Love, n. by Colin Bonini
(Let your tongue sit at the back of your teeth, the same as you would to begin the words “leave” and “loss,” the second syllable in “alone.” For some, this is a natural resting place for the tongue, an easy entry into sound and a comfortable place to begin any word. And so, although love is not often comfortable or easy, the beginning, at least, is simple. Then, as you exhale, to make it harder for air to escape, approximate your vocal folds. Activate your larynx. If you put your fingers to your neck, you should notice a vibration, a stirring. This is the first sign of love: a quivering note coursing through your throat, waiting for release, [l].
Pull your tongue away from the alveolar ridge—the line of bony sockets connecting your teeth to your upper jaw—and suspend it in the very center of your mouth, the position for forming a mid, central, unrounded vowel. This sound, the most common sound in all of English—nothing extraordinary, nothing to envy, nothing to fear—forms the nucleus of love. Continue pushing air through your larynx, open your mouth slightly. Feel the vibration move from the center of your throat to the back of your mouth and feel it cupped. That familiar, essential hum, [ə].
Close your mouth almost entirely, pressing the tips of your front teeth to the inside of your lower lip, almost completely obscuring your vocal tract, and force the final sound into the world. This is how love ends. A final push, a closing, lips trembling, [v].)¹
Frequency (in current use):
Every night, in the dark of our room, muttered to the empty side of our bed where the mattress still dips, waiting for you to fill it. Frequently used in tandem with sorry, adj. (a feeling of distress, of apology, of insufficiency) and followed by pleas with God.²
Frequency (in past use):
Most nights, except when we fought. But then, still, after.
Once, when you caught me sniffling over opened envelopes, medical bills pouring out, x-rays.
Too many to count.
Two frigid homes, one adorned with crosses and doves and overseen by two parents who flinched when they brushed against each other, the closest thing to love, n., I ever saw;³ the other a place of vast empty rooms where there should have been a father, a mother, but were instead only gaunt and swaying specters.
A restaurant on the water. A pair of underpaid servers, the plates we ran worth more than anything we could ever afford. Scavenged morsels of food from half-finished dishes next to washing pits in the kitchen, our tongues swirling around bits of scallops and the edges of our fingers sliding into each other’s mouths as we traded scraps of swordfish. The tail end of an oyster held between your teeth, tipped into mine. The taste, cold and brackish and delicious. Being fired later that day for what we did in the walk-in, the two of us giggling as we rushed to clothe our shivering selves, clinging to the warmth of each other.
The day you turned eighteen and we ran away from home. The bus seats grimy, the air in the cabin stuffy, us layered in as many clothes as we could, equipped only with a single backpack of supplies. The way we held each other, the way we cooed each other calm, convinced ourselves the world.
A room paid for in promises and petty cash—one with no heat for the winter. Huddled together on top of a sheetless bed, icy drafts shivering us, the turns we took breathing onto each other’s noses, ears, fingers.
Pennies saved and spent in ways we couldn’t anticipate—an illness in your bones, something dissolving you. Extra shifts picked up. Calls home for help, unanswered. Hours spent in flicker-lit waiting rooms and on hold with pharmacists, doctors, specialists, each one unable to help, unaffordable anyways. Swaying against each other in a hospital room, your gown to your shins, balancing on top of my toes with your freezing feet. Learning there are many different reasons for love, n. That sometimes, people love each other just to know something. That they’re in love, adj. (certain, whole, unafraid).
One last moment together—before the half-empty bed, the bargains with God—with your hand on my palm, your fingers running the lines of my skin. The way you said, over and over again, one word. Warm. Warm. Warm.
The word is frequently whispered, in which case the initial alveolar lateral liquid [l] and concluding labio-dental fricative [v] may go unvoiced, as love often does.
God, in the Book of Job, implicitly defines love, n., as complete subservience to His divine and unknowable will; see faith, n. (trust via spiritual apprehension) and doubt, n. (uncertainty, a lack of conviction). See also contradiction, n. (the existence of evil alongside an all-loving, all-powerful being) and faithless, adj. (a common response to contradiction, n.).
See: curated, adj. (too exact to touch).
Not to be confused with lust, n., which had seized each of us plenty of times before, which does not involve the same vivid recollection afterward, which usually presents itself as a blur of color and sensation, and which does not possess the same unspoken certainty of walking out of a restaurant, jobless, knowing wherever we went next would be together, adv. (synonym).
See delusion, n. (a mistaken form of faith, n.).
It’s a great relief, to know one thing. Especially when it’s so important. See placebo, n. (the placeholder for a cure, the next best thing).
See end, n. (a final push, a closing, lips trembling)
Colin Bonini is a writer from San Jose, California and a current MFA candidate in fiction at Arizona State University. He is an associate fiction editor at Hayden's Ferry Review. He is currently at work on a novel, and his interview with poet Antonio López is published in The Adroit Journal.