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Secret Signs

secretsigns-featuredA Story By J. Parrish Lewis
All Rights Reserved (c) 2016

Alice.

The girl does not move. Her gaze remains fixed on the particularly bright line of green that she has drawn to represent the horizon. A vibrant green, it makes her smile. This is her favorite color and she will use it again, often, and with abandon. This is a color she will throw herself into as if it were a place of sanctuary.

The drawing is taking shape: a meadow in which one could be happily lost, a solitary tree with shade that seems to embrace the earth. Thick shade, the kind that blocks out every attempt by the sun to reach the ground, so much that the ground is mostly dirt. Few blades of grass have managed to emerge, victorious but lonely. She draws this now, choosing umber, another favorite. She scribbles the layer of brown over the green, an oval underneath the tree, and imagines herself lying there.

Alice.

Still her name does not register. The hearing aids on her ear have been turned off, because when she draws she wants to draw. She does not want or need the distraction of sound when she gives herself over to her art.

She is beginning to start on the sky with that ubiquitous blue that is somehow a constant familiar color even though she hasn’t seen a sky that is quite that blue, yet the choice is never tiresome, and she feels the hand upon her shoulder. A quick and firm shake she identifies in the blink of an eye as coming from the hand of her mother. She turns, eyes loathe to leave the friendliness of the world she is crafting from crayon, rests her gaze upon her mother’s own, then focuses on her mother’s lips.

“Yeah?” She says. A soft, unconfident voice, tinged with the accent she is not yet aware of. She watches her mother speak, not daring to look away.

Alice, I was calling you.

Her mother leans forward and checks Alice’s hearing aids, and Alice braces herself for the scolding. She feels the sound return, a rude awakening of senses, and shifts uncomfortably.

You’ve turned them off again. How many times, Alice? How many.

But her mother has already turned away and is walking, still talking to Alice, still talking in the way that one talks when one expects to be heard without fail. Alice hears her now, the unclear jumble of spoken words meshing together into one. She catches only one word, and catches it at the same time the scents of garlic bread and spaghetti hit her nose: eat.

Later that night, after her mother has turned off the lights and she’s left alone in her room, she lies on her back staring up at the ceiling. She likes to do this each night, no matter how tired she might be, because falling asleep to the sight of the plastic glow-in-the-dark stars has always made her feel comforted. Her hearing aids sit on the nightstand, squashed by her book, and she notices the returning hum that always penetrates the silence. It is a low sound that she does not actually hear, but it fills her mind nevertheless, and she is lulled to sleep.

***

Monday morning, much too early to bother looking at the clock, but she is already in school. The day has begun much like it always has, with the reluctant donning of the hearing aid she must strap onto her chest, as if she were some animal that needed to be restrained. She loathes this one, far more than her own, for the straps confine her and the wires snag easily on things. She hates, too, how the hearing children, usually boys, will get their hands on the microphone and have their fun with her. They hoot and babble into the microphone, more zoo animals than students. As if she were nothing but entertainment, and she often fantasizes about shoving these hearing aids under the wheels of the Principal’s 1957 Dodge Coronet, the candy-colored white and green car that’s always parked near the edge of the blacktop. She imagines the hearing aids, all of them, will be turned to dust under such a magical car as that.

For now she tries to ignore it and learn, though her teacher’s voice means nothing to her. It is a jumble of noises that make no sense until she lipreads, and only then can she make any headway. Yet Mrs. Yarrow continues to turn her back quite often, to write on the chalkboard, and she is lost.

She is used to feeling lost, though she does not find the words to express this feeling. It sinks within her, a deep feeling, unshakeable, and sours a morning.

A note is dropped on her desk and she sees her friend Erin dart back into her seat before Mrs Yarrow notices. Erin understands her, far more than most do, and she smiles at Erin as she opens the note. She keeps it out of sight, below the desk, and keeps a watch on Mrs. Yarrow writing out the week’s vocabulary in that sublime script that seems impossibly neat.

The note reads, in a scrunched handwriting: New deaf kid in Mrs. Gilbert’s class.

Alice shoots a look at Erin, eyebrows raised, and her friend nods emphatically.

She finds herself smiling, the sour morning fading away, and Alice thinks to herself that it might be a good day after all.

***

She saw his backpack first, outside the speech therapist’s office where kids who had speech therapy were always directed to drop them. It was worn around the edges, broken zipper and bore the attempts of doodling with markers too fat to produce legible drawings. As a result, the black splotches intended to be tattoos drawn on a superhero she did not recognize. This was not the backpack of any kids she knew already, so it was his.

