From a new kind of alphabet book, AlphabeTique: the Lives of the Letters.
The Birth of a Genuine Article: A New Year’s Tale
By Molly Peacock
Her name was AN. Not Ann. Or Anne. She was ancient. Something was wrong with her first letter. As she entered her third millennium, her old legs began to lose their slant, but her little apprentice didn’t notice. She was too busy learning the tumbling lessons of the Articles.
“My tiny acrobat,” AN would applaud, “my amazing anonymous mouse.” Little An learned her stunts so well she’d somersault before vowels in the nick of time: an apple! an eagle! an ibis! an opening! an undulation! – and the ancient one’s affection warmed her like an Angora sweater.
But the elderly article suffered such aching and ague that the legs of her first letter crumbled. They rushed her to Saint Anne’s hospital, Little An running alongside.
“Will I,” the little one asked the ailing senior, “lose my slant, too?”
“Not likely, if you just put one foot in front of the other, AN whispered. “That’s how to live.”
Then, when old AN also began to lose her point, she said, “You’ll have to do for me…you can, you know. You’re the genuine article.”
After hearing those last words, young An descended in a battered hospital elevator to a life alone in the absence of the anchor of her world. She bravely tried to put one foot in front of the other.
Nobody noticed her, of course. Nobody is supposed to notice an An, but she grew up on long legs to a fabulous point, the A of her name a quiet beauty.
Young An knew her work was to place herself before any person, place or thing that needed a general introduction… an aardvark, an earwig, an idea, an omission, or an ultimatum… but finally, in lonely anguish and a desire to be seen at last she joined the Alpine Club – to refresh herself in the mountain air among company. Nobody noticed her – except THE.
“I’ve been watching you,” he said. “You’re the genuine article.” An leapt into his arms. “That was unanticipated!” THE said.
“I know, I’ve given up anticipation,” An answered. And she had. If you give up hope, you give up agony.
But, one thing led to another.
Now pregnant An ascended the Alps with THE on their very last climb for a while. Up they went through auras of auroras as THE sang out possible names for their little one: “Alpenglow? Apogee?” Even now when her aspirations glowed like these ascending horizons far away from the little strip of sunrise sneaking down the airshaft of that city hospital into old AN’s room, An refused any little fizz of expectation. No hope = no agony.
“Acrophile? Agapé?” THE ached for definition! “Artichoke? Argyle?”
We need something almost invisible, An mused, for our little anonymouse.
When they reached the apex and still hadn’t found a name, An tucked her pointy head under THE’s shoulder. They sat and moped, until THE fell asleep, but an avalanche of excitement tumbled through An as she saw outline in the air take shape. Her point perked! She couldn’t hold back her amazement – it was the ghost of ancient AN. As the outline moved toward her, the perfume of big AN’s affection wafted around pregnant An’s shoulders, and she relaxed into a peace of mind so profound we can only call it ataraxia, that robust happiness named by the ancients.
Big AN’s amber voice poured forth: A NAMER AS WELL AS A BEARER BE. Then she sailed off into the alpine mist.
Of course young An never had to name anything before. Like THE, she preceded things. They were the readiness, the starting line, and now they were about to, about to…
When THE said, “Careful!” An realized he’d woken, and they began the downward slope. At last on the bench at the foot of the mountain, THE moaned, “Whatever will we call the apple of our amour?”
Slowly An said, “At the apex I…” could she… bring it into being? “…apprehended…an apparition.”
“Oh, what of?” THE asked, helping her off with her climbing gear, as if she encountered an apparition every day.
“The ghost of Old AN appeared,” she said, “and the sun was ablaze, and this is absurd, I know, but she said, A NAMER AS WELL AS A BEARER BE.”
“Easy for an apparition to say,” THE sighed.
“But we don’t have to be specific!” An shouted. “We can name our little acorn something as automatic as our own names!” Something to introduce each fresh thing as it rises into the air, a name to help each reach its apex… “Let’s call our little one A,” she said.
And so another name that precedes all was named, an aura before each entity itself, so necessary it isn’t apparent, but taken by all as an article of faith. When An spoke it, THE breathed, Amen.
Author note: This tale is partly based on a poem by the author that originally appeared in The Southampton Review.