"I must have that word."-- Edward Fin, President of Lexykon Corp
Neilís first business of the day was to speak to Sal.
Sal stood at his desk, his chair pushed aside.
"Sal?" said Neil.
Sal looked up from the papers he was organizing. "Yeah."
The step Neil was going to take in Salís direction didnít happen. Neil placed his foot back on the carpet. He wanted to warn Sal, but didnít know what to say. He looked on helplessly.
Half of Salís face had disappeared behind freedom, the new product word Lexykon Corp had just acquired. The word itself was just a model cut-up, propped up on the divider of Salís workstation, but the damage was evident. The letter m from freedom divided Salís face into one part human and one part product, leaving him half a person, with half the mind, half the vision, and half the mouth.
"Anything I can do?" said Sal.
"Ah...," said Neil, as he watched Salís half-mouth speak. How can half a mouth speak? "Iíll probably remember during the meeting on the Spanish market."
Sal nodded, then returned to the papers on his desk.
Neil backed up, slowly at first, and watched as Sal disappeared completely behind the word.
The everlasting word.
The Spanish market. The Spanish market. The Spanish market. The Spanish market. The Spanish market. The Spanish marketó
Neil shut his office door on all the talk about the Spanish market. Lexykon Corp was on the verge of buying several Spanish dictionary companiesóLexykon Español. In keeping with Lexykon Canada, Lexykon USA, Lexykon Australia, and Lexykon UK. The English language had been cornered. Spanish was next.
Relieved to be away from the bustle of the office, Neil escaped behind his desk. It hadnít been a productive meeting for him, but he got through it just fine. He was sure his co-workers had rationalized his change in behavior. Theyíd be saying, ĎItís only his second day back, heíll return to normal soon enough....í Except nothing would be the same again, ever. They didnít know that. He did.
From his briefcase, he took out several photographs. He never brought family photos to work before. He never felt the need, until now. They were pictures of him and his brother.
ĎA week ago today, I buried my little brother,í thought Neil.
Neil laid out each photo on his desk and leaned forward to examine them. The pictures he had brought in were all taken when he and his brother were children. The pictures fascinated him. It wasnít just his childhood; it was the times. Life then was so simple, so uncluttered, so free.
Most thought it was a bad decision that would eventually be challenged. Or a harmless blip in history that would soon dip off the records. But it didnít sink into oblivion. In fact, it changed everything. And it all started with spotless.
Back then, Edward Fin was a lawyer representing Huet Corp in a lawsuit. Huet Corp challenged the right of another company to use the word spotless in a marketing campaign. In the courts, Edward Fin argued that his client has been using the word spotless in their own marketing endeavors for nearly fifteen years and that the word had become synonymous with one of their cleaning products. Spotless belonged to Huet Corp, Fin explained, and when that word was adopted by this other company, Huetís intellectual property was compromised.
The judge ruled in favor of Huet Corp and awarded the company a huge settlement in compensation. So now Huet Corp owned the word spotless as intellectual property. No other company dared use that word in their marketing for fear of reprisals. Spotless disappeared from all advertisements, except in the case of Huet Corp.
In turn, other companies began to arm themselves... with their own words.
And Fin saw the opportunity.
At first, Fin helped companies "own" words. Then he convinced these companies that owning words outright wasnít profitable because consumersí tastes constantly changed. When one word became stale for one product that word should be discarded and another one adopted. It would be more profitable, Fin argued, if companies could lease a word for months, or years, from a company with a large resource of words.
They all agreed, and Lexykon Corp was born, the largest dictionary company in the world.
For the corporate world, Lexykon Corp offered another avenue for revenue, for profit, for domination. For everyone else it sold silence. Spotless silence.
Neil leaned back in his chair. He looked at his computer, then at his briefcase. Just this morning, he had bought a journal. He took it out, opened it up to the first page, then picked up a pen. He knew it was the first stepÖ he just didnít know where he was going.
I havenít done any personal writing since my early twenties. Private use of the printed word is acceptable. Some public use is allowed, too, in schools (textbooks excluded) and in the daily workings of business. And, of course, talk is not chargeable, as long as youíre not trying to sell something. Itís when you go public with themówords. In any shape or form, written or spoken. A pop song. A poem. A novel. A sitcom. A film. Then you have to pay.
