Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from December, 2021.
I. flatshare, v.
Someone always there to take care of the dishes. Someone always there to sign for packages. Someone always there to watch for red Corollas.
II. amirite, int.
They walk up behind me as I watch the traffic two floors below— green Forester. A hand on my shoulder, they sit on one of the throw pillows we scattered on the floor in front of the sliding glass door to the porch— blue Civic. They flick their wrist toward the street, say, “Next summer blockbuster!” Met with silence — yellow Mustang.
III. infodemic, n.
It takes time to sift through it all — the humans on the sidewalk, the song of warblers by the window feeder, the caws of crows by the garbage cans, the whistle of their tea kettle boiling, the glare of the sun in the glass door — in order to focus on the cars in the street.
IV. amscray, v.
Early evening, a familiar shape of headlights come round the corner. They slow by our building, connected to a body the shade of dried blood. I spin so quick, the pillow slides out from under me across the fake-wood floor, and I have to scramble to my feet, dash through the apartment to the bedroom closet, slam the door shut. A suitcase’s coarse fabric rubs my temple.
V. bardo, n.
No light. Three thumps. A click. A squeaky hinge. Muffled voices. Silence. A suitcase’s zipper in my fingers. Footsteps in the hallways. A gulp.
VI. fastballer, n.
Everything happens in the blink of an eye. The closet door opens, my arm is pulled, the suitcase is packed, and I am planted in the backseat of the car staring out the window as the curb flows by me like the water of a river.
VII. phantastikon, n.
A man runs along the curb, jumps over hydrants, swings under streetlights, grinds along benches. He speeds up, slows down in tandem with the car.
VIII. Fast-medium, adj. and n.
I’m put in a chair in front of a large desk covered in loose papers, sloppy folders. A person in a wrinkled suit sits behind it, says their name, quickly asks a bunch of questions, checking boxes on a piece of paper hidden by a beat-up clipboard.
IX. amatorio, n.
On the person’s desk is a small tray, no bigger than a side dish, which has a couple stress balls in it. After several questions I don’t answer, they offer a ball from the tray, which I accept, because it feels like the right thing to do. The tray is thick, uneven, and in the vacuum left by the ball I grabbed is some writing painted on messily. “Mom” and a heart is all I see before the tray is back on the desk. I squeeze the ball and breathe.
X. fairyism, n.
I am not in my body for the rest of the interview. I float through the ceiling fan’s blades, watch my body’s mouth answer her questions, don’t hear anything.
XI. taffety, n. and adj.
When I land back in my body, my eyes lock on the curtain over her right shoulder. Teal waves against an overcast sky.
XII. scribacious, adj.
She hands me a composition book with a cheap pen to express my thoughts, saying it can help me process my feelings. She escorts me to a small room with a desk and a twin bed, says we’ll talk tomorrow.
XIII. botheration, int. and n.
I don’t get how writing something is going to help me think about anything. It doesn’t even make sense. I’d just “process” the literal words on the page; there’d be nothing deeper than that. How is writing a detailed play-by-play of me walking to the grocery store going to help anyone do literally anything? It’s just stupid. Fucking pointless.
XIV. slow drag, n.
It was last Tuesday. We were out of milk and bread, so I had to walk to the Safeway on the other side of the apartment complex. Taylor wanted to have Mac and cheese for dinner, but without milk, they couldn’t make it. I suggested just using water, but they scoffed at me. The bread was my idea. I thought it would be good to get a fancy sourdough instead of our usual 12 grain loaf. It’s December; people get to splurge during the holidays. I didn’t realize how icy it was. I saw it snow that morning, yeah, but I figured over the course of the day, it must have thawed out. I was wrong. I only made it around the corner of our building before I slipped. I landed hard on my hip. That’s why there’s a bruise there. Nothing else happened.
XV. ballyhack, n.
Wake up. Breakfast. Write. Group. Write. Lunch. Write. Solo. Dinner. Write. Bed.
XVI. lachrymabund, adj.
It happens suddenly, middle of the the second night. A weight presses on my chest — I can’t breathe. Every memory alive full-throated screaming into a flat pillow, wet with tears.
