This is the second in a series of posts that constitute a piece of short fiction. To read part one, go here.
That’s when it happened. She helped him up, and he kept hold of her hand and pulled her gently closer to get her attention. He opened his mouth to speak and he found that he couldn’t… no sound emerged at all. He tried to mouth the words, “I love you,” but his mouth just flapped unintelligibly like a landed fish. His eyes bored into her with an intensity of purpose as he tried to speak again and again. She tilted her head, a small crease of worry forming between her eyebrows. George ran his hand over her hair and down her cheek, almost desperately, and still couldn’t speak.
The problem persisted. Over the next few days, he found that he could speak to other people; he just couldn’t speak to Pamela. He also couldn’t speak her name, or talk to others when she was in the room. What emerged when he tried was silence, and if he tried to speak of her or if she entered the room mid-sentence, what he had been saying would trail off into a dry croak. He couldn’t e-mail, text message, or page her; any attempts to type while even thinking about Pamela would dissolve into nonsensical strings of characters. With a pen and paper, he tried to write her a note, but his pen skidded across the paper leaving a hopeless, jagged line. He saw doctors. He saw psychologists, and speech therapists. They all scratched their heads in wonder at the phenomenon. One psychiatrist diagnosed the inability as a symptom of an anxiety disorder and prescribed some antidepressant tablets, but the pills only made George miserable and he remained sadly silent whenever Pamela was involved. He would try and try until he was sweating, but if Pamela was around, he was completely and utterly dumb. He learned sign language, and after a time, he found that he could sign quickly and fluently to anyone he chose. Well, anyone but Pamela. His hands froze in the air, clenched in desperate urgency. He wept in frustration, but Pamela just took his face in her hands, and said, “it’s okay. I know.”
They continued to see one another, despite the difficulties posed by George’s curious disability. At restaurants, Pamela would order for him, explaining to the staff that George doesn’t speak. As far as she was concerned, this was the truth. She had accepted the fact that she might never hear his voice again, and though the thought made her sad, as they spent time together she found herself becoming more attuned to the other ways that he could express himself to her… through small touches and through facial expressions. She found now more than ever how incredibly expressive his grey eyes could be, and found herself in these quiet times better able to focus on them, and on his body language.
In a way, she came to treasure George’s quiet. As the relationship continued, she found a sweetness in the silence, and she discovered that her attentiveness to him and his to her created a bond of intimacy that she had never had with another man. She continued to try and help him, sitting with him while he struggled to speak, but when he seemed at his wit’s end, she would just put her arms around him and kiss his mouth, and he would lean into her with an expression of combined defeat and reassurance that she had never seen in anyone else.
After a time, they moved in together. He bought a ring, and he got down on one knee and slipped the ring on to her finger. She said yes, smiling at him, her eyes sparkling. She couldn’t imagine being with anyone but him. He could neither write vows nor read any at the wedding ceremony, but Pamela tried to explain the situation to their pastor, and they married at a chapel on H Street. She beamed with happiness as the pastor spoke, and when George kissed her, she felt his hand soft on the back of her neck. He kept her close throughout the entire reception, with his hand around her waist, or her hand in his. They danced together and cut the cake. The guests at this unusual wedding had become accustomed to their strange arrangement, and a few got up and gave speeches and toasts to the happy couple, and George’s eyes shone. Pamela was delighted that they had been able to make the wedding work.
They had a small apartment in town, with two bedrooms. They furnished it together, which was a challenge at times. Some pieces of furniture had to be placed and moved and adjusted by each alternately until a position was reached that was acceptable to them both. Pamela never once let on if she was disturbed by his silence or his pointing and pleading eyes. She would smile softly at him and simply say, “honey, it’s okay. I know. I love you.”
On one Saturday morning, Pamela found George standing in the kitchen in his bathrobe, leaning heavily on the counter near the refrigerator. The fridge door was ajar, and the yellow light streamed out through the narrow opening. She saw his slumped posture and rumpled hair. It was a look she’d come to know, the shoulders rounded in exhaustion and his hair ragged from his having pulled his hand through it so many times. His robe hung open and his feet were in mismatched socks.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” she walked to him, taking his left hand into both of hers. “What is it?” She looked directly into his eyes. They were wet. He slammed his open hand down on the countertop in anger, and Pamela jumped a little in surprise. George grabbed a pen from the pocket of his worn robe and gritted his teeth, turning toward the kitchen wall. He pressed the tip of the pen to the painted surface and drew a line. He took a hopeful breath and drew another line, his hand shaking. Soon the lines made a letter “M”. George stared at the letter in disbelief, his shaking hand touching it gently, as if he were afraid he would smudge it away. Excited, energized, he raised the pen again and wrote the rest of the word; “ilk.”