You can lease the words. Theyíd be yours, for a period of time. But thatís very expensive. Your other option is to pay a so-called small user-fee. The going rate now is 0.0754 cents per word. Small maybe, for the wealthy, but not for the rest of us. Not if youíre writing a novel, or an article for a magazine. It all adds up.
How do you convince young people today that in this country there existed countless newspapers? The one still in existence is owned by an entertainment company. If you told them that between those pages thereís only gloss-gloss, dazzle-dazzle, would they believe you?
And how do you explain the Internet of the past? At one time, the Internet was not just a venue to buy products online. It was also a place to express ideas. Many individuals, yes individuals, created their own web pages on any subject that struck their fancy, using all the words they desired.
What happened to those people, anyway? The resisters. The activists. The so-called left-wing extremists who put up such a fight for speech to remain free. What happened to the authors who challenged their publishersí compliancy. The advocacy groups who staged howling demonstrations, and riots. Lawsuit after lawsuit. Small pocketsóthatís what happened to them.
And I helped. I was part of the problem. I helped the bastards take control of everything.
Is Ďeverythingí a profitable word? Faded nouns, limp verbsótheyíre not profitable. No one is buying them. But Ďeverythingí? Does it have potential? Maybe I should talk to Mr. Fin about EVERYTHING.
Neil reluctantly put his pen down, then placed his journal and the photographs back into his briefcase. From his computer, he called up a list of new words just released from contracts. It was his job to match these newly freed words with his clientsí current needs. But today he couldnít bring himself to look at them.
ĎI am a salesman,í thought Neil. ĎI sell....í He turned away from his computer and looked out of his window. "I was a salesman," he said, this time out loud. "I used to sell words."
He didnít give notice. He just walked out the door, briefcase in hand. The next day Human Resources sent him an email stating that they were all sorry to see him go, but after all he had been through, it was understandable.
If you want to return, all you have to do is say the word and we will find a position for you. Lexykon Corp is that kind of a company. We value good workers.
ĎSure you do,í thought Neil, as he deleted the email.
As he put on his coat and headed out of his apartment, he made a mental note to cancel his email service. Sending words to and fro electronically was an expense he could no longer afford. He should thank his former employer for that. He was never a true convert of Lexykon Corp, but he willingly lived the lie. He told himself it was a necessity, even a sacrifice, if he was going to make a living. He made his living, just as he wanted, but it destroyed his life.
Now he had to visit someone who would remind him of that.
"Shouldnít you be huddled in your corporate cubbyhole right now?" said Patti.
Neil remained expressionless to what Thomasí girlfriend said to him. He expected this reception.
"How rude of me not to invite you in," said Patti. She opened the door wider.
Neil took one step in but no further. "You have something for me?" he said.
"I think so," said Patti. "Thomas told me that if anything should happen to him, I should offer these to you. You wouldnít believe what it isóhe really did have a sense of humor."
Patti dropped two large, plastic bags at Neilís feet.
Neil looked into the bags and saw Joyce, Herbert, Atwood, Kogawa, Rowling... books. Dozens of them.
"Tell me if you donít want them," said Patti. "I know plenty of people who will value these books like gold."
Patti reached for the bags.
Neil picked them up before she could touch them. "No," he said. "I want them. I used to be an avid reader whenó"
"I donít care," said Patti.
Neil opened the door, but couldnít leave until he told her. "I quit my job."
Patti glared at him, not saying a word.
Back on the street, Neil decided not to go home. Instead he made his way to his brotherís favorite bookstore. The bookstore was small, but it had tables for reading. Thomas took him there often, to sit and talk. Sometimes they looked at the books, but Neil, out of guilt, could never bring himself to buy one. He felt like an undeserving child, or an infamous destroyer. A traitor to all things good and true. But today, he was drawn to the bookstore because it reminded him of Thomas.
Two steps in, Neil stopped. He looked down at the bags of books and then at the shopkeeper.
"I have two bags of books," he said. "Should I leave them with you, until Iím ready to go?"
The shopkeeper smiled. "No, I trust you."
