the Lexicon of Indistinct Woes

A short story.


The flowers were a soft white, their pollen creating little streaks of mustard yellow on the petals. It wasn’t what they looked like that was important, Mrs. J was blind so the smell was what she was after. She took a deep breath, inhaling the luxurious scent and knocked on the old lady’s door. After a while she heard a shuffling and then the door opened. Mrs J was in her usual floral dress, neatly buttoned and her halo of grey hair softly framed her little face. She too took a deep breath and smiled. ‘My sweet girl, you’re so kind to me, thank you.’

So kind. He’d said that kindness was sexy. So she’d sought out kindness. She’d looked for it in the smiles of strangers, in the eyes of a priest and the hands of a young mother. She’d made a decision to be kind, to get him to see her sexiness. She’d started delivering flowers once weekly to her blind neighbour who never had visitors; she read for the underprivileged children at the library on Saturday mornings, and she’d taken in a stray cat. With the old, young and helpless covered, she’d thought it was enough. It became her mantra, ‘kindness is sexy’.

But the sexiness didn’t come. He still treated her as a silly little thing. And then he stopped calling and when she called him, he told her she was too good for him. Too innocent and nice. So, she took the pain of his rejection and created more kindness around her. It created a gentle bubble around her that contained the ache. But it didn’t make the hurt go away or even dissipate.

Months later, after her library reading session, she went online to see if she could find a solution to the ache that was forever just under the surface and seemed to tint everything she did in the colours of a mountain at nightfall; deeply purple tinged with the blue of a bruise. She couldn’t find the words to express the feelings of emptiness and grief that plagued her, even as she smiled at strangers and read happy stories.

Her search found its way to outpourings of pain from lonely and rejected people all over the world. But there were no solutions and no proper words to explain how she was feeling. And then she found The Lexicon of Indistinct Woes. It was a simple site, strange words that she’d never heard before but with meanings that touched her deep down – that reached a part of her soul she hadn’t known existed. There were words to describe the sudden anger that flushed her skin, and the surprising depression that descended for no apparent reason.

She looked up the man who was behind the words, thinking it might take some investigation because who would put their soul out there, naked, and at the same time let the world know who they were. But, under the button ‘about’, he was there. A photograph in shadow, almost a silhouette – something slightly mysterious. But his name was there. Jude Jameson. A rock star name almost. ‘Hey Jude’, she whispered.

She clicked on the button that said ‘submit your own word’ and typed in, ‘Oxofeudal: the tipping point between pleasure and pain when doing something nice you know will never be appreciated or repaid’. Her word’s definition wasn’t as flowery or poetic as all the others but she wanted to reach out to the man who controlled all these beautiful words. She wanted to connect with the person who’d touched her soul just so.

She got a response almost immediately. ‘I’ve been looking for a word like that. Thank you. Yours, Jude.’ Two days later, her word appeared on his list, beautifully illustrated. But that was it. No other mention, notification or e-mail from him.

So, she wrote to him, asking him mundane questions like how he came up with the words, where he got his inspiration from, how many words he had received or rejected. At the end of her mail she asked, ‘Do you think kindness is sexy?’

But there was no answer. Jude went quiet on her and every time she checked in for a new word, there was nothing. Just her word. The last word on his list. She checked the Lexicon’s history and saw he’d posted at least two words every month for the past year. But months went by and still hers was the last one.

Eventually she stopped checking on the Lexicon. She continued to carry her ache in its gentle bubble of kindness, and stopped looking for meaning or resolutions online. She went on a blind date set up by her mother. Her date found her interesting, she found him boring. He liked her kindness and thought her habit of smiling at strangers quirky. She liked that he liked her. They went on more dates and settled into a routine of dinners, picnics and the occasional hike.

He wanted to stay over at her apartment but she wasn’t ready to let someone else into her sacred space, the space that had been and still was occupied by the man who broke her heart. She kept that secret, though and held on tight to her pain. His space wasn’t sacred, so she began to inhabit it and leave pieces of herself there; a pretty pair of panties, a spare toothbrush, a chipped vase. Life took on a lighter hue and her ache buried itself a little deeper. There were even days when she didn’t feel it bubbling up to interrupt her smile.

Six months of routine love passed and she began to feel less troubled, began to see herself as more than just kind. She stopped reading for the orphans and gave her cat away. She began to understand that authenticity was sexier than kindness. Even so, the mantra still haunted her and she continued to smile at strangers. But she dumped her blind date lover and left him bereft and searching for meaning. She left the chipped vase and spare toothbrush at his apartment and stopped answering his calls.

She didn’t stop taking flowers to her blind neighbour, though. There was a gentle wisdom about Mrs J that made her yearn for more. One ordinary Friday afternoon she was delivering an exquisite bunch of roses whose scent permeated the air. Mrs J was wearing a beautiful never-before-seen green velvet dress that made her clear eyes dance. She was also unusually chatty. ‘Oh my sweet girl, I’m so excited. My nephew is coming to visit today. I haven’t seen him in years but he phoned me up the other day and said he felt bad for neglecting me. We’re all each other has, you know.’

Mrs J’s unseeing eyes were bright and her smile was tinged with longing. ‘Do you know, he asked me the strangest thing before he said goodbye. He said, ‘Aunty J, do you think kindness is sexy?’ What a strange thing to ask.’

The words caught in her soul, a coldness spread through her and stopped her breath. Kindness is sexy. Mrs J didn’t notice; instead she laughed, delighted with herself and the world as she took the roses and breathed in their sweet fragrance.

She watched as Mrs J turned away to put the flowers in water. That’s when she heard the footsteps. She turned and looked out the still open front door. Their eyes locked and she felt a shockwave reach deep into her soul.

‘I’ve been looking for you’, he said.

‘I’ve been looking for you’, she said.

I’m not kind,’ he said, ‘but I think I’m your kind’.

The next day a lone word was posted to a new site, The Lexicon of Indistinct Joys. ‘Suavitatistical: the moment your soul recognises the stranger you’ll spend the rest of your life with’.



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