Eve’s life revolves around hands, it's how she navigates the world. One day she gets a new coworker whose hands intrigue her
The monotonous, incessant, clicking of computer keys is coupled with the ringing of phones. The unintelligible jabbering of the employees is punctured by the occasional ding of the elevator. These are the sounds of my office building. Specifically Floor 15 of the Hauer and Kane Law Firm at 1247 Dandelion Street, New York, New York.
Yes, a Law student clawing her way up the professional ladder in New York. I fit that stereotype pretty well. I came from a small town, and I’ve worked my ass off to get here now. Cliché, I know. Yes, I am distracted by every little sound in my office. But can you blame me? My childhood was silent. I was the only one, in a household of four, who could hear. My sister, Belle, and both my parents were, and still are, deaf. So my house was pretty much silent. I can't blame my parents, they thought I was deaf for the first few years of my life too. I didn’t even learn how to speak until I was in Pre-K!
So now I’m attune to every sound. And in a city like New York, that’s saying something. I recognize, even within the garbled, confusing mess of conversations, the distinct sound of each of my colleagues’ voices. Michael’s is deep, Carol’s is pitchy, Dona’s is low for a woman, and Jonathan has a slight lisp.
Today, when the elevator dings for the fifth time—letting in a new wave of people—I know there’s someone new. A man. Young man, by the sounds of him. Matt, the floor supervisor, booms with laughter as he talks to this new guy. The latter chuckles nervously.
My cubicle is the third one on the left in the last row, closest to the windows. I mostly work on typing affidavits. We only work on civil cases. Nothing major or important. Floor Seventeen is for criminal cases, and Floor Twelve gets the interesting civil stuff. I’m just an intern, nothing special. I’m slightly above “coffee fetcher” but not quite as high as “going in the courtroom to listen to real cases.”
Matt stops at my cubicle, and the young man is blocked from my view by Matt’s enormous beer belly.
“…and this is Eve, you’re taking over her position.”
I freeze, right in the middle of typing about some guy’s kidnapped cat that came back to life (did I mention that the man alleges that his cat was stolen from its grave?). This new guy will be ‘taking over’ my job. What the Hell does that mean?
“Eve, you’re being promoted. Mister Hauer asked for you personally on Level Eighteen. Congrats, girly, you’re moving up!”
He flashes a paternal smile my way. I hear Donna huff in the cubicle next to mine, and she starts typing with renewed vigor. No doubt she’s emailing a friend the latest gossip. Also no doubt that she’ll be spitting in my coffee next time she goes out on the run.
“I just ask that you train Jim for a week, then you’re free to go on up.”
Finally Matt moves aside to permit the new guy, Jim, to step around.
I automatically look at his hands. They’re pale, with nails trimmed short. They are clutched around a thick brown portfolio, and there is a graphite stain on his right ring finger. The skin on his palms, what I can see of his left palm at least, is smooth and free of calluses. The back of his left hand has an old scar. It winds like a thin white river through a valley of pale smooth sand.
“I’m Jim,” the scar comes towards me; there’s a tan line around his wrist—presumably from a watch with a thick band.
“I’m Eve,” my voice is calm, professional, and controlled. “Has Matt explained the job in depth, yet?”
“Not really, but I’m a pretty fast learner. And I’m proficient in typing.” I grasp his hand; his palm is sweaty and shaking a little. Obviously he’s nervous.
I finally look at his face. Like his hands, his skin is pale and smooth. He has icy blue eyes that pulse with electricity. His hair is dark brown and cropped short. He looks to be early to mid twenties, about my age. He is tall and muscular. Not the bulky kind of muscle found on football players and wrestlers. No, the lean kind found in swimmers and sprinters.
I regain control of my brain, which had temporarily turned to mush as I was lost in his details. And we release the handshake that clearly went on too long.
“Well, I see you two have hit it off. Eve, use the Rogers case to train Jim-bo. Have fun, but remember…” Matt’s finger wags in a joking warning. I finish the pretend threat for him.
“Always be productive, and don’t have too much fun.”
“’Atta girl!” Matt gives me a two finger salute and disappears down the row of cubicles. Donna snaps her gum and her typing goes back to her normal speed: slow.
“Let’s get started, boss.” Jim says staring at me. “What are the basics?”
I gesture to a chair for him to sit next to me at my desk. He does, and I start pulling up the documents related to the case. I bring up the three affidavits that I have already typed. And I pull the file out of my drawer marked ‘Jesus Cat.’
Jim chuckles a little as the file passes under his nose. I blush, but it’s how I remember what the case is about.
“Dare I ask?” He says, staring at the file and smirking.
“The case,” I say, opening the file and pulling out my notes, “is about one Mister Rogers who was distraught to find that Madame Mittens, his Maine-coon, was stolen from her grave. Then, three days after this heart-wrenching tragedy, Madame Mittens returned…fully alive. Now, obviously this was hard enough for poor old Mister Rogers, but then he found out that his neighbor, Miss Beulah Dolman, actually was the one to ‘resurrect’ poor Madame Mittens.”