Neil began to walk over to one of the tables, but the shopkeeper continued to talk to him.
"Iím sorry about your brother, Neil. He was an amazing man. An excellent teacher, too, Iím told."
Neil turned around. "Thank you."
"I just made a fresh pot of coffee," said the shopkeeper.
Going home was always so painful for me. I hated that hushed environment, like the real conversation stopped the moment I walked through the door. I envied Thomasí close relationship with our parents. He had connections with them that I never had. I couldnít be part of their talks because of Lexykon Corp. My parents had become activists to make speech free and felt they had to hide their activities from me. I became the outsider. I never did resolve those feelings. I guess, after my parentsí deaths, first Dad, then Mom, I thought I still had Thomas. And that one day he would tell me what they did, and all that was said.
I bumped into Thomas just two days before his death. Funny, we hadnít seen each other in months. It was a Saturday, and we were both out to meet other people. Thomas, Patti; me, a few people from Sales for a quick weekend meeting. He greeted me with a smile. He was cheerful and relaxed. He had a calming manner about him that I always liked. That was my first thought when we met that day, how I missed being around him. He said we should get together, and soon. I told him Iíd call him later in the week. It felt so good knowing that Iíd be seeing him again. He patted my shoulder in goodbye.
But Iím the one who got the call, from the hospital.
...crossing the street, hit by a car, dead on arrival.
I told him many, many times, but I never had the chance to prove it: I wasnít the enemy. I was on his side all along.
Neil stopped writing in his journal. He didnít want to get emotional in a public place. He glanced over at the shopkeeper who was helping a customer. Then he stood up, dropped more money in the empty tin can, and poured himself another cup of coffee.
Iím in a bookstore. A used bookstore. Governments were powerless to stop the dictionary companies. Thatís because freedom of speech still exists. Youíre welcome to say, or write, what you wantófor a price. Like that old saying: nothing in this world is for free.
All the governments could do in response was pass a law that books printed before the Huet ruling could not be subjected to user-fees. Used bookstores are the only places where books can be bought and sold without being dissected, word by word, for money. For quite some time, used bookstores flourished. Now, each year, there are fewer and fewer of them.
The generations growing up under the rule of Lexykon Corp are non-readers. They have no desire for the written word because that love has never been fostered, not even in the schools. There just isnít enough used books in good condition for all the students in this country. There arenít any libraries to rely on, either. All the public libraries have closed due to a lack of funding and an insane increase in the cost of books. Even the staples of literature, the classics, have been forgotten. Reprinting them is too costly.
What is being read in schools now? Business reports? Articles on economic philosophies? Biographies on the hero capitalists of the free market world?
Books on Edward Fin?
Few books are published these days. I can practically count them on my fingers. Blame astronomically high production costs. Books that do get published are so thin, their texts carefully trimmed with a marketerís tweezers. Costs (pluck). Costs (pluck). Costs (pluck). Even in those books, published by companies who have leased the words or paid the user-fees, there are holes. Gaping holes where the words should be.
Sentences with sharp precipices.
to the whiteness.
Someone tapped his shoulder. Neil shut his journal, then looked up. It was the shopkeeper.
"Sorry, Iím closing," said the shopkeeper. "Itís six oíclock."
"Thatís okay," said Neil. He placed the journal in his knapsack.
"Maybe you should put some of those," said the shopkeeper, pointing at the two bags of books, "into that."
"Good idea," said Neil, smiling, but then he looked puzzled. "How do you know my name?"
"Thomas told me," said the shopkeeper. "Iím Will by the way."
Will sat down in the chair opposite him. He motioned to the stacks of books behind him. "Borrow some, if you like."
"Thanks, but I think I have enough reading material right now," said Neil.
"Got some newer titles upstairs, if you ever care to read them, from the underground," said Will. "Thomas told me you work for Lexykon Corp. Does talking about the underground conflict with your job?"
"Lexykon Corp attempts to snuff out such activities, but not me. Not now, not ever. Especially not nowóI just quit."
"Wow. What you are going to do now?"
"Donít know," said Neil, standing up. He set his chair back under the table. "Probably a marketing job for some corporation that leases words from Lexykon Corp. Iíve quit, but I havenít escaped. No one really does."
