‘Older people are quite likely to become xanthodontous even if they do brush their teeth.’

This observation, muffled by a phone-and-hair shield, left me a little nonplussed, until I realized it needed no response because it asked nothing of me, but was simply so many words shared, like waves of the pine air-freshener sprayed liberally about the house. The children were always generous with their words, proffering them as another generation once did tea, but in writing them down they did scrimp alarmingly on vowels. Indeed I had begun to wonder if English too would one day need accents to be understood, or perhaps, like the traditional Tifinagh alphabet, need no vowel-markers at all.

Perhaps then Dysania would learn to write her words down too, the secret ones, in that consonant-code more confidential than our meticulously phonetic writing could ever hope to be. Perhaps then the story of the secret words would at last have an ending. Every morning, the water dripped down from the neighbours’ cherry tree onto the steel roof of the car shed, clanging like rain-drops in the din of the early morning. Every morning her scream rose with the sound of the glasses breaking, as the shards crushed into her eyes, blinding her, as the boots plunged into her skull, drowning her in her own blood. Every morning she dreamed of freeing the scream trapped in her throat, of her flailing punches making crushing contact, of wild triumphant laughter and the secret words shouted joyously through the trees.

The children asked her questions, but learnt nothing from the answers.
‘Are the words worth the nightmares?’
‘They are words of valour and of hope. They are worth everything.’
‘What are they? You never do say.’
‘I cannot.’
‘Why ever not? There’s no censor here, you know.’
‘No,’ She smiles ‘There is no censor here. The censor lives within me now.’
‘I don’t get it.’
‘God grant that you never do understand!’

So Dysania Fudgel went on dying in her dreams. Each day she died of a new thing, died in the kitchen and the garden, in the valley of apple-blossoms and in the cradle of the sea … died all kinds of deaths, all of them together, and then woke up laughing, because how could all of them come true? And then she saw the pen and paper I always left there, and somehow her hand began to write it, all of it, all the dying. But her pen stopped there. She never wrote the secret words.

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