Secret Signs: Part Three

PART ONE: In which Alice learns about a new Deaf Student
PART TWO: In which Alice meets Wren, a Deaf Boy who teaches her some ASL

Secret Signs: Part 3
By J. Parrish Lewis

By the end of the week, she knew how to make the alphabet with her hands, just like Wren could. She was mesmerized by the idea of writing, in a way, with her hands and nothing else, not even a pen or a paintbrush. It was magic. Wren taught her other signs as well, including a specific sentence she asked him to teach, a sentence she would use on Friday.

Friday afternoon came. She hopped off the bus at the stop near her house, other local kids following behind her and then scattering to their own parents. Alice walked up to her mom, grinning with eagerness.

Mom, look what I can do.

She pulls together the string of signs that Wren had taught her, just for this particular sentence.

I love you Mom, so much, more than the stars and the moon.

There was a pause and the pause filled with weight, far more quickly that seemed possible, and Alice felt it. She felt it even before her had finished her sentence, seeing her mother’s smile turn into a frown and anger already reaching her mother’s eyes. Anger that seemed out of place, unwelcome, unexpected, and confusing, to the degree that when she signed the last word she didn’t sign it as clearly as she had when practicing with Wren.

What’s wrong, she said, in her voice that she couldn’t hear but only felt.

Let’s go, said her mother, who turned around and began walking toward their home a few blocks away.

She rushed to catch up to her mother’s side and tugged her sleeve. What’s wrong?

We’ll talk at home. I can’t now, Alice. I can’t.

She noticed, then, the eyes she knew so well now wet with tears beginning to fall with a trace of mascara carried along. She turned her gaze away, not wanting to see any more, and focused on the sidewalk ahead. Her gaze searched for every burst of green grass poking through the wayward cracks that time had sculpted. They were calming, these little oases, and she imagined the thrill that ants and other bugs must feel when coming across them, hunting for dew.

When they get home, her mother was swift with the keys and swifter still in entering. She was already halfway up the stairs when Alice entered, and had disappeared into her room by the time the door shut. Alice stared after her, feeling like her entire body frowned, if such a thing were even possible. She went to the living room, turned on the television, and made sure the sound was all the way off so that she would not disturb anyone. She found her favorite afternoon show, the one about the kid who could use magic but was always getting into trouble, and sat cross-legged on the floor, not completely paying attention to the captions or the show.

The story slipped past her attention, too difficult to hold onto, and it was gone before she could really grasp what it had been the whole time. Perhaps nothing, as some stories are nothing but air.

The television was shut off, her mother having come into the room while Alice was still a little lost.

I need to talk to you, her mother said. The anger was gone from her expressions now, replaced by worry.


I’m sorry I got mad, Alice, her mother said. But I … well, I just got scared, you understand?


At that point her mother sighed, looked at the floor behind her, then sat down, a little awkwardly, so that she faced Alice.

Alice, you can’t learn sign language, she said. You must not do it anymore.

And Alice felt like those words had crawled into her brain, in an instant, like unwelcome invaders. The thought of her mother knowing what sign language was surprised her, yes, but say she can’t? Now, when she had just begun? She felt the tears form, fast, and wished they had not.

But why?

Her mother stared back at her silently, perhaps noticing the tears.

But why, Mom? I really like it. I really really do.

Because … because all the doctors told me when you were a baby that it would hold you back, Alice. Even Mr. Levin said the same last year. I have to trust that they know what they’re talking about. Alice? Al—

But Alice had already turned away, and instead stared at the carpet. Always she seemed to find her solace in the ground below, and she noticed this about herself though she struggled to put this into words. But at that moment, even the ground gave her no peace.

Angrily, she stood up abruptly, and looked her mother in the eyes. I hate this. I hate this.

Alice, please.

She pulled her hearing aids off, both of them, and threw them on the ground, immediately thinking she would have a consequence for that later, but she didn’t care. She turned around and rushed through the dining room to the sliding glass doors, and slid it open, stepped out quickly and shut the door behind her a little too roughly.

The sun was low in the sky, nearing the horizon but not quite there yet, and the sky was rich with the kind of light she loved. A calming light, a friendly glow, made even better by the contrast it presented with the dark near-silhouettes of the trees and the backyard fence. She took it all in, preferring to see rather than feel. Her gaze flitted across the scattering of clouds, lingered once more on the melancholic sun, and settled onto her bicycle.

If she could have, she would have gotten on the bicycle and just left. Not to run away, she’d never do that, but to just leave for an hour or two. It would make her mother worried and times like these she wanted to worry her. She thought about doing this sometimes, when she was angry and sad, but the fence lacked a gate. Here, too, she was trapped.

In the morning, she watched her mother talking on the phone. The call lasted a long time, though Alice could not make out what her mother was saying. A word here, a word there, nothing that made any sense.

She ate her corn flakes with maple syrup and milk, just the way she liked it, but she still felt the heaviness of the evening before, which had passed in mutual silence.

Her mother hugged her a little tighter than usual before she got on the bus, even though Alice could only stand there with arms limp, begrudgingly accepting the embrace. She kept thinking of what Wren was going to say, what he was going to sign, how he was probably going to take the news that she was supposed to stop.

The bus ride to school wasn’t a long one, but it was long enough for her to decide she wasn’t going to give up learning sign language. If her mother wasn’t okay with it, well, that was just too bad because she’d do it anyway. She nodded to herself, there on the bus, then sheepishly looked around to see if anyone had noticed.

A short time later, she was smiling at the thought of this still, when Mrs. Yarrow informed her that she would now be going to speech therapy during the usual recess time.

But don’t worry, Alice. You still have recess, just with group B now.

She thought of Wren waiting, wondering where she was, and began to cry.

Read Part 4

This is a work of fiction by J. Parrish Lewis. Currently it is a rough draft, subject to change. All rights are reserved by the author. Reprinting this work in part or in entirety requires permission from the author.

By J. Parrish Lewis

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

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