He thanked Will for his hospitality, made some absent-minded comment about stopping by someday, then left. But silently, he vowed never to step foot into the bookshop again, no matter how many memories dwelled there.
He had just gotten home when his tele-viewer rang. He didnít recognize the number, but he answered it. Sound only.
"Hi Neil, itís Will. I hope you donít mind that I looked up your number and called you. I forgot to ask if you wanted to join my book club."
Neil rolled his eyes. He wasnít going to break away from Will that easily. He turned the tele-viewer screen on and Willís beaming face came into view.
"You can pick the book for next month. Just bring it in to the bookstore and I will use my wonder of violations to give copies to the other members."
"Wonder of violations?"
Will laughed. "My photocopier."
"Oh," said Neil. He was about to turn Willís offer down, but stopped himself. "Was Thomas in your book club?"
"I asked him once, but he said he was too busy. He was already running two book clubs."
"He had two book clubs? He didnít tell me that," said Neil
"They were book clubs for his students," said Will. "I think he saw it as part of his teaching duties."
"But he was a math teacher!"
Neil calmed himself down, then continued. "He always wanted to be an English teacher. Given the times, that wasnít possible."
"In a way he was an English teacher," said Will. "Give the book club a chance. And bring in some of your own writingówe have a few writers in the group."
"My own writing?" said Neil.
"Thomas told me that youíre a writer. He said your job at Lexykon Corp was just a means to support yourself."
"He told you I was a writer?"
"He told everybody."
"Iím surprised he remembered that," said Neil. He turned his face slightly away from Will. He was revealing too much about himself and wasnít ready to do that, not yet at least. "Iíll stop by the shop tomorrow with a book, if thatís okay."
"Great, see you then," said Will.
Neil nodded, then disconnected the call.
Willís face dimmed, then disappeared.
For quite some time after, Neil stood by the blank tele-viewer, his head bowed, his hand still on the disconnect button.
In the land of Lexykon Corp, a writer is born. Thomas, how did you know? I walked away from that dream a long time ago. I guess just because I stopped believing, doesnít mean that you stopped believing, too.
Remember the night we watched the Perseids meteor shower? You couldnít have been more than ten years old. Me, twelve. That was twenty-one years ago, the year of the Huet ruling.
We read about the coming meteor shower in the newspaper, and that night we set up our watch station in the backyard. Just a pile of blankets and a couple of pillows, but we were very meticulous about it all. Not near the house, too many lights. Not near the trees, theyíd block our view. Mom and Dad came out to check up on us. Mom gave us a flashlight. Dad took our picture.
Then it was just you and me, Tommy, lying side by side on the blankets, seeking adventure in the heavens. We knew that beyond the city-illuminated sky there shone a multitude of stars. An infinite number of stars, as infinite as the universe. Hard to imagine. But we tried.
We had come out too early, though. The meteor shower wasnít going to be in full swing until after midnight. We waited patiently.
In the quiet of that Summer night, we talked about what we wanted to be when we grew up. You said you wanted to be a teacher, an English teacher, because you loved to read books. I said that was perfect because I wanted to be a writer. I would write the books and you would teach from them. You agreed, it was perfect.
But then we argued about where we were going to live, and it wasnít Toronto, or New York. It was Narnia or Middle-earth. You favored Narnia. I was determined to convince you to live with me in Middle-earth.
ĎHow could we visit each other?í I remember saying, almost in a plea. ĎWeíre brothers, we have to stick together.í But you were adamant about your choice.
So I followed you to Narnia.
Because for us, anything was possible. Magical lands did exist beyond wardrobes and hobbits once lived on the Earth. These lands werenít make-believe. They were real. And our minds freely roamed them.
Thomas, I was long lost, but now I have returned.
I will write.
I will teach.
I will fight to make speech free.
With words, I will create worlds which can snatch children from their beds and send them on wondrous journeys. Where lions can speak, and good always prevails.
Kathleen Vesi is thirty-six years old and lives in Hamilton, Ontario. She has published two novelettes in Aphelion (March 2004 and May 2002) and a short story in Planet Magazine (September 2002). She has also published stories/essays in Canadian Dimension, the Toronto Star, and the New Canadian Review.
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