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Drama Fiction Speculative

We sit at the kitchen table, a game of Life spread out in front of us. I’m trying to decide if I want to go through the College path, or just get right to making money. But only part of me is thinking about the game. The rest is listening to my parents argue.

Well, maybe argue isn’t the right word. But then, neither is listening.

They sit there, across from each other, staring at the colorful board, and I can tell they aren’t really seeing it. Mom has her hands clutched tightly together on the tabletop, so tightly that her knuckles are white. Her face is pale, her eyes red from crying earlier. She’s been doing a lot of that lately. I think she’s worried. Maybe even afraid.

Dad is doing a better job of hiding it. He stares intently at the board, leaning on one elbow, a frown on his face. Not an angry frown, but just that crease in his brow he gets when he’s thinking real hard. His eyes… they look kinda angry. Like that time he didn’t get the promotion he thought he should, and couldn’t tell anyone how mad it made him. Like he thought it was wrong, but he couldn’t do anything about it.

“How can this be happening?” Mom says.

Dad never takes his eyes off the game. “I don’t know. But it is.”

They’re only speaking. Not signing. They probably don’t think I can tell what they’re saying. But even though I was born deaf, I’ve picked up a lot over the eight years of my life, and learning to read my parents’ lips was one of the first. Even so, I’m not sure what they’re talking about.

For maybe a week now, they’ve been shutting off the TV and turning off podcasts whenever I come into the room. Then they’ve been staying up late at night, sitting with steaming cups of coffee and talking, talking, talking.

Last night, I eavesdropped on them while they talked about packing up and heading for someplace in the middle of nowhere. Mom seemed to be all for it, but Dad said it wouldn’t make any difference. I can remember exactly what he said: when it comes, they’ll be nothing we can do, and nowhere we can go. It’ll happen quickly, too. 

“Dad,” I sign the word, fingers moving slowly to give him time to notice. It’s another little something I’ve learned, to not assume that everyone can understand shorthand sign as well as I do. “What do you think I should do? Go to college, or take a job?”

He looks at me, and manages a little smile. “Whichever you want, Maestro. Me, I’d get right to making money. But your Mom,” he glances at Mom, his grin turning kind of teasing, “she loves a man with a degree.”

Now she almost smiles, and there are tears in her eyes again. “That’s right,” she signs. “It’s one reason I love your father. And it pays off in the long run.” Her smile fades. “Not that it’ll matter anymore.” She doesn’t sign that last part, and her lips barely move as she says it.

Dad’s frown comes back. “Go on. Make your move, Maestro.”

Maestro. A little joke of his, ‘cause he thinks I look like I’m conducting an orchestra when I sign. Just one of the ways he handles having a deaf child. I’ve come to love the nickname; I know it means he loves me, and he’s trying his best.

I’ll go to college, I decide. I spin the wheel, placing my fingertips next to it so I can feel the rattle. It’s probably not the same as hearing it, but I guess nothing in my life is the same as it is for most people. The wheel comes to a halt, and I take my little car with its little person peg and move the number of spaces I’m allowed. Journalist. I frown. Not what I was hoping for; they don’t get paid very well. But I guess you deal with what you get, wherever you end up.

“Journalist?” Dad signs at me. “Way to go. You’ll make me proud.”

I smile at that. “Mom. Your turn.”

But she doesn’t move. She just sits there, staring at nothing. Her hands are still clutched tightly together in front of her, trembling faintly.

“Hon?” Dad asks, looking at her, that frown still in place. “You all right?”

“What’s the point?” she says, her lips barely moving, making me think she’s speaking more to herself than anyone else. “Why bother? Why are we playing this stupid game? Why are we doing anything, when any minute—”

By then, her face is bright red, breathing hard, and I can tell she’s shouted the last few words before breaking off. It scares me, makes me wonder all over again what’s going on, what’s about to happen.

Dad looks at her for a minute, then shakes his head. “Because it’s family time, Hon. We always play a game, and this is what the Maestro picked. So we’re playing Life.” He nods at her. “So make your move.”

She’s still for a second, then reaches out. But her hand stops before it reaches the spinner, her gaze on the board. “But it’s so… cruel,” she says. “I mean, look at this. Buy a house? Get married? Have children? Go on vacation? It’s like a mockery. None of that’s ever going to happen, ever again. Isn’t there something… something better we could be doing?”

I don’t understand what she’s saying, even though I recognize the shape of every word on her lips. We’re never going on vacation again? That’s awful. I love going to the lake in the summer. Why wouldn’t we ever go on vacation again?

