It was in the second grade that my teacher, Mr. Kleenster, told us about antidisestablishmentarianism. It blew my mind for a month. Every day, I’d ask if there was anything else he could tell us about antidisestablishmentarianism.
“It’s just a word,” he’d sigh.
I kept asking, and he became annoyed. He probably regretted laying a word like that on a class of second graders. I also remember him telling us his first name and then immediately forbidding its usage. So, I think the problem was his all along.
It didn’t matter, though, because a month later I discovered shampoo bottles. Ethylhexylglycerin. Hydroxypropyltrimonium. Methylchloroisothiazolinone. What they lacked in length, they made up for in late-alphabet content.
“How quaint,” I’d think whenever I heard antidisestablishmentarianism after that. That was how I knew something was fishy twenty years later when I saw dichlorooxyfantamethylaquustium. It all started a few hours earlier.
“You’re off the Scrabble team.”
“But the championship is tomorrow.”
“You’re too reckless—a renegade.”
“What about us, Jenny?”
“There is no us.”
No one comes back from that. Not when it’s Jenny Jeronimo.
All paths merged into one. I knew what lay ahead. None of it was for me.
At home, I left my clothes on the floor and got in the shower. The shower is an amplifier. It turns inspiration into ideas, arousal into orgasms, and pain into sweet sorrow. But it couldn’t wash away all those little wooden letters.
So I turned to the one thing I had left: Effervescent Melon by Lushmaxis. Behentrimonium. Phenoxyethanol. The solace was temporary, but so is everything else after Jenny Jeronimo. That was when I saw dichlorooxyfantamethylaquustium. It had an x, it had two y’s, and it was longer than antidisestablishmentarianism. It even had a quu.
“Where were you in second grade?” I whispered.
For nineteen seconds, I forgot all about Jenny and Scrabble.
But it was too good to be true. There was a time when I’d known everything there was to know about shampoo ingredient lists, and there was no way that in twenty years they’d gotten to dichlorooxyfantamethylaquustium. I sat down and clutched the bottle of Effervescent Melon. The massage spray lost its tempo by the time it landed on my head. It was a sweet lie, yes, but it was all I had.
At dusk, I said, “Tell me everything you know about dichlorooxyfantamethylaquustium?”
“Why are you bothering me?”
“You’re the only one who can help me.”
“Surely you’ve come to know other people over the last twenty years.”
“I’ve lost them all...” I held my breath. It was a risk I had to take. “...Kenneth.”
Mr. Kleenster smashed his teacup against the wall. He walked to the window. I could tell that he was upset from the way he stared into the pit in his backyard. “Floccinaucinihilipilification,” he sighed.
“My whole life, needlessly dismissed.”
“Even now.” He turned away from his pit. A single tear ran down his cheek. “I can’t help you.”
“That’s alright, Mr. Kleenster,” I said as I climbed back through his window. Mr. Kleenster didn’t understand in the second grade, and he didn’t understand that evening. And that’s why, as I knelt in his flowerbed, I whispered, “You already have.”
I entered the Scrabble championship solo. The early rounds were full of goons whom I dispatched with a Zygodactyl! and a Quincunx! and two Herpes!
Jenny had her entourage behind her in the final. She watched the board while they watched me. She was winning 555 to 539, but I had five tiles left and a plan.
I laid my tiles down one at a time. The last one was i. “Flocci.”
Jenny gasped. I reckon the surprise pushed out all of her anger. “You could have won it all with ‘cozily.’ Why?”
“Because there’s more: naucinihilipilification.”
“Do you really mean it, or are you just saying it because it’s long?”
“I mean everything I say, Jenny.”
“Perhaps I was too quick to dismiss what we had.” She looked down, and it was written all over the board. Pine. Squeeze. Reject. Regret. Dioxide. “Perhaps I am guilty of floccinaucinihilipilification.”
“Take me back, Jenny Jeronimo.”
And that was that. It turned out I didn’t even need dichlorooxyfantamethylaquustium, which is good because to this day I highly doubt it’s real.
Josh Taylor is an electrical engineer in Toronto. His work has appeared in the Jersey Devil Press.