I love this story. I love this idea of the written language having life, and I love how it’s done here. (And if I have to spell out why I’m biased, you’ll miss the point.)
Seriously, the writing and soul of the characters is superb — you can tell, easily, where the author spilled their heart into this.
Jaidree Braddix’s writing has appeared in New York Arts Magazine and she is a frequent book reviewer for Publishing Research Quarterly. She holds a Master’s in Publishing from Pace University, and though she is now a nonfiction literary agent at Sterling Lord Literistic, she has always enjoyed writing fiction in her (now very limited) spare time. Connect with her on Instagram: @jaidreeb.
A Tittle and His i
A short story by Jaidree Braddix
Tittle did not have a lot of friends, he was only a dot after all. Even the i over which he hovered did not pay him much attention.
Sweet little i, she was madly in love with Capital H, of the name Harry, and Tittle did not approve of this at all. Like all well-to-do alphanumerical marks, Tittle knew his i could never be with the Capital.
Capitals did not mingle with lowercases. It simply wasn’t proper, and in the strict case system of letters, propriety was everything. Furthermore, Capital H was a name letter and Tittle’s i was a simpleton, a lowly preposition letter making up half of the word “in.” True, she was a lead letter, which gave her some standing over the middle i’s of “either” and “neither,” but she was no name letter. She wasn’t even a verb and she was certainly no pronoun. Capital H was always at the start or subject of sentences, and little i could only hope to join clauses. In rare situations, lowercases could have raised esteem in the eyes of uppercases by being made a name letter, but this did not happen often. However much Tittle’s i longed to be the name letter i of Ginny, nothing could change the fact that she was born a preposition letter.
Tittle did his best to distract his i from her unseemly desires.
“So then I told h, you know the closer of ‘with’? Yeah, that guy – I asked him if he’d like to get together sometime and you know what he said, i?… i?” Tittle looked down at his linear partner and felt the millimeter of cream-colored paper between them like an ocean. “i, are you listening to me?”
“Were you thinking about Capital H again? Son of a semicolon, he’s halfway down the page!”
“But if I lean just right, I can almost see him…” i demonstrated her lean, nearly knocking Tittle off his perch.
“Stop it! You’re being ridiculous.” Tittle regained his balance and heaved a sigh. “I just wish you wouldn’t, that’s all.”
“I know I’m ridiculous.” The line of i’s body slumped until she resembled a c. “But a letter can dream can’t she?”
“Not in this situation she can’t. For Capital G of God’s sake, i, we’ve been over this. He’s the title character – he’s on the cover!” Tittle was fussing furiously. He hated having this repetitive conversation.
“I’m on the back cover…” i said desperately.
“In a quote from the New York Times? That’s completely different and you know it.”
“It is! Oh come on, i, why don’t you try to straighten up a bit? You’re slouching so bad you’re starting to look like angsty n over here-”
“Hey!” The other half of their word glowered up at Tittle. “I resent that.”
“Sorry n, pleasure working with you as always.” Tittle said hurriedly. “Look i, we’re in a popular book, we are. We wouldn’t want anyone to think this popular book’s got a misprint like a curved i in it, would we?”
“Pssh, popular?” sneered n, “we’re a damn phenomenon.”
Tittle wished he hadn’t said it, but angsty n could not be more correct. Tittle, his I, Capital H, and that lucky little whore of a name letter, i of Ginny, resided in the most widely read book of the decade. Tittle loved it. Indeed for a letter there is no greater pleasure than that of being read. But Tittle’s i took little joy in their fame. For her, the success of the book only widened the distance between her and her love, Capital H of Harry. As the book’s title grew to be a household name, so too grew the prestige of Capital H, and so diminished the chances of him ever loving a lowercase preposition i.
After a few moments of i’s sulky silence, Tittle gave up trying to encourage her and grew bored. He began bouncing in his place and humming a little tune.
“So about that conversation I was having with h, you won’t believe-”
“G’s, Tittle!” i snapped. “I’ve told you a thousand times before, I don’t like h of with and I do not want to be a part of the word ‘within.’”
“I just thought…”
“Not all H’s are the same!” i’s voice was shaking. “And just because I adore Capital H, you think I’ll fall for any old lowercase h you throw at me! What? Because it’s more proper?”
“i,” Tittle said meekly, “it’s more realistic, that’s all.”
“That may be.” i bristled. “But I still don’t care for the lowercase of with. Just take a walk or something would you?”
“A walk? You know I don’t like to leave you alone. What if someone were to pick us up and not buy us because of a misprinted i without a Tittle?” Tittle shuddered at the thought. “I’ll calm down I promise. I’m just so wound up, we’ve been so long without a reader…”
“Well that’s the book store life.” i said impatiently. “Just take a walk, okay?”
