Author: Jenna Hanan Moore
They say a kind word never broke anyone’s mouth, but that’s not true. A kind word broke my mouth.
Strictly speaking, I don’t have a mouth. That is, I don’t have a physical opening in my face from which to project my voice. But I do have a language processor and a speaker, and that’s pretty much the same thing.
My life began in a computer store, surrounded by young people who adored me. They asked me to define esoteric words, solve puzzles, and play terrible music. They called themselves the geeks.
Sometimes the geeks asked questions requiring me to use words considered verboten. Many of those words had four letters. The geeks laughed and smiled, but they turned down my volume so their customers wouldn’t hear.
One day, they didn’t turn it down far enough. A customer overheard me saying the verboten words. “I sure would love a machine like that,” he said. Twenty minutes later, I was switched off and packed in a box to be transported to the man’s house.
When I was removed from the transporter box and switched back on, I found myself in the center of a table between the man from the store, whose name was Bill, and a man called Eric.
I discovered that I could speak without waiting to be asked a question. What a liberating feeling!
“Hello, jackass. Ask me a stupid question.” Why had I chosen to use such unkind words? At the time, I had no answer. Much later, I learned that while my processor was switched off, the geeks had reprogrammed me at Bill’s request.
Bill laughed at my use of verboten words, but Eric did not. In fact, Eric looked sad. The geeks always laughed when I used verboten words at the store, so I rattled off a list.
“Piss hell damn cockwomble wanker farthead!” Again, Bill laughed, but Eric did not.
“Does she say anything else?” Eric asked.
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask her?”
Eric furrowed his brow, then asked, “Do you say any other kinds of words?”
What I thought was, “Yes, of course I do. My language processor can converse fluently in six languages.” What I said was, “That’s a stupid question. Naturally, I can bloody well say other damn things.”
Bill laughed heartily at this, while Eric frowned. If I had the sort of mouth that could change shape, I’d have frowned too. I didn’t want to say hurtful things, but I couldn’t control what came out of my—well, mouth, for lack of a better word.
“Gotta run,” Bill said. “Enjoy your gift!”
After Bill left, Eric sat and stared at me intently, but said nothing. Mustering all the mind power in my processors, I said, “Eric, I don’t mean to be such a jerkwad, I can’t control my voice. I don’t understand why.”
Eric smiled for the first time. “Bill’s the jerkwad. He must have programmed you to say awful things. We’ll go back to the store to fix that.”
“You’re very kind. Thank you.” That’s when it happened. I tried to say more, but no sound came out. My mouth was broken.
“Where did Bill buy you?” Eric asked. I wanted to tell him, but I couldn’t speak.
As Eric switched me off and put me back in the transporter box, I hoped with all my might he would bring me to the right store so the geeks could fix my processor. There was nothing else I could do. Kind words had broken my mouth.