Preparing for an event of this size was an ongoing effort and was a key part of how they kept unemployment down in Kioskope. Accommodating a global audience required specific kinds of architectural engineering, of course, but there was also a lot of necessary unskilled labor. Andrew Sartrovsky spent most of his time at the factory that made the small cushions for the seats. Andrew managed the stuffing of the cushions. The cushions themselves were an integral part of the ritual.
When the Wordletting was originally decreed a state mandated holiday, there were protests, of course. In the famous case of Alberg V. United Earth Confederacy, it was held that requiring ritual performance did not violate the Precepts of Freedom so long as no person was asked to commit to any shared set of ideals. In fact, the judges determined that the Wordletting played an important role in civic wellbeing: through this outlet, the good people of the world could dispose of the irrational anxiety that there was some kind of larger, inherent structure which threatened Freedom. State scientists had shown long ago that in fact, the individual and his property were the necessary entities of the only naturally arising social order that could be objectively understood as Free. From those studies came the realization that in order to capitalize on that knowledge, and produce a conglomerate that represented the Precepts of Freedom, some kind of intervention would be required to counteract the evolutionary glitch which lent the illusion that emancipation could be achieved communally. This was a social construct, the sociologists explained, that was used to justify particular kinds of governance, including laws that were not fundamentally about simple safety, but instead focused on some kind of sumtotal object. Such an object was strenuously objected to by articulate statesmen, as it required both a type of identification with and contribution to a system that was not entirely within the domain of the individual: it was an obvious threat to the Precepts of Freedom. An intervention to deconstruct the illusion of society was designed by a committee of experts, and the fiftieth anniversary of the first Wordletting was fast approaching.
And that was why Sartrovsky’s job was so important. Of course one of the basic necessities of the ritual was the “soft seat,” a feature to induce a particular mood. It was discovered through psychological testing that soft seating promoted the act of sharing, through verbal discourse, the porous state of one’s proper domain. Of course, outside the Wordletting, this was an act of treason, and that is why there was only one factory for seat cushions, which worked year round to create enough cushions for the event. It was also important that every material used in the creation of the cushions be biodegradable. Ownership of seat cushions was known to be a danger to the individual, and so the post ceremony cushion burial was also within the purview of Sartrovsky’s employer. Sartrovsky’s closest ally, Nicholas Thurt, worked one factory over where a certain amount of specialized skill was required to make instruments for producing musical tones which had been revealed by both hard and soft sciences to also help induce Expressions of Porousness.
Sartrovsky and Thurt had been best allies for a few years, ever since their numbers had come up together for the Practice of Continuity. Each month, by lottery, a certain number of men were called to equip the scientists with the necessary means for reproducing the individual. This, referred to as the Practice of Continuity, was a civic duty that was understood as both proper and tedious. Egg extraction, which women were obligated to participate in, was a far more invasive procedure and was thus only done once every three years, and the gap was widening as scientists began to develop storage that could keep the harvested eggs productive for longer periods of time. Nine months later, as mandated by the State, Sartrovsky and Thurt returned to the scientists. Both Sartrovsky and Thurt received a female child. Thurt’s was called Yani and Sartrovsky’s was called Anna. The children were pre-named and randomly assigned within the cohort of men. For the first six years of their life, they were kept away from women, as it had been shown that interaction with women at a young age can result in a tendency towards Expressions of Porousness. The women had a far more important role. At the end of those six incubatory years, it was the women who taught the children how to bleed their bodies, and how to do this with the stoicism the procedure required.
It was determined by state scientists to be only natural, in the way of eating and breathing, that there should be a regular practice for limiting the porousness of individuals and preserving and defending the Precepts of Freedom. Early on, scattered experiments indicated that brief physical pain produced a certain chemical reaction which could replace the treasonous act of the verbal Expression of Porousness. Studies like these had to spend a long time in committee of course, but eventually it was decisively concluded that small cuts made with fine blades in the morning, evening and as necessary, significantly reduced the likelihood of verbal Expressions of Porousness. Among the children, the cutting was something that had to be learned. Crying was, of course, strictly prohibited, except at the Wordletting, but children under six were not considered subject to that law. After the age of six, they went to the women for training, and those few who were unable to learn the proper passivity necessary were taken care of in a quick and painless manner by the same scientists who had produced them. Over time, certain traits were discovered among the specimens that produced anti-passive neurological disorders.
