LINGUA FRANCA • by David Macpherson

“Speak Klingon or be silent,” the fat unclean one shouted. Hank smiled, not expecting to be told what to do, especially in a make-believe language.

“I’m sure that’s clever,” Hank said, “but I just need to talk to Chris for a minute and I’ll be on my way.”

“Klingon only!” all four guys in the subterranean basement shouted. Hank noticed Chris was one of them. It was eight in the evening on a Wednesday. The University Science Fiction club must have been a boiler room in a past life. It stunk of the old paperbacks that were squeezed onto warped book cases. A muted television was playing an ancient Dr. Who episode. The pipes jutting out from the ceiling had words stenciled on them saying things like “Blood for Vampires”, “Mars Ocean Water”, and “Bosco”.

Hank looked at a stack of paperbacks and hated himself for recognizing several books. They were books devoured when he was a kid. Stupid ungrounded tales that had nothing to do with the world or the way he chose to be. He didn’t want to be in this place.

This idiotic mission was turning more idiotic. His brother wouldn’t answer his phone or respond to email or texts. So Hank had to drive all the way from the Cape to Nowhere Vermont and then skulk around the campus for an entire afternoon until Chris’s roommate showed and told him to check out the Science Fiction Club. Let’s not even dissect why a guy one dissertation away from getting his Doctorate in Linguistics was hanging out with underclassmen in a SciFi romper room. Hank was not one to question, just to finish, get it done.

“Chris,” Hank said, “I came all this way, let’s behave like adults if no one else here can.” Hank was greeted with what could only be thought of as a chorus of raspberries. He thought of what Jesus had spoken of strength and tolerance and returned his smile to where he thought it should be.

Chris swayed to standing. He was drunk with what smelled too sweet to consume. Were they drinking mead? Even if alcohol was necessary, did it have to be bad honey? Chris pushed out guttural sounds. He was speaking Klingon. Hank knew the words, he knew what was said, he remembered his misspent youth.

Hank checked his desire to leave and said, “Chris, let’s not do this. I need to talk to you in private.”

Chris stumbled forward. He spoke in drunken tongue, which thankfully was based in English. “No you don’t. You need to pray to God and leave me to the world.”

Hank said, “Paul in his letter spoke of putting away childish things.”

Chris laughed, “You’re coming in here and quoting Corithians? Man, this is why I don’t respond to your emails.” He turned to the other three drunk nerds who were beached on Salvation Army sofas. “My brother was cool before he found something or other. Hank, it’s awesome that you found faith. But does that mean you have to lose fun?”

Hank closed his eyes, swallowed hard and almost lost balance, but he found gravity and spoke nonsense words. He spoke Klingon. It came easily.

Chris sat down. “No shit. She’s sick?”

Hank exhaled a century of stress and mythology. “Mom has cancer. Please come home with me.” Hank was not sure which language he spoke in.

Chris looked at Hank and smiled. “Let me get my coat.” He turned once more to his peanut gallery. “You know Hank taught me Klingon when we were kids and into Star Trek. Got me into language.”

They hardly spoke on the long ride home, but it was companionable. It was how things should be. While driving, Hank found himself translating things he saw through the windshield into Klingon. It felt right. It felt like music. Like liturgy.

David Macpherson lives in Central Massachusetts with his wife Heather and son George.

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