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The Voice Below the Silence

By Chelsea DelaneyPublished 3 years ago 5 min read
Photo by mohammad alizade on Unsplash

It was dark the first time they met. A sky so gray, it was almost violet, scrubbing willpower and memory from the air.

But Elena was fierce as always. She felt the oncoming storm as a challenge. As she blustered out of the office that day on Davis Street, smoky black hair whipped effortlessly in a French twist behind her, she was fuming. Her client, a sixteen year old who had been in the foster care system for years, was being told that her new school district didn't have any aides that could sign for her in class. She could still feel her fingers buzzing from talking and signing angrily in tandem at the school district attorney. Her client sat next to her, sighing gently every few minutes. Why did some people have so much, and some so little?

He ran straight into her as she exited through the door on the corner. He should have been able to see her, even lost in the walk and text, as tall as he was. His windbreaker looked like the kind you could fold really tiny and stuff into a pocket sized nylon bag with a wrist strap. There was mustard on his collar. Elena entertained a fleeting vision of kicking him in his overly tall shins.

And then he looked up at her. The pause between them was a perfectly still lake reflecting the sky above. Disorienting. She didn't understand the color of his eyes, like mud you want to squish your toes into. He couldn't place where he knew her from, though he knew he did. What to say at a reunion with someone you've never met?

The wind caught a corner of her crimson scarf and flicked her back to the moment. She started rapidly signing at him, her go to move when she wanted douchebags to leave her alone. She usually started with signing her grocery list--most guys were walking away long before she hit the imaginary check out line. "Wait, sorry, I don't speak sign language," he protested, waving his hands in front of him. "Do you read lips?" he queried. Elena kept signing. "Oh, okay. I'm sorry," he said as his shoulders curled in slightly. He turned and walked away.


The next day, Elena looked up from writing a court report in her cubicle to see her co-worker Marcie, halfway through her lunch and standing way too close to her chair. "Hey, I think there might be a guy at the front desk for you. He says he's looking for the 'pretty, short, deaf woman that he ran into yesterday outside the building'. Should I call security, he says he already canvassed the first floor?"

"No Marcie, thank you, I'll go take care of him. He was goofy, but harmless. I can't imagine why he'd be back though. Did he tell you his name?"

"Said it was Bob Johnson." Elena stood and nodded, brushing the wrinkles from her slacks. Of course it was Bob Johnson. A more mayonnaise name had never been invented--it went great with yesterday's shirt mustard.

When she got to the front desk, his smile spread across his face like an orange being peeled. His shirt was cut to his slender build, charcoal with silver pin stripes, and dark blue jeans. He cleaned up nice she thought, but this made her more disturbed, not less, by his nearness. He handed her a note:

"I am not a stalker, please don't stop reading. After I left you yesterday, I knew somehow it was a mistake. I don't know how this works, but I want to ask you out. My name is Bob--I know, could you get more boring? :) If you won't go out with me, can I at least know your name?"

She pressed her fingernails into her palm. Any second now, their office manager Darren would come back to his desk from lunch and say, "Hey Elena." She'd have to admit to this Bob character that she had been faking this distance between them, this lack of a bridge. And her co-workers would tease her forever for her junior high antics. So, weird date with overly earnest Bob, this total stranger for whom she felt a complicated pull, or cop to her go-to defensive move in front of her colleagues? She grabbed a pencil from the desk, and turned the note over. "My name is Elena, meet me at Harvey's at 7:30 tonight." She handed it back to him and turned away without looking at his face.

The rain started in the early evening, making the Thursday night Harvey's crowd sparse. Bob waved energetically from the leather booth in the corner. On the table he had two notepads and every writing utensil known to man. He held up a pad that said, "Hi, I didn't know your favorite writing implement, so I brought them all!" She grimaced inwardly, equal parts repelled and intrigued by his earnestness. The candles on the table cast long, sharp shadows on the white linen tablecloth.

Her hand had already started to cramp in the first five minutes of dueling notepad small talk. Why had she agreed to this? Better yet, how soon before she could get out of it? The thunder rumbled outside the window and she knew the storm was only going to get worse. She breathed a sigh of relief when the wine he ordered came to the table, hopefully some forgettable house wine that she wouldn't have to pay attention to.

Elena sipped, and immediately put down her pen. It was a perfect Merlot: raspberry, plum, and a hint of chocolate. She dropped her shoulders without noticing. It was subtle and velvety, and the orange glint on the rim reminded her of her father, a lifelong oenophile. She had never absorbed his depth of knowledge, but she often thought of his joy as he swirled a glass, when she needed to go back to a simpler time. He had called her his little blackbird till the day he died.

"You're smiling," Bob said, swimming gently into her memory. "It's nice."

"I know," she replied, then froze. "Wait, you didn't write that down? You knew I could talk???" She looked at him alarmed, prepared to be embarrassed, but there was no judgement there. She finally and fully met his gaze.

"Yes," he said, and smiled. "I'm clumsy, not stupid." At that a much different smile rippled over his face. In it a question, an invitation, a place to ripen in the sun. And though she didn't know where she was going, she opened up her mouth and began to speak. Old words, ignored words, honest words poured out of her as they finished the first glass, then the second, and the third. The waitress had to 'ahem' to get their attention, but he just listened, watching her long fingers trace the glass as she spoke.

When they went to their cars that night, each carrying the others phone number and the name of the wine they so enjoyed together, their orbit had changed. Silence had receded and possibilities were on the horizon.


About the Creator

Chelsea Delaney

Life is weird, write about it, paint about it, dance about it, and sing about it too. Use every language in your arsenal to sculpt the world you want to live in. Writer, educator, artist, and creative midwife--this is what I do.

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