“Okay… I won’t go far though,” Tittle tutted nervously. “I’ll stay on this page I promise.”
“I’m going, I’m going. But if I were you I wouldn’t be so quick to get rid of me. You look downright funny without me, like a midgety 1.”
i glared at him as he hopped down from his perch and bounced away past the rest of the words in the sentence. He could hear angsty n chuckling. Tittle stopped over a lowercase u and nearly marched right back; he had always suspected n liked being alone with i, forming a less than complete “in” without Tittle. Tittle approved of that coupling about as much as he approved of i and Capital H.
Deciding that the last thing he needed was two confrontations with his i in one day, Tittle rolled away as fast as he could. By the time he felt the paper beneath him beginning to slope, it was already too late.
Tittle was approaching the spine and rolling all too fast. He pumped his tiny brakes hard, but could not keep from rebounding painfully off the spine and rolling blindly back across the page. Slowly and dizzily, he could feel himself wheeling to a stop. He came to rest with a light thump against something behind him.
“Ex-ceeeewse me?” demanded a regal feminine voice. Tittle jumped up quickly, still feeling light headed, and found himself face to face with a haughty Capital Y.
“Oh my! I’m so very sorry, Capital, I hit the spine you see, and-”
“Are you the missing period?” She demanded.
“The missing period!” Capital Y was in quite a state. “There was a period here, and now it is no more! I look quite foolish starting a sentence when the prior hasn’t had the decency to finish properly. We must find the missing period! Are you he?”
“Oh no, Madam,” Tittle said, affronted at being mistook for a punctuation mark. “I am no period. I’m a tittle.”
“A tittle?” Capital Y’s voice held a mixture of disdain and disbelief. “What in Capital G of God’s name is a Tittle?”
“The dot above a lowercase i, Madam.”
“Oh really?” Capital Y asked in a bored tone. “Those have a name? I had assumed they were a part of the lower i, like a distasteful hat.”
Tittle bristled. He considered himself to be far from distasteful.
“Many a tittle are content to live the complacent hat-like life to which we are pre-destined, keeping our thoughts to ourselves. But we tittles have our virtues. We are known to be excellent judges of character,” Tittle said proudly, throwing out his tiny round chest. “We’re sticklers for the high standards of alphanumerical society.”
“Well, you certainly do carry on quite a bit more than any period I have ever met,” Capital Y said. “So you have not seen the period?”
Tittle bristled again at the Capital’s disinterest.
“You say the period was just there, before your sentence?” He asked.
“Must I repeat everything I say?”
“No, Madam,” Tittle replied acidly. “But it does occur to me that periods are not usually prone to adventure, unless, of course, there is a pregnant letter in the vicinity. I hear they have an odd sense for it, given their incredible phobia of child birth.”
As he spoke, Tittle watched Capital Y draw herself up haughtily and intensify her proud glare. Then he noticed an elegant, French Lowercase f flitting away toward the spine. As Capital Y’s glance fell on the f, Tittle understood all too well what had happened.
Tittle huffed his disapproval and turned back to Capital Y. This time he dropped his voice when he spoke to her.
“If I were you, I would do my darndest to find that period immediately.”
Capital Y was speechless. Inter-casial affairs were of the deepest shame in the delicate vernacular social structure of a book’s grammatical characters. The offspring of such liaisons were said to be prone to misprinting, typos, and other gross disfigurement.
“If you’ll excuse me, I have an i to get back to.” Tittle executed a precise little bow. “It was a pleasure making your acquaintance, Capital.”
Capital Y nodded absently as Tittle took his leave of her, shaking his head as he went. He was still several sentences away from his i when a distinctly brutish lowercase b jumped out in front of him.
“HALT!” The b ordered. “Ain’t you a little far from your paragraph, Period?”
“For Capital G of God’s sake, I’m not a period!” Tittle huffed. “I am a tittle.”
“The dot above a Lowercase i,” Tittle said impatiently. “Now, may I go?”
“Hmm… I suppose so. But if I finds out you’re lyin’ to me…”
“I swear I’m telling the truth,” Tittle brushed briskly past the b. “So if you’ll excuse me, I really must find my i.”
Tittle had barely begun to roll on when the b jumped back up in from of him.
“WAIT!” Bellowed the b. Tittle rolled backwards a few centimeters in shock.
“Do you smell that?”
“Smell what?” But before Tittle had finished his sentence, he did smell it. His little heart nearly stopped.
“Smoke! Fire! RUN! Raise the alarm!” The b hopped off as panic ensued. “All letters to your emergency stations!”
Tittle zoomed past the b.
“Out of my way! I must get to my i!”
