The Bitter Word

Alice O’Rorke muses on the burden that inheriting a legacy places on each generation, as they reconcile it with future progress. For Issue #20 ‘Legacy’. 

They  were struck by the heaviness of the word; the significance of each syllable as it crossed their tongues and became tangible. Their taste-buds tingled at the sensation. Their mouths salivated. They became hungry for what the word represented. 


Each letter crunched beneath their teeth as they devoured it one shape at a time.


They were unsure what this meant. what this meant for them, the new generation, as they crunched at the ‘Legacies’ of the past, tasting the bitterness of the word like a pill, better swallowed whole.

This generation, like all those before it, believes it has something to prove. And it does, to some extent. It has to prove a differentiation of opinion from the generation before it. It has to outdate the ideas previously considered fresh, avant-garde, relevant. Each new generation becomes immune to the changes of the past, in the same way that one becomes immune to an antibiotic. It must seek out new developments to heal the nation from its sickness.

It is shocking, to those who consider themselves as part of the previous legacy, to see the rapidness of new changes. The gap between generations seems to get smaller every turn, ideas and legacies altering so rapidly, that it can seem impossible to keep up. When talking of generations now, we seem to refer to a difference of years rather than decades.

It seems sad that in changing the ideas of the world, you have to negate the previous ones. It is hard to move forward without sneering backwards, scolding those left behind for their “old-fashioned” thoughts and principles.

The word ‘Legacy’ itself invokes a variety of feelings. On one hand it suggests tradition, heritage; things that represent the past and what we stand for as a country. This in itself can be bittersweet; it allows for a richness to our society whilst also highlighting the scars of our past. All references to the slave trade in Bristol reveal an ugliness to our predecessors and the society in which they lived. This is a legacy that no one can be proud of. 

Legacy is something we inherit and so it is essential to displace things we are ashamed of, like upholstering a grotty inherited armchair, worn away from age and past sitters. The pulling down of the Edward Colston statue represents this; the upholstering of a Bristol, making it a city we can in the future admire. Although that past will never be forgotten, perhaps we can heal from the ugliness of it. It is hard to be forgiving of a past that seems so distant from where we currently stand as a society. We don’t want to forgive, when we think of how they, the past generations, failed us. It is so important to hold them accountable for their actions.

In saying this, it is so important to remember that everything we do, in our moment of influence, will affect future generations. In everything we do, we ourselves will be held accountable at a later date, when we least expect it. Future generations may be cursing us for our stupidity, for our ugliness. In the future, our children and grandchildren will be questioning us on our part in the atrocities of the world. It is so important to think about what we contribute. We have been warned time and time and time again of the risks that we, the  human race, pose to our planet. As much as we may despise the past for their actions, we must remember ourselves to avoid that same resentment, and the only way to do this is to act in a way that we, as the greying, balding, stagnant elders, will forever be proud.

It is unclear what they are meant to do with these letters. It seems all that they can do is ingest them; to swallow the bitter pill-shaped-letters forced upon them. They must absorb the poisons that they contain into the stomach lining. 

And mend from the illness that may ensue. To build an immune system, to fight against the pathogens.


The letters dissolve, one by one in the stomach, and are broken apart. The valuable properties are couriered through the bloodstream, the proteins and carbohydrates of the legacies kept for future use. The body chooses which parts can be used, and which parts discarded. The colourful letters are no longer recognisable to them. The Legacy has changed form, aided by the digestive system of time and perspective.

Artwork by Amelia Elson.


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