hat weekend, a few words and phrases held a party to celebrate the completion of Exacting Clam 7—the phrase “Executive Homes” sent out an email inviting all of the issue’s editors, contributors, and words. I wasn’t going to go, but then a sentence I knew from the issue, “Authors don’t own their texts, not once they hand it over to us,” texted me to check in. Hey man you going? wrote the sentence. Should be ‘potentially infinite’!
Nah, think I’m gonna pass, I wrote back.
Boo!, wrote “Authors.” “Devil-may-care’s” going! And “like an ocean!”
Any other writers? I replied. Or just language?
No I think a few writers too—Luchs? maybe Silverton??
So I decided to go. My father had died the previous winter, and the months since had been the loneliest of my life. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been invited to a party. This would be good for me, I thought.
But when I stepped out of the Uber that Friday night and walked into the fancy home, I didn’t see one other person; it was all words and phrases—hardly any of whom I recognized. I saw “the five allottable shrugs,” sitting in a leather chair in the giant living room and sipping what looked like whiskey, and I ran into “reluctant false messiah” in the kitchen near an elaborate spread of hors d’oeuvres. “Dude!” said “reluctant.” “Quite a crib, huh?”
“Whose place is this?” I said.
“Reluctant” shook his head. “I think ‘Executive Homes’ is renting it.”
I poured myself a glass of punch—it was very strong—and walked out into the backyard. “Your efficient facility for apology” shouted my name from behind the grill, and I saw a few other words swimming in the pool and milling near the dance floor. Then I spotted “Authors don’t own their texts, not once they hand it over to us,” making out with “What matters are our feelings, our responses, what it means when it passes through the filter of us” in a corner, and “just the title alone” passed out on a nearby chaise lounge. A lot of the language appeared to be drunk.
I sat down with my punch by the pool’s edge. A word cannonballed off the diving board. I stared into the turquoise water, and then out at the woods at the edge of the yard. This was quite an expanse.
I hadn’t been sitting there a minute, though, when “cyclonic culture” sat down beside me. “Chris!” he said. “Hey man!”
I nodded at him.
“Great jam, huh?” he said.
Behind us, digital music began blasting through the speakers.
“‘Cyclonic,’” I said quietly. “I’m the only writer here.”
“So what?” The phrase twisted around and looked behind us, where some words had started dancing. “Hey,” he said. “Wanna dance? Let’s dance.”
“I want to leave,” I said.
“You just got here!” said “cyclonic culture.” “Come on. Don’t be a writer. Let’s cut a rug!” He got up and I reluctantly followed. “Executive” had set up a temporary dance floor on the lawn, and a few phrases I knew—“devil-may-care,” “mellifluous laughter,” “continually mingling and separating”—were vibing to the music. I tried to follow suit—to loosen up and find the groove. I was making my best effort to have fun, be social, and enjoy the night. One song morphed into another, and more phrases seeped onto the floor. My mind and belly warmed from the punch. We were all celebrating something. I closed my eyes and bounced to the beat. I felt, for the first time in a while, happy.
But then, suddenly, someone shouted from off to my right—“Hey! It’s him!” or something like that. I opened my eyes and saw a phrase I barely knew, “My previous friend,” holding a bottle of beer in one letter and pointing at me with another. “That’s the guy!” he bellowed at “The gauntlet has definitely been thrown.” “That’s the guy who wrote the story.”
“What story?” shouted “gauntlet.”
“The story, man!” spat “my previous friend.” “The word party one! The one with you and me in it.” “Friend” turned to me. “You’re Bowcher, right?”
“I—yeah,” I said meekly.
“Yeah! You’re the asshole who put all of us in your story. Without even asking us!”
“He what?” said a phrase behind me.
“Easy, man,” “continually mingling and separating” said to “my previous friend.” “It’s alright—it’s OK.”
“It is not OK,” said “my previous friend,” now vibrating with rage. “You wrote about me, and ‘gauntlet,’ and ‘like an ocean,’ and—”
“Wait,” said “like an ocean.” “You wrote about me?”
“Just let me explain,” I said.
“You had no right,” barked “friend.” “No right!”
“I—listen,” I yelled, trying to be heard over the music. “I just thought it’d be fun to write a story that, you know, included other writing from the same issue—”
“Fun!” yelped “my previous friend.” He smashed his bottle on the dance floor. “You thought it’d be fun?” Then he lunged at me.
“Whoa!” shouted “cyclonic culture.” “Take it easy!”
“Yeah, ‘friend’—back off!” boomed “reluctant false messiah,” and he shoved “my previous friend” backwards.
“You fucking back off!” shouted “gauntlet,” reaching for “messiah.”
Someone threw a punch. “Friend” dove at “messiah,” and “ocean” headbutted “cyclonic.” All the phrases started shouting and fighting, and soon it was a melee; I saw “gauntlet” on the ground, and “continually mingling and separating” bleeding from his “c,” and “devil-may-care” doubled over. I covered my head and struggled out of the scrum. I heard a window break, and then someone pushed the grill into the pool. I stared dumbly at the chaos for a second, trying to decide what to do.
But then I heard a whining in the distance—we all heard it. “Cops!” shouted “a corny geometry to endings.” Everyone ran. “Corny” steered me and some other phrases away from the house. “This way!” he said, and he led us into the dark woods.
“This is so fucked up!” shouted “mellifluous laughter.”
“Where are we going?” I cried.
“There’s a gulley somewhere ahead,” whispered “Our minds wander.”
“But I can’t see!” shouted a word I couldn’t read.
“We cannot fucking get arrested,” said “the five allottable shrugs.” “That’ll totally derail the issue!”
We ran deeper into the woods. “A corny geometry to endings” was near me for a while, along with “drunk and walking alone to that cold home” and “you are alone and it is over.” But I lost “endings” somewhere, and then “drunk and walking alone.” Then it was just me and “you are alone and it is over.” But when I said, “Look! A clearing!” and heard no response, I realized that I’d lost “you,” too. I sprinted onto the asphalt of a strange street and ran on alone through the cold, silent night.
Christopher Boucher is the author of the novels How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (Melville House, 2011), Golden Delicious (MH, 2016), and Big Giant Floating Head (MH, 2019). He teaches writing and literature at Boston College and is Managing Editor of Post Road Magazine.