Together (1990)
A fantasy
Alexander "Sasha" Volokh

She said that she wanted their wedding to be the happiest day of her life, but he corrected her, asking how she expected the rest of her life to be. She reconsidered and answered that instead, she wanted the day of the wedding to be the happiest day of her life so far, and the saddest of her subsequent days. Such insignificance augured poorly for the success of the marriage. No sooner had they gone on their honeymoon than they started arguing about whether it was correct to call it a "honeymoon" if "moon" meant "month," and the trip only lasted eight days. Or so she said. He countered that etymologically, "honeymoon" meant not the trip, but the first month of a marriage, usually considered to be the sweetest. Of course, if that month were the sweetest, then it seemed likely that the wedding day really was the happiest day of their married lives.

Needless to say, their social life crumbled. People hesitated to invite them to parties; every social gathering which they attended inevitably seemed to degenerate into an argument over obscure points of linguistics. And, alas, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak; they themselves, who could have gone on forever, were chronically afflicted with severe bouts of laryngitis, and finally made a tacit accord to no longer use figures of speech, too ambiguous and too likely to provoke fights. Eventually, they stopped using words of more than one syllable altogether. And so they languished, alone and despondent, communicating in drab, monosyllabic tones. They had long since stopped considering divorce, since arguing with someone was better than having no one to talk to at all, and since "divorce" contained two syllables, "separation" four, and they could think of no one-syllable synonym.

It was summer, and the heat was record-breaking. Water, a bisyllabic drink, was in short supply, and gin was against the law in their state. And so their lips became parched, their movements listless, and they stayed in bed for most of the day, staring at opposite walls. Until one day, she turned to him and, with a soft smile on her chapped lips, uttered a long-forgotten monosyllable: "Love." "Warmth," he replied. "Joy." "Life." "Hope." By and by, the words started pouring forth like a desert flood in the spring. And in the midst of this scene of domestic tranquillity, a new word made its appearance: "Together." An ambiguous, trisyllabic adverb. For a time they remained silent, as if basking in the aura of that word. They did not try to determine whether it meant "in a single group" (as in "We gather together"), "in relationship to one another" (as in "He rubbed his hands together"), "regarded collectively" (as in "She is worth more than all of us together"), "simultaneously" (as in "The bells rang out together"), on "in harmony" (as in "We stand together on this issue"). Instead, they saw the world as a synthesis of all five of those meanings, separate and yet unified -- together. From then on, they learned to see diversity in life and were perpetually amazed at those who tried to blindly forge unity out of diversity, as if forgetting that they were once such people. And the spirit of ambiguity watched over them to the end of their days.

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