She had me from obsequious. It wasn’t just the word, it was the way she said it – not scornful, not even mocking. Our manager had barely left the room when her voice drifted across the office, affectionate and fat with laughter. Oily I would have called him. Slimy perhaps. Not her. She knew better. Obsequious.
She laughed when I told her that was what had captured me.
“You’re so... so...”
Verbose, she suggested. Loquacious. Sesquipedalian.
“Smart,” I said.
I loved listening to her. Didn’t matter what she was saying. It was the warmth, the texture of her words in the air between us: soft and smooth. Mellifluous. She filled everything – our first date, our first house, our kids, our empty nest – with the language of love, with 26 letters a million different ways. Our garden thrummed with the curious music of words; exotic sounds wafted from our kitchen windows.
Until the day the words began to stick. Syllables scratched on the way to her lips; consonants caught in her throat. Words that had come so joyfully, tore at her as they were released. And it turned out the doctor knew long words too.
“Advanced laryngeal cancer.”
“There’s chemotherapy,” he said. “Radiotherapy, perhaps. And we’ll need to remove the voice box.”
She didn’t want to live without her words.
“I’ll bring them to you,” I said. “I’ll read you the dictionary every day. I’ll sing you to sleep with your favourite sounds: susurration, dirigible, plinth. We’ll battle this.”
“Let’s fight. Take courage.”
Let go. Find peace.
While I railed at her crap luck; she shrugged at the vicissitudes of fate. Slowly at first, then with undignified haste, the quietness of ashes and dust came over her. My world fell into thunderous silence.
Then, out of the silence there came a sound, faint at first, then more persistent. A sigh in the chimney, a whisper in the walls. The rooms of our house – hollowed by her absence – began to hum with her presence. Death had not stolen her voice after all. She had not left me with silence. She had left me with 26 letters a million different ways. Endless echoes of everything she had built us on: infatuation, infinitude.