I live at the corner of Gibson and Parrish. “Parrish,” with an extra R that makes me wonder if there is some word I don’t know or if I really live next to an elementary school and at the corner of a misspelling. I’d call it a typo, but it’s not a slip of the finger. Or, if it is, it’s a slip of some secretary’s finger, recorded in the city records and in my street name forever.

Somewhere, a child loses a spelling bee and the judges debate whether it was really a stutter, that extra R. She was doing so well, little Sally, in her white dress, until she was asked to spell the word for an ecclesial territory, which is already tricksy in this age, and was sabotaged by a secretary’s distracted fingers, decades ago, burning an image in little Sally’s mind that will never recede.

The first among many, Sally. The first among many. Poor Sally looks at the old people, sitting with their coffee, and wonders “What are they thinking?” But Sally will grow old, and her thoughts will be on that spelling bee, and the faces. The one judge, the middle-aged woman, a mysterious happiness behind the disappointment that Sally could not understand, but she will, when the decades have played their tricks on her. The other judge, the middle-aged man with an expression Sally couldn’t quite parse then, but she would learn to recognize (all to well, all to well) as mixed pity, unearned condescension, and lust.

And maybe later, distracted by this and a thousand similar memories, and the sins upon sins upon sins that mark her unraveling of these mysteries, she will misspell a word in a place where it can live forever.

Maybe on a birth certificate?

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23 December 2021