Dead Languages

The last known speakers of American English were garbage men. In a rural county of Ohio they worked sorting trash for a nanoshuffler that emitted ozone and vitamin gas. They spoke normally elsewhere, but since most had a grandparent who dealt in that strange vernacular, they liked to maintain a fluency exclusive to themselves. One among them picked up the dialect from scratch, putting in several years of practice. None passed their obscure and useless knowledge down to the younger generation; after a time just two were left alive, and even they could not read the stuff. Additionally, they would not speak to each other. Long before retirement, some bad blood had passed between the pair, and all the pleading of top linguists could not spark a conversation. Only when the first was dying did the other old man visit. “How stupid,” the visitor said. “Stupid and stubborn. The words even sound alike, now I say them out loud. Haven’t had a chance in years. Nobody to use them with. You know I can’t even recall what that fight of ours was about?” The dying man looked at his visitor and creaked in the medical bed. “I made too much fun of your accent,” he said.

This piece was printed in our Fall 2013 issue (Vol. 60.1).

Mile Klee is the author of Ivyland, (OR Books, 2012), a finalist in the 2013 Tournament of Books. His work has appeared in Unstuck, Contrary, Vanity Fair, Unshod Quills, Lapham's Quarterly, The Awl, Birkensnake, The Collagist, The White Review, and elsewhere.