Word Origins – Desire Ducharme

The lipstick was gross. Sticky yet dry, a bitter wax in ‘Fire Engine Red.’ It was orange. I was an expert on Orange thanks to my gang on The Street. Grover and John-John did a side by side analysis of red to orange just this morning. The lipstick was orange. Miss Not-the-Teacher was instructing me to kiss the paper, “with your mouth.” She is making weird shapes with her mouth as she says, “mouth” and pointing to the center of the page. There were a lot of rules about where one should and shouldn’t put their mouth. Paper was on the “no” list. I was only three but I knew you weren’t supposed to put paper in your mouth. Between her insistence that the lipstick is red and wanting me to put my mouth on paper, Miss Not-the-Teacher was losing credibility by the second. How does Bizzy stay here with this strange woman?

“Just kiss the paper and I’ll wipe it off!” I quickly touched the paper with my orange wax coated lips. The paper stuck. Neat. Miss Not-the-Teacher pulled it off. She replaces it with sandpaper disguised as a napkin. I quickly ducked her second attempt at assault by wiping my mouth on my sleeve. Sleeves were also on the “no” list but I was against this whole operation from the beginning. Miss Not-the-Teacher was the captain here and we were clearly adrift. I stare at the orange-not-red imprint of my mouth above the letters m,o,u,t, and h. Something is happening here. I sensed there is something she is trying to tell me. That this whole thing is about more than lipstick and where we put our mouths. Mouths hold our taste sense. My Mouth. Miss Not-the-Teacher takes my Senses Train away for gluing. 

It is lay-on-the-floor-quiet-and-still-until-your-mom-comes o’clock. I use this time to prepare my answers for mom. She is very interested in what I learn at pre-school. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be learning but she asks so I like to have an answer ready for her. It keeps the conversation moving as we navigate Stumps Market.

Today I learned:

We have five senses, most of which are part of our face. Some are in our hands and we must keep our hands to ourselves, especially Billy. – Mom will like this answer.

Miss Not-the-Teacher is not to be trusted. Doesn’t know red from orange. Lies about lipstick. Makes questionable choices about where to put one’s mouth. – Mom might worry about this one.

Lipstick is gross and should be avoided. – Ask Mom why lipstick is a thing.

Bizzy is down for second-nap. I tried to ask her about pre-school after Stumps but she didn’t want to talk about it. Mom is also down for second-nap. My gang was on TV. The monsters were vomiting letters. A ‘c’ dropped from one of them. An ‘a’ and a ‘t’ popped out of the other. The monster who dropped the ‘c’ made a ka-sound. I make a ka-sound. The monster who dropped the ‘a’ & ‘t’ said, “at.” I say at. They pushed their letters together and made their sounds faster. The ‘c’ lit up. 


The ‘a’ and ‘t’ lit up.





A small cat sat above the letters and meowed. Something deep in the center of me cracks like lightning. The letters! C-A-T. CAT. Cat! This is what Ernie and the monsters had been trying to tell me this whole time. I ran to our books screaming, “CAT!” There it was on the cover of “The Cat in the Hat.” I flipped every page. There! Cat. I knew this story because my mom read us all the Doctor’s work. C (ka) at (at), CAT. Oh my god. H (huh) at (at), HAT. HAT! Pat, sat, sit, fan, ran, sad, mad, bad! I was freaking out.

“Moooooommmmmm! Mom, the letters! The LETTERS!!! CAT. MOM! CAT!”

“Wha!? Are you hurt?! Did you see a cat, sweetie?”

“Yes. I see a cat. C and A and T. Cat, mom, it’s the letters! The letters together are cat!” 

“Oh, yes. Can we read later? I thought you were sleeping? Is Bizzy awake?”

“No. She’s asleep still. Mom, listen, the monsters, I figured it out! They’ve been trying to tell me this whole time and I get it!”

“That’s nice. Is Sesame Street on?”

“Oh, it’s on.” and I was awake.

Desiree Ducharme spends her days imagining pleasant and unpleasant

nonsense then writing it down. During her semi-voluntary, health-adjacent, potentially-permanent sabbatical from her dream job as a Used Book Buying Dragon at Powell’s City of Books, has freed up a lot of her time. She washed her dreams and became a writer. You can find more of her work at her website.

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