Short Story First Draft
By: Danielle Bastien
I sit on my bed comfortable in the little nest of blankets I have pulled wrapped around myself, too preoccupied with thought for the pretense of falling asleep. My floor is littered with objects of life, sweaters, laundry baskets, books. My laptop sits beside me the screen long gone black. I stare into it studying my reflection trying to give it meaning. I used to trust my body believing in my understanding of it but at some point, it changed and I was unable to rely on it anymore. The first thing I notice are the deep bags under my eyes like smeared mascara as prominent as my long straight nose which leads down to a small plump mouth. My gaze wanders to my eyes. They are slightly almond shaped, a true clear blue curtained by light subtle eyelashes. My skin is fair like a corpse, allowing the bright blue veins to shine through, stretched out over a small thin body and an angular narrow face covered in freckles. My hair is pulled back into a messy bun for sleep. I have never liked the feeling of hair on my neck or face when I am sleeping, I think I might be that I have a fear of it wrapping around my neck as I lie unconscious and it strangling me. What a stupid death that would be. I lie down resting my head on a firm pillow and close my eyes waiting for the land of dreams to take me away.
It is summer in the small tourist town of Port Katherine. Vacationers from cities infiltrating the close-knit community like vermin clogging the streets and beaches and violating the unspoken rules of small town life. I can see a ghost like image of myself, what I used to be laughing a little too loud down the streets of town. Beaming in the sunlight and running into the warm rain enchanted with the freedom and carelessness of the summer heat. I can see this ghost doing the things I used to love, relaxing at the beach, driving in the country shouting the songs with the windows down, laughing at myself as the beat thrummed through me. Now light from the sun shines in through the window warming my hair as I sit at the kitchen table absentmindedly picking at the stuffed pepper on my plate. My mind keeps returning to the same memory spinning as a carousal returning to a moment, one I don’t want to revisit. I was sitting at the kitchen table on another day, eating a plate full of spaghetti when my mom exclaimed “was it on your face?” “huh?” I grunted a mouth full of spaghetti” “your face” she repeated, my hand had fluttering absent mindedly to the place above my jawline that she was staring attentively at my fingers brushing against something warm and sticky. Pulled them to my eyes I see it is blood, thin and sticky I wipe the rest away embarrassed of the fluid “oh, yeah my ears have been bleeding lately” the look on her face unsettled me. I had a history of ear problems, my first surgery occurring months after my birth. I had never fully understood what the problem was, some sort of deformation which didn’t allow my ears to release pressure or water the way they were supposed to. One thing I did understand though was the pain. I took earaches seriously once likening them to the feeling of heating a sewing needle in a hot flame until it burned red and then piercing it into your eardrum. They consumed me like acid burning through thought and reason until I was not human at all but the pain itself. Small things would set them off, a small amount of water, wind, driving up or down large hills and sometimes For some unknown reason. Earaches often spread from one ear to the other and the pain seeping down my jawline and taking over my headspace. “It doesn’t hurt” I reply to her concerned eyes. This was not entirely true but it didn’t hurt much or frequently enough to concern anyone else. Her only reply was “I am booking you an appointment” “Mom, its fine its been happening for months now” I try to reason hating the appointments to the doctor often resulting in medication that didn’t work most of the time. Her face told me that it was not fine and that she was still going to book me an appointment. We finished dinner in silence, I rinsed off my plate and then loaded it into the dishwasher before heading into my room. I was in the middle of a book and desperate to devour the pages I had not yet read.