In a community that is entirely built and dependent upon paper, fire is the worst possible disaster, even worse than flooding. Every little letter learns, from the time he or she is just a tiny ink blot, that the only way to survive a fire is in the spine of the book. The spine, as Nanny Ns explain, is the densest part of the book, and the last thing to burn. If a letter to can get to the spine, that letter might be able to hide long enough to hope that a reader will extinguish the flames before the entire book is consumed.
Now, as every other letter rushed toward the spine, Tittle fought the crowd. He refused to run to the spine without his i.
Tittle tried to push through the crowd of jumbled letters, but it was no use. Everywhere he went, his pleas of “excuse me” and “pardon me” went unheard over the hollering H’s, trilling T’s, and wailing W’s. He got stomped on several times in the crowd full of flailing F’s and mauling M’s. Everywhere he turned it was complete chaos. How would he ever find his sweet little i in this mess?
“Everyone, try to stay calm! Our book is not aflame! There is a good chance the fire will be controlled before it even reaches our shelf!” Capital H of Harry stood in a prominent place on the page, shouting out the only sensible words to be heard. “If we all proceed calmly, there is a chance we can all fit closer to the spine. Please, don’t push one another – and Capital P! No pillaging!”
For the first time in his life, Tittle could almost understand his i’s obsession with Capital H. Standing at the crest of the curved page, Capital H was an inspiring example of everything a Capital should be. His bravery and leadership in the face of danger, his confident command, he was exactly what the vernacular populace needed from the first title and name letter, Capital H of Harry. If only anyone would stop and listen to him.
Then it occurred to Tittle that one letter would have stopped to hang on H’s every word, even if the very page was burning underneath them. His i would never miss the chance to stare in adoration at Capital H, not even in the face of fiery death.
Tittle dove through the crowd and pushed his way against the throng of frightened font. Unable to see more than a centimeter ahead through the letters, he followed the sound of Capital H’s shouts.
“Please try to stay calm!”
Tittle dove between the legs of a pair of m’s.
“Capital C of Christ, A, stop attacking! You’ll get there soon enough!”
Tittle was nearly there now. He pushed an s out of his way.
“B, don’t be such a bully, everyone can fit if we just stay-” Capital H broke off as Tittle pushed his way out of the mass and fell directly in from of him. H gave Tittle a perplexed look. “….calm.”
Tittle whirled around.
“i?” He looked up to see his I hopping towards him, looking like a strange dwarfed l as she always did without her tittle. Tittle was overjoyed, “i! I’ve found you!”
“Where have you been?” i exclaimed as Tittle leapt to his proper place atop her head. “I thought you’d been trampled for sure!”
“I was very nearly trampled several times,” Tittle agreed.
“Oh my!” i had turned while Tittle was talking, and found herself face to face with Capital H of Harry.
“Little i, are you not in a hurry to get to the spine?” Capital H asked.
“I, uh – I, well, you see, I had to, um, find my – my tittle. I had to-to get him, uh, to get him before-” i stuttered, her voice meek.
“Admirable,” said Capital H. “At least someone has their priorities straight on this mess of a page.”
At this, i could only giggle nervously. Tittle worried for a moment that she might faint.
“Unfortunately, I’m afraid the time has come to embrace self-preservation over more admirable qualities.” Capital H sighed. “One cannot die for those who would only kill themselves a moment later.”
Tittle nodded and surveyed their surroundings. The panic and mayhem continued in a inky black mass, pushing towards the center of the spine, but the space further out on the page was deserted. Without the letters and punctuation arranged in neatly spaced sentences across it, the cream-colored paper seemed enormous. Apart from Tittle, his i, and Capital H, there were only four other marks in the deserted space; the three lowercases that made up the word “why” and a question mark. The looked decidedly pessimistic.
“You there!” Capital H called to the dour monosyllabic sentence. “Join us, we shall flee to safety and with luck, avoid the frenzied crowds.”
The question mark was the first to respond. He jumped and bounced happily to Capital H’s side. Tittle rolled his eyes; question marks were willing to try anything.
“I don’t know…” the lowercase h said hesitantly.
“What have we got to lose?” y asked with a shrug and followed the question mark.
h hesitated, looking at the mass of letters at the spine.
“y’s got a point you know,” w said wistfully, “what have we got to lose?”
Still h hesitated.
“This is your last chance, Lowercase!” Capital H called, but the little h shook its head.
“This is the center of the spine,” h said, moving cautiously toward the panicked crowd. “I should best take my chances here.”’
“We must leave you then, h, but we wish you luck. And may Capital G of God preserve us all!”
With that, Capital H turned to lead the way around the outskirts of the mayhem nearest to the center of the spine. He was taking them to the bottom of the page.
