Bruce Holland Rogers

Not None

The restaurant was a short drive from the assisted living center, so once a month, Flip took his grandfather there for a “jail break.” Flip’s father was in Los Angeles now and only came up once or twice a year to visit, but the old man didn’t seem to mind. “I don’t blame him,” Flip’s grandfather said. “He’s in his prime earning years. Nose to the grindstone.”

Flip’s father had been unemployed for eight months now, but Flip didn’t correct his grandfather. The old man liked to turn everything into an argument. Like he was doing now.

“Could you even understand the hostess when she seated us?” he said. “Everybody mumbles. No one knows how to speak correct and distinct English any more.”

“I understood her just fine,” Flip said. “She asked how many were in our party and did we want a table or a booth.”

“Not in so many words, she didn’t.”

“Grandad, it’s not a big deal.”

“It is a big deal. Perfectly good words go out the window. Take ‘fewer.’ What in God’s name has happened to ‘fewer’? ‘Less calories,’ ‘less minutes.’ I read in the newspaper that a financial firm was going to get by with ‘less offices.’ Every one of those should be fewer! Who pays attention to these things any more?”

“Grandad, languages change over time.”

“I blame the schools. Standards have gone right out the window. Do you even know how to diagram a sentence? No?”

“I know perfectly well—”

“And vocabulary! It’s turning inside out! The radiation tech said to me the other day that she was going to ‘lie’ me down. Later, she instructed me not to ‘lay’ in the sun. As if instructing a hen. ‘Up’ is not a verb! ‘Impact’ is not a verb!”

“Those are standard usages now. Language is plastic, Grandad. Listen, in Jane Austen I read—”

“You read Austen? Good for you!”

Flip did not remind his grandfather that he was an English teacher. His grandfather would forget this detail in ten minutes. “In Austen I read things like ‘Have not you a pen?’ And that was standard. Then ‘Haven’t you a pen’ was formal and ‘Haven’t you got a pen’ was informal. If you use that last one these days, people will understand, but they’ll look at you funny.”

“Why? What would you say now?”

Flip thought a moment and offered the more formal, “’Han’t a pen, you?’”

“Oh, Lord.”

“Every generation of teenagers invents slang so they won’t be understood by their parents. It’s always been that way. Think about how you talked when you were a teenager. Language starts out as code and then spreads until no one imagines that a washy wasn’t called a washy fifty years ago. The only difference is that nowadays a slang generation comes every three years or so.”

Flip’s grandfather looked like he didn’t know what a washy was. He opened his mouth, but before he could say anything the waitress stopped at their table. “Any else?” When Flip told her no, she left the check.

“Any else?” Flip’s grandfather said to the waitress’s back. “Any else?

The waitress turned. “Some else, you?”

Flip’s grandfather threw his hands into the air. “That’s it! I’m done! I’ll wait at the car.”

As Flip paid the bill at the register, the hostess nodded toward the parking lot and said, “He who?”

“Grownpap mine,” said Flip. “Liken’t talk we now how he.”

“Talk funny. Fuhwhy? Juss old he because?”

“Could.”

“Vulcan he, so but. Fuhwhy you?”

“Han’t idea,” Flip told her. He didn’t know why his grandfather blew up about little, unimportant things. He shook his head. “Cirrus. Not none.”

~~

Bruce Holland Rogers’ stories have won Pushcart, Nebula, Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, and Micro awards, and have been nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and Spain’s Premio Ignotus. The short film The Other Side was based on his novelette, Lifeboat on a Burning Sea.