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Five Words

He pushed his shoulders back into the pillow and stared at the ceiling with a slight grin curving his mouth.

“Imagine we were born with the limitation that we could only speak five words in our entire lifetime, do you think that as a species we’d be more compassionate?”

She scrunched up her face for a few seconds and pushed the duvet down to her speckled-pink chest before answering his question.

“I don’t know…I imagine we’d quickly develop a system of communication through signaling. Hand gestures, body movements, winks, blinks, smiles and frowns. All would hold more expansive meanings. We’d become way more physical.”

He shook his head vigorously and rolled over towards her, propping his head on one hand.

“Of course, but that’s not my question. Think about those five words specifically. When would you choose to use them? Would they be spent on happy, positive things or moments of utter anger and hate? Would you bestow this great gift, which would surely rank up there with virginity and marriage, perhaps even higher, on a heartfelt I love you so much to whom you think is your perfect life partner, or would you throw them away in a fit of rage with a spit-flying curse at someone who has crossed you?”

She reached over and dragged a solitary finger across his forehead.

“I’d like to think I’d use them on love. I fear, though, that most people would let them loose in moments of complete frustration and immediately regret it. Although saying that, what if you did speak them to a lover and then he went and cheated on you? What a waste! It would be soul-destroying. Ugh, what a terrible subject this is.”

He laughed and kissed her hand quickly finger by finger, ending with the thumb.

“Just a discussion – no limits here, you have all the words in the world. You can speak freely in English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Urdu, Russian – whatever you want! I just wonder how we would use speech if it was a precious commodity. I’m positive some people would refuse to use their five words for decades, enjoying the fact that they had them all in stock in a world of mutes who had thrown their own away in pointless, emotional moments. Artists would use theirs in performance pieces – hearing words would be a privilege in itself and someone speaking could fill the Royal Albert Hall or the Sydney Opera House! Of course, it would be a one-time show, unless they did a single word a night over five nights. Come to Madison Square Garden, the flyers would say, for a performance of ‘Gazelle’! Five nights only!”

She turned her head away from him and a lone tear began a slow roll down her face.

“It’s a horrible concept, just horrible. Everyone would be grunting, screaming and groaning, in agony at not being able to verbalize. I don’t know where you come up with these things. You’re supposed to be sleepy and sullen after sex, not pulling my heartstrings with obtuse situations that make me sad. You know how I over think these things.”

“I’m sorry, sweety; you know how my mind likes to throw things at me randomly. OK, my final thought on this before we turn the light off- most of us would save our five words for very specific events, and we would use the same word five times in our lifetime. The word would be help!”

“Go to sleep, silly boy.”


Born and raised in the mystical wastelands of northern England amongst harpies and dragons, Harper now lives in the sultry, sweaty southern United States with his Dixie wife, fighting off the giant spiders and man-eating vultures. He has work published or about to be published in 4 continents and can’t wait to hit that dark, mysterious fifth. More info at:


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