“All this psychotic competition for the prized spot at the center of the spine is uncalled for.” Capital H told the others. “You see, I have a theory that the base of the spine is just as safe, if not safer, than the center in the event of a fire. It is my belief that this spot will be open for us.”
“You’re so clever, Capital.” i fawned.
Just then a bright light flashed in the high distance of the book. The air was instantly filled with smoke and there was a fresh wave of screams from the typeface. Thin black wisps of ash began to fall past the letters on the page. Their book had caught a spark and was now burning.
“Quickly!” Capital H shouted over the renewed commotion. “We must get to the base of the spine!”
Capital H moved in long, graceful strides through the rain of ash. w followed behind him in a sort of gallop, Question Mark was close after w, using his dot as a wheel to roll as fast as he could, and y and Tittle’s i brought up the rear. Tittle clung desperately to his i, knowing that he could move much faster without her ungainly hopping, but unable to bear the thought of parting with her.
“It’s just over this ridge!” Capital H coughed.
The page was rapidly filling with thick, dark smoke. The paper beneath them curled and buckled as flames consumed its distant edges. The letters stumbled and slid as the continued to run for their lives. Tittle could not see beyond a quarter inch before him in the ashy air, but he could hear the screams of those who had not made it to the spine in time. He clutched still tighter to his i.
Tittle and his i made it over the crest of the paper hill and slid down the steep decline to crash into the crease of the spine. Tittle bounced awkwardly off an exposed stitch in the binding. The fall dislodged him from his place atop his i and sent him reeling in precisely the wrong direction.
Tittle’s vision was blurred, his tiny lungs were singed. He continued to roll and bounce along the crease of the book’s spine, unable to steady himself. The air was getting hotter and the smoke thicker. Tittle tried desperately to pump his tiny brakes, but each consecutive stitch sent him flying.
Suddenly he stopped, seemingly in midair, though Tittle was so dizzy it was impossible to tell where he was. His double vision collided and united, and finally cleared enough to reveal that he had not, in fact, stopped in midair; he had been caught.
“You would do well to hold on tighter to your i, my little friend.”
That dastardly Capital H was simply impossible to hate.
“I didn’t let go on purpose,” Tittle said defensively as H carried him along the spine. “I was tossed.”
“So I saw.” Capital H was running along in his effortless way. Tittle felt oddly flustered and awkward to be sitting atop a letter other than his i. Even under the circumstances it was terribly improper.
i rushed forward as they reached the clearer, cooler air of the base of the spine.
“Oh, Capital H, thank you for rescuing him! I was so afraid!” i gushed. When i reached them, Tittle leapt from H to his rightful place as fast as he could, irritated at needing to be rescued.
“The fire is spreading fast.” Capital H said. “At this rate, we’ll be lucky if even the spine survives. We must hope the readers extinguish the pages, and fast, or we’ll be – well – toast, quite literally.” This statement was greeted by frightened stares, with a silence interrupted only by the cries of burning grammar in the distance. Capital H cleared his throat.
“Our best chance of survival,” he said, “is to hide deep within the binding of the spine, we must get under the stitching itself.
“But Capital, no letter has ever entered a book’s binding before,” Question Mark interjected. “It’s forbidden, isn’t it?”
“Do you have a better idea?”
Without waiting for an answer, Capital H bent and lifted the nearest stitch, which was nearly as thick as he was tall, and shimmied under it. The others stared after him in terrified silence.
“Look, I’ve heard the stories about the things that live in the binding too,” i said, “but at this point, Capital H is right, we don’t have a choice.”
A resounding crack echoed above them. The sound ripped across the page with a heart-stopping tremor. It was followed by a dull, ominous scraping; a creaking, dragging sound that grew closer by the second.
“Good G of God! The top of the page has broken off!” w screamed.
Tittle hugged his i with all his strength as she dove under the nearest stitch. The crash that followed was deafening. No letter on the surface of the page could have survived it.
Space in the binding was nonexistent. The weight of the stitches pressed in from above and the pages squeezed in from all sides. Aside from physical pressure, the complete darkness was oppressive. Tittle could not tell if he was actually still holding his i, or if they were just pressed together. He was also fairly sure y’s foot was digging into his face, but it was impossible to tell.
“wot wuz at oize?” The source of the muffled voice was less than a comma’s breadth away. From its baritone sounds, Tittle guessed it belonged to Capital H, who had no seen the top of the page begin to fall.
i tried to explain the catastrophe, but the pressure in the binding muffled her words to the point of gibberish. She soon gave up the story.
“oos ih eere?” asked Capital H. In response, a brief role call revealed that aside from Capital H, Tittle and his i, Question Mark, y, and w had all made it into the binding before the page fell. Question Mark had lost his dot, however, and was extremely distraught over it.
