(published 8th January 2018)
As a baby, he babbled early. Once he started to talk, he kept on going. His parents wondered if he was precocious. This was in the boom after World War II, when any child might turn out to be an Einstein.
As a toddler, Glott got into everything. Caregivers learned not to fret. His running monologue told them where he was, what he was doing, and what he had found. When the flow of words stopped, they rushed to the scene to remove whatever he had crammed in his mouth.
Through boyhood, Glott verbalized. He noticed things, and he asked questions. If the answers were slow in coming, he made up his own. Based on insufficient data, the childish explanations could be amusing. To his classically educated father, they resembled the imaginary etymologies of ancient Greek and Latin grammarians. To his mother, the idea that a somersault was a salty summer trick was adorable.
In school, Glott was forced to sit quietly and wait his turn. Whenever the teacher asked for student input, his hand shot up. Sometimes in desperation at the lack of response, with a weary sense of foreboding, the teacher called on Glott, and the pent-up torrent of talk gushed. Outside the classroom, the other children accepted his chatter as background noise. They shouted over it or told him to shut up, and he did, briefly.
The adolescent Glott, confused and shy about all that was happening inside, omitted topics that made him feel squeamish, like sex, true love, and artistic expression. He developed interests in archaeology, anthropology, and the history of language—its dark origin and multifarious branches. His father thought he might become a linguist. His mother cherished the notion of a writer.
As revealed by grades and scores on standardized academic tests that claimed to predict success in college, Glott was not a genius. He was weak in mathematics and the hard sciences. His study methods were disorganized. His verbal skills were beyond dispute. What about a career as a lawyer?
The young man applied to a state university. It was a struggle, but once enrolled he got down to work. He was reasonably popular. After a few brushes with assertive students who put him in his place, he learned to govern his tongue. He had the good fortune to meet a young woman who loved him as much as he loved her. Fiona had a gift for letting people talk. She listened carefully, chose her words, and spoke when the situation required it. The marriage was a success.
Glott made it through law school by the skin of his teeth. It was clear, however, that incisive analysis, logical argument, and relentless ambition were not his thing. He landed a job in the legal department of a manufacturer of business equipment. The work was steady and the issues he dealt with were cut and dried – contracts, patents, licenses, regulations, and articles of incorporation. Within the company, he was known as a good presenter, someone who could explain the problem. So long as a paralegal kept him on track, he was an asset at board meetings and negotiations. He was sociable, able to put strangers at ease with small talk. With all this, he was immune to gossip. The company president valued him.
The Glotts had children. They raised them in a home that was founded on love, a secure income, and middle-class values. At the dinner table, they encouraged conversation, a civilized debate on issues of the day, as well as news of personal achievements and upcoming hurdles. Seated at the head of his own table, Glott discovered the pleasure of leaning back and allowing the talk to drift to places he never imagined. All three of the younger Glotts were bright and voluble. They took after their father, Fiona said.
With the children grown and flown from the nest, Glott noticed the house was quiet. He felt obliged to fill the silence, but Fiona said it was nice for a change. They listened to the radio or watched television together, and made an occasional comment. This went on for years. A happy couple, they knew each other’s mind.
Glott neared forty years of employment. He never looked for another job but stayed with the company, content with internal promotions. At a banquet to mark his sixty-fifth birthday and imminent retirement, he listened to speech after speech about himself, as if at his own funeral. His face ached from smiling. At last, the president shook his hand, gave him a plaque, and asked if wanted to have the last word. To everyone’s relief, he did not.
Then the unthinkable happened. Fiona developed cancer, and before it could be treated, she died. Numb with grief, the widower barely responded to questions. At home there was no one to talk to. In public, he made an effort to be pleasant, mentioned the weather, and asked politely what others were up to. He aged rapidly.
Glott formed the habit of saying all he wanted to say in a few sentences, then one, then a phrase. When that became exhausting, he replied in a word. If pressed, he feigned laryngitis or said his voice was rusty.
The day arrived when even the choice of a word was too much. Glott settled on yes or no. Finally, it struck him that either was irrelevant. From that moment on, he held his peace.
Robert Boucheron grew up in Syracuse and Schenectady, New York. From 1978 to 2016, he worked as an architect in New York City and Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays appear in Fiction International, London Journal of Fiction, New Haven Review, Poydras Review, The Short Story, and other magazines.