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How to Find the Right Word
flash fiction by Kaitlin Roberts
When you realize you’ve forgotten the right word, don’t panic. Don’t be one of those people who calls the cable company before checking the router. Who can never find their keys when it’s time to leave. Take a deep breath and retrace your steps before launching a search party.
But if it comes to that, recruit the best words you know. Words that are cousins and old friends, soothing and well-meaning words. Experienced, determined words that will always be around. Make sure your word hasn’t accidentally joined the search for itself. That can happen sometimes when there’s a kerfuffle.
Organize your words. Give them flashlights and raincoats. Make sure they get encouragement and free snacks. Work together to draw up some Missing Word fliers. Try to remember if your word has a beard or a mustache, a hearty laugh or a raspy voice. Go door to door. Ask everyone you know. It’s hard to find a lost word but just do your best.
Be open to meeting new words along the way. Share a tea with Rapscallion. Help Guddle down the stairs. Open the window for Hugger-mugger and let the light come in. It’s a new day and words are always being born. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t pronounce their names right at first. Don’t be afraid to not know what they mean.
As you look for the Right Word, you might find yourself inventing other words. A word for the text you write and don’t send. For the sound of your own echo on the phone. A word for when you catch your dog love-staring. For kissing with no makeup on. Write your words down in a secret notebook with a smooth pen. No one needs to know their names just yet. They’re newborns after all.
If you still can’t remember your word, that’s okay. Take a vacation and don’t bring a book. Don’t worry if you start thinking there should be a word for books that don’t get read on vacation. Don’t feel bad for the books you’ve left behind. Allow yourself to get distracted. Eat with your hands, watch the sunset, make a cootie-catcher, build a fort. There’s a whole world out there and words aren’t everything.
But when you find the Right One, which I know you will, don’t be surprised if it’s nothing like you imagined. You’ve changed since you started looking for this word and it might not be what you need anymore. Or maybe, your word will come right on time, so made-for-you that it falls out of your mouth as if it was always there.
Kaitlin Roberts is a writer and journalist. Her stories have been published by The New York Times, Narrative Magazine, The Atticus Review, Parhelion Literary Magazine and others. She lives in Berlin.