Question Mark insisted that he must go back out to the page and search for his dot. At least that’s what Tittle thought his was insisting, the muffling effect of the binding made the punctuation mark’s raving incomprehensible. w and Capital H objected to the search through their own muffled cries. Through determined repetition, they were eventually able to communicate that if Question Mark went out there, he might be struck by more falling paper or burned alive. It was too risky. Question Mark sobbed into the compressed pages.
Beyond the binding, all that could be heard was the distant crackling of flames and the occasional crash of falling paper. The cries of their fellow letters had long since ceased, and the thought of that made Tittle cringe. In the silence that followed, it became clear that the letters hiding within the binding must accept that every grammatical mark they had ever known, all their friends and family, were likely now consumed by fire or worse. All they could do was hide in the binding until it was safe to come back out, if such a time ever came.
The acrid smells of burning paper and scorched ink began to fill the vacuum-like environment of the binding. It was sickening and growing stronger by the minute. The heat was becoming unbearable.
Then a new set of sounds joined the crackling of the fire. First there came a roar, then a splash, and finally a hiss.
“waher!” w wailed.
“We’re sa’ed!” y yelled from somewhere above Tittle.
Steam burned through the binding in a sudden rush. Tittle tried to hold on tighter to his i, but being that he was already crushed against her, this was impossible.
The spine of a book, its binding, is not only the last part of a book to burn in a fire, but also the last part to be soaked through in a flood. As water filled the pages and the cover, it made them heavier, pulling on the spine and creating even more pressure in the binding, which had so far remained dry.
“dub-yoo!” y yelled.
“I bleein!” w wailed back. Her panic was as clear as her words were not. “Aiv been ‘it! I runnih, I bleein!”
In an instant, Tittle understood. From the sound of her voice, Tittle guessed that w was closest to the stitching and therefore closest to the open page. Water would be entering the stitching by now. w had been hit by a drop, and now her ink was running; she was bleeding.
“Hol’ ah dub-yoo!” Tittle shouted over the roaring sounds of the water beyond. “Do’ moo or yool blur!” Tittle knew as well as the rest that a blurred letter was a dead letter. In the pitch dark there was no way to know how badly w’s ink was running, or even her exact location within the binding. Her only chance of survival was complete stillness and some merciful dry air.
Tittle held his breath as he heard a drop of water slide by him, hardly a millimeter away. He could feel the drops watery trail expanding in its wake, seeping closer and closer to Tittle and his i. Tittle gave a hard kick and the two of them managed to squirm away from the dangerous drop unharmed.
Soon the sound of the rushing water grew distant and they could hear the shouting voices of readers. This mingled with the terrifying slide and plop of water slowly dripping into the binding.
“Capahul Gee ah Gah, preezer us!” i cried.
All around them was the silence of renewed calm; no screaming letters, no crackling fire, no roar of water.
“Leh’s go.” Capital H spoke from somewhere to Tittle’s right. The Capital shuffled toward the open air. i was quick to follow.
Tittle attempted to protest, to save his i just one more time, but she would not hear it. She was determined to follow Capital H. All Tittle could do was grasp onto her as she wriggled and squirmed up to the stitching and onward into unknown horrors.
When they first pushed through the binding, Tittle was blind. Any small amount of light would have been overwhelming after the total darkness of the binding, but the bright daylight now flooding his tiny retinas was too much to take. The sudden relief from the intense pressure of the binding made Tittle feel as though he was floating. He was floating in a land of white light, absolutely sure he was dead. And then someone coughed.
Tittle did not presume to know much about the afterlife, but he was sure no one would be coughing there. He blinked and forced his eyes to adjust, a decision he immediately regretted.
The scene before him was horrific. Most all of what had once been Tittle’s home, a sensationally popular young adult novel, was now reduced to ashes or less. The singed and soaked corner where he and the others now stood was all that remained of the entire book. Not more than a couple inches from where they had emerged from the binding, the page blackened and dropped off in a ragged cliff. Ominous dark smudges of ink streaked the page and leaked from the binding.
“Capital G of God…” Capital H whispered.
“Oh no…” w cried. She was not looking at their surroundings. She was staring at one of her feet. “It’s blurred!”
“You can hardly tell.” y said absently, his gaze fixed on the wreckage around them.
“You’re not even looking!” w wailed. “It’s blurred, I’ll never use it again!”
It seemed w was going to carry on for ages, when suddenly Tittle heard something incredible from far off on the page.
“Shhh! Did you hear that?”
“Hear what, Tittle? We’re the only ones left.” i squeaked.
Again, Tittle heard a faint cough.
