Welcome to fellow Loose Id author Anida Adler
now available from Loose Id
My Secret Obsession
Analysis of an unhealthy preoccupation with apostrophes.
Micky, my husband, stopped short in the middle of the aisle. He looked this way and that for a streaker, a couple copulating right there on the floor or someone who’d set their hair on fire. From the scandalised tone of my voice, whatever it was I saw had to be of at least that magnitude. Not finding any obvious rubberneck-worthy flaunting of the basic rules of human behaviour, he turned back to me. “What?”
I pointed a shaking finger at the cause of my distress. “That sign, there on the shelf. It says ‘Apple’s now half price’.”
He inspected the sign for any additional information, such as hidden code for the precise date of the apocalypse or some other revalation of equal magnitude. Finding none, he turned his gaze back to me. “So?”
“So it’s a plural. You don’t use an apostrophe S with a plural. Unless there’s just one apple that’s half price and the rest are normal price. In which case it should read: “This apple’s now half price.’ And there are better ways to say it.”
Micky gave me that special look he has perfected over fourteen years of putting up with me. It’s a unique combination of emotions and opinions, all rolled into a slight lift of the eyebrow and a half-smile, half-grimace. “Ah.” That’s another talent fourteen years of marriage to me has given him: the power to invest an essay’s worth of meaning into a two-letter word.
I have no idea why I’m so obsessed with apostrophes. I know it’s silly, and I know I probably irritate people with my pernickety-ness. Alas, I’ve tried in vain to overcome my preoccupation. Whether I’m cycling, shopping, visiting friends, every area of my life is invaded by apostrophes, or the lack of them.
Living a stone’s throw from the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland (the latter being a part of the United Kingdom), I drive to Newry for my weekly shopping, making use of the current favourable exchange rate between Euros and Sterling to save a few bob. You wouldn’t guess, were you to visit me and I take you to Newry, that you pass from one country to another. You can only tell you’re in the UK when you see the speed limit posted in miles per hour as opposed to kilometres per hour. A big, smooth highway runs through the mountain pass where, according to legend, Cuchullain delayed queen Maebh’s army in the cattle raid of Cooley. He’d be hard pressed to do the same today, especially if queen Maebh hired an eighteen-wheeler.
Me, I drive my little dark blue hatchback the sixteen kilometres to Newry, same as everyone else from Dundalk who goes shopping there. Where things change is once I’m in Newry, heading for the nearest supermarket. Unlike everyone else, I turn right just before the main entrance to the parking lot and drive along a narrow road to the back entrance. Why? Well. Right at the big intersection where you’d turn right to the parking lot, on two walls, there are two banners. Big ones. The first proclaims: Your Euro’s go further at XYZ mall! The second invites: Come and see whats inside!
“So?” I can hear you say. And if you were here, I’m sure you’d cast Micky a sympathetic glance.
Well, on the first banner, Euros is a plural, and therefore should not have an apostrophe S. On the second banner, what’s is a contraction of ‘what is’, and therefore should have an apostrophe S. To crown it all, the traffic light at that specific intersection is a bastard, it always catches me. I’m always forced to sit there in my car, trying not to look at the double calamity looming over me on the left, while the sadistic traffic light withholds the green that will save me from the torture with what I’m sure is a machine version of a cruel laugh. I hear it in my head, I swear.
Recently I visited my good friend, the composer Lewis Smith, in Belfast. We went to Kelly’s Cellars, a gorgeous, low-ceilinged old pub that makes you feel you’ve stepped back to the smoky past when you enter its wooden door. As you do, I quaffed some lager, and soon needed the loo. And there the sunny sky of my much enjoyed visit acquired a dark cloud. For over the short passage leading to the toilet, there was a handwritten, cardboard sign. It read:
When I returned to our table, Lewis could see something was amiss. “What’s wrong?”
“The sign showing where to go for the loo. It has a missing apostrophe.”
He went to see. “No, it doesn’t.”
“Yes, it does. It should have an apostrophe after the S.”
A long argument ensued, which involved much consumption of alcohol and a lot of scribbling on a torn-open box that the aspirin in my handbag had to sacrifice for the sake of good grammar. Eventually, Lewis was convinced. He shrugged and took another sip of beer. “Go change it, then.”
“What?” Having grown up not only in another country, but speaking another language, I sometimes misunderstand Lewis’ Belfast drawl.
“Go change it,” he said again. “You have a pen there, go on.”
My heartbeat quickened. How often I’d dreamed of stealing to advertising boards speaking of ‘Mens Fashions’ in the middle of the night, climbing up on a ladder and painting in the missing apostrophe. Or pretending to tie my shoelace beside the stand at the restaurant’s door and blacking out the superfluous one in ‘Chicken Wrap’s’. Here was my chance to live out my fantasy, to correct the wrong done to an innocent word. I looked this way and that, but it was late and everyone was too busy drinking to pay me any attention. Clutching my pen in my hand, I strolled to the passage with the abomination stuck over it. Quick as a flash, I stood on tip-toes and drew an apostrophe into the right place.
Liberated, elated, I sat back down beside Lewis. “I did it!” I crowed.
“Well done.” He winked at me and raised a pint to my weird obsession.
I’m thinking of carrying a big, black marker in my handbag from now on. But don’t tell anyone. I wouldn’t want them to think I’m strange.
In keeping with the Irish theme of her story, Anida will be giving away a Shannon O’Shamrock bear to one randomly drawn commenter from the tour.
Be sure to check out Anida’s book The Ancient at www.loose-id.com/prod-The_Ancient-1010.aspx