EDIT: I've posted an updated/finished version, but left this one in case anyone ever comes across this and is remotely interested in how things progress. Though heaven knows I couldn't post every version of things like this. It'd get ridiculous quick.
Dear Critiquers: First off, thanks very much for agreeing to take a look. I have never attempted to write a deaf character before and, to be honest, have only ever met a few deaf people in my life. I do know some ASL (enough for fingerspelling and probably about 20-30 words), though it is now useless to me as I've moved to the UK and BSL is quite different. At any rate, the story is set in the US, though I don't specify exactly where. Please feel free to completely tell me off if you think I'm getting anything wrong with anything from syntax (especially syntax! I was trying to convey somewhat proper ASL syntax without going overboard so that readers with no knowledge of it could figure out what I was trying to do) to thoughts to whatever. I'm not going to say anything else about the character as hopefully who she is comes through in the story. I'd decided to write it in first person, which wound up being rather challenging considering I couldn't just stick in dialogue for other characters as you normally would because she wouldn't be able to hear it. I've spent some time reading articles and watching videos, etc. but there's only so much research can tell you. You may read it and think, hey, this isn't bad. Or you may read it and go, girl, you suck. Totally okay either way, though more specific feedback is appreciated. :-)
That said, I would actually consider this to be VERY rough first draft. The edges need to be smoothed. There may be typos. So please don't think of it as a polished, finished piece. It's got a lot of work that needs to be done. I wouldn't even normally let people see a piece in this state, but I'm in a bit of a time crunch.
Anyway, thank you for your time. I appreciate it. You can post comments here or DM me on reddit, whatever is easier.
I’ve known Becky since I was seven. She’s been talking me into things for fifteen years. Things like moving to the city without finding a job first, dying my hair purple, and that very ill-advised tattoo of a twerking penguin that I will never, ever let my dad see.
She knew me back when I played tuba in our middle school band, back when I thought I was the coolest girl on the block for being able to dah dah dah dum da da dum da da dum out a recognizable version of the Imperial Death March. Back when you couldn’t find me without my Beats on. A lifetime ago.
We’d gone to our first concert together when we were thirteen. All the other girls were mad over One Direction but not us—we were above that. No big box stadium shows for us. No boy bands. No, we snuck into some dive of a bar to listen to a band so bad that they wound up splitting up on stage because the bass player was falling down drunk and was, apparently, sleeping with both the lead singer and the drummer. I can still remember the smell of the beer and the sweat of the crowd. The smell of doing something you weren’t supposed to.
Yeah, Bec can talk me into anything. She can even talk me into things like going to a concert I have no desire to go to.
But she was right. I had promised. And the tequila had definitely had something to do with it, but also the twinkle in her eye whenever she talked about Tom. Bec had incredibly bad taste in men and the jury was still out on him, at least as far as I was concerned. Sure, she’d met him at the grocery store instead of on Tinder, but he wore his baseball cap backwards and he worked in finance. It wasn’t promising. He’d been there buying avocados and granary bread with so many seeds in it he’d have been followed by squirrels if he carried it through the park.
Bec was only fifteen minutes late picking me up, which didn’t leave her any time to make me change out of my most comfortable pair of jeans and t-shirt. She was wearing a little black dress and some thigh-high boots. She eye-rolled hard at me, swiped some heavy black eyeliner along my eyes, and twenty minutes later she was pushing me to the front of the line at some club I’d never heard of. Clubs weren’t my thing. Too dark to see who you’re with. Too many people. Too much.
The bouncer was huge, with a nose like a potato. He held up a hand to stop Bec’s full frontal assault and pointed at first us and then somewhere in the vicinity of the back of the line. It snaked around the block.
Bec just smiled at him and pulled two lanyards with passes out of her bag. She threw one around my neck and put one on her own. No telling how she’d managed to pull those. It was nearly always better not to ask.
The guy that had been first in line didn’t look happy with us. I smiled at him and gave the universal shrug of sorry dude, what can you do, amiright?
The bouncer poked me in the shoulder and I jumped.
“Hey, man,” said Bec, signing to me at the same time, “don’t get handsy. She didn’t hear you. She’s deaf.” She turned to me and signed I.D. show.
I nodded and pulled my driver’s license out of my pocket and held it out to him. He tilted his head to the side as he looked at it, then said something to Bec that I couldn’t catch any of.
She pursed her lips at him, signing her answer at the same time. “Yeah, she can drive. She’s deaf, not blind.” I hoped she hadn’t also said the idiot she’d added onto what she’d signed to me. He was way too large to insult.
