For this week’s tale weaver theme, Stephanie writes:
“Today I invite you to write a tale from the perspective of someone who has lost the sense of hearing. All they hear now is “the sound of silence” if you will.
What tale would you write? A tale of loss or a tale of hope?”
[I got carried away, free-write style, and had to cut back to the 1000 word mark]
The fever spared my life, but not my hearing. For weeks, I lay on a palette overcome by the sweating fever. I passed between awareness and darkness. There was fire flowing through my veins. Then ice like the slickest days of wintering.
Red slash against the door marking fever kept all but her away. I knew her not, yet she treated me as if family. Used herb craft to brew teas and tonics to tamp endless waves of pain. Gathered supplies and provender during her excursions into the night. Gave practical comfort to the living: ladles of cool water; dry linens and fresh bedding. She held the hands of the dying, easing their passing to the beyond.
She was an odd one, dressed in short smocks and high aprons, a sprig of lavender tucked behind her ear. Her face is weathered; she might be any age. Though I think she is close to my many years. Her eyes mismatched: one jade with gold flecks, the other azure with silver. Her hair raven’s breath, shot through with grey, cropped short
When fever broke, I swam back to the surface of consciousness from somewhere deep and dark. She was kneeling beside me, eyes full of concern. Her lips moved, but no words emerged. I responded by turning my head away. I knew fever could rob the senses. It had closed my ears.
Despondency slipped over me, heavier than fever. I gained strength, able to sit up, sip thin broths. When I spoke, it was slight echoes of my words deep within my head. Deafness was almost complete. How could I make my way in the world? I was too old to begin anew. Again. Once a soldier, I laid down my sword when could no longer stand the smell of blood or bear the futility of war.
One thing of soldiering stood me in good stead: I could map terrain, starscapes, shorelines and mountain passes. Cartographers tend to attach themselves to courts or cadres. I had enough of kings, lords and politics. So, I chose to be a traveler, exchanging my skills with geography for lodging and provender.
I made maps for the lowborn – most could not scribe; how could I provide documentation for a lander to secure rights to his fields or settle dispute over boundaries without hearing his tale? While I found solitude pleasing; even the quietest night still held small noises. Now, only the sound was silence. I was fair losing my will to live.
Then, one day she stood over me, hands on hips, displeasure upon her face. She dropped a worn tapestry bag upon my palette, and placed a pitcher and basin beside me. Rather than see that look again, I used toweling and soapsalve to cleanse myself as best I could. I donned the well-mended long shirt and leggings; my own clothes would hang about my fever-slighted frame. As I pulled on my boots, she returned. Smiling, she took my hand.
We travelled narrow back alleys. Wove through market squares, until we reached a small shop near the end of town. Prentices and assists were busy at various tasks. What was her reasoning in this? I was too old to learn a new trade.
She maneuvered me towards the back, where a door stood open. Inside, a man about my age was bent over a scriptorium. She stomped hard upon the floor; he looked up with a welcoming smile, and gestured for us to sit. She took a scrap of paper from within her sling bag and placed it on the table before me.
In the quick sketch hand like I used on field maps, she had written: “You have your voice; speak and most will hear you. Use your hands; more shall know your meaning.”
I looked up, confused. The gentleman then pushed an open tome towards me. The page was divided into two parts. On one side, words, the other drawings of hands in certain positions. Another scrap of paper: “Flutterspeak is of the hands. Look close at faces and read meaning in the moving of the lips.”
She was giving me a boon. If I could not hear words then I could see them, sense them. The gentleman, Joam, gave me a room above his shop. I was a poor pupil at first; storming out when frustration overtook my abilities to learn. But he was a patient teacher showing me how hands could speak. She came regularly – forming words clearly with her lips so I might see what once I heard. I came to fair anticipate her visits. She came to be more than a teacher; she became the shape of my heart.
Joam, like myself, cannot hear so we talk through flutterspeak. With her, I speak aloud; she always faces me so I might see her words. Alone, I try to remember how the world sounded: birds calling at dawn; a lover’s quickened heart beat; a contented cat’s purr. The cacophony of every day life. I do not want this to fade from memory.
So, with a saddened heart, I watch her say “I must to farewell. You will soon be out in the world again. You have roads to travel; maps to make. And, I must be off to where healers are needed.”
“But I need you,” I say both with voice and hands. She shakes her head; “You need only yourself. I was but a conduit to restore you.” She turns away; I cannot tell if she speaks more or no.
I cross the space between us, and spin her around. Tears spill from her eyes. “We need not travel different roads,” I say, wiping at her tears. “Folks need maps and healers.”
She embraces me; I determine to hold her forever. I do not need hearing to feel the beat of her heart. Some things need not words.
For more on deaf culture and the history of sign language, see:
Harvard Linguistics: Deaf History: sign language
Gallaudet University: History and Traditions