She peered into the window in the door, a narrow one that was crisscrossed with lines, and could see Mrs. Wenders talking, emphasizing some word that she was unable to lip-read from this angle. A stack of books on the desk nearby obscured Alice’s view of the new student, though she spotted the top of his head. Light brown hair, a little shaggy, and it made Alice smile because she thought of her dog. She decided she liked him already, just for having hair that made her think of her dog.

She has a minute, no more, before Mrs. Yarrow will be expecting her back from the bathroom. She tucks the bathroom pass into her pocket, a fat pink ruler identified as such in black marker that has begun to fade. It sticks out awkwardly, threatening to fall. She pauses, but it isn’t a long pause, and she unzips the backpack. Already she has extracted her green crayon from her other pocket and looks for a scrap of paper on which she can write. She sees a crumpled sheet of loose leaf paper, some smeared scribbled of math written haphazardly across the pages, and writes. Hi, I am deaf too. My name is Alice what’s yours?
She feels a door slam shut, somewhere nearby, and pushes the paper back into the pack, accidentally dropping the crayon inside as well. She grabs for a moment, but abandons the pursuit, feeling the itch to move away quickly, and briskly walks back to her classroom.

The morning was largely a study of the chalkboard. She took what clues she could from the board. She could see what they were supposed to learn, usually, though she wished she wouldn’t have to spend so much extra time after school reading her workbooks and studying the homework sheets to try to figure out what she was missing in class. She didn’t dare ask Mrs. Yarrow to explain anything, because she tired of the disappointed looks that often followed. She liked the worksheets best in class, when she had them. She could focus on these and not get in trouble for not watching Mrs. Yarrow. She could let the words on the page be her true teacher, and her mind the teacher’s aide. Often, it was enough.

She felt a tap on her shoulder and looked behind, saw her audiologist Mr. Levin looking down at her with the same harshness that seemed to dog her lately, as if everyone’s automatic response to her presence was one of frustration and disappointment. He beckoned for her to come, and Mrs. Yarrow followed behind.

The three of them stood inside the supply closet, a rather big one that would more accurately be described as a small room, and she braced herself for the usual scolding. Of course, it always happened. This was not the first time and she doubted it would be the last. The script was so redundant that she could have recited everything Mr. Levin would say and everything she would say in response. Sometimes she wondered what would happen if she just answered unicorns, for every question.

Mr. Levin was easy to lip-read. She thought this was because he was an audiologist, but she was not sure that made sense. His mustache was a caterpillar that distracted her, so she had to focus more intensely.

Alice, Mrs. Yarrow is telling me you’re still taking your hearing aids off during the school day. Is this true?

Yes.

Why do you continue to do this? We’ve had this talk before.

I know. I don’t know.

Alice, you know why. Help me understand.

I just don’t like it, it hurts my ears.

Alice, the molds are new.

I know, but I don’t like it.

Mrs. Yarrow raised her hands dismissively, as if personally offended, and said something that Alice could not catch. She was a quick talker, and thin-lipped, nearly impossible for Alice to understand.

I know, I know, Mr. Levin responded. She’ll change that.

Turning back to Alice, his brow furrowed, his eyes blazed with a stern study of the girl.

Don’t take them off again, Alice. Next time, I’ll have to call your mother.

She nodded, resigned, eyes downcast, a piece of cut yarn on the floor by her shoe catching her eye. She would be that piece of yarn, if she could. She wished it now.

Mr. Levin dismissed her then to her seat and left. Soon after recess was called, and Alice gratefully escaped to the blacktop.

She was alone for the first ten minutes, sitting on a red ball, her back against the brick wall of the gym. The sun had warmed the bricks thoroughly, and it felt good to lean back against the wall, sitting on the red ball, her feet firmly on the ground and her eyes closed. She felt the sun’s warmth on her face, saw its light through her eyelids, felt the soft touch of a breeze tickle her face. She smiled, and it felt unfamiliar on this day. Not every day felt this bad, she knew, but today felt like the world didn’t like her. She didn’t feel hated, but she didn’t feel liked either, not even a little bit. The smile faded, her attempts to maintain it proving impossible.

A shadow darkened her eyelids, rather abruptly, and she opened her eyes to a dark silhouette of a boy holding something out to her. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust. The green crayon, so well-used that the paper had already been picked away, was being offered to her by a boy with brown hair. He smiled.

