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Without Words

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There was a new girl coming to our school today. She came from a different system, and rumors zipped through our fingers. Would she look like us? Did she see in the same colors we did? No one had seen her yet. She blended in like a chameleon. Her hair was bright red, flickering with gold and yellow like the fires that flared in our homes in wintertime. Her clothes were the colorless grey uniforms that we wore. In music class, we watched as long reed pipes and violins pumped vibrations into the air, where they popped like bright fireworks. We laid our hands on the instruments and felt the vibrations rattling through us; and then we were left hollow once again, the dying thrum of those last, timorous tremors echoing through us like hymns through empty churches.

I met the new girl in my computer class. She stood at the front of the room, awkwardly, like a rainbow missing a band of color. Mr. Bicks, the teacher, drew out the long swirls of sign language, asking her to introduce herself. But, somehow, she didn’t see it, and we glanced at each other, doubtfully: inside joke. We picked up on little things: the loops of her curly hair, the black half – moons of dirt under her fingernails, the freckles that splashed her white skin. A cane rested at her side, bone – pale as her knuckles.

Her mouth opened and moved in strange ways. What was she doing? Was she speaking? But how was this possible? - This was a school for the deaf; most of us had never even learned to talk! I glanced at Mr. Bicks, but his overgrown eyebrows had collided like confused birds. His fingers flickered stutteringly, but they trembled too, anxious. She ignored him. Her lips opened and closed, and her eyes were bright and blank. We looked closer; at the scarred tip of her cane, at the way she gestured as she spoke, cautiously and slowly, into open air: She was blind.
*****
She closed her mouth, with a puzzled, angry frown, sucking her words back through the thin circle of her lips. The shock died into derision; we laughed, uncertainly, looking to our friends for guidance. Eyebrows crinkled in contempt. Eyes rolled, blue and green and brown spinning like waves crashing on soft moss and seaweed. Her eyes were milky blue marbles rolling in the wide expanse of her eyes, not knowing where to look, who to watch. I sat there, gawking with my classmates as I was supposed to, but I felt as if I would die if I let her stand there any longer, standing uncertainly before a sea of laughing mouths. And so I stood up and went to her, ears reddening even before everyone turned to stare at me.

I grabbed her arm and led her to the row of Thoughtboard computers, not meeting the stares. I was angry at her, suddenly furious at her ignorance. I wanted to slap her, my fingers leaving a bright print on her cheek. Couldn’t she see the computer, couldn’t she see the stares, couldn’t she see that she was embarrassing me? Her fingers ran over the keys, tapping one tentatively; and a scattering of bumps suddenly popped up on the screen. She ran her fingers over them, gently. She smiled, and her mouth opened again. She sent me a message:
Do you like to listen to music?

What is listen? I typed, the keys heaving up and down like mountains growing, fading.

Listen is when music goes into your ears and you hear it. I love to listen to classical music, and I like getting up early so I can listen to birdsong.
Ears. I touched the tiny curls of skin on the sides of my head, relieved. Yes, those I knew. But what was listen? What was hear? What is birdsong?
She tried to explain, her face crumpling up.
But still I did not understand.



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