. Waynpain, n.
Before enough time passes that her family would think something’s wrong, Rosa flushes the toilet for the illusion of normalcy. She washes her hands— pure muscle memory— stares at the soap dispenser. She remembered an afternoon when she was a child watching Legends of the Hidden Temple reruns when her dad came in after working in the yard, his shirt inside out over her ears, draped like a ponytail. “Wanna see a magic trick?” he asked between gulps of water from a weathered half-gallon jug. Rosa jumped up from the couch, followed him to the sink. He ran the water. “Clear, right?” He filled his jug to illustrate. “Watch.” He paused, concentration on his face. “Abracadabra!” He shoved his hands under the water, gripped his fists, twisted them like he was trying to get the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. The water pooling in the sink turned brown, matte. “Whoa!!!” Rosa exclaimed. He snickered, leaned close to her face, whispered, “I turned it into poop.” Rosa continued yelling, but out of disgust, as she ran back to the living room.
X. Presentific, adj.
Deep breath, Rosa. They’re family, Rosa. It’s going to be okay.
XI. Earthfast, adj.
Hand on the knob of the door, one step from rejoining her family, after practicing all of her small talk. She freezes. Her fingers twitch. Her breaths short. Fully conscious of how long she’s hidden in the bathroom. Move. Move. Move.
XII. Pricket, n.
She closes her eyes, counts to ten between inhales, exhales. Thaw the ice in your skin, Rosa. She gulps the rest of her water.
XIII. Spiritus, n.
She breaks through the door like a pika out of its burrow, fueled by adrenaline and guilt.
XIV. Callidity, n.
"Oh, don’t worry. I’m alright.” Interspersed head nods, sustained eye contact. Ask follow-up questions to avoid saying more than necessary. Be a screen they can project onto.
XV. Ambilogy, n.
“Oh, you know, work’s work.” “Yeah, bills have been tough, but I’ve managed.” “No, haven’t really been up to much else.”
XVI. Fascine, n.
To get a break, Rosa walks over to the fireplace, a fresh cord of wood on tightly layered kindling. She sits on the carpet, cross-legged like she did as a child during story time. Closing her eyes, she feels radiant heat wash over her. She imagines it mixing with the warmth under her cheeks. She starts to cry. It shouldn’t be this hard.
XVII. Brewstered, adj.
She could feel the distance palpable between herself and her parents— her shoulders and the mantle accented with plaques, senior portraits. A dark marble slab floating in a red brick facade.
XVIII. Badderlocks, n.
“Hey Rosa!” She shakes her head, back in her body. Haylee is behind her, leaning to her left, a plate in her right hand. “You doin’ alright?” “Uh, yeah,” she stammers, rubs her eyes. “I was just, uh, cold out there. Needed a minute to warm up.” Haylee straightens up, nodding. “Mind if I sit with ya?” She scoots over, gestures at the space before hugging her knees to her chest, placing her chin in their crevice. Haylee sits, picks a grape tomato off her plate, eats it. She asks, still chewing, “Want one? I grew ‘em in the planter out back.” Rosa looks at the little bulbs on the tilted plate, smiles. “Sure.”
XIX. Reptiliferous, adj.
“You think you’ll ever tell ‘em?” Annabelle asks from the bench adjacent to Rosa’s. She wedges her mask down to sip her mocha, readjusts it back up. “I don’t know.” Her head shakes. “Maybe.” “Why wouldn’t you?” Annabelle asks, adjusting her scarf back over her nose. “I don’t wanna pressure you, but they should know.” “It’s not- it’s hard. My family’s not like yours. We don’t- I haven’t even been back home in two years. “And, like, everything I say has to go through so many filters when I talk to them. Layers of social appearances, Jesus, money- I can’t just… say it.” Annabelle nods slowly, sips her chai tea. “They know you’re gay, right?” “Uh, yeah. I told them in high school. It wasn’t a big thing.” “You were able to tell them that. Is this that different?” Rosa stares at where the sidewalk ends. “It feels different.” Annabelle reaches an arm forward, clasps air, struggle in her eyes. “Is there anyone in your family you could tell?” She takes another sip of her mocha. “Haylee, maybe.”
Haylee runs her fingers through her hair— blonde as marigolds— over her ear. Always protective of Rosa, even though she was the younger one by two years. Less judgmental than her youth group friends— bridges she’d torch in public if scripture was quoted to justify hate. A pang of guilt in Rosa’s heart— their roles worn backwards.
XXI. Cockle Stairs, n.
“So, uh, how has Whitworth been?” Rosa asks. “It’s pretty good, actually. I mean, as good as it can be with all the remote learning stuff. Got to save money by staying here though.” “That ever annoying? Like, not getting the actual college thing as a freshman?” “I mean- yeah? I get why, but it IS disappointing, y’know? Plus, Dad decided to start a new project, ‘cause workin’ from home wasn’t enough for him— turns out, most of his work day was talking to his coworkers. “Before he started building that outdoor living room for Seahawks games, he’d try to talk to ME while I was in class. I learned the mute button REALLY fast. “It’s like- I don’t know- like, we’re all trying to get through this, be better and responsible, right, but it feels like no matter how much we do, we keep ending up in the exact same place.”
