(photograph of Noam Chomsky from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Duncan Rawlinson)
Shortly after Chomsky started kindergarten, he launched his cough drop-collecting hobby.
He found his first shiny tin, with an image of a cherry on the lid, in a kitchen trashcan. He went wild.
“Sweet serendipity! Eighteen cherry candies arranged in a clever container!”
(Yes, he really talked like that when he was five. His mother chose him as the test subject for her dissertation, Innovations in First Language Acquisition, while he was still rattling around her womb.)
After Chomsky fished them out of the trash, his father set him straight.
“They’re throat lozenges, son—cough drops.” He squinted and shook his head, as though he had swallowed a dozen lemons. “Quite uncandy-like. Inedible, actually, which is why I threw them away.”
Chomsky bit into one. It tasted like fruit-flavored poison before numbing the interior of his mouth—a weapon disguised as candy. He was hooked on the concept of these sneaky beauties. Every week thereafter, he bought a tin of them with his allowance.
* * *
By the time Chomsky started high school, his cough drop collection—which he sorted by flavor and dusted daily—had grown to fill a bookcase.
Every morning, he selected five tins to carry with him, to stack on his desk at school, in case he needed a weapon to disable a taunting student like the boy who had badgered him in the cafeteria in middle school.
“Hey, Chumpsky, do you talk to your cough drops? Do you play Scrabble with them?”
Secretly, Chomsky had hoped someone—anyone—might ask for one to soothe a sore throat, or ease a cough. That hadn’t happened, but he kept hoping.
* * *
Chomsky’s father grew edgy around him, stopped communicating directly.
One evening, while Chomsky and his parents dined on wilted frisée and bouillabaisse, his father pronounced an opinion to his wife, as though Chomsky weren’t present.
“The kid holes up in his room, organizing a tin collection like a librarian. Shouldn’t he be outside, roughhousing with the neighborhood boys, or hunting for porn on Internet?”
She disagreed. “He’ll figure out his niche in life. Don’t be so conventionally minded.”
“I’m a cook, married to an academic—how am I conventional? Maybe you should have given him a normal first name and taught him to read with superhero comics instead of grammar textbooks. The kid’s weird.”
Chomsky was accustomed to harassment from classmates, who were envious of his awards for spelling bees, reading comprehension exams, and essay competitions, but barbs from his own father? Fully demoralizing.
Without waiting for dessert, (apple tarte tatin, his favorite), Chomsky ran to his room, knocking over a valuable French doll from his mother’s display in the living room.
* * *
“We fix all fractures,” promised a sign behind the counter in Annabelle’s Doll Hospital.
A sunglass-bespectacled young woman examined his mother’s doll with the gravity of a surgeon.
“Hmmm, three hairline cracks limited to the forehead.” She nodded, several times. “Yes, I can repair these cracks. They won’t be invisible, faint though, and well worth repairing, since Jumeau dolls are so highly prized.”
“I hope it’s worth it. To cover the expense, I’ll need to cash in savings bonds intended for my college tuition.
Delicately, she placed the doll in a padded, coffin-like box and wrote up a receipt.
“Chomsky.” She pronounced it slowly. “What an unusual first name.”
“My mother’s a professor. She named me after her favorite linguist, Noam Chomsky.”
The young woman removed her tinted glasses and extended her hand. “I like your name. I’m Annabelle.”
Chomsky noticed an extraordinary feature of Annabelle’s eyes: bottom eyelashes, longer and blacker than the top lashes.
In the strong, artificial, doll-hospital light, he was certain he saw reflected in Annabelle’s upside-down eyes, images that undulated, broke, and rejoined in a different configuration. Unnerved by the experience, he squeezed her hand, perhaps too tightly, perhaps too boldly, for at that very moment, she began to cough.
Chomsky took a deep breath. “Would you like a cough drop?”
Sue Ann Connaughton writes fiction and poetry from a drafty old house in Salem, Massachusetts. Recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming in Eunoia Review; One-Sentence Story Anthology; The Bicycle Review; GlassFire Magazine; The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts; Barnwood Poetry Magazine; and The Linnet’s Wings. Currently, she is mid-draft in her first novel, The Longshoreman’s Women.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH Broken:
In a little over 750 words, author Sue Ann Connaughton, previously published in our first issue (“Food For The Heart”), once again demonstrates her fine skill in crafting superb flash fiction and how to bring a story full circle. And we loved Chomsky’s name. Which is why we chose to feature a photograph of his namesake with the story.