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SS Turner: The Accent Interpreter

A short story

Monty Summers was an expert at telling people what they wanted to hear. And what they almost always wanted to hear were compliments which boosted their self-esteem from critically low levels. That’s why they consulted with him for his accent interpreting expertise. His website advertised his “impartial interpretation of the way the world responds to his clients’ accents and communication skills”. But Monty Summers had long forgotten about the carefully worded marketing message on his home page. To deliver the truth would surely destroy his business prospects, and he didn’t want that. He knew from painful experience that his clients couldn’t handle the truth. So gifting white lies was mutually beneficial for all involved. Monty Summers became wealthier each year, and his clients walked away with the short term self-esteem boost they craved. Everyone was a winner.

That morning, Monty Summers was due to meet Leonard Linkmeyer, a New Yorker by birth who’d spent much of his life living and working in Dublin. Leonard Linkmeyer was a tall thin man with graying hair and a pronounced limp. It was their first meeting and Leonard had emailed to tell Monty that he’d recently returned to the US after 20 years living in Ireland. He wanted an objective opinion of how his changed accent would be perceived back in New York.

“Morning Leonard,” Monty said as he shook his hand. “And welcome home.”

“Thanks, and nice to meet you,” replied Leonard.

Once Monty had served Leonard a five-star café latte designed to ease the pain of his famously high hourly rate, the two of them got down to business.

“So what brought you back to New York?” asked Monty.

“I grew tired of being an American in Ireland,” responded Leonard as he took a slow slip of coffee. “The only real friends I made were fellow expats, but most of them moved away after a few years. I was always starting new relationships with people who kept disappearing.”

“I hear you,” replied Monty who’d noted Leonard’s unusual combination of Irish and American accents. If Monty had to honestly describe Leonard’s accent he’d say the two accents hadn’t blended well. Leonard’s nouns and verbs sounded twangy and American, but his adverbs and adjectives reeked of a fake Irish accent. It sounded like Leonard was trying to present as Irish, but hadn’t been able to transform the words which resided deep in his heart. The result was an awkward and forced communication style which suggested Leonard wasn’t happy within his own skin.

“So tell me, what do you think of my accent?” asked Leonard, ready to be dazzled by Monty’s expertise. “I’m particularly curious as to how Americans will respond to my Irishness.”

There it was. Leonard had handed Monty the only answer about his accent that would make him a happy client. Clients always did this during the first few introductory minutes. It was generally framed as a question, but they were really telling Monty how they wanted to sound if they were listening to themselves talk. Monty took a deep breath and searched for the right words; Leonard’s words reframed and returned to him.

“You do sound very Irish,” Monty stated. “Beautifully so in fact. When you speak it almost sounds as if you’re singing an enigmatic hymn. You’ve got such a light-hearted way of communicating. My initial professional opinion is that you’ll be perceived by Americans to be 100 per cent Irish. Many people will be entranced by your accent. As you may be aware, millions of Americans feel connected with Ireland at a deeper level. So I’d say you’re destined to create deep connections now you are back.”

Leonard smiled and Monty knew he had delivered the right words, the right answer.

“I suspected that would be the case,” responded Leonard. “The first time I heard an Irish accent, I experienced an overwhelming desire to hear more accents like it, and also to speak like that myself. What a joy it is to realize I now do.”

“It’s a beautiful accent. You’re a lucky man,” agreed Monty.

“So, is there anything I can do to leverage my Irish superpowers?” asked Leonard with excitement. “For example, should I consider a career in radio? Or as an MC? I know the wedding industry is always in need of great voices.”

“Well, I’m no career adviser,” replied Monty, “but I’d say you’ve got the perfect voice for any voice-related vocation. My only advice is to own your Irishness. Don’t be afraid to use your powerful voice.”

“Fair play, that’s great advice,” said Leonard with an emphasized Irish lilt. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it, eh?”

Their conversation continued, but it was more of the same. It always was. Monty found multiple creative ways of telling his clients the same thing: that they sounded like the voice in their heads. He viewed himself as a social worker making the world a better place. And his clients always left feeling better about themselves, as Leonard Linkmeyer did.

“I must say, your services are well worth it,” enthused Leonard at the end of the hour. “I feel like I’ve got greater clarity about where I fit in here.”

“Always a pleasure. I’ll email you the invoice,” said Monty with a smile as he visualized another thousand dollars showering down from above.

Life went on like that for Monty Summers. Each client who arrived in Monty’s life presented themselves as uniquely different, but Monty knew they were all the same person, asking the same question. He was the only one who was privy to the bigger picture.

However, one day, a different sort of client arrived in Monty’s reception room. Martine Stavanger was a psychologist who’d contacted Monty about his participation in an upcoming conference showcasing the psychology industry’s high ethical standards. Martine strode into the room with the calm confidence of an Olympic athlete just after winning the gold medal. She was tanned and toned, and her flowery perfume colonized the room.

“Mr Summers, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” she stated.

“You too,” Monty replied. “Please take a seat.”

As Monty served Martine’s coffee, his hand shook ever so slightly. He didn’t know why.

“So as I emailed,” Martine began, “I represent the psychology industry body, and we’d like to offer you a unique role at our upcoming conference.”

“Unique in what way?” Monty asked, full of interest.

“We’d like to demonstrate the industry’s high ethical standards. So we’re inviting a few industry practitioners and random clients onto the stage to talk freely with one another in front of the audience,” Martine explained.

“You mean consult openly on stage as we’d normally do behind closed doors?” Monty asked.

“Yes, with the consent of both parties of course,” Martine added.

“That’s a novel idea. What’s the objective?” asked Monty.

“We want to reveal the power of truth in all parts of the profession, particularly the lesser-known corners,” Martine replied. “You’re the only accent expert we’ve invited. We think it’s a potential growth area so worthy of inclusion. It’s an opportunity for you to raise your profile across the industry.”

“Oh right, thanks,” responded a proud Monty Summers. “You mentioned the truth. How will that be demonstrated?”

“Oh yes, sorry,” Martine replied, “I meant to mention there will be a lie detector attached to each practitioner when they’re talking on stage with clients. It’s a crowd-pleasing formality aimed at celebrating how professionals handle the often-murky world of framing the truth in a constructive manner.”

“Oh right,” said Monty, as he crossed his legs.

“So are you interested?” asked Martine.

Monty paused to consider the alternatives. On the one hand, he was being offered the ultimate marketing opportunity. It was a chance to raise his profile across the psychology industry while raising his already high income levels. Why not make hay while the sun was shining, he surmised? And on the other hand, he felt uneasy. Maybe it was the mention of the lie detector and the truth. Could this backfire, he wondered? But he comforted himself with the knowledge he could tell the truth at will. After all, this wasn’t a real client or a real situation.