It didn’t take very many words for the Geeky Guy, the new owner of the Epiphany Cafe, to hire the Lisping Barista. There was a bit about wages. The Lisping Barista could name her own. There was a bit about hours. The Lisping Barista could come and go as she pleased, so long that there was someone present and qualified to make coffee. And there was a bit about how the Geeky Guy wanted the Lisping Barista to manage the place, because, really, what did he know about running a cafe.
There was nothing about how the Geeky Guy loved her, felt protective of the Lisping Barista, and wanted to be with her always. There was nothing about how he bought the place just to save her job, so she would stay in town. There was nothing about how the Geeky Guy wanted to finish what they had started on that mattress at the concert before, somehow, the Lisping Barista’s attention had been distracted. There was nothing about castles and fair damsels and men who needed to save them. There was nothing about any of that because there was nothing written in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sex about buying a cafe and hiring a girl you have a crush on. Therefore, they spoke briefly about wages, hours, and job title, and then the Lisping Barista went back to work. There was a lot of coffee to top off because everyone was staying and wanted to celebrate.
Something happened later, during a slight lull in orders, that the Geeky Guy would struggle to understand. The Lisping Barista was sweeping through the cafe to put away some dishes. The Geeky Guy was setting up the cafe’s new account books on an Excel spreadsheet. He understood Excel spreadsheets. As she passed by, she said to him a set of words that he would ponder for hours.
“It’th bithy today.”
At first he thought she was saying something, or someone, was bitchy; but then, after a few minutes of code breaking, he substituted S for the sound of Th and came up with a sentence that made some sense.
It’s busy today.
It, indeed, was busy today; but why did she say so?
You see, the Geeky Guy was a mathematically inclined individual who often had a lot of trouble understanding what people meant. He spoke English as well as anyone and could even comprehend the Lisping Barista’s lisp; but he found the interpretation of any given utterance to be baffling, mystifying, and variable. He knew there was so much he didn’t know; and he knew that, if the Lisping Barista was saying something, it must be important.
When she said, It’s busy today, she may have been just stating facts. She’d been a barista for a long time and knew busy days from slow ones. She wouldn’t even need to count up the register to tell which were the busy ones. He was new to the cafe business and might need to know that he should not expect to make as much every day as he would today. It would be important information to have, information that fell well within the duties of a manager to impart to a new owner.
Then again, even the Geeky Guy knew there was an emotive function to utterances. The Lisping Barista may not have been imparting information so much as she was expressing an emotion. The Geeky Guy heard that people, particularly women, often did that. As he thought, he identified several particular emotions she might have been expressing with that brief sentence. Wonder, relief, gratitude, fatigue, complaint, and anger all seemed likely candidates. The Geeky Guy would have to be a lot better at reading inflection, body language, and context to know just what she was expressing about her emotions, if she was expressing anything at all. He wasn’t normally quite this socially impaired, but he was in love.
He might have followed that line of inquiry further, but he was pulled up short by another thought. Language has a command function. Sometimes people, particularly less powerful people, employees, for instance, will embed a request or a mild imperative in a perfectly harmless, unassuming sentence. It’s busy today, may well mean, Help me, I can’t do this on my own, I’m just about at the end of my rope, or You’re not doing enough around here. It was that last possibility that disturbed the Geeky Guy. He was new to being the owner of a business that employed his girlfriend, so he wanted to get it right. He wished that if people wanted or needed something, they would just go ahead and say it because it was all he could do to sort it out.
The Geeky Guy might have concluded his thought right then and offered to help, but another notion crossed his mind. What did It in the sentence refer to? What was the It that was busy? The phrase, It is busy, might be written mathematically as, It = Busy. That might be something the Geeky Guy, being mathematically inclined, would understand, except he didn’t. It made no sense that It was the same as Busy, or that Busy was the same as It, which would necessarily follow. It and Busy seemed to be entirely different things, not interchangeable at all. This was the reason the Geeky Guy disliked words and preferred numbers.
The Geeky Guy knew that there were people who loved words and talking so much that they would speak even if there was nothing to say. This was known as small talk. It’s busy today, may have been an example of this small talk that people warned him of. The Geeky Guy had once been confused by small talk until a fellow engineer explained that it was the same as pinging. He understood pinging as a query a computer on a network will do to determine whether any other computer is connected to it. People will ping each other with this small talk just to determine whether there is someone out there and if the connection was still working.
The Geeky Guy liked the idea that the Lisping Barista might be pinging him because it meant that they were on the same network and it mattered to her that they maintained a connection. That made him feel good all over, except that he wished she would be programmed to just say ping when she wanted to ping. He would say ping right back. This way they would not confuse pinging with something important to say.
There was also the possibility that the Lisping Barista said, It’s busy today, for no reason at all, other than that she liked the sound of the words. In that case, it wouldn’t matter whether he heard it or not. It was only important that she heard it.
The Geeky Guy did not know enough about prosody to to use the terms, but I could tell him that, It’s busy today, was a spondee, followed by an anapest; two knocks preceding a swing. The sound of, It’s busy today, perfectly matched the sense of a barista getting slammed by orders, followed by a lull. Furthermore, the repetition of the S sound, or, as the Lisping Barista actually verbalized it, the Th sound, was consonance. The Th sound, was a reasonably good analog to the ambient noise of the cafe when busy. Then, there’s the assonance of the vowels in the words, It’s busy. Although the vowels in the two words are written differently, they sound similar to each other: uh; very much like the sound of someone struggling and grunting under a load.
So, you see, three small words from the Lisping Barista gave the Geeky Guy plenty to think about. That’s what love does. Whatever little you have, it multiplies.