Love is A Four Letter Word

I submitted this to the Highlights annual fiction contest back in January.  I won’t know till June who won, but I’d be happy if they just bought the story!

Love is a Four Letter Word

Mommy gasped. “Nina Marie Zamboni, I am going to wash out your mouth with soap!”

Uh oh. Three names means I’m in big trouble.

“But I only said what Daddy did when he hammered his thumb!” I wrinkled my nose.

Mommy sighed. “I’m sorry you hurt yourself, Nina-bean. Even grownups shouldn’t say four-letter words. Daddy knows better, but everyone says naughty things sometimes, especially when they’re hurt or angry.”

“I stubbed my toe real hard… but I’m sorry, Mommy.”

Mommy hugged me. “Next time say something else, okay? Now finish setting the table.”

I waited as Daddy told Mommy about his day at work. I poked some peas into a dent in my potatoes. You know, it’s a lot easier to eat peas if you smush ’em into your mashed potatoes. Otherwise, they roll off the fork. Four letter words… lots of words have four letters… why is that bad?

“Daddy? Why are some words called four-letter words?”

Mommy nearly choked on her iced tea as she began to laugh.

“Four-letter words? What a question!” Daddy frowned. “What happened today?”

Mommy interrupted. “Nina stubbed her toe and used a word you said when you hammered your thumb. You should be more careful!”

Oh, no. I didn’t want Daddy to get in trouble, too! But if grownups say them, how bad are those words? I better get ready for my bath.

I grabbed my clean nightie and stood next to Mommy’s chair. “Mommy, you and Daddy never answered me. Why are they called four-letter words?”

“Honey, different people call those kinds of words different names. Some people say bad words, some say curse words, some say grownup words.” Mommy grimaced. “I guess we say four-letter words because most of them have four letters. Really, though, that’s just what my mother called them. So, now I call them that.”

Daddy grinned. “Your Nonna always said that people who used those words had a potty-mouth.”

Yuck! That’s gross. But I giggled anyway.

“Seriously, hon, those words aren’t nice,” said Daddy. “But sometimes when you feel a strong emotion, you can’t think of a polite word to say. I’ll have to start saying what Grandpa used to say- sneakers!”

“Sneakers?” I asked. Weird!

“Well, one word starts with S, so….” Daddy trailed off. He usually does that when he doesn’t want to say what he started to.

“So, nice people replace the naughty word with another one beginning with the same letter,” said Mommy. She doesn’t trail away like Daddy. She just pops out with it.

What words begin with S? Scum? No, I can say that. Even baby Hanna can say that. Suck? I hear that on tv.

“But, Mommy, I was thinking…”

Daddy sniffed near my head. “Thinking? Do you smell something burning?” He stood up, taking his plate to the kitchen.

“Daddy!” Hmph. He always does that. Nobody’s brain catches fire when they think!

Mommy gave Daddy a stern look. “Nina, I’m listening, and so is Daddy. Go on.”

“Well, I was thinking… Love is a four-letter word, Mommy. And it’s not a naughty word…”

Daddy pointed his spoon at me before putting it in the dishwasher. “You’re right, Nina. Love does have four letters. So?”

“So, I want to use good four letter words. Mommy always says to focus on the pos.. poti… positive.” I smiled. “Positive.”

“Maybe if we focus on the good words, we won’t say the bad four-letter words any more?”

“Maybe.” Mommy smiled at me. “Any other ideas?”

“Well, if I don’t do all my chores, I have to put a quarter in Daddy’s change jar instead of getting my whole allowance. We should all have to put money in the jar if we say bad words.”

Daddy grinned. “OK, pumpkin, we’ll all put a quarter in each time to teach us to be polite.”

Mommy laughed, her eyes squeezing shut. “Those quarters will add up fast if you keep hammering your thumbs, Marc!”

I giggled. I thought about four-letter words while taking my bath. Hope, kind, cake, star, pink…


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