XXII. Footpad, n.
Rosa nods slowly, sips the last drops of water in her glass. “What about you? How have you been?” Haylee asks, nudging her shoulder into Rosa’s. She regurgitates her rote response. “Oh, uh, it’s been alright.” “That’s good to hear. I’ve heard it’s been really hard over there— closures and restrictions on restaurants and all.” Rosa gulps. “I worry about you is all.” Rosa bites the inside of her lip. “Well, uh” she starts. Deep inhale, exhale. “It actually has been hard.” She nods, swallows. “Most of my cash comes from tips; when everything closed, that dried up fast, let alone the reduction of shifts.” Haylee places a hand on Rosa’s knee. “I, uh-“ A gulp. A breath. “At one point, my dinners were leftover fries. I’d, uh, tell the cooks one of the tables wanted another helping of ‘em, and since Red Robin does endless fries, they wouldn’t question it; they’d just scoop some in a basket, place it in the window. I kept a to-go container under my coat in the back, and stash ‘em there.” “Rosa, you know we’d help you if we knew-“ “I-“ Rosa cuts her off. “I- I know. It’s just…” Rosa doesn’t finish the thought. Her sister does what she always did: hold her close and tight, tell her it’s alright. Rosa does what she always did: nod, go limp, cry into her shoulder.
XXIII. E-Waste, n.
In that moment— a puddle in her sister’s sweater— Rosa remembered what she really missed about home. She thought about the memes her family shared on Facebook spouting love and support unconditionally, how hollow each one left her. But here, it feels real, full.
XXIV. Ambigu, n.
Her grandma’s turkey, her mom’s cheesy mashed potatoes, her uncle’s rosemary garlic bread, her sister’s tomatoes. Warm, familiar, home.
XXV. Cryonaut, n.
Uncle Martin appears above them, clearing his throat. A plate in each hand. A slice of pumpkin pie her grandpa baked, a scoop of ice cream for each of them. He purses his lips, nods, offers a plate to both sisters, who accept their desserts. Rosa scoops a bit of pie and ice cream, bites. She’s five, playing tag in her grandparents’s backyard with Haylee and their cousins. Sundown. Only able to see by the lights outside her grandpa’s shop. Their mom calls them in for dessert. She’s 40, returning to this house again— probably by self-driving hover car or something— maybe with Annabelle and kids of their own, who play tag with Haylee’s kids, and she calls them in for dessert. She realizes she had never imagined a life that far in the future for herself before.
XXVI. Magnanerie, n.
In her head, the house was plain, peeling paint, full of insects gnawing at everything good. She felt, now, her misconception, saw the bigger picture— the soft sweater sleeves wrapped around her torso. “Haylee,” she hesitates. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
XXVII. Amouring, n.
Not ready to say it in front of her whole family, Rosa leads Haylee outside to the driveway. On the way, she rehearses what to say, remembering July— when the cases were low, when she told Annabelle, who immediately drove to her apartment, despite Rosa’s protests, saying: “In an emergency, you have to break protocol.” That night, after it all calmed down, as their legs were entwined on her bed, she felt human connection for the first time in months. Her head on Annabelle’s chest, her heart a metronome in her ear, up and down with her breath— soft as a breeze through cedar branches— like a moored ship after a storm. “You didn’t have to come here-“ she started, waves of guilt in her eyes. “Stop. I had to. I love you,” Annabelle interrupted, then tenderly kissed the top of Rosa’s head. Rosa started to feel like maybe it was worth being alive.
XXVIII. Empedoclean, adj.
The driveway, a large patch of gravel— jagged fragments of earth shift under her feet as she walks. The fireplace, a glimmer flickering in the window, barely visible through the November mist. Deep breath, cold air fills her lungs— a brisk bite, the kick she needs to move. “Okay,” Haylee shivers. “What’s going on?” Rosa sighs, holds her elbows. “So, uh- It’s hard to say.” Haylee rubs her biceps. “It’s alright. Take your time.” “Things have been... worse than I told you. “When everything shut down, I, uh, got laid off for a while. “In July, when it seemed like everything would turn around, “my hours stayed low, and I couldn't covers both bills and food, “I was so isolated— couldn’t even see other people, so-“ She winces, looks away from Haylee, toward the stars over the road. A gulp. “I tried to kill myself.” She lifts her shaky hand, rolls back the sleeve of her shirt and cardigan.
XXIX. Slummock, v.
Haylee stares at the scar on Rosa’s wrist. Quiet. After a few seconds, maybe hours, Haylee speaks. “That’s a lot to process. I appreciate you telling me; it must have been hard.” Her jaw clenches. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier? Were you afraid to tell me?” “No, no- I just- I didn’t want to worry you,” Rosa stammers. “Well,” a frustrated exhale, “you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, but I’m always here for you; I’m always going to support you. It’s my job.” “I want to tell you. I wanted to tell you then, but I didn’t know how.” She rolls her sleeve down. Haylee grabs Rosa’s hand, ice-sickle fingers around Rosa’s palm. “Do you want to tell me what happened?” Rosa nods rigidly. “I, uh, made the decision around 4, when I would have gone to work. A steak knife from the knife block on the counter. I held it in my hand; I could barely think. I texted Annabelle to say I’m sorry. She called me as I, uh-“ Rosa gestures at her wrist. “I froze, heart racing, dropped the knife on the floor. The clang broke my concentration, and I answered her call. She came over immediately, told me to put a towel and pressure on it and not move until she got there.” A gap. A space for Rosa to breathe. “She saved me that day. She helped calm me down, didn’t try to push me into anything— just sat with me for hours. “I don’t know if it was the blood loss or the heightened emotion of the whole thing or the first time I’d been with her outside of work in months, but I was overwhelmed, lost control over myself— I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her like-“ “Rosa. Gross.” “Oh, right. Sorry.” Haylee laughs, hugs her sister tight as kite string in coastal wind. “You don’t have to apologize; I’m so glad you have a partner like her.” She cries into Rosa’s shoulder. “I’m so glad you’re still here.”
XXX. Hammer, n.
Her brain may be where shadows loom; where memories echo in jarring fragments; where thoughts, feelings, breaths are held for someone else’s sake. But in the gaps between fractured earth, in the secondary light of the moon, in the warmth of her sister’s heart, Rosa felt like she could overcome them.