FINGERED: deafblog serial #3
by Joseph Santini
Amil found himself in a little bathroom to the side of the church. Natalie’s injury wasn’t serious; she’d dinged her temple on the deceptively pink steel handle of her aunt-in-law’s strapless bag. Her mother had gone to get hydrogen peroxide and to make the lines to the side of the bride and groom even they’d asked him to help out. He suspected Rosemary might take more than the few minutes she'd claimed to get back.
Natalie had closed her eyes while he mopped a damp cloth over the freely flowing cut on the right side of her head. When she’d said hello to him and he’d shown her his little mouthing trick, she’d looked… tough. Lots of strength, but everything was, well, forward. Now he saw a little bit into the dark side of her moon. He wasn’t sure what to do next when she opened her eyes, looking around and blinking.
He bent forward, seeking her attention with his face. Do you need anything?
She shook her head and closed her eyes again. Mentally he was outraged at himself. She was hurt, bleeding, and certainly wouldn’t want to have to focus in order to lipread at a time like this. Then she turned her head. “Can you get me some water?”
He didn’t bother answering, just gave her the cloth (which she held up to her cut) and went to the sink; there were some paper cups in a holder on the wall. She drank gratefully, looking much better despite the bleeding cut. “Thanks for helping me out. Sorry to be so stupid.”
Not your fault. They said a baby’s bottle fell out of someone’s bag. Who could see the floor with all the chiffon? He waited a minute, then (trying very hard to seem really cool and intelligent and managing only to confuse his lips with his tongue) said, What do you do? and leaned against the wall.
She laughed, then started signing and talking at the same time. “You need to learn to sign if you’re gonna hang out with your friend’s new wife around. My sister’s Deaf too. I’m a teacher.”
Really? She didn’t seem like it. She had no patience with herself. Even now she was fidgeting, and she’d seen the self-disciplinary look in her eyes when she’d apologized for tripping. He thought Natalie was a girl who demanded perfection from everyone, including Natalie. Teachers looked for development, not perfection.
She shrugged dismissively. “Freelance teacher, ASL. I just moved back to the city. Trying to not be a problem.” Her mouth widened. “I’ve got a good rep already. If you’re up for it…” her hand groped for a pocket, and she immediately groaned; he ran to her, but she steadied just as he reached her. She looked up.
At that moment Mark walked in, worried look plastered on his face, and already in the middle of signing "What’s up? OK OK?" when he saw a strange guy’s arms around Natalie’s shoulders, and her eyes looking upwards at Amil, a hurt look on her face.
So he did the obvious, stupid thing and, anger painting fault lines on his face, rushed to protect the lady. Amil, powerless to stop the oncoming rush, did the stupid, obvious thing and sat there, mouth open. It was Natalie who reacted. She twisted to the right, out from Amil's arms, and spun quickly back to the left, arm outstretched, forcing Mark to stumble forward a few steps instead of ramming Amil’s head back into the cup dispenser. It happened so fast Amil took a second to blink, but when he had his eyes narrowed as he saw Natalie go to steady Mark.
Yeah, he thought. This is the one we’ve been looking for. And then: What the hell am I gonna do?
At that moment his phone rang. Perfect timing. They’ll be happy to have news. He turned to leave, oblivious to Natalie’s explanations to this guy who, by all appearances, seemed to be fitting in the role of Seriously Concerned Boyfriend, but before he could go answer the call Natalie had once again moved with those quick reflexes-
She hasn’t even moved the rag on her head, thought Amil. So graceful – as if she weren’t moving at all –
"Sorry," she signed and spoke, in a hurry and speaking a confused sort of Aslinglish, "My card –" she reached into her pocket, handed it to him – "you want class, go ahead, call me!"
Well, he smiled, now I have an excuse to call.
She stopped signing and said, slowly and deliberately, “Yes. Excuse,” she said, pointing at the card. She pointed at herself, leaning in a little close. Amil felt as if a tight but powerful beam of light had suddenly been turned on. “Reason.” There was a little smile, or a promise of a smile, then the spotlight vanished and she turned back to Mark.
Amil took a deep breath and turned to leave, aware as he did so that Mark’s eyes were watching him.