He stares at me confused for a second, and then he started laughing. I giggled a little. It was pretty funny.
“You had me going there. Good one! Hazing the intern like that, funny stuff. OK, let’s get to the real case.” When I don’t move, his eyes flit between me and the file on my desk. “You’re not serious.” He laughs.
“Oh, but I am. And that is just the tip of the iceberg of these lawsuits.”
We spent the next few hours talking about all the crazy cases we’ve heard of throughout our time in our respective Law schools. Turns out we both were in NYSBA Mock Trial in high school. We actually had a lot in common.
But I didn’t know just how much we had in common until I went back to my apartment. Where I found him struggling with the front door. We had wished each other well at the office and promised to get to work at seven AM. So it came as a shock to see him jumbling with a fresh set of keys at the front door. His brown portfolio is tucked under his arm and a crumpled disposable coffee cup crushed in his hand. He throws the Styrofoam cup in the bin near the front door, then goes back to trying to entice the uncooperative oaken door open.
“Are you stalking me now?” I ask jokingly. He drops his keys.
“No, I…woah it’s you. Hi. Uh…can, wow this is awkward, can you help me open the door?” he blushes, visibly embarrassed.
“Sure.” I smirk, opening the door.
“How’d you do that?”
“When you’ve lived here for a few years, you’ll get used to it too. What you have to do is turn the knob to the left whilst simultaneously turning the key to the right and pushing against the frame.”
“I think law school was less confusing.”
We laugh, I climb up the stairs to the third floor, and he keeps going.
“This is my stop.” I say, leaning against the rail and looking up the flight of stairs to him.
“Oh, would you like to, uh…come to dinner tonight? I’m apartment 6K. Would you like to stop by, around 7ish?”
“How about you come by my place, 3E. My sister and I serve dinner at 7:15; we’re making Italian.”
He looks at me with an odd expression, one I can’t really define. After a moment of smiling at me, slightly dazed by my offer I suppose.
“Sure.” He says with a smile. And I all but skip to my door, for some reason happier than I was five minutes ago.
I walk down the hall. Passing all the dull wooden doors. Then I see ours. Belle painted the door white; then painted a large silver 3 and a swirling golden E intertwined. The building manager, Kimmy Lee, is the sweetest lady ever. It also helps that Kimmy Lee is best friends with Belle.
I get into the apartment and I’m greeted with the usual smell of paint. Today Belle is dancing around to classical music, swooping her arm around with several different paint brushes. She picks up another brush with a different shade of blue on it. Now I notice that every brush is filled with a different shade of blue. Every time she picks one up, she drops a few others.
I click the music off. She stops and looks at me.
‘What?’ she signs.
‘How’s it coming along?’
‘The blue one, the one that is taking up our whole living room.’
‘Oh’ she hits her forehead comically, the way I used to when I was annoyed with her dumb questions as a kid. ‘That one. It’s really close, I just need…something. Something BIG for the subject.’ she stretches her arms out wide to show the emphasis ‘I think something like a fish…or a boat…or a book.’
‘A book? In water?’
‘Political statement, sister, deal with it.’
I can tell she's being sarcastic by the way she swings her hips around while she signs.
‘What kind of statement is that? A book in water? Honestly, that just sounds like someone was clumsy and dropped the book in the lake on vacation, or something.’
‘I choose to see it more like…' her mind clearly searches for a moment to find the right words 'water is pretty basic, right? Simple. And books are knowledge. A book in water, then, is like… knowledge being drowned by the simple minded. A comment on society and the way stupid people are destroying knowledge.’
‘Whatever you say.’ I roll my eyes to show the sarcasm.
She sticks her tongue out at me, and I make some gestures that we learned only to piss off each other. I start humming a Broadway tune, I think it’s from Wicked, and I pick up the drop cloth from the floor. I clean up the discarded paint brushes. Belle puts her hand on my shoulder to get my attention.
‘What’s up with you?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Did you have a good day at work?’
‘You look really happy. What happened?’
‘I got promoted.’
She eyes me suspiciously, knowing full well that I am hiding something from her. I smile, grabbing the saucepan, still humming. Belle follows my lead.
‘I have a friend from work coming over.’
‘What kind of friend?’
‘The new kind.’
‘Boy or girl?’
‘Why does it matter?’
‘Boy it is. What is his name?’
I roll my eyes again before I sign his name.
She tries it out herself. Signing it a few times before looking at me.
‘Cute. Short. I like it.’
‘Could you at least be polite?’
‘Does he speak my language?’
‘Does he sign? I don’t know.’
‘Well we’ll find out when he gets here for dinner.’
‘What are you going to make?’
‘Italian.’ She flicks me in the forehead, as if to add ‘duh!’
‘I mean, specifically.’
‘Whatever you want. How about chicken parmesan ?’
An hour and a half later Jim is knocking on my door. Belle is at the stove, stirring the tomato sauce and whipping some meringue for dessert. I tap Belle’s shoulder and point to the door. She nods, smiling coyly at me. I tuck a loose strand of her black hair behind her ear. She still has some blue paint on her cheek.
