Chan clicked open his eyeglass case, removed a cloth and polished his glasses. “I have a clue, you say?” He put the glasses back on and stared into the distance toward the multi-story atrium.
“The text your lady friend sent you said if you were more solent and souciant she’d find you more sufferable. You figured out that sufferable is the opposite of insufferable.” If you ask me, I thought, this gal sounds insensate and the relationship downright insalubrious. But nobody was asking.
“Hmm,” he muttered, “Sufferable, insufferable…solent, insolent…souciant, insouciant? Is that what you mean? I don’t get it. I can’t believe she’s calling me insolent. Does she really think I’m rude and arrogant, or just kind of strange? I did find that solent used to mean ‘usual or customary.’ Does that mean it’s related to the Spanish verb soler?”
‘You know, like, “Suele venir los lunes; He usually comes on Monday”?’
“Hey, your Spanish is pretty good.”
He shrugged. “Some of my Chan relatives are from Peru.”
“Of course they are. Well, I think you’re right, but if you want an expert on Spanish-English word connections I’ll refer you to a specialist,” I told him.
“I’ll think about that later. Meanwhile, what about insouciant? That makes me think of a carefree interpretive dancer skipping across a meadow. Do I look like that to you?”
Hardly, I thought. ‘You’re on the right track with “carefree.” Here’s what the OED says about the etymology of insouciant,’ I said, lugging over the appropriate volume:
French, < in- [not]+ souciant caring, present participle of soucier to care < Latin sollicitāre to disturb, agitate
“She thinks I don’t care enough?”
‘So it would seem. You’ll have to ask her exactly what she means by ‘solent.’”
“Maybe she wants to see whether I care enough to ask.”
“Could be. I just do semantics, the meanings of words, not pragmatics, what people do with them. Good luck, C.J.”
“Thanks, Lexie. You’ve been a big help,” he said, rising to shake my hand.
Chan ambled out of my office, past the reference desk, and out of my life? I wondered. A few minutes later I spied his eyeglass case amid the piles of the dictionaries. I opened it, looking for a way to contact him. Inside, a name and phone number were imprinted, but they were for the optometrist: C.J. De Sica, O.D.
Photo: Laura Herman as Lexie Kahn