“No, we’re not.” He jumped from his i.
He ignored his i and zoomed off toward the source of the sound, without giving the others a chance to follow. The coughing was coming from the area where the top of the book had been burned away, near the spine.
As he got closer, Tittle could still see no one there. He treaded carefully on the soggy paper, avoiding puddles and praying he would not bleed. He stopped only when he reached the place where page turned from off-white to burnt brown and he could no longer trust his footing.
He heard the cough again. It was weak, but Tittle could tell it was coming from somewhere close. He strained to look around him, across the page, and even onto the burnt edges. He could see nothing. No letter could have survived beyond the binding, he knew that. Perhaps, Tittle thought sadly, he was suffering from trauma-induced hallucinations.
Sighing, Tittle took a step backward and nearly toppled into a large puddle. He stumbled and caught his balance, just in time to see a sickly comma collapse on the puddle’s far edge.
Tittle ran to the comma and took her by her tiny shoulders.
“Are you alright?” Tittle shook her. “Comma!”
The comma coughed again, but made no other reply.
“Help!” Tittle looked about him. The other letters would still be near the spine where they emerged, several inches away. It was too far, they would never hear him.
With a sharp inhale, Tittle heaved the damp and unconscious comma over himself and trudged back towards the spine. He cursed himself for not waiting for his i to follow him. She could have lifted this comma easily. Tittle was too small, the effort would surely exhaust him before he made it another half inch.
Tittle paused to catch his breath; had he really only gone three millimeters? It felt to him like a full three inches. He tried to still his sawing lungs long enough to listen to the comma’s. Her breath was faint, but she was still breathing. Tittle heaved her higher onto his shoulders and set off again with renewed determination.
As he made it to the crest of a hill in the water-buckled paper, he could see the others spread out, evidently searching for him, below.
He called to them and his tiny knees buckled.
“Tittle!” His i exclaimed. She rushed up the hill toward him, followed closely by Capital H.
“My small friend, where ever have you – Good G of god!” Capital H reached Tittle first and immediately bent and lifted the comma off him with one hand.
Tittle sighed with relief and collapsed against his i, who lifted him into his proper place and carried him back to the relatively safe corned where they had emerged from the binding. Capital H followed, cradling the unconscious comma.
As soon as they made it back, Capital H set the comma down on the driest patch of paper he could find, and the others gathered around as he tended to her.
“Where did you find this comma, Tittle?” Capital H asked.
“She was near the edge.” Tittle said. “I have no idea how she survived.”
“Pure luck, I guess.” Capital H shook his head. “But it would seem she’s out of that now; I believe she’s in a coma.”
“Oh, no! The comma is in a coma?” w gasped.
“It would appear so.”
“But isn’t there some way we can revive her?” Question Mark asked.
y stomped angrily.
“For the love of G, is anyone here a doctor?”
“y…” Tittle’s i said tentatively, “we’re the only ones left. Look around, there’s not a D among us.”
“It’s not a D we need.” Capital H said. “It’s an entire CPR team, and even they would be hard pressed.”
“A CPR team?” i asked.
“Yes. It would take nothing short of an experienced C of Cardiac, P of Physician, and R of Resuscitation, all capitals of course, to revive a comma so deep in coma. But alas, we are the only survivors in all the pages.”
This was greeted with a heavy silence. w sat down and weeped. Question Mark, y, Capital H, Tittle, and his i stood in a melancholy circle around the comatose comma. They were a lone spot of grammar on a singed and soggy pile of pages and cover. Tittle slumped low against his i and felt her quivering.
“Did you hear that?” Question Mark whispered suddenly.
Somewhere beyond their bookshelf, voices could be heard. Not the tinny tones of fellow letters, but rumbling, slow baritones.
“Readers!” i cried.
“No!” Capital H looked around desperately. “They can’t see us in such a state, shambled letters on a burnt corner of book; we’ll be tossed for sure!”
“T-tossed?” w’s voice was shaking.
“Thrown out…” Tittle whispered. “The rubbish bin… unread.”
The letters gasped and embraced one another, terrified of their fate. Being tossed is a letter’s worst nightmare: to be stuck in a decaying book never again to know the nourishing warmth of a reader’s eyes ever again, slowly starving to death.
“There must be something we can do.” y said desperately.
“No, we can’t…”
“But we can!” Capital H said suddenly. “There is something indeed. We may not be able to save ourselves from the land fill, but at least we can be read one more time before we go.”
“I don’t understand-” i started to say.
“i, if we arrange ourselves in some form of a sentence, we can be read before we die.” Capital H began to pace. Still reluctant to totally approve of Capital H, Tittle had to admit this idea was brilliant.
i stared at Capital H with the kind of adoration that made Tittle ill.
