By James Seals
Tell me how you feel about me, Jane said. She and Will were in bed. He was lying supine, legs apart, arms splayed. Her right arm and leg rested across his body, her head nestled against his shoulder.
Tell me how you feel, Jane again whispered. She sounded like she was falling asleep.
Will stared at the whirling ceiling fan and wished for the Good Old Days. But he couldn’t say that phrase aloud. Nor was it permitted to say When Times Were Easier or Back Then. When the Expressive Language Association, the ELA, was instituted by the government four years ago, the ELA’s priority was to end Language Inaccuracies, or, more correctly, to enforce Language Accuracy, which had been determined to lead to Emotion Intelligence. Those phrases and many others had been labeled General Terms, then they were banned.
Will thought about his feelings for Jane. He wanted back the liberties from the days when they first met…
You’re So Wonderful, Will had said to Jane.
Jane smiled. You Make So Me Happy, she replied.
Now Will smiled.
Or they each used similar words or phrases that satiated each other’s feelings. Will, though, wanted to say that he Loved Jane, but that word had been forbade.
“When emotions calmed, the ELA, with haste, enacted Word and Term Changes to books and songs and such for fear of new uprisings.”
During the first year of the ELA’s establishment, Free Speech Advocates protested against Language Accuracy. The ELA felt flabbergasted by these objections. They had believed that the Expression Ignorant Society needed much help. So the ELA created sentence starters: How Do You Feel About . . . What Did You Think of . . . I feel that . . . I thought that.
They plastered these phrases onto billboards and acted them out in commercials. After a few years Free Speech Advocates lost members as they were exiled for Word or Term Over Usage, chanting one too many times: Let Us Speak and using wordsmiths – Milton, Donne, and Shakespeare (all banned) – for posters and flags.
When emotions calmed, the ELA, with haste, enacted Word and Term Changes to books and songs and such for fear of new uprisings. Microphones were installed throughout the country. A green light shone, displaying a warning, after someone spoke a word or phrase that had been Listed for Possible Removal (Beautiful, Like, How You Doing, Outside The Box) and an ear-piercing buzz sounded, leading to exile, when someone misspoke, using a banned word or phrase.
The ELA had banned Love with immediacy. The ELA’s labelings happened during the time of Careless Speech. Will and Jane during that time had attended verbose parties and effusive dinners. People had chattered nonstop and without regard. Will remembered entering music-filled rooms, crowded with stylish dress and primped hair and bright lights.
How Are You Doing? Will often said as he shuffled by friends, acquaintances, strangers.
Cool, someone replied.
Then Will said to a group, It Is What It Is.
Everything Happens For A Reason, A friend replied, laughing.
At The End Of The Day, Will later said to an acquaintance.
Believe You Me, some stranger offered in return at the end of the night.
Phrases all now outlawed.
Also, during the time of Careless Speech, words similar to Get and Literally and nonwords such as Irregardless and Conversate were spouted without thought. So the ELA met, ending those Generalities and Nonwords. They too purged society of words used wrong: Terrific and Ultimately, and gross sounding words: Squirt, Chunk, and Discharge. They freed society of confusing words: effect and affect; and their, they’re, there. All exclusions were meant to help create a Clarified Society.
Will really wanted to say the word Love because he does have strong emotions for Jane. The ELA had explained, Citizens without restraint used Love to describe feelings for someone, for movies, for songs, for activities and even for bananas. Then the ELA had asked, How could someone Love all these things? Will remained quiet, knowing that if he used a banished word or phrase the government would exile him.
Will continued to watch the fan rotate. He distracted his mind or avoided answering Jane’s question by trying to follow the revolution of one blade. He felt it impossible to track, as he felt it impossible to consider accurate words. Will though was no different than many persons within this new time period.
Within four years of the institution of Language Accuracy, the ELA identified a change from a Careless Society to a Downfall of Social Interaction. The ELA felt angry, hurt, frustrated. They watched and listened as fewer people met for parties or dinners. When people did gather minutes ticked in silence, or those individuals who refused to learn new words or to concentrate on emotions or who feared the green light and piercing buzz – in fact there were fewer citizens in this new world of exactitude – sat muted, listening to those with a precise vocabulary and identified sentiments speak unabated.
Soon people stopped asking about feelings. Then friendships ended: no one had anything to say. Then couples separated because one of them was unable to explain his or her feelings. Then married folk divorced as one or both of them told the truth.
I am bored with your company, a husband said.
You gained too much weight, a wife replied.
Jane again said, Tell me how you feel about me. Will believed she had fallen asleep. He had hoped she had fallen asleep. He laid as still as possible. He had taken shallower breaths. Will thought of words and phrases to say: adorable, fabulous, Girl Of My Dreams, Everything I Have Always Wanted. He laid struggling to identify his feelings toward her, just as he had struggled to identify his feelings toward events and bananas.
Then he said, There are no words to explain how I feel.
Jane shot upright. Will though closed his eyes then sighed at the sound of the piercing buzz.