My story Morta Della was included in THE HAPPY HYPOCRITE – TOLSTOYEVSKY, ISSUE 10.

You can buy a copy of The Happy Hypocrite from Bookworks here.

Morta Della

When Arabella Carter was very young she was already the best in the town at naming things.

Shilick she said, four years old and pointing at the damp grass that seemed always damp, drooping like towel-dried hair toward the cracks in the pavement, and soon everyone in our constituency was calling it Shilick Grass.

She was twenty-one when she named the blue-black birds that feed on the Shilick, Torozens. It was actually from their habit of eating facing the horizon, she told me one day in my studio, that she drew inspiration for their name. But to those who didn’t know, there was simply some Torozen-ness about these birds and their patient stance, some Torozen-ness about the Torozens that we were now all aware of.

She called the fall you have as you are dropping off to sleep, the Thistimble.

She called the moment of being frozen with fear when you wake from a nightmare Garllantheon.

She called the sensation on the tongue as it sucks back between the pebbles, Shishingle.

It was impossible not to see our constituency, our world, through her words, from the Bartomollotas grazing in our fields to the Palmillo tree, the fruits of which, the Palmilla, we eat every summer.

Chips of paint she called Tecks.

The unsure footing of shoes on artificial turf she called Fwooth.

The tearing of one’s jealous heart she called Wriwrac.

She named all our colours. When I travelled, I realised that we don’t all think colours the same way; the painter might think in terms of weight, the cook might give colours flavours, the iconoclast, fury, but in our town we had all learnt to think of colours as Arabella did. Diozomi was the blue of the evening sky in April, Pulmaca the purple of Bartomollota shit. The colour of the blood of the trees she called Dinzengent, and then we would call anything else of that tawny red Dinzengent, and we also used it as an adjective to describe fertility and harvest time. Her words were fuzzed sometimes through our usage but they still had their roots in her.

The ink stains she got on her fingers after writing she called Falruises and all of us called the ink stains we got on our fingers after writing Falruises.

The sucking wince she made when her mother applied iodine to her scraped knees she called Cha and then all of us called the sucking wince we made when our mothers applied iodine to our scraped knees Cha.

The mild flashbacks to hallucinations that were neither blissful nor terrifying, she called Polzetos and all of us called the mild flashbacks to hallucinations that were neither blissful nor terrifying, Polzetos.

This skill of appositeness of description, this appropriateness of her word skills, resulted in many of her neighbours, my fellow constituents and countrymen, applying to her for advice on other matters. At first she’d respond, flattered and demure; demurring ‘I am a poet not a doctor’ or ‘I am a poet not a sorceress.’ And it is true that back then she was more reticent about naming for others, about giving out advice, about settling disputes, about rebranding the rundown.

‘What of the old names?’ she said, ‘what will become of them?’

There was some truth in this. Some of the creatures lost their edges after being embraced by her vocabulary, lost that which wasn’t captured by her names: The feathers of the Kooxans lost their eyes, or these eyes lost the ability of sight anyway, became nothing more than glassy lolling spheres; delicious when fried, crispy on the outside, runny inside. After all it was also true that the Kooxans were a lot easier to catch once their panoptic vision had gone.

Sometimes she would suggest names for children of kin; she told me what I would name my daughter, and I did, but she went no further than that in her advice.

We all see the world through our own eyes. But I remember thinking that for her it must have been different. The world, our constituency,  came to meet her eyes, it must have felt to her that the world almost wanted to be seen the way she saw it. Unlike me she never left, and her words became embedded in everything, little by little she tinted all her surroundings until her world was as she wished it.

I don’t know if this is why but at some point, she changed her mind on offering advice, on getting involved in the lives of others, perhaps she wanted their worlds to look more like hers. At this point I was travelling outside the city at the end of my youth, on national service, but before I left, word of her ability was spreading beyond our constituency. This would have been the end of her youth too. When I returned not only was she dispensing advice more readily, she had also made some powerful friends.

I can’t really dilk or complain; I took her moffer too, when she was in my studio that day she bought a painting I’d made of the moon. She told me I should only make paintings of the moon, and I did, and made my name as an artist.

She came to know a businessman TH Lavinder and with her help, naming each of his franchises differently, he became very rich. He seemed to have amassed his fortune whilst I was away. Before I left there was a park that was renamed Lavindery, because of the lavender that grew there, or so Arabella said. In my absence Lavinder had taken ownership of it, it was in his name after all, and he levelled the park and built flats, expanding into property.

When TH Lavinder decided he wanted to run for mayor of our constituency, our world, Arabella was involved in his electioneering; everyone said that her provision of a name – Renumer & Remuner– to his particular, radical wealth redistribution solution for austerity, was the reason for its popularity.

During his candidacy she helped expose the nepotism that the incumbent mayor profited from by naming it Chachality. Until it was named we weren’t able to see how septic, rife and damaging it was, both to democracy and to the way we were perceived outside of our country. As the bodies of the now former mayor and his deputy were left in a tank in the main square she called the process of their putrefaction Sanstein.

The aqueduct that marked the beginning of Lavinder’s ambitions for expansion, she called Forevet. The water that flooded the fields after the rains, diverted there by Forevet, she called Tillender. Dinzengent was buxful because of Tillender for a whole vicade and the city got wealthier and wealthier. Soon more and more of her words had entered our vocabulary. Was she speaking for Lavinder or was Lavinder speaking for her? When he came onto the delepatheron and said Asturton! Asturton Piatges! We weren’t really that surprised. When we went to war she called the machines our soldiers rode off in Coupaers, and she blessed them.

She called the blood of our enemies, Dismalaplay.

The children of our enemies, Jattle.

The name of their land, Dogerer.