Brevity is the only thing left.
|His arm started to tingle. Not that sort of feeling after his foot fell asleep, or the residue of a swift punch from one of his friends, but the low hum of a tingle which would grow toward full-fledged vibration should his lips continue to move. He would have to choose his words wisely from this point forward; the threat of a well placed rhetorical blow hung in the balance.
His adversary awaited the next barrage, her lips pursed with words unspoken. She too might have neared her daily quota of expression, though he had no way of knowing her balance. She searched his eyes for some sign of weakness, her fists threatening to clench. Though a year or two his elder, he considered her an equal, understanding that she likely did not share the assessment.
“Why can’t you...” she said, stopping abruptly. He assumed she too felt the tingle in her arm. He dared not look for the tell-tale red, the throbbing light anticipating silence. Instead, he matched her stare, his mind fast to the argument at hand.
Gone were the days when the flow of words could master a foe. Now, even the most gifted wordsmiths were forced to curtail a verbal lashing. The earth’s future, it was said, hung in the balance. Excessive conversation, regardless how heated, was identified as a killer of worlds. Should he wish to berate this girl, this adversary, this equal, he would be forced to do so with a knife’s breadth of words.
He closed his eyes. She hadn’t expected that.
“Are you going to cry?” she blurted, the limited words available escaping without much hope of purchase. She heard them, felt them, fall effortlessly to the ground between them. She sensed his satisfaction; he had gained the advantage.
“You,” he said through clenched teeth, his eyes rising to hers.
She hesitated, knowing her words neared the limit. Finally, she tempted him, “What have you got?”
Long before this pair stood toe-to-toe on a schoolyard in one of the thousands of suburbs littering this small planet, people of good intent shed the pretense of personal agency for the purpose of global survival. From words on paper to acts of sacrifice, the effort to curb expression grew, culminating in this final mechanism of restriction. The words of all humans were limited, from that point forward, in an effort to reduce the gasses believed to be contributing to the destruction of the atmosphere. Within each right arm was the small red stone, hidden but ever-present, a reminder of the need to respect survival over expression. For each individual, as words neared a daily quota, the throbbing began.
He knew better than to respond. He had expended only one or two words in goading her. She responded with what neared verbosity, at least to those in such a world. Few more words were required to gut her. She would have none of it.
Her fist raised well above his head. She wielded this hammer upon his arms flailing as he fell backward. Blow after blow landed upon his face and body. He fell to the dust erupting around him and still she drove the heal of her hand into his face.
A teacher burst silently upon the scene. She quickly assessed the melee before her, grabbing indiscriminately for a wrist. When she’d secured the small girl’s arm, and attention, she stared sternly into startled eyes. While no words escaped her lips, her displeasure was clear.
The boy lay crying on the ground, dust accumulated in the blood matting his upper lip. As he rose, he swept tears and blood from his face. His mind searched for the words but his lips bore little more than a moan. The two were lead away from the playground, their final words unsaid.