Thea Finds the Words by Paul Tiege

Second place honours in the short story category, Mensa Canada 2016 Literary Contest

Mama was getting bigger and bigger and the big day was getting closer.
Everyone was very excited to meet the new baby.
“I wonder if baby will be a boy or a girl,” said dad.
“I don’t know, but baby will definitely be a soccer player,” said mama.

Finally the big day arrived! It was a beautiful sunny day in August.
Mama pushed and pushed. A baby girl came into the world!
“What a perfect little girl,” said dad.
“Your name is Thea,” said mama.

Over the next weeks and months, Thea grew from a six pound bundle of squawks to a bigger and bigger bundle of squawks, laughs, shrieks, and…
More squawks.
“She’s like a little bird,” said mama.
“With a touch of the Kraken,” said dad.
“She is our Little Miss Sunshine” said grandma.
“Yes, but with a touch of the Kraken,” said dad.

Thea kept getting bigger and stronger and learned how to roll, how to stand, how to walk, how to perform long division, how to squawk even louder, until one day…
Thea learned how to talk! Slowly at first, Thea began to describe the world around her in hand gestures and words.
“Mama,” giggled Thea when she saw her mom.
“Ma-me” when she wanted more edamame, “bwoo” when she wanted more blueberries.

As Thea turned two, then three, she talked more and more, and began using whole sentences, made up songs, and told little jokes.

Thea learned that she loved to talk! And mama and dad loved to talk to her! She asked what mama and dad were doing, and they told her. She described what she saw, and what she wanted to eat for lunch. She described the dogs and told mama and dada about everything in the house at around 24 inches off the floor.
“That kid is a talker,” said grandpa.

Eventually Thea talked most of her waking hours. Most, but not all. This bothered Thea. Why was there still time during the day when she wasn’t talking? Surely there must be something wrong.

“What’s that dada?” said Thea one day while helping to make dinner, spying something tippable on the kitchen counter.
“Noooooo!” said dada, “what are you doing?”
“hmmm,” said Thea.

And then she knew what to do! Dad had given her the answer. Thea would answer the question “what are you doing” ALL THE TIME.
She would narrate her life!
“I’m colouring,” Thea announced.
“Mama watch me, I’m sitting in a chair” Thea told mama.
“I’m going potty” Thea told dada.
“I’m putting on some socks” Thea announced to no one in particular.

Thea talked all the words she knew and as she talked she learned new words and then she talked those words too.
“Great narrative,” said mama.
“That kid has a way with words,” said dada.

Then one day, mama got a warning letter from the government. “You have used nearly your entire annual quota of words,” it said.
“Oh no” said mama. “It’s only September, we better watch what we say.”
“hmmm,” said dad.
“Dada, whatcha say that for? Dada whatcha say that for? Dada whatcha say that for?” said Thea, fifteen more times.

Worried about using up all of their words, mama and dada talked less and less. But Thea talked more and more! In fact, her rate of speaking, and number of words kept increasing.
Little did they know, the government was right.
Words were getting scarce.
Trouble was brewing.

The next weekend grandma and grandpa came over! Thea was so excited. She told grandma everything she had done that morning, and everything Dexter the Dog had done that morning, and everything mama and her had done the day before, and all about the sky, the trees, the garden, birds, food, Frozen, Becel and socks.

Then, in case grandma missed any of the salient details, she repeated most of her soliloquy, expanding on some certain themes of interest and giving greater insight into her love of birds, socks, and orange cheese.

Frantically, the government people tried to warn mama that something bad was about to happen, but mama couldn’t hear them because Thea was talking!
On and on
On and on
On and … (silence)

Suddenly, mama couldn’t hear Thea talking anymore. There was a weird, eerie silence in the house. A silence that mama and dad hadn’t experienced since before Thea was born.

No one could say anything! Even Thea, still with much to explain to grandma on the topic of trees, couldn’t utter a single word.

Mama tried to write a letter to the government to find out what happened. But when the pen moved across the paper, no words formed.

Luckily mama knew sign language. That still worked. So she found someone in the government who knew sign language and asked what was going on.

The answer shocked her.

All the words had been used up! There were no words left in the whole world. No one could speak, write or type because there were no words left.

The government person signed that that they were hard at work, trying to make more words and that their best people were on the job, 9-4 weekdays not including lunch and union-mandated coffee breaks, trying to make more.

But days turned to weeks and then months. Despite the government people’s hard work they only managed to produce enough words that the government could tell people that they were “working on it.”

At first the silence was nice, but as time passed it got more and more problematic.
How would the puppies know it was dinner time?
How would dad know what he was doing wrong?
How would mama and dada tell Thea that they loved her?

Thea was sad. She had so much to say but no way to say it. Then she remembered what grandpa said. He had said that she had a “way with words.” She thought about what that meant, and the next time her family visited the mountains, Thea had an idea.

The mountains were a beautiful, serene place that Thea and her family loved to visit. Thea’s idea was to sit, enveloped in silence, and listen for words. So she went out into the forest and sat… and waited… and listened.

Thea could hear birds singing and leaves rustling. She listened harder and could hear insects chirping and sunlight dazzling. She listened softer and she heard: “Greetings and salutations!”

“That’s redundant,” Thea said, looking around to find who had said that.
“Hey! You’re a talking bear!”

“That’s obvious,” said Boo.

“How come we can use words here and no one else has any?” asked Thea. “I thought that had all disappeared?”

“They are only hiding,” said Boo. “They all ran here and I agreed to protect them. They are tired of being used incorrectly: frivolously or in anger. Words are meant not to be spoken, but to be listened to. No one was listening to the words anymore, just talking and talking and talking at each other. Without listening, there is no reason for words. You found them because you listened. Very softly.”

“I’m a good listener,” said Thea. “Could I please take some words home?”

“That’s not up to me,” said Boo. “If you use them properly, words will follow you.”

And so Thea whispered thanks to Boo and walked silently home, listening to all the forest sounds around her. When she looked back, she saw words following her! A whole babbling, swarming cloud of them.

When she got back home Thea said “hi mom and dad,” which startled them because they hadn’t heard words in a long time.
“I brought the words back. I found them, hiding. We’ve been using them all wrong – words are meant to be listened to!”

“Yes, I remember hearing you father say that once” said Thea’s mama, “very wise.”
If we promise to be better listeners, the words will stay” said Thea softly.

“Indeed” said mama. “Let’s start now. I want to hear all about your adventure…”