The next morning my eyes opened slowly timid in the light of a new day to my mom knocking on my bedroom door “Anne, can you be ready to go in two hours?” she asked in her ‘I’m on the phone’ voice, “yeah” I yawned groggily waking from an interesting dream that was already slipping from my mind. I stayed in bed a little longer allowing the glow from my phone to slowly draw me from the depths of sleep. Smiling at a video of babies tasting lemons for the first time. I run a hand through my hair, trying to determine if it is slick enough to warrant a shower. It still feels light and smooth so I hop out of bed pulling on a loose t-shirt and jeans discarding my pajamas in a corner of my room. I fling open the curtains of my bedroom smiling at the warm sun and eager to be outside. Soon I am seated in the passenger seat of the car wincing as mum gets inside and shuts her door. We drive through town me smiling at the tulips and fresh flowers blooming in people’s yards. Soon I am in doctor Mullins office sitting uncomfortably on the small bed covered in crinkly paper. He is a middle-aged man, the father of one of my classmates, attractive for his age. He has a dark complexion, well tanned, dark hair, and a broad carefree smile he is often spotted going for runs on the outskirts of town and frequently shows up to work with injuries from grand adventures. The last time I came for a visit his leg was bound in a cast I had wondered if doctors could write their own prescriptions. “Hey there Anne, how is your summer going so far?” He always starts like this, asking if I am still playing any sports, if I am going on any family vacation and what not. “It’s going well, the family is hoping to get down to our cottage next weekend if the weather stays nice” I offer. He looks to mum sitting in the corner claiming the chair in the room, “I didn’t know you had a cottage, where is it?” “Just outside of Tobermory” she offers it is a sweet little town with a plethora of hiking opportunities and small lakes “so then, what seems to be the problem?” he turns reflecting his attention back to me. Mum responds for me “I saw blood coming from her ear the other day” before adding “she says its been happening for a while now”. I sit uncomfortable as he asks me how long I have been noticing the blood for, if it hurts, when I last had a bad earache. I supply the information telling him that it doesn’t hurt often or very much and that it had been going on for at least four months. My last bad earache was harder to recall maybe six or eight months. He then gives me an ear examination pulling out his metal ear scope and peering into my head. He does this with both ears taking longer than usual before giving me a prescription for the infection and a referral to a hearing specialist in the next town over.
The next day we went to the specialist whose assistant sat me in a small pressurized room and hooked me into some fancy looking earbuds into my ears and asked me to repeat words spoken to me and press a button for which ear I heard noises in. They were basic tests I had been doing for years. After about a half hour of testing I went back into the warmly decorated waiting room playing absent minded games on my phone. I wasn’t nervous, or giddy my legs which were often fidgeting rebelling against stillness where calm and quiet, I had done this many times before. I was then called in to see the hearing specialist. Who said it looked like me hearing might have been damaged by an infection when my eardrum bursts months ago and left untreated spread to my other ear as well, that it looked like it was beginning to deteriorate and that he would put me on antibiotics and see me again the next week. He explained it more in-depth but it was as if a bubble had formed around me surrounding me and filtering all his words into inaudible concepts. On the ride home the car is silent leaving me to reflect on my last earache, the explosion of pain bringing me to a crouched ball on the smooth wooden floor of the living room. My hands clutched to the right side of my head in an effort to hold the pieces together. I am barely able to think and my vision is distant. My eyes moistened beyond the point of keeping up pretenses. I managed to swallow down some Advil and wait for the pain to pass. We pull into the driveway and the memory fades into nothing.
The week goes by quickly, the threat on my hearing seemed so unrealistic in the world I lived in. I could hear perfectly fin. I had always been told I had a good ear for music. I convinced myself it was nothing, everything would right itself within the week and go back to normal.
Upon our return the specialist confirmed that I was losing my hearing and that it would deteriorate quickly. He gave us a contact for learning sign language in preparation for the possibility that I might become deaf entirely. On the way home, I wish there would be silence. Mum keeps chattering on talking about how it will be good for me to meet other young people with hearing loss. She is keeping a brave face but I am not willing to accept it yet, I wont. I never have been good at being told I had no control over a situation. When I got home I went up to my room closing the door. I sat on the floor with my back against the door trying to let it sink in I closed my eyes trying to listen for a difference in my hearing. I try to force myself to cry. Try to pity myself, clutching at the release of emotion but I just sit, there on the floor. Empty and numb. The truth having not set in yet.
I walk through my house looking at each thing I do in a new light. I wont be able to listen to music when I study, or the radio in the car. How will I know if someone knocks on the bathroom door? I wont be able so sing or play music, watch a movie, or hear if someone is following me home late at night. I realize how much I rely on my hearing for entertainment. I hop on my bike and ride down to the beach. It is still too cold for swimming but I remove my shoes and let my feet wriggle in the sand as I jog into the water. I stand in the quiet waves as they slowly go numb with cold. It is as if I had never appreciated my senses before. I had never properly learned to use them, learned to shar the wind faintly whistling as it caressed my face. Taking in the blue of the waves mingling on the horizon line with the sky.
