It started with signs that Mum put around. Switch off. Put back. Lift. An unleaded sticker on the petrol flap. Hundreds it had cost, she said, to extract the diesel the last time. Slippers in the dishwasher, cigs in the fridge.
He once knew the name for everything, it seemed. Could tell me a goldfinch from a siskin from a song thrush, tell a chestnut tree from a sycamore, a nimbus from a stratus cloud, Orion, Saturn, the North Star.
He once told me the name for it: a name for the naming of things. Nomenclature, he said. I’d asked him why it mattered, to know the names of wildflowers, the types of birds flitting above. Names are important, he’d said, you wouldn’t want to be known by something you’re not. I took it into school, carried it with me all day long like a pet to show people. Nomenclature, I’d say, do you know what that means? It’s a name for the naming of – nobody cares. No one likes a smart arse, my brother had said when I’d told him about how they’d laughed and what they’d said. Names.
More stickers, more serious. Don’t switch off. Do not open. Already taken today.
He couldn’t find a name for the place that we put him in. No name for the room or the chemical smell, no name for the way it made him feel when the photographs in frames became strangers.
The last time I took him out it was to the woods and he asked me What is your name? I told him and a look passed over his face, a brief recognition, a flutter. In the trees above, a flash of yellow, like siskin, like song thrush.
Ian O’Brien is a writer and teacher from Manchester. He has recently been published in Neon Literary Magazine, Prole, Fictive Dream and Flash Fiction Magazine. He is working on his first collection of short stories and will finish that first novel if he can stop berating the world on Twitter @OB1Ian.
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