Flash Fiction: Holding Their Tongue

Two men live in a small, remote pueblo in Mexico. They are no longer young, though they will likely live a while longer. Their homes lie just over a quarter-mile apart. They are the last two speakers of Nuumte Oote, but they have nothing to say to each other. They each claim to speak true  voice,—the name their people gave their ancient, indigenous  tongue—but different dialects. Each believes the other’s dialect is wrong. There’s more to why they won’t speak, of course, but neither can remember exactly how the feud started. Pueblo life has its complications.

One man has no family, and he doesn’t have much to say to anyone. The other has children who moved away to look for work along with everyone else. He speaks true voice to them on the phone. The children understand, but their knowledge is limited to only a few words of Nuumte Oote. The pueblo is almost silent, almost empty now.

True voice is dying. Strangers—ethnographers and anthropologists they’re called—come to visit, to preserve the language they say. These strangers ask their questions, write down words and phrases. They say they are creating a book, a dictionary. But who are they to save something that doesn’t belong to them, to rewrite a history that is not their own?

And what good can come of a book that is half-filled with nonsense? If the very foundation of a thing is wrong, why should it be saved? These strangers can’t stop the inevitable silence of the tomb. Empires, cultures, pueblos, old men … everything must fall away in its time. On this one thing the two old men agree. Better to let this tongue die with them, they think. Then true voice will at least remain true, even if it is spoken only by the wind.


Flash fiction published in Voices de la Luna. 

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