“Glad you could make it.” I say opening the door.
“Glad I could make it too. Uh, I mean, thanks for the invite. To be honest, eating real food at a table is better than what I had planned.”
“Why? What did you have planned?”
“Dry cereal in the box, on the cardboard boxes on the floor. Most of my furniture hasn’t come in yet. It smells delicious in here.” He steps in the door.
“I should introduce you to my sister.”
I swoop over to where Belle is standing; she turns the stove off, and smiles at Jim. She waves. He gives his hand to Belle.
“Nice to meet you.” He says nicely. She breezes past his outstretched hand, towards the table.
“Oh, she’s deaf.” I try to cover up the fact that my sister had completely blown past him.
“Oh, uh…” Jim awkwardly runs his hand through his hair, blushing and turning to look at me he whispers, “I’ve never met a deaf person before. What should I do?”
I giggle a little at his sincerity, though I know I shouldn't. This is the way everybody acts. I lead him over to the table. He sits next to me. Our little table can hold four people, though usually Belle and I sit next to each other: me on the left, her to my right. Jim takes the seat on my left. So there is a lonely empty seat in between my sister and our guest.
‘Gotta leave a seat for Jesus!’ Belle signs jokingly. I laugh, but then realize that Jim has no idea what she just said, and he looks a little offended. I probably should have given him some heads up that Belle was deaf. I probably should have just eaten at his place. I tell him what she said.
“That is funny.” He says laughing nervously. For the rest of dinner the three of us try to make conversation. I play interpreter the entire time. Signing everything Jim says, and speaking everything Belle signs. I'm used to it by now, this has been my life since elementary school. Every doctor's appointment, school visit, phone call...the life of a CODA. We joke, talk about our jobs, talk about our families, our friends, we even teach Jim a little ASL… then we get out the drinks.
About halfway through the second bottle of Vodka (we had started with wine and gradually progressed to taking shots), Jim mentions that it is getting cold. Then he rubs his arm. A seemingly innocent reaction to the lack of heat. But as his left hand rubs up and down his forearm, and he drunkenly slurs about how funny he thought the title ‘Jesus Cat’ was; Belle flips out. I knew why, but it is too late to undo the damage. Jim just insulted Belle, or at least that’s what she thinks. Now Belle is up in arms. Signing with such vigor, and venom, that I have no idea what to tell Jim.
“That was an insult.” I say bluntly, looking at him. He stares, dazed and confused.
“That action, it means…uh…let’s just call it an insult.”
“How do I tell her sorry, I didn’t mean it.”
I sign to Belle what Jim just told me. She continues to fail her arms around, clearly not interested in any sort of apology. She waves her arms about more than she usually would. And I can’t understand if she is truly angry anymore, or if she’s just drunk and disorderly.
‘Belle, calm down. He really didn’t mean it. I’m going to send him home now, OK?’
Then she storms into her bedroom, slamming the door so loudly that it rattles on its hinges. I look at Jim, embarrassed.
“She’s going to go to bed. Do you want me to walk you upstairs?”
We walk out the door; I don’t even bother to lock it. Then I turn to Jim. His face is a violent shade of magenta. His expression is like that of a prom queen after tripping on her own gown: embarrassed, and happy.
As we walk up the stairs he stares at his feet. He keeps opening his mouth and taking a breath, as if he’s about to start talking. But then he just closes his mouth again, and continues staring at the floor.
“This is it.” I say when we get to his door. A brass ‘6’ is bolted next to a brass ‘K’, pretty damn dull if you ask me. The wood is rough. He unlocks the door. As he’s closing it behind him I turn away.
“Would you like to come in?” He blurts, swinging the door back open so that it bangs against the interior wall.
“I don’t know…”
“I just mean, you know, if you, ya know, uh… wanna see my place?”
“Sure.” I smile, walking into his apartment.
The interior is dull, just like the door, but it looks like everything is still in boxes around the room. A door is slightly ajar; a mattress is on the floor with a dark green bed spread.
“You don’t have to go home tonight.” He says, suddenly right behind me.
His hands drift to my waist, his face is right nest to mine. “You could stay here tonight.” His breath still has the taste of alcohol on it. I turn to face him, ready to protest.
But then I’m hit with those electric blue eyes. The passion behind them, and something else. Something I didn’t notice before. A light. If eyes are the window to the soul, then his windows had been covered by blinds until now. Now the full light of his soul is streaming into my eyes, I can’t look away. I don’t want to.
He leans down to kiss me. His hands moving again to rest in the small of my back. I let his lips find mine. His lips are soft and warm, supple and inviting. I run my hands across his back. His hands start moving up my back, to the zipper of my top. I let them; I’m too busy un-tucking his shirt to care anyways.
We walk, intertwined, towards the ajar door. I lose my high heels around the center of the room, at which point Jim picks me up and carries me the rest of the way. We fall onto the mattress and into each other. Somewhere in the distance a siren sounds, but, for the first time in my life, I tune out all sound.