Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from August, 2021.
I. placcy, adj. (and n.)
You’ve avoided the inside of grocery stores for over a year. A pickup order every week, Fred Meyer insists on using their own plastic bags. Your bag of tote bags in the trunk remains unused; your stash of plastic bags under the sink steadily grows.
II. pseudosopher, n.
Your brother’s podcast plays as you drive up Meridian, back to your apartment, so you can know which propaganda the algorithm served him this month — which arguments to have and avoid at the family reunion.
III. zizzy, adj.
The engine revs louder as you climb the hill passed the fairground. As you pass the assisted living facility across the street from the private Christian school, the sky — orange with wildfire ash — comes into view.
IV. bearding, n.
Your brother’s voice becomes a yell as you turn down the side road to your apartment. He yells about a fraudulent election orchestrated the bankers and Hollywood elite. You know he means Jewish people.
V. off time, n.
Your Absence has been Approved This email is to notify you that your requested absence has been approved. The following are the details of the absence: Leave type: Personal Start date: Friday, August 13, 2021 End date: Monday, August 16, 2021 Confirmation #: 611391225
VI. baku, n.
You watch as buildings shrink under the wing of your plane. You sigh as the hypothetical gender critical rant by your aunt in your head fades under Antonioni’s "Malcomer" as you secure earbuds in your ears.
VII. lotophagous, adj.
You read the same line in your book four times without realizing it. The words unfocus into ridges of a nurse log along a trail you’re hiking alone. You swear your partner was with you, but they’re gone. Their voice flows through ponderosa pines; you feel calmer.
VIII. goombay, n.
Awoken by the thumps of wheels against runway. Your heart carries the rhythm as your book falls off your lap onto your bag between your feet.
IX. chicken rice, n.
Among the din of impatient passengers waiting to leave, you feel so alone. You start to text your partner to tell them you landed, unsure whether they’re sleeping or driving to work — you feel like an inconvenience. You wish they were here, but remember how they said during their first post-reunion dinner they couldn’t do it again after last time.
X. muharram, n.
Your father meets you at baggage claim. Happy to see you, but somewhat hurried, he keeps staring beyond you. Following his gaze, you find a hijabi woman waiting for her luggage. He remarks how she’s “just been standing there,” wonders how “those people are even allowed on planes.” You gather your thoughts enough to start explaining how wrong and racist he’s being. He waves his hand at you, says, “Better safe than sorry.”
XI. oscines, n.
His truck is loud; his radio is louder. He attempts to yell over the hair metal shaking the door frames to ask you about your flight. You struggle to focus on anything.
XII. machinina, n.
When you arrive at home, you ask for some time to unpack and nap — the problem with red eye flights is the sleep you get is always subpar. Your bedroom is as it was before you graduated. Posters on the walls, notebooks on your desk, a stack of novels on the floor by your bed. When you sit on the comforter, you remember the nights you couldn’t sleep, where you’d watch Red vs. Blue until three in the morning.
XIII. owczarek, n.
Groggy, half-awake, you hear paws pat at the door. A head rush as you sit up. You barely turn the knob before the door flies open, a white blur rushes in, lunges at you, licks your face. They somehow still remember you.
XIV. chinchy, adj.
You finally feel prepared for your family. You leave your room, walk down the hallway toward the dining room. Around the corner, just in earshot, you hear your parents tell your uncle how much you all still owe on your student loans. He groans about how foolish they were to pay someone to poison your mind.
XV. queenborough mayor, n.
When you were younger, they’d talk about how intelligent you were. When you were younger, they’d praise you for your computer skills. When you were younger, they talked about your bright future. When you were younger, they repeatedly said college was important. When you were younger, they cheered when you got accepted. When you were younger, they implored you to reconsider your major. You walk tentatively into the dining room.
