A Language Is a Story

Father says he built the house back in Poland and hauled it with him across the Atlantic. The story goes: once, there was a field, and in the field, there was a cabin, and inside the cabin was a man, and inside the man’s stomach was a house. He gave birth to it during a storm that scared all the storks off, and now Polish is the language of storms. Storms are your mother tongue, says father, Polish making waves on his tongue until it falls limp. Don’t say the language is twisted. He’ll hear.

What I remember about the house is the spine. Bricks and honey, not like father’s bone and marrow. He says the spine is where you find the soul. We slide through its mouthpiece onto herringbone floors, jump up to feel the ceilings. The house is no longer young, and we are to be kind to it because the Atlantic set salt in the cracks of its bricks. We tour father’s twin, so that we don’t get lonely with our stories. We’ve not heard his in a long time.

We wait to be welcomed for tea until the milk goes moldy in the fridge, until vines grown on the house’s mouth like a beard. Father has a beard too, says brother, now I see how he’s twin to the house. Do you see the resemblance? Sometimes I think, concerning human standards, the house is more of a person than father is. Oh, we do get so lonely with our stories.

We’d ask, at dinners, if he could invite English onto his tongue and learn our own stories, and not only his. We know yours, said brother, but ours are dim for you. No, he has tried, it doesn’t feel right to him, he won’t go again, alright, alright, it’s his tongue that rebels, ties a knot in his throat. His mouth is native to storms and not skyscrapers and sunny beaches and Costco’s.

But that is how you fit in, said brother, except the only place father fits in is the 60s futon we found at a landfill with a beer in his left hand and a ham sandwich in his right, and the remote in his mouth so he can change channels with his tongue. Father would leaf through our heads to see if we dreamt in Polish, left bruises to blacken our sleep if we didn’t. He said he’d crack my bones open, squeeze me into the size and shape of his fist, and I giggled because I didn’t know what to say if it hadn’t been a joke. This is how he lives his story we’re not part of. Unless…

The tongue, I said, you have to take his tongue.

But he looks so peaceful asleep.

Listen, do you want the story or not?

But his tongue cannot tell our story, only his, said brother.

We reach into his throat, except now he is not moving.

That’s enough, wake up and tell us the story. Or we’ll ask the house.

I know what it is, says brother. He’s grieving, it’s that easy. He says it as if grief was something you could unhook a person from like you unhook fish from a rod.

But that’s only if he’s too small to be eaten by it, brother adds.

You think he’ll be grieving for his tongue?

No, brother says, besides, we can’t have the story until we strip him of his language. Then he’ll spit it out. What’s left of a story if you strip it of its language? The sky is a splash of dark paint and on it there are spots of clouds we cannot see through. So, we haul him along through grass and into the storm outside. This is how you rebirth a person, I say. You give them back to where they come from. 

Father’s mouth splits open. This is your story, he says and shoves it down our throats, but that’s the way you don’t hear it: Once, there was a cabin, and inside the cabin was a man and inside the man’s throat was a language and inside the language was a storm. Language made you a home.

No, we say. This is your story, and we are barely part of it.

Olga (she/her) is a yet unpublished, mostly-fiction-sometimes-inspired-to-write-poetry writer from Warsaw, Poland. When not working on her stories, you can find her in used bookstores and antique shops, where she often finds inspiration for her pieces.

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