He bent over to peer at me like I was a bug under microscope. “Can you read my lips?” he asked.
That phrase right there is one of the only ones I can consistently lip read from a stranger, but only because I’ve been asked so many times.
“No,” I said. I can lip read Bec a good deal of the time, since I know her so well, though I don’t have to since she’s been signing with me for years. Half the time I know what she’s going to say before she says it. But other people? Not so much. Especially since the hipster trend took over and every other guy out there had a porcupine growing on his chin or a handlebar mustache that belonged back in the Wild West.
He stared at me, processing that. I got the feeling his job didn’t normally require him to do much thinking. And he probably didn’t get a lot of deaf people coming to shows, not at a club like this. The chance of a place this size having an interpreter was slim to none. He finally spoke. “_____ how ___ ___ know what __ ____ ____?” That was all I got from his lips, but I could guess what the rest of it was.
“Because everyone asks me that,” I said. Seriously. If I had a dollar…
I could even guess what he was going to say next, but this time he turned his attention back to Bec like I wasn’t even there.
Now she was starting to look pissed and I was starting to regret that she’d talked me into coming. “And what exactly are deaf people supposed to sound like?” she told him. Yeah, he’d asked what I thought he would. I wasn’t sure why she was getting so wound up about it though. I’d had this conversation about a million times before and she’d been there for many of them. It was annoying, but it was normal.
“Bec,” I said sweetly, “Tom’s already in there waiting, right? Can we go in now?” I smiled up at the bouncer. Full charm. Lots of teeth. I wasn’t going to go into the full story for his benefit. How I’d lost my hearing when I was a teenager. How I could still remember what the sound of my voice was like. I remembered how it felt to speak, the feel of my tongue against my teeth, the breath in my lungs, the movement of my lips. How I practiced enunciating every word now. How people told me I sounded more like a news announcer than like I’d used to.
I’d gone deaf, not stupid. I could do anything the big dumb bohunk could do, other than hear. And throw people across a room. I wasn’t really sized for that.
Some of what I was thinking must have come through, because he shuffled uncomfortably out of our way and waved us in. I grabbed Bec and pulled her through the door and into Hell.
At least, that’s what it felt like. The cool night air, gone, replaced by a stagnant stale, almost antiseptic smell layered over with perfume and alcohol. It was dimly lit, tiny puddles of reddish light from uselessly artsy light fixtures around the outside edge, while the center of the large room pulsed with flashing strobe lights. There was a bar at one end of the space and a stage at the other. Clusters of tables and booths on one side, but not nearly enough for the number of people that were already inside. How were they going to fit the rest of the people in line? How were we going to find Tom? Why had I let her talk me into coming? She knew I hated crowded spaces filled with strangers.
One of my questions was answered almost immediately. Bec made a beeline across the room, dragging me with her. Her guy-dar was on full throttle. She’d spotted Tom all the way across the room standing near one side of the stage.
He was two-handed with drinks, sipping something whiskey-brown out of a glass in one hand and holding a blue martini with a plethora of fruit sticking out of it in the other. It looked like a Bec kind of drink. She was surprisingly frou-frou. The more things poking out of it, the better. He handed the concoction to her with a smile as we came up to him.
“You remember Callie?” she said to him and gave him a very unsubtle elbow in the side. He smiled and waved at me and managed to sign a passable how are you to me. Okay, he had potential. More than Bec’s normal picks, anyway. The last guy she’d dated wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.
Good I signed back, saying it out loud at the same time. I didn’t want to make him work too hard.
“Great spot,” Bec said, nodding at the stage. “Right, Callie?”
“Perfect.” Whatever. I pointedly spent some time looking at the instruments on the stage as she got down to greeting him in a more personal manner. There was a well-loved bass guitar on a stand right in front of us, a couple of faded stickers decorating it. Drum kit, center stage towards the back. A red guitar on the other side. A single microphone down front, another guitar next to it. Huge black speakers on either side on stands. No fancy set dressing. Just the instruments. Well, you couldn’t say we’d changed much since we were young, though this club was both better and worse than that dive bar we’d gone to for our first foray into live music. I’d bet the drinks were a lot more expensive here, that was for sure.
The house lights flashed. I looked around and saw that the room had filled up even more. It was a wall of people behind us, undulating like a beast, like they were one body with many arms and legs and mouths. It was even hotter now, like a wave of heat washing over me. Hell. Seventh level.
I looked at Bec, ready to make a face at her but she was smiling at me, so happy. I couldn’t do it. “Showtime!” she said. Love love love she signed to me. Get ready. Dance you me. Here they come! She flung an arm around Tom’s waist.
