"The Man Who Sold Words" by E.M.Schorb
It wasn’t until she had almost given up hope that she saw the man who sold words. She had been moping by the playground fence, where she first met him, thinking of how it would be when she told her father that she had all the words she needed for Scrabble and could play with her mother and father and big sister, when her eyes, casually following the dreamy flight of a blackbird, passed him by in their sweep, and returned to the mystic point of recognition. He was standing high on a green hill, between two silver-barked and green-leaved maples, waving to her, pointing at the open gate to the right of her and circling a hand in the air, indicating that she should come out of the playground and up to him, there, high on the hill. She knew she was not to leave the playground, but she knew too that she had to disobey this time, just this once, or the man who sold words would go away. Already he had turned his back and was walking down the other side of the hill. How many hills would he go beyond? Even now, she could see only his wild, gray head bobbing, bobbing down, downwards, beyond the bright hill’s green horizon, gone! She hiked up the shiny shoulder-strapped leather pocketbook her father had given her for her fifth birthday. It was heavy, filled with coins from her piggy bank. She might have counted out the change she would need, but there had been no time, and she had dumped the whole contents of the bank into the bag. She ran among the children, bumping them, her heavy pocketbook banging her hip, the backs of her legs, nearly knocking her down, tripping her up. But she ran as fast as she could—through the side gate, across the walkway, around and outside of the fence, up the hill, floundering and sprawling, visions sweeping by, breathless, unnoticed.
A full moon hung over the heads of the police and parents as they fanned out. The little girl’s mother had gone several small hills beyond the playground, and was coming down a hill, when she saw her, huddled in sleep, against a tree. She did not see the man. She heard him. Her flashlight was full on her child and she was about to call out when she heard a grunt, a sort of snort. She flashed her light from her daughter to the place where the sound had come from, registering, in the back of her mind, metallic glitters of coins, glassy glimmers of bottles, and writing—words, misspelled, crazy jargon, written in large deep letters all over the ground, beneath the trees. Then she saw him, a rag man, a fat scarecrow. He opened redrimmed eyes into her flashlight, and said, his pink tongue squirming drunkenly in his mouth, “Egypt!”
“That’s only eleven points,” said the mother, breathlessly, taking in the scene with increasing relief. “Besides, it’s a proper noun.” She looked into the moonlit space at her daughter, who sat with a kind of anticipatory surprise registering on her little, round-eyed face, and then at the other, who wore something of the same look as her daughter. Her daughter had mentioned him, she now remembered, but she had been too busy to heed the child. She had idly thought that the child was referring to a fairy tale, or—
Yes, she had heard of him, the man who sold words.
E.M. Schorb's stories have appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Roanoke Review, Quick Fiction, The Chattahoochee Review, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, The Wascana Review (Canada), and Camera Obscura, among others.
His first novel, Paradise Square, a mystery, was the winner of the International eBook Award Foundation’s grand prize for fiction at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2000, and later, A Portable Chaos won the Eric Hoffer Award for Fiction in 2004. His most recent work is Manhattan Spleen, Prose Poems, published this year.
His story "A Very Practical Nurse" appeared in Offcourse #53