by Joseph Santini
Her neck craned, the nape stained brown with a tan obviously grown by much activity in the strong summer sunlight. Mark strained to keep his eyes from travelling down that neck to the well-kept body beneath. This is the A train, he muttered to himself. Finish respect!
But when he saw the hearing aid, he had to take a second look. Had he ever met her? It was her shirt that decided him, her black DeafWay II polo shirt which placed her as a volunteer at Gallaudet University in the summer of 2002. It was Natalie (SIGN IT HOWEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT ALREADY), the girl he'd met in the club who had to leave because "My hearing aid pain pain! Music loud, floor vibrate, me bounce outside!" She'd made him drool then, and it'd been dark. Now, in the bright subway lights, she had an extra dimension on her face, a kind of... honesty?
She wore her glasses like they were sunglasses.
He really wanted to tap her shoulder, but at the same time he was like, terrified. It was different from DC. Deaf people in New York - it's the kind of city where you're always rushing off to do something or meet someone, so bumping into another Deaf person on the subway wasn't the same as elsewhere. You didn't have the time for long heywhothefuckareyou conversations.
Plus, suppose goofy? Could happen me stand eyes-rolling person blah blah blah. Waste time!
Which summed it all up, right there.
But he'd been kicking his own ass about being too passive. "You, you never stand up, self defend," his friend Darren had told him, and he'd been right. Mark had never fought back when people picked on him in Fremont as a kid; it had worked in his favor, people thought him unflappable because he kept a good mask on, but the truth is he just didn't have a lot of... meanness in him. Their words didn't hurt, they just didn't make sense to him. Between that and being really tall and on the basketball team, people rarely bothered him and his friends were cool and partied [in a safe, productive manner such as washing dishes while dancing the macarena. Ed.] But they were friends who came to him; he never sought people out. Women, too; Mark waited for them to come to him. He hadn't even looked for a job; it had been offered in New York, computer stuff setting up a friend's website for a new magazine about Deaf Cuisine (mostly fingerfood.)
So just as the train stopped and the doors opened, he tapped her on the shoulder, twice.
Hearing people and Deaf people tap differently. Deaf people tap with their fingers tight together and the hands bent at the waist; they tap with the point. Hearing people keep their hand flat but relaxed and tap almost as if cupping a bowl - they tap with the flat of their fingers, and sometimes their palm. This is because Deaf people tap for attention, and Hearing people tap to direct other people (I want you to move this way....) So Natalie's head snapped around, she seeming a little shocked at a Deaf person appearing out of nowhere (you know what I mean) and she stared at Mark.
"Hey. Remember me? I saw you? Deaf Way?"
"Oh, yeah." She looked at him closer then her eyes widened. "Oh, fuck-" she said, turning-
The doors had closed. She turned back, her lips drawn tight, a rubber-band smile.
"Sorry, your name?" she signed.
"Mark. That your stop?"
She didn't answer. It was really obvious what the answer would be. Instead she said, "Thank you. I missed my stop, asshole. I'm going to be late for my sister's wedding. AND I don't have a date. So you just double-screwed up my day."
Mark just sort of blinked. "Oh. Sorry." His face scrunched, trying to be as sincere as possible. Then he had an idea.
"Want a date?"