XVI. oppo, n.
The subject of their conversation shifts abruptly when as you enter the room. They greet you, tease you for napping, ask how you’ve been, how and where your partner is. You make up a story: they couldn’t get off work to come. Your family accepts this and your other short responses to their questions.
XVII. changkol, n.
Guilt about lying to your family. Guilt about how easy it was. Guilt digs into your bone marrow. You feel seedlings sprout on your forearms.
XVIII. gentlefolk, n.
Quiet for the rest of the night. Claim to be jetlagged, but really just lament the actual reunion tomorrow, when your grandmother gets there. What questions will she ask? What lies will you have to tell her?
XIX. busybodyism, n.
Your extended family start arriving throughout the morning — a caravan of pickups and trailers. As you help set up the food table in the garage, you are bombarded with questions when each new group arrives.
XX. freemium, n.
You fill a kiddie pool with ice for the various potato and macaroni salads when the news breaks: The Taliban have encircled Kabul with little resistance; the US sends troops to evacuate citizens from the capital. You hear it from your father complaining about ungrateful savages who can’t appreciate all that the US has done to give them democracy.
XXI. pythoness, n.
Your mother chimes in, says she knew it would be a disaster after Biden “stole” the election. “Incompetent,” she calls him. A bang as she open a bag of salt and vinegar chips. “Senile bastard.”
XXII. dangdut, n.
It is constant — dog whistles and foghorns, racism and conspiracy theories you had filtered from your Facebook feed. It is overwhelming — your heart rate increases with your internal scream. You don’t know where to begin or how. It is bewildering — you’ve read so much, but your throat tightens. You are in a cage.
XXIII. ophiolatry, n.
Your grandmother finally arrives in a minivan driven by your brother. He helps her get on her Rascal scooter, then she slowly drives herself by each picnic table in the yard, excitedly greeting and hugging every person she can reach. You brace yourself for her proximity, her embrace, her questions, her theories.
XXIV. tom tiddler’s ground, n.
You hear your name. She exclaims it as soon as she turns away from your cousin’s table. She brings up how long it’s been since she’s seen you. Her questions are rapid-fire: How is school? What can you do with that degree? How’s your partner? Where are they? Why aren’t you married? When are you going to have kids already? You struggle to catch your breath.
XXV. irritainment, n.
They seem so coordinated, they must have spent weeks planning, rehearsing what to say to upset you. It must be funny to see you silently fume, to see if they can find your breaking point.
XXVI. spinback, n.
When your brother starts explaining how Jews corrupted the US military, siphoned off billions from the budget, and made us lose in Afghanistan, you’re done. A quick rush of air catches in your throat. The dam’s concrete fissures. The dregs at the bottom of the lake surface.
XXVII. antwacky, adj.
You see red. Your brother is yelling, but he sounds far away. He’s saying something about his First Amendment rights. Now, your mother is telling you to not ruin the reunion by taking things too seriously. Your uncle tells you to stop forcing your beliefs on everyone.
XXVIII. genteelism, n.
Walls are rebuilt one goosebump at a time. You offer an empty apology, excuse yourself, head back to your room. The closed door, a silent monolith of judgement. Its corona filled with shadows and laughter of people happy to be around one another, probably happy to not be around you.
XXIX. bonny clabber, n.
Things get quiet as night falls. Your room’s ceiling darkens the longer you stare at it; you stay wide awake. The afternoon keeps replaying, every comment echoes. You miss your partner; they’d know what to do or say. You can’t stay here anymore.
XXX. cantopop, n.
Hastily pack your suitcase, download Lyft, request a ride to the airport. Leave a note on the kitchen counter apologizing for ruining the reunion and leaving early. To stay awake, your driver plays loud, uptempo music by an artist their dash calls Zpecial. It’s enough to make you feel far away from that house and those people. You can breathe again.
XXXI. merdeka, n.
In your partner’s arms barely through the threshold of your apartment. Welcomed. Accepted. Loved. It’s all here. Why did you ever leave? Maybe you don’t go back.