As soon as Eva opened her door, she made the sign language for ‘The dog’s dead’.
Then ‘I’m glad it’s dead’.
Louis met Eva online and she didn’t tell him she was mute until they met for the first time six months later. They communicated through emails and text, trading poetry and fiction. When Louis finally sat down in front of a woman dressed in a red Bob Dylan t-shirt and skinny jeans, he was prepared for love. Eva slid over a piece of paper that said: I’m mute. But not deaf. When he raised his eyes to her, Eva wore a solemn expression that reminded him of her copious use of commas, colons, and semi-colons when she was being serious. He laughed, and knew that he was fucked.
Eva ushered him into her flat with ferocious hand gestures. After a year of formal lessons, Louis’ grasp of sign language was improving, but there was much he still missed when Eva was emotional and her hands hopped around frantically, like wounded birds. He smiled now and placed his hands on her shoulders. “So what’s the problem?” The neighbour’s dog, which took to howling at night, kept Eva awake, and complaining about the animal had become routine.
She shrugged his hands off so she could sign, ‘The owners want me to attend the funeral. It’s in their back garden. I hated that dog. It wouldn’t be right.’
Usually, Eva carried around a dog-eared piece of paper, no bigger than a dollar bill folded in half, upon which was scrawled the clipped description of her condition. Each time, she received back a look of surprise, then a long pause, before the inevitable question.
She knew Louis would be different, so she prepared for their first meet accordingly. On a clean piece of paper, she wrote out the message once more in her neatest hand-writing. She even made an effort to dress smart, going so far as to iron her favourite t-shirt with care.
She arranged to meet at her local. She arrived early and waited. He had already won her over with his words, long before this moment, so she had no nerves. She recognised him as he walked through the door. She didn’t find him attractive, but he had nice eyes. She waved. He saw her and smiled back a little too hard. It seemed to Eva that he had brought his own nerves, more than enough for them both.
When he sat down in front of her, she slid the piece of paper across to him. He picked it up and read. She waited for the inevitable question, the one that destroys her each time she hears the words: But why can’t you talk? Eva waited, but it never came. When he did look up, he just laughed. And smiled. That’s when, with some difficulty, she began to tell him about the dog.
“But you didn’t kill the dog. What’s there to feel bad about?” When Eva’s hands stilled and dropped to her side, Louis knew that she caught his sharp tone. He reached over and tucked behind her ear a strand of hair that escaped her ponytail.
“I’m just tired.” Which was partly true. He wasn’t sleeping. Last night, he lay in bed and contemplated how he would tell Eva that he was madly in love with her, which would have been obvious to anyone, but Eva wasn’t just anyone. He grasped her hands in his and pulled her into the living room. He sat on the couch and patted the space beside him.
Later, it would occur to Louis that she knew what he was going to say, and that she wasn’t as oblivious to his growing affections as he had thought. He was about to speak when she broke the silence with her hands. They flew in complicated gestures: something about the weather, her hair, her sister’s wedding. Was she inviting him to come with her to a wedding? He decided to start there.
“Do you want me to come with you to a wedding?”
What a stupid question. Of course he has to come to his own wedding. Eva frowned at him, and contemplated how long she should leave him adrift.
“You did say something about your sister’s wedding?” Louis asked, tentative. “Didn’t you?”
Eva shook her head. ‘I do not have a sister’ she signed at him.
Now it was his turn to frown. “Then whose wedding are we going to?”
Fuck me, she thought, this is hard work. She knew a proposal coming from her would be more matter-of-fact than romantic, but this was more disastrous than she imagined. She tried again to make him understand what she was asking of him. She raised an index finger and moved it from him to her and back. He got it this time.
When he had finished bouncing around the room and standing on the couch and shouting until his voice was hoarse, she sat him down in front of her. His face reminded her of small child at Christmas. He was babbling plans at her, guest lists, honeymoon destinations. She put a finger to his lips. She needed to tell him what she had done first.
She held her left hand flat, at chest height. With the right index finger pointed, she brought her right hand beneath the other in a stabbing motion. She didn’t even get to the sign for ‘dog’. Louis was quicker on the uptake this time around.
A collaboration between Andy Lewis and myself. We wrote the story in parts, and thought it would be fun to switch genders. Andy wrote Eva’s passages.
Art by A. Stroganov.
This is another Simpatico project.