“But what kind of sentence can we make?” Question Mark asked dejectedly. “I haven’t even got my dot. I’m improper. You can’t make a proper sentence without a proper question mark.”
“The loss of your dot is surely unfortunate Mr. Mark,” Capital H said, “but I’m sure a decent reader would be able to overlook it, given the circumstances.”
Tittle heard none of this. He was carefully examining the letters around him.
“I’m sorry, Tittle, why what now?” i asked.
“No, no, it’s the sentence we can make!” Tittle exclaimed. “We’ll have to arrange the poor comma appropriately, but it is possible.
“Genius!” Capital H grabbed Tittle off his i and kissed him, much to Tittle’s discomfort. “Not only is that an entire sentence, by Capital G of God, we could be an entire book in a two word sentence and poem. You’re brilliant, Tittle!”
As Capital H set about arranging the others, Tittle leaned down to his i.
“This sentence will also make you a name letter by pronoun association, which is nearly as a good as being born a name letter. You and Capital H would be, well, proper.”
“Oh, Tittle!” i gasped. “You are a genius.”
The voices of the readers were getting closer. Tittle could almost make out what they were saying.
“i, quickly!” Capital H called from between w and y, “You must take your place in front of the comma before they reach our book!”
Trying not to giggle at Capital H’s awkward position between the two lowercases, i hopped into her place. Not more than a second later, there was a tiny cough near i’s foot.
The comma twitched and stretched as the others stared at her in shock. She looked at them with equal confusion.
“Where am I?” She asked. “Oh dear, this is not my sentence. And- gyup!” Comma turned a laugh into an odd hiccupping sound. “What is that Capital doing between to lowercases? That is just… just…” Her voice faltered as she looked at her surroundings.
“I’m so sorry, Comma.” i said. “Do you remember what happened?”
“It’s suddenly coming back to me.” Comma whispered. “Oh Capital G of God, everyone’s gone… What happened to me?”
“Comma, you- you were in a coma.” i explained. “We tried everything we could to wake you, but-”
“And you created this sentence just for me!” Comma chirped in a flurry of excitement. “Oh, how did you know it would wake me?”
Once again the others could only stare at her.
“We didn’t…” Tittle said, shock making his words blunt. “We did this because the readers are coming. We didn’t want to die unread.”
“Oh…” Comma said, she frowned slightly before immediately perking up again. “Well, it is a clever coincidence anyway, since I was in a coma and all.”
“If you don’t mind my asking,” Capital H said, “how is that?”
“It’s like this.” Comma took a deep breath. “A comma represents a pause, right? In a sentence, that pause is short, just a breath’s length. But when a comma loses her sentence, that pause will stretch on forever into a coma. Getting her back into a sentence is the only way to revive a comma in a coma.”
The comma gave them all a small smile. Tittle felt the urge to say something, anything she might find clever. As Comma was speaking, it had dawned on Tittle that she was the most beautiful figure of ink he had ever seen. Though his tiny muscles were still aching from the rescue mission, he was immensely glad to have made the trip.
“You know, the sentence was my idea.” He said awkwardly.
Capital H chuckled.
Before Comma could respond, there was a great, earth-shaking jolt to their page.
“Everyone, shh! We’ve been picked up!” Capital H whispered.
Tittles heart felt like a miniscule hummingbird trapped in his chest. After all the chaos, everything suddenly felt right. Even through the soggy pages, he could already feel the warmth of the reader’s hand seeping through, seemingly into Tittle’s very soul.
“Here’s one that hasn’t been completely destroyed,” said the reader, his huge voice vibrating slowly through the pages. Tittle could hear another reader’s footsteps approaching and thought excitedly that they might be read twice before they were tossed.
Slowly, the cover and preceding pages were turned away. Light struck their page so suddenly and so bright that Tittle thought for a panicked moment that the book at caught fire again. First he heard his i gasp, and then he saw them, the most glorious sight any letter on any page ever sees.
The reader’s eyes were dark, chocolate brown. The eyes were shaded by a yellow helmet, the skin around them was stained with ash and some of the eyelashes were singed. Tittle had never seen a more beautiful set of eyes. As those eyes gazed on Tittle and the sentence in which he stood, they widened in amazement. They read Tittle’s sentence, read it again, and then read it once more.
Tittle found himself short of breath. He could hear the others gasping raggedly around him. Being read so many times in quick succession was more pleasurable that he could ever have imagined, but it was exhausting. Even as he regained his breath, he found himself already missing the eyes.
“Look at this,” the brown-eyed reader said, “it’s incredible. How do you suppose this happened?”
“He called us incredible!” Comma squeaked.
