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Today's Story by Ben Nardolilli

One who does not communicate, the recluse and the hermit, is as good as dead anyways.

Archibald’s First Words

I have become worried with my young son Archibald.  Despite the attempts of my wife Audrey and me, Archibald has failed to start speaking.  He is almost three years old and according to the experts he should be already talking.  Yet when I speak to my son, I get no vocal response from him, just a movement of his large head.  He clearly understands my language, at least enough to nod or shake his head, but not enough to respond back with the very things I had given to him, words.  Although Audrey believes our son may be a late bloomer, I think he may have a medical condition.  Something in his brain may not be connected, or his tongue isn’t formed right, or perhaps he lacks the desire to speak.  I am not inclined to the last hypothesis.  I do not feel such a thing as willpower is needed to talk; it is something natural which arises from exposure to words. Tomorrow I will be taking Archibald to an examination by the somewhat famous linguist and speech therapist, Dr. Frangella.  Hopefully the good doctor will set the problem right; talking to my little Archibald has become like speaking to wall.

When he was first coming out of his incessant crying as an infant, the silence was welcome.  My wife and I felt at ease for the first time in months, for we could finally talk with each other and get a good night’s sleep without the interruption of his wailing.  Audrey and I have another son, Arthur.  He is currently six years old, and speaks to us all the time, practically nonstop.  Perhaps I could ask Dr. Frangella to cure Arthur of his talkativeness and Archibald of his quietness.   I wonder if my son is talking to Archibald behind my back, conversing with him in the simple style child are wont to do, filling Archibald with all sorts of notions of improper grammar.  If I do not take the correct measures soon, my boy will develop habits which will not leave him easily.

I have given Archibald much instruction in how to speak, providing him with plenty to talk about.  His mother and I have been the only people to speak to him regularly, although Arthur may have some contact with him, I doubt this compares to the time Archibald had spent with us.  I have kept Archibald apart from other children, to teach him not only proper speech, but away from the distractions of idleness.  The children I have met in the parks seem to me to be wrapped in a cocoon of false security, their development stifled by parents who use language to keep them blind to the reality of the world.  The world is full of nasty things and better to make Archibald aware of them than to hide them with fairy tales and such.  Every day I give him lessons, orally, of course.  The child cannot speak, so he can have no way to comprehend anything I could give him with writing on it.  Speech first, writing second has been my motto.

The lessons I give young Archibald vary on their subject matter, but I make them as simple as possible, as my child is still quite young.  I sit him at a little red table and chair, and he places his little pale hands on the top so I may make sure he isn’t fooling around with something below it, distracting him from the important lessons I am giving, the most important in fact.  After toilet training I suppose the next vital thing for a person to know is a command of language, for without communication skills, of what value is the individual? Each person only exists as long as they can communicate themselves.  I have always remarked at funerals, much to my wife’s chagrin, that death is not really the end of life, it is the end of communication.

That is what I suppose causes most of our fear of death, the idea of  experiencing something which is not communicable to anyone else, to know a secret, the ultimate secret perhaps, but to have no one to share it with.  One who does not communicate, the recluse and the hermit, is as good as dead anyways.  I hope my son will not end up one isolated by a language barrier.  I want him to be as knowledgeable as possible, with both the use of language and the higher ideas it wishes to convey.

So every day, I give him lessons.  I state a fact and ask him if he understands.  He always nods his head and so I proceed onto the next fact.  I try to tell him the basics of a variety of subjects, science, mathematics, religion, history, geography, and so on.  If he could speak back to me, I would begin teaching him Spanish, but since the condition of his understanding is limited, due to his inability to
explain himself, teaching Archibald another language would be a fruitless endeavor.

In a typical exchange I will announce the subject for the moment.  I will say, “Today we will talk about geography.”

And Archibald nods.

“A piece of land surrounded by water is an island.  Do you understand me son?”

And Archibald nods.

“A peninsula is like an island, but it is connected to another piece of land on one side.  Do you understand my son?”

And Archibald nods.

“A river runs from a source into another river, a lake, or the ocean. Do you understand my son?”

And Archibald nods, and so on.  I will give pithy explanations on the nature of the world to him, and he nods, always claiming to understand.  I see no look of bewilderment on his face; I assume he “gets it.”

I can see no cognitive problem in Archibald, so I would think the issue may involve the formation of the organs in his mouth and throat.

Hopefully Dr. Frangella will be able to cure the boy.  He has to. Otherwise my son will be doomed to a half-life.  He will experience the world for sure, but will not have the ability to alter it.  He will not be able to express his feelings to others without recourse to irrational displays of hand gestures and contortions of his face. Others will think him wild and he will have no place in civil society. I do not want my son to be forced into being a hermit, if he wants to choose such a lifestyle then so be it, but he should not adopt it because he cannot connect with anyone around him.

And so we are preparing now to go visit the Doctor.  I have followed his work closely, and hopefully he will be able to help.  He is a brilliant man; I have seen him walking around his office clad in an immaculate white robe with a halo of thoughts floating around his head.  I have restrained myself from getting violent with my son, or yelling at him for a response.  I figure when he feels the need to speak he will, but I also feel that he must have felt such a need all this time and something is holding him back.  I hope the Doctor will be able to “unplug” my child.

Of course my son Arthur is acting his age, distracting me from my preparations to see Dr. Frangella.  I have to organize the notes of my  observations on the condition of Archibald so the Doctor can make a more accurate diagnosis.  Arthur is running up and down the stairs of our home, stomping with his feet like a little elephant.  I ask him for quiet, and he tells me he understands, but a second later, I hear the same tumbling sounds running up and down the stairs.  I appreciate the fact that Arthur can tell me he claims to understand my directions, but he seems to not really understand them the way that Archibald does.  If I ask Archibald to do something he nods and does it, showing more understanding than any response I suppose.


As I am packing my papers for Dr. Frangella’s examination, I hear a thud at the base of the stairs, followed by crying.  I run to see that my son Arthur has tripped and fallen, scraping his knee somehow in the process.  Tears are streaming down his cheeks as he sees the red spot on his exposed knee grow, I run to get ice to reduce his swelling and give him that placebo which I remember school nurses applied to me for every childhood ailment.  I come back to the scene of the fall and I see Archibald standing there, his eyes trying to make sense of the situation in front of him.  As I lean down to apply the ice to Arthur’s injury, he tugs on the back of my coat, asking for an explanation.  Occupied by the crisis at hand, I ignore him, not to be mean, but rather because I have to focus on soothing my eldest sons’ pain.  Archibald, wanting to know the state of things walks between me and Arthur; I gently nudge him to the side, whereby he makes his question:

“Why is Arthur crying?”


Ben Nardolilli’s lives in Montclair, New Jersey. His work has appeared in the Houston Literary Review, Perigee Magazine, Red Fez, One Ghana One Voice, Caper Literary Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, Poems Niederngasse, Gold Dust, Scythe, Anemone Sidecar, The Delmarva Review, Contemporary American Voices, the Eudaimonia Poetry Review, Gloom Cupboard, Shakespeare’s Monkey Revue, Black Words on White Paper, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly. He maintains a blog amirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is looking to publish his first novel.


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