With his other hand, he pushed a palm in her direction and silently said something she didn’t catch.

What?

He repeated the motion, this time she caught the word on his lips and the question on his face: Yours?

She nodded, taking the crayon from his hand. Thanks.

He shrugged off his backpack, took a glance toward the school entrance where the teacher on duty stood chatting with a substitute, then sat down next to her on the ground. Without a ball to sit on, he was forced to look up at her.

He pointed at her and then held both fists up briefly, his fingers erupting in a flash of movement. Puzzled, she shook her head at him. What?

You sign? asked the boy, mouthing his words carefully as he repeated the movement of his hands.

I don’t know what you mean.

Yeah, he replied, not moving. He looked at her, matching her puzzlement with his own. Then he smiled again, knowingly, as if he had an enchanting mystery to present to her, for which he had the answer.

It’s talking, you know, with our hands, said the boy. Don’t worry, I can teach you.

She did not know what to say to that, so she said nothing. Her eyes widened.

I’m Wren, he said. My name is Wren. What’s yours?

She followed the motion of his hands, the movement of his lips, a dance of words between the two, and she could not help but grin so hard that the corners of her mouth actually hurt and she covered her mouth with embarrassment, thinking she must look like such a goof. When he said his name, the movement of his fingers so precise that it was immediately clear that he was spelling out his name like some kind of code, she felt a thrill that she couldn’t understand. The kind of thrill that overwhelms her mind, like when she once went on that rollercoaster near the beach. That kind.

She pointed at herself and, not knowing what else to do, said her name silently: I’m Alice.

***

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.

Okay.

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

No.

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.

***

For nearly a week, Alice’s intended consequence for her mother, a perpetual cold shoulder, crumbled slowly until she gave in to her reality. No words, no apologies or favors, would get Alice what she wanted. She knew this because she knew her mother, knew that her mother means what she says and says what she means.

By the end of the week, conversations were still chilly, but Alice felt herself letting go, a dog who has relented on the bone its master reclaimed.

She did not see Wren. Once, as quick as a blink, she caught a glimpse of his backpack as he disappeared around a corner in the school halls, but she was already on her way to recess. She had a note ready in her pocket to pass to him, a note that explained everything including the promise of forever friendship, but it was a note that stayed in her pocket.

On Friday night, watching a movie she got to pick out this time, curled up against her mother on the couch, their warm terrier asleep against her hip, she felt her mother’s contagious laughter and looked up at her mother’s face and smiled. She giggled, and this time did not try to stop herself.

It was a captioned movie, but it didn’t really need to be captioned, because this particular movie needed no words, only the silly antics of a silly man on an absurd journey. It was her favorite movie, which she had watched so many times that it had been awhile since her mother had relented and shown a willingness to watch it again.

She knew that the movie was a peace offering, though she didn’t have just the right words to express this in her own thoughts. The movie was her mother’s way of saying she still loved her Alice. The dog was a bonus.

She felt herself forgiving. Not something she decided to do, but an act that she felt happening, in degrees, whether or not she wanted it. A discarding of anger, a letting go, followed by the constant reminders that her mother did love her, even if she did not understand.

It did not take long for life to return to what it was before she met Wren. She was lonely, yes, but it was a loneliness she was used to. In some ways, there was comfort in the familiar, in the lack of drama. Yet still she wondered. A passing glance at a box of crayons triggered thoughts of Wren and his secret language, and she’d lose herself in these thoughts for a minute or two. The fleeting sight of some other boy with that same hair, or the simple act of sitting in the same spot on which she met him, and her mind flashed right back to those brief lessons.

A few more weeks passed without any contact from Wren. Then one day, she boarded the bus to school and found him waiting, sitting alone while most of the other seats were already occupied by the hearing kids who chattered relentlessly and horsed around despite the glare of the bus driver. Wren was already watching her when she noticed him, a calm seashore unperturbed by the waves, as if he expected her. As if he had always been there, the constant friend that she didn’t know she needed this much.

She rushed to sit down next to him and gave him an awkward hug. Her cheeks blushed red.

What are you doing here? she asked.

My mom got a job, she can’t drive me to school anymore, said Wren.

Oh.

I haven’t seen you in a long time. His gaze was hard for her to meet, for he was so focused on what she had to say, even though she stumbled through a mix of voiceless words and clumsy signs.

I know, I’m sorry. She cast her eyes downward, for a moment, the apology making her feelings sink deeper.

It’s okay, my friend told me they changed your recess, he said.