The book was passed to another reader. This reader too was ash-stained. His eyes were hazel-green and soon gained the same rapt expression as the ones before. The hazel eyes read the sentence several times over, until the letters were panting and shaking again.
“This is more than incredible, it’s unbelievable!” The hazel-eyed reader said.
“Unbelievable…” w sighed.
“It’s just not plausible…” The reader flipped through the remaining pages in the book, giving Tittle’s sentence a much-needed rest. He was back to their page in a matter of seconds.
“All the other pages are blank.” He said. “How could there only be one sentence in this entire chunk of book? And it’s not even right… the cases are all wrong. Do you see that? But still, it’s poetry, man. We have to show this to someone.”
He snapped the cover shut on the ecstatic letters.
“Did you hear that?” Comma gasped.
“We’re not going to be tossed!” Tittle exclaimed.
“That reader had such gorgeous eyes…” w swooned. “I wish he would read us again.”
“Maybe he will!” Question Mark said. “Didn’t you hear him? He’s going to show us to someone, we’ll be read again!”
“Dear me, yes.” Capital H said. “and perhaps not so ferociously next time, that was trying sport with those readers.”
“What, couldn’t keep up, Capital?” y teased.
They all laughed giddily.
It was a moment before Tittle noticed that his i was being oddly silent throughout the jubilations.
“i, are you alright?” He asked. i only sniffed in response.
“You’re not sad at such a time, are you, i?” Capital H turned to her. “We have lost much, it’s true, but now is the time of our salvation!”
“Oh, Capital!” i said suddenly. Tittle braced himself for an embarrassing explosion of emotion. “Didn’t you hear that reader? The cases aren’t right, I’ll never pass as a name letter, never! Not even by pronoun association. How did you do it, Capital H?”
Tittle relaxed a bit, this was not the explosion he had feared.
Capital H shook his head.
“You must understand, i, I was born a Capital and a name letter. I have stood forever in my place at the front of the name Harry and had all the pleasures of life thrown at my feet. But I was always supported by my comrades; a, the r twins, y… how I miss them now.” Capital H paused, briefly lost in his memories. “Neither I nor they could ever have been what you are now, i. You are not just a name letter, you are a word in and of yourself, and a damn fine word you make, i. Would those readers have read us so many times if you were anything less than amazing?”
i blushed and giggled helplessly. Capital H smiled back at her. Tittle rolled his eyes.
Over the next few days, the corner of the book and the sentence “i, wHy?” (short one dot below the question mark) were passed from reader to reader. Each reader insisted on reading the sentence several times before they could set aside the book’s burnt remains. Such was life in the charred corner of what had once been a young adult reading phenomenon, until the book fell into the hands of Librarian Thompson.
Librarian Thompson was a very old, very thin woman. Tittle’s first impression when the librarian picked up their book was of the distinct lack of warmth in her hands. But she held the book corner with great care, and despite their chill, Librarian Thompson’s hands felt like home.
The librarian had round, ice blue eyes that were comically magnified by her square glasses. She only read the sentence once, which made w whine for the hazel-eyed reader. Librarian Thompson then promptly proclaimed the book to be a miracle of the literary kind.
“This should be set in a display box.” Librarian Thompson said crisply. “It will be placed in a central area. The book is obviously fragile, but such a state should not keep its contents from being read by all.”
The letters gasped.
“Read by all?” Question Mark breathed.
“Oh, I do like this woman,” Capital H said, “I like her very much.”
“We must be the most fortunate letters since f of fortune was made Capital F of Fortune’s Fool!” Tittle squeaked.
“I just excited about the display box.” Comma bubbled.
In the gentle care of Librarian Thompson’s cold, dry hands, the book fragment was cleaned and polished as much as was possible in its state. The librarian then carefully propped the book corner open on a little plastic stand and placed a square glass cover over it for protection.
“Would you just look at that glass shine!” Comma squealed.
“This is the life.” i said, casting an adoring glance at Capital H. The Capital winked back at her.
Librarian Thompson set their display box on a pedestal. Her hands snapped to her hips and she peered down at them with her bespectacled gaze. The librarian read them slowly and thoughtfully, almost as if she could hear the letters on the page sigh with the pleasure of being read. She then placed a small golden card on the outside of the box, which Tittle could only assume was the story of the book corner’s origin.
Tittle settled back against the page as reader after reader passed by the display box. Over and over again they were read. They were read by men and women of all ages and races and walks of life, and each was one was impressed by the sentence. Even the hazel-eyed reader from the burning bookstore returned several times, much to w’s glee.
The letters did not need to speak to one-another to convey their sublime feelings. Far from being tossed, the little sentence had been put on display in the Heaven-on-Earth of books and letters: a library.