Language Shift: A Triptych by Christina Dalcher


He stumbles through sentences, forgetting whether verbs come last or second or first. He confuses the order of pronouns, putting ‘I’ before ‘you,’ and ‘me’ before ‘her.’ He is failing a simple test, running interference between the Germanic and the Romantic, thinking of the ends and beginnings of his story. Thinking recursion. Thinking full stop. Thinking return to the grey north and start again. And when he looks down in shame, heart separating into splinters, she reorganizes the pieces with delicate flamenco hands, and swallows his mistakes in a kiss.


She never makes the words I love you because they hold no meaning in his language, which is not her language or any language she has ever heard. They are only sounds, strings of lip and tongue movements empty of any message. She telegraphs significance through touch and hopes she gets it right, hopes that his morning see-you-later never turns into a permanent adios. She can’t remember the difference between love and want, whether these are nouns or verbs, and when he begins to smile again, she understands none of it matters.


They form one body in the dark of night, two waves resonating and amplifying and becoming something larger. A riptide. A tsunami. The perfect pipeline that makes a surfer’s dream. There is a word for what they are where he comes from, one long agglutinated mass of parts that explains what she is and the direction he is moving. The word spins in circles inside his head when he is inside her, its chunks falling apart and rearranging themselves into the staccato sentences of southern Spain.

Christina Dalcher is a linguist, novelist, and flash fiction addict from Somewhere in the American South. She is also the sole matriculant in the Read Every Word by Stephen King MFA program (which she invented). Find her sometimes-prize-winning work in The Molotov Cocktail, Whiskey Paper, and New South Journal, among others. Her short work has won The Bath Flash Fiction Award and been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and The Pushcart Prize. If you’re looking for Christina, she might be here: @CVDalcher,, or hiding in a closet re-reading a tattered copy of The Shining. Also, she made a book called VOX (Berkley Publishing).

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