I didn’t want it. It was my mom.

Yeah. That bites. He shrugged, somehow understanding everything in just a few words. She was grateful for this, and smiled meekly.

I forgot a lot already, she said with a sigh punctuating her frustration. Sorry. I’m not good at this.

Don’t worry. It’s okay. I can teach you again, it’s like riding a bike or something.

I don’t know if I should.

Why not?

Told you, it’s my mom. She got mad, she’ll get mad again if I keep learning.

He took the time to process this information, but it seemed clear that this was nothing new to Wren, as if he had encountered such a resistance to signing a thousand times over in his life. He looked out the window, and she followed his gaze. A man walked his dog on the sidewalk, the dog being more of the driver than the man, tugging him along, a brute strength in the dog causing the man to take a larger step now and then. But the man was smiling at the dog, and the dog’s tail was wagging with such happiness that it seemed to color the entire world with its joy. So, too, did Wren smile for a moment, before his face fell again and he looked to Alice.

She doesn’t get it, he said.

Why should she? she asked, wondering if he pitied her. No, she doesn’t.

You got to tell your mom. His right hand emphasized one word: Must.

I tried, it didn’t work. She just, well, she just … she lost it.

Okay. He nodded, an emphatic act of compassion.

I don’t know what to do about it.

She found she was bunching up the top of her backpack, which she carried on her lap. Her hands were gripping it tightly enough that the zipper had left a reddened path on her fingers. She rubbed the soreness of them, even as she realized that she had slipped back into completely speaking without her voice, not even signing one word. How easy it is, thought Alice, to forget.

Yet Wren seemed forgiving and understanding, and had not criticized her in the least for forgetting to sign. What do you want?

I want to learn, she signed.

He smiled back, a dimpled curl of the lips. Then learn. She doesn’t need to know. I’ll teach you here and only here. You don’t have to tell her, you don’t have to sign with anyone else. Just me.

I don’t know.

Up to you, Alice. I would if I were you, but I’m me, so… I don’t know … whatever you want.

She felt the fear well up inside her, a tightness in her stomach, a pressure against her throat, a familiar fear that she had felt too many times, far too many. Yet, even with the fear returning, she felt a chill of hope wash over her, and even with such a feeling inside she felt goosebumps scatter across her arms to match the hope inside. It was enough.

How do you sign, let’s start over?

The weeks swept by, much too fast for Alice’s taste, for she disliked the thought of missing out on her secret lessons when winter break came. Normally she would be excited about the time away from school and ready to live in the joy that holidays did bring to her, but for a change the idea of going to school excited her more. Her grey days at school were bearable, truly, for she thought all day about the signs she was learning.

She didn’t really understand why it made her feel the way she did. It wasn’t Wren, really, though she was quickly coming to see that she loved him in her own way. Wren brought a little sunshine to her life. That was it, she decided silently. If Wren was a crayon, he was goldenrod. Another of her favorites, the color she used when creating a sun or a bird flitting through the skies. Wren was goldenrod, yes, the bearer of sunlight.

But the signs that were fed by this sunshine of a person were green, that same favorite she kept returning to time and again. The signs were alive, growing, thriving, buds emerging from seeds and blossoming into something enormous. She felt safer, as if sheltered from the elements by a tree made out of the power of sign language. It was life, really, and she couldn’t remember feeling like something belonged to her this much.

She only wished to keep learning, making this a forever part of herself.

Wren laughed often during their lessons, telling her jokes and funny stories, happy to give the gift he was able to give. A natural teacher, one who delights in seeing his lessons come alive in his student.

Each morning when he walked off to his own classroom, and in the afternoons when he got off the bus before she did, he always finished with the simple phrase: See you later.

It was a Thursday, two days before the start of winter break, that the sky seemed to crash through her life again. It was a cornflower blue, a comforting color, ruined by the cloud of charcoal grey scribbled over it.

Her mother was waiting at school when the bus got there, having driven over to the school after Alice had already gotten on the bus.

Forgot, Alice. You have an appointment with Karen this morning, she said.

Oh.

Sorry, I’ll bring you back after, let’s go.

Alice started walking faster in the direction of her mother’s car, hoping to get there before it was too late. But she realized, with a sinking feeling, that her mother was not right behind her. Her mother had stopped and was currently watching Wren walk away from the bus to head into school. He had tried not to return her stare, but found himself doing so anyway. His shoulders slumped noticeably under the weight of her crestfallen face.