When the town found out about the young girl with hearing loos they made sure I knew I had their support. The churches were praying and friends I didn’t even know I had messaging me on Facebook with their support and prayers, I turned off my notifications. I know they are trying to comfort me, convince me I will be all right but they make me feel hollow, alone. I tried at first to stay positive, to be grateful for what I had and the support I was being given but the cynicism that had never been a part of me before slowly rotted away at my soul. My friends wanted to talk about my ears, how I was feeling and I got tired of asking them to repeat the words getting lost on their journey to my head. I became paranoid that they were talking about me, that the whole town was talking about me knowing their titters and comments would never reach my ears. I became overwhelmed with leaving my house slowly shrinking my world to the confines of the four purple walls of my bedroom. I became easily frustrated and moody. I pushed everyone away, even the person I used to be locking down in isolation. It isn’t anyone’s fault they stopped coming around. I felt bad for my parents, they didn’t know how to act around me, they had lost a daughter in a way. I had always been a bubbly and energetic my face was easy to read and I loved to chatter. I knew I had changed, somehow by losing my hearing losing a crucial aspect of myself turning me into a hollow person. I couldn’t even turn to watching Netflix I was left with re-reading old books. Sitting alone and wondering about what I had become.
The months went by quickly a blur of emotions, fear and deterioration. My parents hovered at the door leaving me alone in our large empty house for the first time in months “you’re sure you are ok with us going?” my dad asked hesitant to leave me alone. What he was really asking was if I was all right being alone. I nodded silent finding the absence of my voice disturbing. “If you need anything just…” he stumbled over the word about to tell me to call “um, text. We love you” and they were gone, even if just for the night. In a way, I was excited to be alone. It was as if in loosing my hearing I had become a small child again needing sheltering. I had always appreciated my independence, even as a young child and their hovering drove me to my room for the space to feel in privacy. With them out of the house I stand a safe distance from the piano eyeing it tentatively. It is a strange feeling to become wary of an object I once felt so comfortable with. I approach it, hesitant of the structure made up of wood, strings, and ivory. I take a seat on the bench allowing the false feeling of familiarity to comfort me for a moment. I raise my right hand to the keys and press down with my thumb on middle c asking the keys a question. It is faint but there. I press down again this time more certain, more forceful I can feel the notes voice travelling through my hand searching for access into my ear. I begin pounding out a song I normally approach with a delicate and controlled touch letting my emotion and anger seep out of my fingertips into the box of wood. I feel tears dripping from my eyes and feel my voices cracking on the words of a song as my throat becomes tight. I play myself into resignation momentarily at peace with myself too emotionally exhausted to argue.
I am not sure when I noticed it had happened. Maybe it was when I was sleeping or not paying attention my hearing slipped out of the comfort of my head and left without a backwards glance or goodbye. My thoughts wander to remembering as they so often do theses days. I noticed in the morning waking up silently happy and content with the amount of rest I had received. I stretched and rolled over something pulling at my happiness. My mouth stretched open in a yawn my eyes closing lazily and in that moment my drowsiness vanished the hand of panic crushing me in its fist. I began to breath heavily my breathing increasing to spattering gasps. My face was covered in liquid, wet and sticky my knees curling to my chest. My mom came into my room seeing me there holding my head begging the universe with a single word repeating like a record scratched and replaying “no”. She understood immediately crouching over me as if in an attempt to cradle me, to shield me from the outside world repeating a word of her own whatever it might have been. Her hands smoothing over my unwashed hair as I rocked back and forth hyperventilating. When I began to calm, I noticed she had been crying too. This tightened my insides, I had never seen her cry. I don’t bother to get out of bed that day lying in silence drifting in and out of sleep too exhausted from nothing to bother turning over. I thought to myself, my thoughts cruelly reflecting my voice I would never hear again. I lay in the darkness trying to talk to a God that seems so distant, that I’m not sure I ever believed in. I ask the question I know millions have asked before me: why. I don’t expect an answer and I’m not sure I would it hear it if he did. I am looking for something, someone to believe in. I am lost drifting on an empty ocean tired of swimming, spitting out mouthfuls of salty water as it crams its way into my mouth. Drowning. I need a life raft, a plank of wood, a safety boat to pull me from the water overwhelming me. I nestle into my duvet and pillows tears welling in my eyes salt water living inside me, a sob claws its way out of my throat. I cry from my soul unable to do anything else. I sob myself to sleep.