XVII. fairwater, n.
Around three, I give up on sleep, stare at the constellations in the ceiling tiles. Maybe there is a future where my brain doesn’t eat itself, where my ribs aren’t a windy cavern. I slide the notebook off the nightstand, scribble in the dark.
XVIII. autokinesis, n.
There’s a streetlight visible through the metal mesh of my room’s window. It swings in a wind that doesn’t affect the tree branches or the pole that holds it.
XIX. popskull, n.
The first time was the morning after Taylor shared some moonshine they made in their apartment’s detached garage. It was their first attempt. They were so proud of themself. So I tried it. You have to support your sibling, right? My mouth and throat felt like a python had contracted around them. I took each punch as well as I could. I hadn't had liquor before, but people at my school talk about it all the time, so I figured it would grow on me. A rite of passage or whatever. When I woke up the next morning, my head throbbed. It felt like Neil Peart was doing a drum solo on my brain. The pain was unlike anything I’d felt before. Felt like it would never go away. I wanted to let it out. So, I dragged myself to the craft drawer and found the X-Acto knife. Took it to my thigh.
XX. medium coeli, n.
During every solo session, the lady talks to me about what I wrote during the previous writing session as if I’m the protagonist of a tv show she’s binging. Like I fit into some archetype, some box, and she already knows everything about me.
XXI. sunstay, n.
There’s supposed to be some epiphany I have while locked in this room. That’s what they tell me. That’s what happens in movies. Where the fuck is it then?
XXII. supervacaneous, adj.
I give up on correcting her the fifth time she calls Taylor my “brother.” She must have selective hearing or selective memory, at least — whatever fits the narrative. I only need to last one more day.
XXIII. toyi-toyi, n.
“… and that’s why I believe it would not be in your best interest return to your brother’s apartment.” “You can’t.” I stand up. “You can’t.” “It simply isn’t a safe environment for you. Your writing indicates,” she flips open my notebook on her desk, “he served you alcohol, thus creating a situation in which you purposefully harmed yourself,” she flips to an earlier page, “and your bruises have dubious origins that you are not being honest about.” “You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.”
XXIV. belsnickel, n.
Everything feels slow motioned and fast forwarded: my hands slam her desk, two nurses grab my arms, hallway doors like trees along the highway. Last year, Christmas Eve, Taylor spent hours making dinner for the two of us. Because that’s what you do after your family exiles you.
XXV. jough, n.
Christmas night, two years ago. After a day of small talk, stories from decades past, unsolicited advice from aunts and uncles, I escaped to the patio just outside the porch light’s range. Taylor came by, placed a warm mug in my cold hands. We sat in silence under cloudy sky, falling snow.
XXVI. gombey, n.
I put on a stoic face when they come to pick me up with my suitcase. I put on a grateful face when I arrive at a foster home full of strangers. I put on a welcoming face at dinner while I tell stories about a made-up past.
XXVII. lime, n.
There are three other kids around the dinner table. They nod along with my lies, introduce themselves, but their names don’t register in my brain.
XXVIII. ginny gall, n.
I hate it here. It doesn’t matter how much food they give, how much personal space is provided, how much anime we watch. It’s a strange house full of strangers. I hate it here; it doesn't matter.
XXIX. hen-cackle, n.
Under the shroud of pre-dawn twilight, snow crunches under my weight with my suitcase.
XXX. sinigang, n.
I don’t recall these streets, these cars. I try to remember Taylor’s soup — how it made me feel warm, like home even on the coldest nights — and use that to guide me.
XXXI. willie-waught, n.
The place I sit, a bus stop bench, is co’ered in ice and snow. I guess I’ll sleep till morning comes. I wish I had my phone. The cold consumes my fingertips and gulps my soggy toes. While snow upon my hat does pile, my eyes begin to close. I hear my name, a frosty crunch, familiar to my ear. I struggle up, but cannot see; the streetlight's reach too short. But once again, my name is said. I rub my eyes and blink. Then from the dark is Taylor’s scarf unraveling from their neck. They wrap their scarf around me, hold my face in their trembling hands. Sitting beside me, they ask what happened, dig out a flask from their jacket. After a swig, they offer it to me, then take me back home.