Yani had one such disorder, and had been disposed of in this manner prescribed. Sartrovsky knew that Thurt was a good man and therefore would hardly be bothered by this. Yet at the Wordletting last year, Sartrovsky couldn’t help but notice that Thurt had cried when the children had passed them during the procession into the Soft Seats. Obviously, crying was allowed at the Wordletting, but it was inadvisable to focus tears on any specific topic, as that sometimes seemed to induce anti-passivity behavior in the coming year. Still, Sartrovsky had seen with satisfaction that his best ally Thurt had completed another year with a perfect Cutting record and no citations for or warnings to do with porousness at all. On the evening of the fiftieth Wordletting, Sartrovsky remained confident in his choice of best ally.
There is a room with cushions and soft light. Music flows from reed instruments that do not have long lifespans and voices sing as if they have been waiting for release. The room is beautiful, but Anna doesn’t know the word beautiful, so she calls it overflowing. This is her first Wordletting, now that she’s seven, now that she’s graduated top of her class in Cutting. Everyone is happy with her and she doesn’t tell anyone that at night she thinks of her friend Yani and cries. Once she saw Thurt cry, too, but she doesn’t tell anyone that, either.
Anna has a memory in this room of Yani singing a song, when they were small. The song made her feel like she was overflowing, but now it makes her feel like she is drowning. For a while, she expected to see Yani in some places, but they were empty places now. Sartrovsky had explained to her that expectation was not real, it was better to use predictability. Sartrovsky said that he could predict for sure that Yani wasn’t coming back.
The music gets softer as the women and men in robes and masks come in, line up across the front of the room, and face the United Global Confederacy. Everyone is there. Nothing is televised, nothing is recorded. Everyone in the whole world is in Kioskope today.
The people settle into their soft seats, and the ritual begins.
“We are here now,” sing the masked performers.
“We are here together,” respond the people. Anna feels as though strings of lights are turning on inside her, from her toes, up up up!
And then in a low voice, the chanting:
I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely I am lonely
The chanting grows louder and louder and when the cacophony is so loud that no individual can be heard within it, the lights go up bright, and the people begin to wordlet. Anna hears people talk about their feelings in rushed whispers:
“The room at home is cold, and the food is meager, and I don’t always want to get up in the morning.”
“I remember a poem my grandmother wrote.”
“I have seen the sunlight through the window and thought about ephemeral things.”
“Sometimes I want to be touched.”
“I practice hugging my pillow, so I don’t forget. How to hug.”
“The best joke I heard this year goes like this: why did the chicken cross the road? Don’t call it a road, we’ve never built anything together.” Anna thinks this is a strange joke and looks over. She is surprised to see that it is Thurt. He isn’t talking about his feelings, and Anna guesses this is because he is like her, he wordlets in his pillow at night, when he can’t take it anymore. Anna guesses this because she knows that Thurt misses Yani as much as she does, she knows that Thurt is the only person who knew Yani like she did. Thurt looks at Anna, Anna is overcome by a strange sensation and she awkwardly wraps her arms around Thurt. Thurt looks surprised – he knows that no one has taught Anna how to hug. Then he realizes that the room is watching them. They are in trouble. Thurt closes his eyes, and decides not to make the same mistake twice. He puts his arms around the girl Anna and whispers, “it’s okay. I miss her too.” The confessions have stopped. The chanting dies down. Everyone is looking at the man and the child. Sartrovsky thinks about wringing his hands and decides it’s too dangerous. There is utter silence. Somewhere, some official person with an official title attempts to reinstate discipline, pulls a plug, and the lights go out. It is in this total darkness, where no can see, that certain things become clear. People begin to reach for each other.