“Klaus” by Henrik Hoeg, read by Edward Gunawan

Performed at “Crazy & Sane” on May 27, 2019.

My first apartment had come semi-furnished; a bed and mattress with no sheets, a refrigerator in need of stocking, and a big empty bookshelf. I say first apartment, in lieu of a better word, but I really mean the first apartment I’m renting on my own. I don’t like the phrase ‘bachelor pad’, but if the shoe fits. At this point I hadn’t dated for 6 months, not since…her. I hadn’t yet gotten my confidence back, but walking into that apartment had an ominous feeling to it, but in a positive sort of way. That’s right. Ominous.

I recall wondering if there was a word for ‘ominous’, but in a positive way. Maybe that’s why I bought a dictionary. Or maybe I wanted to genuinely improve myself. I have never exactly felt confident in my skill with words. And there had to be a better way to say that than ‘skill with words’. Maybe I just wanted to fill the empty bookshelf and I thought a dictionary would be quaint. Or homely. Or something.. Either way, I bought the dictionary from a goodwill store, Mirriam-Webster 2007. A decade old, but I didn’t think the English language changed so fast that I ought to care. The word of the year in 2007, and I swear this is true, was ‘w00t’, with zeroes where the ‘o’s might go.

W00t (interjection) An expression of joy.

There was a whole top 10 list for the year, my favorite was number seven;

Sardoodledom (noun) A play with an overly contrived and melodramatic plot.

Now that’s an appropriate sounding word. No sooner had I placed the dictionary down than I heard the oddest little sound. A dull thud followed by scratching, seemingly coming from the dictionary. I cautiously extended my hand and lifted open the cover.

The inside of my newly purchased dictionary had been hollowed out. And in the middle of the space, on a tiny rocking chair and smoking a pipe, sat an angry looking humanoid about five inches tall. His skin was pruned like fingers after a bath and he looked the way I’d picture one of Santa’s elves if they had been through a tumble dryer. He spoke first:

“What are you looking at you slapdash goblin phallus, you never seen a dictionary gnome before?”

I tried to speak despite my shock, but my tongue was like a sloppy brick and my mind was still processing. All I could muster was “bluhh-meh… wha?”

“Wow, we got a real whizz here, sharpest drawer in the knife factory. Look kid, I’m Klaus, I’m your dictionary gnome, and I’m very tired. But I will help you. For now I need sleep. We’ll begin tonight. We’re gonna teach you some goodly words and make you more confidenter, ya dumbo. Now skiddadle.”

He slammed the cover closed. I don’t recall the rest of the day. I vaguely remember trying to decide if I was crazy or not, undecided even as I dozed off to sleep. Then in the middle of the night I half awoke, tiny hands were shaking me by the shoulder. I rolled away from the intrusion on my sleep.

“Oi! Get up you lump!”

I rolled over further and went back to sleep for a few blissful moments before I shot up, awoken by a sharp pain in my left nostril. I looked over to see Klaus standing next to me clutching a few of my now-liberated nose hairs and grinning.

“That worked better, duly noted. Look buddy, here are your words for the day: churlish; it means rude, lithe; it means flexible, and trite; it means unoriginal and boring. Repeat after me: the churlish gymnast was surprisingly lithe but his routine was trite.”

“Bluhh, say wha?”

Klaus slapped me across the face, which stung despite his tiny hands.

“The churlish gymnast was surprisingly lithe but his routine was trite” I repeated perfectly, which seemed to surprise us both.

“Good job buddy. I believe in you. Now go back to sleep,” said Klaus. His voice was soothing, and I obeyed.

The next morning, I had forgotten the incident. That is until, while shaving, I saw in the mirror that my cheek had a tiny red bruise in the shape of a handprint. That churlish little gnome I thought to myself. I finished shaving, walked over to the dictionary and opened it. Inside was Klaus looking up at me as with a what-do-you-want frown that left a snaggletooth jutting over his lower lip, it was kind of endearing. He waited for me to speak.

“Look here,” I said, trying to sound confident, “I don’t know much about dictionary gnomes, but you can’t be waking me in the middle of the night to teach me random words, okay?”

“You’re right,” Klaus responded, “You really don’t know much about dictionary gnomes. Now get out there and use your words, maybe talk to some girls, get over Camilla”

“Her name is Jessi-“

“Who cares,” Klaus cut in, “now let me get some sleep.” And, with that he shut the cover of the dictionary. Dictionary gnomes must be nocturnal, I thought.

It went much the same all week. Every night Klaus woke me by yanking out a few nosehairs, and proceeded to teach me three new words.

Benevolent. Dither. Loathe.

“Be benevolent and don’t dither, people loathe dithering.”

Klaus was telling me something and he wasn’t being subtle. Each day however I’d find myself using a word here and there. Feeling a little more confident, though losing sleep, not to mention nose hairs. Perhaps it went too much to my head:

Bona Fide. Loquacious. Quixotic.

“Being loquacious and using quixotic words is not bona fide confidence.”

The nighttime wake-ups became a love-hate thing, and Klaus grew on me despite myself. He was in my corner, like a cliché martial arts master who seems unyielding and harsh, but ultimately gets results.

Exemplify. Temperament. Ameliorate.

Plaudit. Sanguine. Didactic.

So it went, night in and night out, until finally I hit my breaking point.

The bags under my eyes were making me look like a b-movie zombie. Yet somehow, while out for obtaining coffee to ameliorate my tiredness, I had struck up a conversation with a charming girl and managed to get her phone number. I had gotten my first number since moving in, w00t! We made plans for a date that weekend and I rushed home, infused with the confidence. Enough confidence to tell Klaus off I decided. Invigorated by my small success I would reclaim my space and my sleep cycle. I would ask him to leave. No, I would kick him out, or maybe charge him rent. I don’t recall my plan exactly, but it didn’t happen that way at all.

When I got home I opened the dictionary, ready to assert myself, and… nothing. There, staring back at me was a regular old dictionary page. No hollowed-out space, no Klaus, just a random dictionary page. It was a page in the P section with some interesting words, all starting with P H A. Pharmaceutical. Phage. Klaus’ favorite word; phallus, and one I didn’t know yet, phantasmagoria.

Phantasmagoria (Noun) A sequence of bizarre or fantastical scenes like those of a dream.

Phantasmagoria. Had it all been in my head? I walked around the apartment in a daze. Only a few minutes ago I had been excited to reclaim my space, now there was a dictionary gnome sized absence in the place that I hadn’t expected and doubts about my sanity. How could I have imagined it all? Had it all been some elaborate coping mechanism? I opened the dictionary again: nothing. I ate some leftovers and headed to bed. It was then I found a note on my pillow in tiny immaculate handwriting. It read;

I must be going now; you’ve come a long way,

and I have other humans to help. You were a

nice little human, and I’ll miss you. Keep up the

good work.

-Klaus, your dictionary gnome.

P.S. You can use these if you miss me.

And underneath the note was a pair of tweezers.

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