The Weight of Words

Sipping a cup of coffee, you consider what people do and where people go and what phrases appear in the descriptions of these life events, and you remember the time you witnessed a child’s caution and you concluded, “He didn’t want to get in trouble.”

In trouble. What a phrase.

In trouble, as if it’s a dish cooking on the stove. A pot of trouble. Stovetop trouble bubbles furiously like tomato soup being cooked over too high a flame. But it’s trouble, so it’s not that it’s angry. Bubbling is just one of trouble’s characteristics, for trouble is never completely stagnant. Trouble tends to rumble like a hungry stomach wanting attention.

In trouble, as if it were a place like a small town. Kind of rural with a tiny main drag, a Western town, or maybe more desert-like. Not much water around trouble. The sign on the edge of town says ‘TROUBLE, elevation 11 ft., pop. 57.’ You cross the border the sign marks and you’re in Trouble. You spend some time there, meet the locals, and drink at the saloon because you’ve always wanted to pass through swinging doors with Saloon stenciled overhead. You shop at the Five & Dime because you haven’t been to one in a long while and it sparks a fond childhood memory. The woman at the cash register ringing you up invites you home for supper because in Trouble strangers don’t remain strangers for long.

Around the table, the food is fine and the family is simple with a working wife, two children, and the kind of husband who would find himself in this small town, a man who used to roam the highways shaking it up and lifting his fist until he found himself in Trouble. You finish your meal and play Parchisi in the living room and you thank your hosts as you leave through the front door.

After a couple days – or is it hours? – you leave Trouble just as you arrived: casually, without much thought.

When people ask where you’ve been and you answer, “In Trouble,” they scrunch up their faces with concern. ‘In trouble’ is the kind of answer kids and criminals give, and you’re neither. In the 1950s a pregnant unmarried woman might use the phrase, or at least the gossiping neighbors would. “She got herself in trouble.”

Being in trouble speaks of going against the rules and getting caught. Being in trouble links with punishment. But after your detour to the small town, those two words will forever sound sly when they crop up in conversation like they’re winking with a bigger story to tell.


Anonymous said...

Deezee, this is fantastic. Beautifully articulated.

Girlplustwo said...

SO true. i love this. Trouble is that small town we all visited, the one with the archived stories.

and that's exactly why we go there in the first place, right...we can't help ourselves, we love the drama.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic. And I love how this story progressed from a phrase with negative associations to a remembered experience that brings a smile to your face.

I hear "in trouble" a lot these days - it's a popular sentence in kindegarten.

Trouble said...

But what if you just ARE trouble.

Emily said...

This seems like just a beginning. I'd love to read a whole short story that takes place in this town...or even more...