I begin to pound of the piano intrigued at the way the vibrations consumed me and angry at the absence of sound. I am not Mozart, but perhaps I am becoming mad. The melodies which used to carry me away and give me a place to belong are being stripped from me. Now I am unable to hear the notes no matter how hard I hit the keys, how loud I yell. The vibrations are taking over my life. I have become so attuned to the tiny movement of sound travelling and quivering through objects onto my skin. I feel voices when I am sitting on a chair and when sharing a couch. They are making my world empty and small.
I move in bed and am disturbed by the lack of rustling blankets. No one would be able to tell from my appearance that I am deaf. It is not what I expected. It truly is quiet. I always imaged deafness to be a sound you could hear, the sound of waves crashing into my eardrums or the pressure of an airplane landing. Not this. I wake up before the sun the moment my eyes open the husk of sleep is shed. I slip into the heat and steam of the shower reveling in the way the hot drops hit my body sending shivers of warmth into my bones. I read an article once that those suffering from depression took longer warmer showers than those without, trying to mimic the feeling of human contact and warmth. I am aware of the movements I normally go through in a sleepy haze pumping out shampoo in my hand and slowly lathering it through my hair. As I tilt my head back into the water I imagine I am under a waterfall, feeling the vibrations of the water echoing into my hollow head as the shampoo runs down my body. I take care to condition my hair making sure it has time before washing it too down the drain. As I shave my legs smooth I admire their undeserved shape, the way my calve muscles are raised and defined. The strength that is carried in my feet through scarring and callouses. They have carried me through each one of my adventures, through my first steps, down sidewalks, and streets, to trouble and safety. I turn to my body wash. Today I will use my special one which smells subtly of coconut and fresh mangoes. It smells stronger to me for the first time I catch a new scent pleasant and warm. It slides over my body and I take care noticing the stretch marks drawing their way onto my body. The deposits of fat sitting around my upper thighs and stomach clinging to my hips which used to be where my bones protruded. My stomach contains undeserved strength with the whisper of definition playing with subtle definition. My hands are too large, powerful, and practical which to me makes them beautiful in the function of their design. I had always relied on my hands to express myself through music and art. My wrists and arms are too small and thin looking fragile and snapable but with a secret strength. My narrow shoulders lead to perfectly crafted collar bones one of my only and favourite traits and a delicately long thin neck leading me back to my piercingly hollow eyes. I tentatively stop the stream of blissful water against my skin stepping out into the tiny room full of steam and into a towel. I carefully dry myself, hunting down rebel drops of water clinging to my skin, destroying them. I allow the towel to fall as I leaned over the sink washing my face in cool water. Lastly, I brush my teeth allowing the clean to infiltrate every aspect of my being Back in my room I wrap the towel around my hair drying it vigorously before discarding it on the floor. My hair tumbles down my body in a nest of nots and tangles. Perhaps if I left it a family of robins would settle in and keep my company. I begin the calming process of detangling starting at the bottom, slowly allowing the knots to pull themselves free the thick conditioner like olive oil poured over fresh spaghetti. One my hair is loosed and straight hanging limp and wet over my body I pump some moisturizer into my hands giving my thirsty skin a drink that it desperately needs. I pick out a pair of leggings and a comfortable blue crewneck sweater. I am about to leave my bedroom when I see a stray makeup brush sitting on the edge of my sturdy wooden dresser, I pause a moment before picking it up and taking out my makeup bag. I first apply foundation making sure to try and cover the deeply rooted bag imprinted like dark tattoos into the delicate flesh below my eyes despite the amount of sleep I now get. I take an eyeshadow brush and sweep a soft pearlized pink onto my eyelid desperately yearning in this moment to look subtly beautiful. I sweep some bronzer into the hollows of my cheeks, blush onto my cheekbones and a sheer highlight just above. I comb the black tar of mascara through my eyelashes staining the light hairs black. I admire my reflection for a moment saying goodbye. I make my way to the bookshelf waiting in the corner of my room and pull down my favourite book where inside a carefully written note is waiting, hidden between its pages. I descend the stairs carefully recalling only from a bitter memory the knowledge of where the noise sits waiting to be released.
