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I'm afraid. Afraid of what comes from my mouth. So nothing ever does. Nothing. Ever. It's always been that way. Except. Except for what I hum into my green kazoo. That's all. Ever. Mom says if I didn't stick my lips around "that thing", she'd think I was mute. I say, well, I don't say anything. I don't speak at school, at home, at the store. Nobody expects me too, either. It's a good thing we live in a small town. Everybody knows. Everybody knows that the only things that leave my lips go into the little green tube. I even breathe through my nose.
I know that sound can leave my throat, and I know that I can speak English. That's enough, isn't it?
Kids at school call me Kamikazoo. Instead of Kamikaze. I don't think they know what that means, but I do. It's a good guess, too, because my teacher tells people I'm destructing my life by not speaking. So she knows I can. But other times I think she thinks I'm deaf. A lot of people seem to think I'm deaf. They talk about me like I'm not there. I'm not a person. I'm just a homo sapien with a green kazoo in its mouth. I don't think people even know what gender I am. One person talked to me once. She was new at our school.
"So you're Chris?" She asked.
My heart pounded. I nodded, my lips tightening around my only comfort.
"Chris as in Christy, or Chris as in Christopher?" She asked.
You're a clever girl, Lindsey. Very clever.
So I duck into a doorway and sit there with my hands over my face, scratchy notes coming from the kazoo. It's easy for me to pretend someone isn't there. It's a little embarrassing, because they always stop and wait for me to come out of hidingâ€”they know I know they're there. But it's better than having to talk to them. And then, after the danger passes, I go back to class and work for easy A's I get.
"Chris, I'd like to speak to you after class." Miss Brightman says. See? She doesn't even ask me to come, she just tells me to. When the day ends, I walk up to her desk. She looks up from the papers she'd been grading, and remembers our little appointment.
"Ah, yes. Please, have a seat." She says. I pull up a chair and plop into it, letting the kazoo fall from my mouth and around my neck.
"Chris, you are somewhat of a genius." She says. She knows I can understand when she talks like thatâ€”all fancy. My cheeks burn. You'd think I'd have gotten over the embarrassing silences that come with my phobia. But I never do. So I nod, and return the kazoo to its rightful place.
"I was wondering if it'd be all right if I shared this poem with the class tomorrow." She said, holding up a lined paper entitled "Bird". My stomach flips over. I don't only fear what could escape my lips, but also what flows from my hand. But. I can choose what comes (or doesn't) from my lips, but I cannot avoid what I must do. My homework, for example. "Would that be alright?" She asks again, tipping her head. I can't say no. I take it from her and read it over.
Bird that flies
Over the mountain tops
Over the sea
Oh, great eagle
Come and carry me
I wrote that. I got an A. Maybe I should skip third grade.
"Chris?" Miss Brightman gets my attention. A blip escapes the kazoo. I blush. Once, I felt ready to speak, ready to break my silence. Only for a split second. Then, I remembered. I remembered everyone knew I didn't talk. I wouldn't. And I remembered that I was afraid, and then I became more afraid, because my decision could've swayed, and I could've ended up speaking, saying something I'd regret. I can convey my answers through a shake of my head, and now I'm suddenly afraid of that too.
So I only nod. Yes. Yes, you can share my poem. Nobody else my age would appreciate it anyways. They'd pause for a minute, to satisfy your commands to be quiet, then go back to creating spit wads and rubber cement bouncy balls and passing notes. They wouldn't find anything in it. They'd only say, "Has your great eagle come yet, Kamikazoo?" Then that joke would wear off, and they'd go back to the never-ending fad of miming a kazoo in front of me, and laughing at my striped socks.
I walk home through the park in the autumn sunshine that falls through the leaves of the maple tree. Helicopters hover and whirl down to the hard, damp earth. A few people are walking through the park. They smile as I pass them. Did you know you just smiled at a homo sapien with a kazoo? Yes, they all know.
I start up a tune on the little green contraption, one a little jazzy. Though some say that what comes from a kazoo is a disgraceful static, the tune seems to float through the falling leaves, settling on the leafy carpet above me, singing to the sun.
Once in a while, I get real into the tune, and spin around and bounce. This is a once in a long while, and I whirl around like one of those helicopters, bouncing to the tune.
Suddenly, a man I've never seen appears beside me, wearing dark jeans and a black sweatshirt, his hair in dreadlocks down to his chin. I stop acting silly, but keep the tune bouncing. I expect him to fly past me, rushing to wherever all these people go. But he doesn't. He laughs and snaps his fingers, walking with a high and snappy bounce. He laughs and laughs. I like the way he laughs, the way you can tell that he has an accent when he giggles. He snaps and bends his knees high and low with every step.
"Hallelujah." He says quietly, and he hums. He's not afraid of what comes from his mouth.
Then, when he twirls around, chin pointed toward the sky, his unzipped sweatshirt flaps out, and I catch a glimpse of his t-shirt. Dark dusty blue, with the outline of a huge eagle. I stop and laugh out loud. I laugh out loud. Out loud. Loud. When I can bear it, I continue with the tune, and the man snaps his fingers and laughs.
When the kids ask me if my great eagle has come yet? I'll say yes just to spite them. Out loud.