Lorem Ipsum (Flash Fiction)

This piece was previously published in Flashquake Vol. 11, Iss.2.

She was lower case italic, with tear drop terminals and romantic serifs, thickly curved like the stroke of an old-fashioned nib on parchment. At the same time she was colour and noise, all the things the eye mistakenly thinks it can translate from words on the page into a dream of sensory experience. She was like a page of lorem ipsum, that dummy Latin text printers use and into which trickster typesetters inject their own coarse jokes. She was all the lewd humour and forbidden words that made his stomach feel like he had been pitching about in the sea. Dangerous and unpredictable. And lately she loomed over him, dwarfing him like a sixty-four point font on a page designed for sixteen. She could make his prized Waterman fountain pens wilt. She was wonderful.

He was an undernourished nonentity. Can anyone imagine a fat man designing type? It was the pursuit of an ascetic, a hermit in a cave, endlessly chasing the perfect form. His pale face, which he now bent over his immaculate desk, dark wood precisely framing the white rectangle of his sketching pad, was furrowed between his eyebrows and around his mouth, deeper now from years of folding his face into concentrated lines, pursing his lips as he measured out letters and the spaces between. His pearl grey cardigan hung open finely, if a little limply, from thin shoulders, framing the pressed white shirt beneath. More Humanist than Garamond. Taller, slimmer, without the excess of serifs and ligatures. Upright and detached. He used to have such concentration, caught up for hours in a single letterform, adjusting the serif, thickening or thinning its lines, calculating its symmetry. Now he fiddled with his pens as he waited, impatient with himself for his anxiety. She was to arrive any moment. He wanted to talk to her so much it was painful.

To speak was impossible, the thought of writing a letter was agony. Enough of this. He needed to get on with his work; he promised the analphabet glyphs would be completed today. He turned his mind to the work. For most people, type was like a moving pavement at an airport, inviting the eye to ride along its back, unthinking, into the meaning of the words. It aspired to a state of transparency. But for the lucky few, the seeing few, like him, type could replace the meaning. For they were captivated by its precision and eloquence, its provocation of meaning before the brain has time to process it.

On a fresh sheet of paper in one long, hurried flourish he drew the snake of interrogation down the centre. He did not measure it, he did not map out its lines.  There was adjustment for symmetry or harmony or italic tilt. He bent his head over the vacant bead that sat at the snake’s tail; his heart thudded as he imagined its void filled in by her presence.

She entered the office.