Dad’s very quiet for a bit, just staring at Mom. Then he glances at me, and I’m careful to keep my face free of the worry and fear I feel. Slowly, his frown fades, that crease easing away. Then he smiles, and its gotta be the saddest smile I’ve ever seen. “Because there is nothing better,” he says, reaching out to ruffle my hair. “If it’s going to happen to us… well, there’s nowhere I’d rather be, and nothing I’d rather be doing then spending time with the people I love.”

The table gives a lurch under my hands, and I look back at Mom quickly, to see her bent over, one hand covering her eyes, her body shaking. She’s crying. Sobbing. Her free hand stretches out, scrabbling like it’s looking for something all on its own. I grab it, moved by something I don’t understand, something small and scared and desperate for anything that might bring reassurance.

Mom’s fingers tighten around my own, squeezing hard.

I look at Dad, who’s now sitting there staring at us, that sad, sad smile on his face. “Dad,” I sign one-handed. “What’s going to happen? Why is Mom scared?”

He sits there, not answering. A finger taps against the tabletop. Finally, he sighs. Slowly and carefully, as if to impress on me how important what he’s saying is, he signs to me. “Son, something… strange is happening. Something no one understands. People are… disappearing. Everywhere. Just… vanishing, and no one knows where they’re going, or why.”

“Disappearing?” I sign, freeing my hand from Mom’s grip to make the complicated gesture. “Everywhere? Is it some natural disaster?”

Dad shrugs, an eloquent gesture whether you’re deaf or hearing. “Like I said. No one knows. Nothing like this has ever happened. It started in the Middle East, and it’s spreading quickly. Wherever it goes, we don’t hear from anymore. When people tried to investigate, they disappeared, too. When they use drones, they lose contact with them. Same with satellites.”

I blink, trying to understand this. And all I can think is that this is really scary. “Dad, are we going to disappear?”

He hesitates, and I can see all the things he’s thinking of telling me, about how it might not happen, it might not spread this far, we might be all right. But he doesn’t, and after a minute, his hands move again. “I don’t know, Maestro.” He glances again at Mom, who’s stopped sobbing, and now stares back at him with tears streaking her face. “But I really believe that whatever happens, we’ll be together.” His big hands and strong fingers form that final word, with such emphasis that it makes me feel better, despite my fear.

“When will it get here?” I ask, glancing around our kitchen, like I might see it getting closer with every second.

Dad runs a hand through his hair, blowing out a breath. I can tell it’s really hurting him, this strange thing that he can’t do anything about. Making him feel angry. Powerless. But he’s trying to be strong, and I know he’s doing it for Mom and me.

“Soon,” he signs, a quick gesture. Then he ruffles my hair again, blinking away the gleam of tears in his eyes. “But look on the bright side, Maestro. Maybe it’ll be so quick, you’ll never hear it coming.”

That’s such a weird thing to say that I can’t help but grin back. Dad’s always had a funny way of dealing with me. And oddly enough, it is kind of reassuring, if for no other reason than I know it means he loves me enough to try.

“So.” Dad sighs again. “Let’s get back to the game. Might as well live some Life while we can. Hon? Your turn still.”

Even though she’s still crying, Mom spins the spinner. Again, I put my fingers near it to feel the rattling clicks. The spinner stops, and Mom moves her car, even though it’s clear she’s a million miles away.

As she sets her little red car down, just a few places away from getting a loan for a new house, I experience the strangest sensation I’ve ever had.

I… hear something.

At first, it’s so faint it could just be wind, somewhere distant. A sighing noise, almost. But it grows louder and louder. Nothing moves. Nothing changes. Just the sound getting louder.

I glance at Mom and Dad, my gaze going back and forth, wondering if they both hear it, too.

They do. They’re sitting there, staring at each other. Mom goes pale, all the color draining from her face. Dad’s mouth works, but no words come out.

The sound changes, becoming… different. It makes me feel something, deep inside. For a second, I think it’s just making me more scared. But, no… it’s like… a kind of joy. Like I feel when I’m sitting here, playing games with Mom and Dad, and we’re together, and everything is just so right in my world.

The sound swells and rises, washing over us and around us, seeming to lift us up somehow. Dad’s hands reach out, and I grab one, while Mom takes the other.

And now everything is getting brighter, like a huge glowing light is dissolving everything and making it all run together. But I still feel myself holding tight to Mom and Dad, so everything is all right.

The sound is so loud now, so piercingly, achingly beautiful. Like joy made into a single, perfect note. And I know it’ll all be fine.

Because I’ve never heard anything in my life.

And I got to hear it coming.

May 17, 2024 17:50

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