In the kitchen, I pour myself a bowl of my favourite cereal carefully trying not to rustle the bag. I don’t usually eat breakfast but it is a ritual of sorts I perform when my day contains something out of the ordinary like an exam, competition, or recital. As I scoop the flakes onto my spoon I am careful to avoid the edges of the bowl and the pure ring that will never fall upon my ears again. I can feel it in my mouth violently crunching into my jaw. I rinse the bowl and put it in the dishwasher. I slip my feet lovingly into a pair of woolen socks, check again that the note is alone and visible on the kitchen table and slip into my well-worn Birkenstocks without looking back again. I leave my house through the back door slowly turning the handle and feeling for vibrations of noise being made without my knowledge. As I step into the fresh tears of the dew staining the grass my socks dampening in their shoes as I feel the warm air hit me. It is fresh and sweet making the hairs on my arms stand. I retrieve my lonely bicycle left from the night before behind the house leaning against the porch I played on as a child. I dry the wet seat with the sleeve of my sweater as I wheel it out onto the road hoping onto it and riding down the street I had so many times before, but never with a feeling quite like this. I am not in a rush but my legs carry me quickly away. It is strange to be alone and outside again after all this time, I take pleasure in the feeling. I love biking and have ever since I could remember. I used to pretend it was a horse and I heritage of royalty riding down the quiet streets of my little town. As the sun rises light streams into the streets and into the newly budding treetops. Branches drape over the streets like a living canopy of colour. I feel like I have entered a world of magic and beauty but one with a bitter price. I can feel where the wind enters my ears but there is no whistle as it swoops into my ear canal. No whirring of the tires or chatter or the birds. I feel as if there is something bitter learning just outside of my vision, beyond what my senses can reach. I am vulnerable like a newborn kitten with its wrinkly skin and eyes scrunched tightly shut, blindly crying for my siblings or mother. My breathing comes heavily and thick up through the chamber of my mouth and onto my top lip. I bike past a smattering of forget-me-nots, they are my favourite flower and I hesitate for a moment wanting to braid them into my hair but I something stops me and I pass by them without a second thought. I am almost through town now and can see people beginning to ready themselves for work in their tiny play houses. My legs begin to tire growing heavy on the pedals but I don’t let up on the pace I have set. As I approach the last set of lights on the outskirts of town I can see the sun rising over a field to my left. The soft pinks and blues in the clouds look sweet and full of sugar. I make sure to stay carefully to the side of the road, now biking on the highway open and stretching into the distance, I wish I had a camera to capture a tiny image of the beauty. The edge of my mouth curls into an empty smirk at this thought, that I should want to capture a moment for future reflection.
I see it ahead tall and beautifully rustic in the country fields comfortably nestled in the distance of subtly rolling hills. When I arrive near the silo I deposite my bike along the highway walking through the field I becoming more numb and empty with each step. I have never climbed one before despite having lived in such a small town for the entirety of my life, I slip off my shoes and leave them neatly placed at the base of the stone structure. My hand grips the cool rough steel of the first rung waiting for the hollow sound of steel that never comes and makes my jaw clench. I am both cautious and wildly free as I hoist myself up waiting for the tremble of loose metal but all is still. I climb steady and certain taking in the view the sun which is now climbing quickly with me, it to its place in the sky watching me with interest. My arms begin to burn in protest of hauling my bodies weight but I ignore their complaint focusing instead at the view my eyes greedily steal of rolling hills, the soft glow of town and trees below the painted skies. At the top, I sit for a moment a wish unfolding from deep in my gut. My body craves to put forth my voice into the skies a classical song about how a melody can be illusive but brings to any listener truth and emotion, dancing just out of reach. It was one of my favourites with phrasing that reminding me of the breeze picking up and then slowly dipping back subtly that you can barely feel it there. I want my voice to carry eerily over the hills singing the story of the clouds and fields and a small deaf girl hanging from the ladder at the top of a silo. I want it to fade into the hills, for the wheat just beginning to grow to know that I am here.
I let go and fall.
Air rushes up hitting my face and my muscles tighten frantically reaching for something to stop my flight. My stomach lurches out of me choosing to stay clinging to the ladder. I realize my eyes have closed and open them just as I hit the ground.
I am a broken vase dropped by a clumsy child.
Hot iron burns into my spine and I gargle for air trying to breath through the dirt.
A tear leaks out of my eyes as I spot a tooth laying close by, I close them and wait.
Faintly I can hear the birds beginning to sing and a grin spreads across my mouth letting hot blood soak into the dirt.