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by Jay Wilburn
“I don’t understand why we are here.”
The older gentleman in the driver’s seat adjusted his fedora and scanned through the pages of his ledger. “If you understood, you wouldn’t be riding along to learn, would you now, compatriot.”
The younger man in the passenger’s seat peered through the windshield of the parked car at the battered, silver trailer. He saw the eclectic, folk art around the grassless lawn and a windmill that appeared nonfunctional in the desert wind.
“We are eliminating obsolete words for the next edition. Is the fellow that lives in this domicile an expert on lexicon?”
The driver closed his ledger and placed it on the broiling dashboard. “He’s a hold out, a hold over.”
“I don’t understand, sir.”
“You are quite the ingénue, ain’t ya?”
The young man wiped at the sweat gathering in his collar. “We learn through inquiry, sir. I’ll wait in silence if that serves you better.”
“Touché, son, touché,” the elder leaned back and blinked the sweat out of his eyes. “Every year we have new entries for the dictionary. Changes in technology and ridiculous slang have to be added to sell the print editions and now online searches powered by commercial ads. Did you ever think the dictionary would be subject to commercials?”
“Never could have imagined, sir,” the younger man looked out his side window.
He saw a dusty bus parked at the edge of the property. It had an open top and sides with benches that crossed all the way over with no center aisle. He wondered if that would be cooler in the desert than sitting in the parked car. He also wondered what a tour bus ride through open desert would reveal.
“Me either. Me either,” the older man continued, “Also, self-important authors take it upon themselves to bastardize the language and invent new words where old classics would do their tripe works just fine. Every writer now thinks he is Poe, Shakespeare, or Winfrey and the English language is their playground.”
The younger man noticed a small plane behind the trailer. Sand had blown across the short runway. The craft did not appear airworthy.
The older man held out his hands in front of him over the steering wheel. “We have more words, but no extra money, so arcane words must be quietly eliminated.”
“Yes, sir, I understand our job,” the young man undid two buttons on his dress shirt and loosened his tie. “Why are we not back in the office instead of out here at a hermit’s trailer.”
“Well, then, I guess you do not understand the job at all,” the older man countered.
He reached back over the seat and brought an older edition of the company’s print dictionary over to the front in between them. The letters on the battered cover faded to near illegibility. The pages of the thick volume frayed at the antiqued, gilded edges. The older man rapped his knuckle on the cover thrice.
The younger man sighed and waited for the lesson to continue.
“It’s always the old codgers,” the older man explained looking down at the thick tome. “They hold on to vestiges of language for their own pedantic joy that we need to clear for the bottom line. They engage the Internet solely to correct strangers’ grammar, advance conspiracy theory, and to write us angry letters about our disdain for tradition. Dealing with these curmudgeons is part of the elimination process.”
The younger man finally used the hand crank to crack his window without asking. The dry air outside did feel hotter than the stuffy car. The older man seemed not to notice.
“Sir, did this man write us a letter?”
“No, he is something worse,” the older man’s voice dropped to a whisper. “He is a hold out, a hold over. He continues to use obsolete words infecting them in the minds of others as we are trying to quietly push them out of the lexicon.”
“Like what, sir?”
“He is the last one in America calling his airstrip an aerodrome and he calls that eye sore bus a charabanc. Both words are on the block this year and we need him to let go.”
The younger man squinted and started to speak, but his elder continued after a breath.
“Not so immediate, but as a bonus, he calls his blog The Brabble and refers to his mental health treatment as alienism. So here we are.”
The older man opened the cover of the dictionary. It was hollowed out in the middle. He handed the roll of duct tape to his younger partner. He lifted out the clippers and trench knife for himself.
“Sir, what the hell?”
“We have to obtain his tongue for the company before we deal with the body. Have the tape ready as soon as I have it. Your first time will be easier out here in the desert.”
“I can’t do this. I won’t.”
“Son, if you are not useful, you are obsolete. You can start walking now and make me do this myself, but I will catch up to you. The company sent you out here for your first time for that reason too. What will it be?”
“Is this necessary?”
“Dictionaries are serious business. Leave the tape on the hood, if you decide to run.”
The older man removed the keys from the ignition and stepped out of the car. The younger man looked down at the space in the false volume. He looked back through the windshield where the older man knocked on the door to the trailer. He held his hat in place against the wind. The door opened slightly and he threw his weight into it disappearing inside. The fedora tumbled off his head and bounded across the sandy lot.
The younger man exhaled as he made his decision. He lifted the roll of tape and opened his door.