“It was my fifth birthday,” Vivian says, as she enters a flashback. Mr. Bearing, her father, is reading a newspaper while Vivian starts to read Beatrix Potter’s book The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies. Vivian, reading aloud, comes to the word “soporific” and sounds it out. She asks her father what it means, and he says it means “makes you sleepy.” They discuss the word and then Vivian keeps reading. She is delighted to see that in the passage’s accompanying picture the bunnies are asleep—“because of soporific!”
Mr. Bearing is meant to be played by the same actor as Dr. Kelekian, perhaps suggesting that Vivian’s father shared similar high academic standards and a lack of personal warmth. This scene shows Vivian engaging with language on a pure, simple level—a far cry from her present tendency towards analysis and criticism.
The flashback ends (and Mr. Bearing exits), and Vivian discusses what felt so magical about this moment—“the illustration bore out the meaning of the word, just as he had explained it.” She then gives some of Donne’s more fascinating words, and discusses medical terminology. She admits that when it comes to her cancer, the doctors have a “more potent terminology than I.” She says, “My only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary.”
Vivian briefly explains the evolution of her relationship with language—from a simple love for words and delight in their “meaning” to an increasingly complex understanding that also leaves behind her original childlike delight in the “truth” of words. She is still clinging to words in the face of mortality, but at least she now recognizes this fact. In the absence of friends or family, her sole lifelong relationship is with language.