FICTION: Language Acquisition

My baby’s first word was redundant. I murmured, I love you, I love you, I love you forever to the edges of existence and the details of your cells. He turned his pacifier in his few teeth, spat it free, and in a voice small as a who, answered, redundant.

His second word: unsubstantiated. He ran a fever of 104. His cheeks and forehead burned. He cried. His chest struggled in staccatos, rising and falling, as we raced to the car. Itsokayitsokayitsokay I breathed without punctuation. Unsubstantiated! He screeched as I snapped him into his seat. I rushed us to care, too mother-panicked to savor the development.

The third required we exit playgroup. Mothers already watched him with expressions as finely clipped as their blowouts. Their chirping trilled to new octaves of envy. Throats cleared. They asked, Does he say dada or please? I considered this. I watched as his redundants and unsubstantiateds edited his peers, called their word choice into question. His effort to pivot the endless whir of no and mine and mamaaa.

Then the daughter of the woman dubbed The Mercedes Mom snatched the magnifying glass from his grip and licked its length like a lollipop. He stood and cried, Petulance! And she bit him on the face. We were then disciplined. The moms did not accept that he did not yet say I’m sorry.

The night of petulance, we sat together on a deck chair, wrapped in a blanket, admiring sky. The moon leaned, heavy with orange glow, into us. Its light glistened on my son’s face. Iridescent, I said, motioning to the illuminated pool of water beside us. He leaned into me. A neat row of baby teeth bruises purpling his cheek. I took his hand and traced the curve of the moon.

This was you to me, I said, when we were still one—but I caught myself, braced for unsubstantiated, petulance, or perhaps even a (new!) hyperbole. Instead, frogs filled the silence with burping croaks of night. His free hand wrapped itself around the hair hanging down my shoulder. He turned, his cheek to my chest, ma moon, he sighed, and placed his thumb in his mouth.

Molly Gabriel is a writer and poet from Cleveland, Ohio. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Baldwin-Wallace College. Her work has been published in S.P. Quill and The Mill Literary Journal and received the Robert Fox Award for Young Writers. She has been selected for flash readings with Bridge Eight Literary Magazine and the Jax by Jax Literary Festival. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband and toddler. She’s on Twitter at @m_ollygabriel.

Image: Untitled (Two Rabbits, Pampas Grass, and Full Moon), Hiroshige, 1849-1851

Submit a comment