He shot one last darting glance at Alice before he walked into the school and was gone, followed by other students meandering behind him.

That’s the boy, isn’t it? asked Alice’s mother.

She nodded, a subtle movement that she didn’t really want to make, focusing on the cracks of the sidewalk under her feet. She braced herself for the scolding, but it did not come.

Instead, her mother walked past her to the car, and she meekly followed. She expected the fury to come in the car, but it didn’t. The morning, a silent visit to the audiologist’s office for her annual hearing tests. Although she hated these tests, hated the boredom of it, hated the sidewalk airplane hot dog baseball repetitiveness of it, somehow it seemed better than getting scolded. Somehow, too, it was worse.

She waited for the storm to come, but it never did. Her mother showed the weariness of anger in the furrows of her brow, showed the frustration she felt in how guarded she treated Alice for the next few days, as if any mention of the subject would lead to a meltdown.

The holidays passed much too slowly, though things gradually once again felt somewhat normal, especially when the chill within the family began to thaw. Alice accepted that the lessons were over, one way or another. She tried, she told herself, at least she tried. In a way, although she felt both angry at her mother for not understanding and sad that all of this had ever happened, she wanted normalcy above all. In a small way, a very small way, she found herself wishing that she had never met Wren, then she felt guilty because she did miss him already. She missed the lessons, but she distracted herself with thoughts of Christmas decorations and cookies, thoughts of opening presents and snow falling on the ground.

When school started again, she was surprised when her mother drove her. At first, she thought her mother’s solution to Alice’s defiance was to disallow her to use the bus from now on. When they drove a different route that morning, however, she glanced up at her mother with confusion.

You have a new school now, Alice, her mother said, her attention focused on the road. She said this with lips drawn tight, her facial muscles tensing with stress. I’m sorry, but it was the only thing left I could do.

Alice looked away as her mother began to talk of the new school and how she would learn so much more there, the only deaf student in a school of hearing kids. She thought of Wren, of Erin, of the scattering of friends she had at her old school, even of her teachers. She rested her head against the side of the car, feeling the cold glass of the windowpane against her forehead, and watched the ground pass by.

It seemed there was so much litter in the world, so much discarded.

***^^^^***^^^^**

Alice is 25 now.

She is finishing up her final year of college, after years of taking too long, in her perspective anyway, and she knows who she is now. She is a person with strengths and weaknesses, thoughts and opinions, desires and fears, a person with dreams that feel possible and dreams that feel impossible.

She stands with friends, all hearing and currently chatting with each other, while she stares at the scene taking place down the boardwalk from where she is. The sun is too bright, the air too hot, but the wind is cool and smells of the sea. The boardwalk is alive with the crowds of people going in every direction, chasing after rollercoaster lines and ice cream stands. There is sand everywhere, wet and dry, and she likes the feel of this under her sandals.

She remembers the feeling of being able to sign, at least being able to sign what she knew how to sign, but the words have faded with time. They are air, a faint wisp of memory she tries to cup into her hands, hoping to be able to do it again. But she has forgotten, for the years will do what they often do, dulling the edges of these memories, making them elusive.

She remembers the secret joy she felt, all those years ago when she was learning those secret signs. She still carries that within her, though now the secret joy is touched by the sadness that those passing years bring. Sometimes, it is a deep sadness. Other days, it is a passing cloud, slightly dark, this feeling she dares not linger over.

She adjusts the volume control on her hearing aids, the ones she wears now most days, out of habit or necessity for the life she lives. She turns the sound down, just enough to subdue the sounds of children shrieking as they jump into the icy waters of the ocean nearby, just enough to lessen the whir and clank of machinery of the roller coasters and the constant babble of countless conversations everywhere merging into one.

She focuses her attention on one particular group of deaf adults, three women and a man. She has been watching them for a number of minutes. They are about her age and they are laughing. She hears their laughing. She sees it, both on their expressions and in how they sign. The language they share is a familiar mystery. She thinks she catches a word here and there and for a moment she thinks she knows their meanings, but it slips through her grasp.

For a moment, she locks eyes with the man with light brown hair. Her heart skips a beat, but he returns his attention to the woman he is conversing with, his hands telling a story that Alice does not know. She finds herself lost in the telling, mesmerized for the moment, remembering those days she left so far behind her that she wonders if they can ever be found again. The man smiles.


Secret Signs is a work of fiction by J. Parrish Lewis. All rights reserved by the author. Reproduction or reposting of this work requires permission by the author. Links and shares are, of course, welcome.