I turned back to the stage, putting the crowd at my back. The band was coming out. All guys. But there was no way they were a boy band; not unless boy bands had gone sexy and dangerous since I’d paid any attention to them. Harry Styles eat your heart out.
The bass player was dressed like me, t-shirt and jeans, though somehow they managed to not look basic on him. Maybe it was the hair. It was long-ish and tied back in a ponytail. No facial hair, unlike the lead singer, who was sporting a full-on hipster beard. I wouldn’t be lip-reading him. The drummer was tattooed and shirtless. The guitar player had on tight leather pants and some shiny shirt. Silk? God, he had to be melting in the heat.
I could feel the crowd behind me now as they clapped and shouted. Like a heartbeat. A drum beat. No, that was the drum beat. The drummer had started playing. And the bassist too. It vibrated inside me, a drawn out thrumming I could feel in my chest. In my bones. Boom. Boom. Boom. The speakers were quivering. So was I.
Boom. Bah Bah Boom. Like a race car had suddenly let loose inside my veins, gone screaming through the bends of my heart and come out the other side. I could feel the music. It was there. Like I could reach out and touch it. Cradle it. Take it inside me, but I didn’t need to. It was already there.
I put my hands on the stage in front of me, near one of the speakers and closed my eyes. Yes. There it was, the pulse of the song. I stayed that way, nodding my head in time to the music, feeling it all the way down to my toes, like I was inside the song. A minute, forever, too long, not enough, I wasn’t sure and then the song was over. I opened my eyes as the thrumming left me. The singer was talking. I didn’t know about what. I didn’t care. He should shut up and sing.
I tapped Bec on the arm. “I was in the song,” I said to her and saw her shake her head and cup her hand to her ear. The crowd was too loud. She couldn’t hear me. Song I signed Music I am. Was I making sense? Beautiful! I didn’t care. Feel music inside. Boom. Boom. My hand to my chest. She smiled at me and laughed. Good good she signed. Did she get it? Did she understand?
We could talk about it later. Another song was starting.
I closed my eyes and this time I leaned into the stage, wishing I could take my shoes off and feel it even more. I didn’t know what the song was, but I did at the same time. It felt like I remembered. It felt like music and freedom and doing something you shouldn’t but you oh-so-should.
I kept trying to explain it to Bec between songs, but I wasn’t sure she could understand. I feel it too she signed. Band good. Song good.
It wasn’t good. It was amazing. It was magic.
Bec touched my arm. Last song. Too soon. I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Next band half hour she continued. Drink time. I nodded. I felt like I could stand her all night, so long as the music kept going.
Okay, I signed. Bar you me drinks. Shut up now I need to feel it. She laughed and nodded and went back to Tom.
The last song began and this time I kept my eyes open, wanting to take it all in. The drummer, sweat shining on him. The guitar player, down on his knees. The lead singer, cradling the microphone like a lover. I wished I knew what the words were. I’d ask Bec later. And the bassist—I looked up at him to find him staring down at me with his dark eyes. He smiled as our eyes caught and held. He took a step or two toward me and then knelt down right in front of me, still playing. He nodded at me. Nodded at my hands pressed to the stage. What? What did he want? Was I in the way? Crap. I lifted my hands and would have pulled them back, but without missing a beat he grabbed my hand with one of his and put it flat against the bass. Then he went on playing, nodding his head in time with the music.
Oh. My fingers thrummed. I felt like it was in time with my heart or maybe it was the other way around. I smiled up at him. He had no idea. He was making magic and I—I was feeling it. Buh buh buh bum ba bum
[bit more about their moment and the song ending]
[after set, go to bar, bassist finds her there, they talk using iphone notes app, he doesn’t say anything stupid or annoying like the bouncer]
He held up a single finger and smiled, saying something. One? One minute? One moment? Then he disappeared into the crowd. I’d lost track of the crush while we were talking, but now I felt it again. People pressing against me on every side. An elbow in my back as someone walked by, pushing me into the bar.
[she feels a bit overwhelmed, more setting the scene around the bar, then he comes back]
His smile had gone a bit crooked. He squared his shoulders and raised his hands and—signed. Date, two-of-us, go-to you want you?
I was so surprised that I didn’t respond. Just gaped at him like an idiot. Then I saw Bec over his shoulder, beaming at me. He must have gone to find her. Asked her to show him some signs.
He lightly touched my forearm to bring my attention back to him. You I like, he signed slowly. Together music?
Together music, I signed back.