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"Dead Sea Scrolls" by Geoffrey Bunting


When Madee and I split, all I thought about was the language we lost. Words that I was no longer allowed to speak because they were part of a lexicon we developed together. Inside jokes, the particular way we made eye-contact across the room; specific sounds and dialects that existed only in our relationship.

All I could think about were the silly farting noises we exchanged under the covers when thunder woke us at 3 a.m.; the faint curling of her lip when we played truth or dare but we were already down to our underwear; the patterns I traced in the tiny hairs on her neck while we watched Ghost Hunters. Intimacies only we could decipher. Lost, never to be spoken again.


That language exists only in accidental fragments now. The words I utter when I forget myself; in the lies I tell the dark when my mind wakes me with thoughts of everything I wasn’t to her – or worse, everything I was. Like twins who feel each other’s pain, we shared a unique bond. A bond that was perhaps always haunted by the inevitability of the dialogue ending.

Does she feel the same? Does she speak to the walls thinking I’m still there, in syllables only we can understand that now roll into the void? I say her name and know how lonely it is to speak a word no one else understands.


I’m rereading a study Madee worked on years ago. It examined how multi-lingual dementia patients revert to their native language as their conditions progress. I realise I’m doing the same. I blow the occasional raspberry as I thumb through her Instagram; shoot an inveigling look to the empty bed as I undress; trace the same chaotic diagrams in the dent she left in the couch cushion.

I slap it and her perfume puffs and, for a fleeting moment, she’s there again. The dust particles describe elegant hieroglyphs as they flutter down and settle in the shape of my memory of her.


The language we shared remains with us. I tie my heart in knots, thinking someone might find it, excavate it, and attempt to translate it. One day, Madee will screw up her nose and he won’t know it’s because she can’t stand the smell of unseasoned rice. She will purse her lips and heave a long sigh and look at him from hooded eyes, and he won’t place a cushion on his lap so she may lie down. He won’t know why she slams the cupboards, why she leaves the room when pet food adverts come on TV, how to respond when she’s working late and texts a picture of her ankles.

But after a time, they’ll form their own vernacular inscribed in the ashes of past tongues. Each of them carrying remnants of languages they once spoke – once shared – whose embers form the foundation of their own. The etymology Madee and I constructed will become a relic memory. Extinct. Lost. Just one more language strangled by passing time.

Geoffrey Bunting is a writer, journalist, and book designer. He has written for The Washington Post, WIRED, Rolling Stone, and more. He hates moths and can tie his shoelaces really well.

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