Not understanding, Adam said, “But they’re part of you. I can’t rub them off without taking your scales too.”
Spot paused. “Pick me up.” Adam picked up the fish. “Now point the stripes out to me.” Adam pointed at the stripes. “Not on me – on my reflection in the water.” Adam did so.
“See, here. Here. Here. Stripes all up and down your body, no spots anywhere. That’s why I think it’s funny that your name is Spot.” He put Spot back in the water.
“Those aren’t stripes, you dunce. Those are spots.” Spot dunked under, then up. “Don’t ever scare me like that again.”
“I didn’t know. We call them stripes.”
“Of course, of course. Just don’t tell anyone else who looks like me that they have stripes. You don’t ever want to see the things we call stripes. And, if you do, may the Exsalted help you.” Spot bowed his head ever so slightly.
“But I truly didn’t know. I understand every other word you’re saying. I thought that what I called stripes you would call stripes, too.”
“My school has a saying, ‘There is a word for ‘not a word.’”
For the first time, Spot spoke in a slow, measured way, “Words are just sounds that can mean any thing people agree to. When I say spot you think of one thing and I think of another. It is a miracle that we can understand each other at all. What if my word for air was shells and the word air meant something else to me, something like – seaweed. Then I asked you, ‘How can you breathe shells?’ You would say, ‘I’m not breathing shells. I’m breathing air.’ We’d be dancing around, saying the same thing. Eventually we’d figure it out, but for a while you’d think I was crazy for saying you could breathe shells and I’d think you were crazy for saying you could breathe seaweed.” Spot dunked under for a breath.