Blind and Deaf Faith
Short Story Fiction
By Lynn Donovan
Faith was just like everybody else; she grew up, went to college, established herself in a rewarding career. The only thing she didn’t have—sight and sound.
Gestational Rubella measles left her blind and deaf at birth She knew nothing different. Thirty surgeries, lens implants, and corrective lensed glasses allowed a myopic view of her surroundings. It let her read and maneuver without the gaudy, white cane that screamed, “Blind person walking!”
Hearing was another matter. Hearing aids and even cochlear implants were ruled out early in her life due to her non-existent nerves. But she didn’t care. Life was—as it was. Besides, she could hear through her feet. Approaching footsteps were felt and she would turn toward the person. The mail cart rattled so violently, she knew when to step out of her office and receive her bundle with a nod. Few realized she could not hear. She liked it that way.
As a marine biologist, she communicated with everyone by writing notes or sending e-mails. The notes were simply passed on through intra-office mail or a giant clip on her office door. This aloofness had gained her a reputation as an eccentric bitch, but she’d rather be thought of as a bitch than deaf, handicapped, or worse yet—different.
Besides, she preferred to work alone, except for the sharks. They were her life, her single-minded focus. She loved working with them, studying them, feeding them, and writing about them. Interacting with people was unimportant to her. With her immediate family, mom, dad, and sister, she communicated with her hands. But with the rest of the world, she wrote down her thoughts, commands, and instructions. The internet made that easy. Everyone typed rather than spoke on the internet. She simply refused to participate in any video conferencing where speech was required.
Everything was as she wanted it to be. Her routine was, well—routine, and that suited her fine. She contributed to the knowledge-gathering infrastructure of the marina through her diligence and dedication to sharks. Her life was fulfilling and complete.
Until he walked in.
Dr. Donnie Fitzgerald, PhD., Marine Scientist, and now her supervisor, had been transferred in by a committee she ignored. Her lack of verbal skills had found the one niche she could not fill—public speaking. She could publish anything they needed to disseminate her valuable knowledge about the importance of preserving the sharks and their habitats. She set up social networking sites where she could “chat” with the public. But she could never present any information publically.
Now she had to deal with Dr. Donnie Fitzfumble, Fitzfutile, Fitz-whatever, just stay out of the way. She hated him instantly. In her mind, she signed his name with an F at her right temple. That allowed her to insert an additional vulgar name. Since she was forced to share her office, her marina, and her sharks with him—it was her own delightfully private insult.
“Funding. It all boils down to funding,” signed Hope, her older sister, at Thanksgiving.
“Why can’t we get funding from the blog, Twitter, Facebook, even Pininterest? What about the mail?” Faith demanded. “I set up a webcam. The sharks can be observed twenty-four-seven. Why isn’t that enough?” She folded her arms across her chest.
“Look at me!” Hope gestured with two hooked fingers pointed at her eyes. “Some things require face to face. Sales, fundraising, things same as that, require face to face.”
Faith frowned. She knew Hope was right, but it didn’t make her like it any better.
On the day she and Dr. Fitzgerald were to enter the tanks, she typed up all the shark information, laminated the multi-colored papers and bound them with a plastic ring. She had inserted pictures of the sharks beside the descriptions and, in particular, why they were in captivity. The print was large, so she could see it. To anyone else, it appeared to be benefit readability under water. Since communication underwater was all point and signal anyway, her goal was to point at the picture and then at the actual shark. He could read the rest. Or not.
The scuba gear was arranged on a bench in the non-public access area of the pools. She was mostly geared up when Dr. F arrived. Ignoring him, she hoisted the air tank onto her back. She reached for the regulator, but missed due to the extreme angle it hung from her tank. The hose appeared in her limited peripheral as his fingers guided it toward her face. She grabbed the regulator and jerked away. Sharp, glaring eyes told him she didn’t appreciate his interference. His eyebrows rose but his mouth did not move.
She paused. Glancing back at him, she shrugged. He nodded and returned to squeezing into his wet suit. She’d never considered him before. His muscular limbs and smooth abs might place him around her age, maybe younger. She remembered his face from a photo she had examined. Light sprigs salted his otherwise dark neatly cut hair, but the skin around his aqua-blue eyes was smooth. Premature grey, maybe?
He glanced up at her as he zipped his black and green suit. Her eyes darted to the bench, and she sat down next to the laminated manual. Her heart beat violently in her chest. She consciously inhaled and exhaled to slow down the uncomfortable feelings—all of them. She hoped he would assume she was oxygenating her lungs, preparing for submersion.
Once he bounced up and made a two-finger salute, she stood and handed him the manual. He opened it, scanned the pages, and nodded. She jerked a thumb over her shoulder indicating she was ready to go in. He gave the scuba signal, “okay.” They stepped over to the side of the pool, suspended one finned foot over the water and hopped in. Pain instantly pressed against her skull. She removed her regulator, squeezed the nose of her mask and pushed air out her ears for relief. Dr. F hovered, watching her, then held up the “okay?” sign again. She did the same and took the lead, swimming down into the shark tank.
An eight-foot-long tiger shark swam toward them. Faith reached over to the laminated manual and turned to the orange page. She pointed at the picture and then at the shark as it serpentined past them. Dr. F nodded and scanned the page. He pointed to his side, indicating the shark’s original injury. She nodded and pushed off the bottom of the pool. The shark made a side-ways arch with its spine and doubled back toward them. It slithered through the space they no longer occupied, then doubled back again. She knew its territory had been invaded, and it did not like it.
She swam over to where the nurse shark hung out. She showed Dr. F the appropriate blue page. It had been caught in a fisherman’s net as a newborn. It’d never had a chance to learn to survive in the wild. Now six foot in length, it was a member of Faith’s family. Dr. F held up two index fingers, “small.” Then pointed down, “here.” Faith nodded.
On through the tank they swam locating and identifying each species. A dark mass passed into Faith’s visual range. The Tiger shark was still agitated. It was time they left him alone. She would treat him to fish chunks once they got out. She turned to Dr. F and gestured the scuba sign, “go up.” He signaled, “Okay.” In the lead, she propelled herself toward the exit ladder. A dark hazy contrast against the light-blue wall indicated she wasn’t far from the ladder. Three, maybe four more strokes then she would remove her fins.
Suddenly her chin slammed against her chest and she tasted blood. Her body jerked backward, and the strap to her air tank slipped away from her shoulder. Another jerk pulled the other strap and spun her around. The Tiger shark was attacking her. It held the tank in its razor-sharp teeth and shook it violently, yanking her along with it. She kicked at its underbelly and struggled to remove her arm from the strap. The shark let go of the tank and darted past her. She swirled to keep her eyes on its position. It was between her and the ladder.
Her eyes darted around. Where to escape? Where was Dr. F? The shark arched its spine and glided through the water, straight toward her undulating legs. She drew her legs and arms in close to her body and screamed. Bubbles spilled from her mouth. The shark rammed into her torso. Plastic scraped across her wet suite rather than teeth. She opened her eyes. Dr. F’s multi-colored laminated pages protruded from the shark’s mouth as it shook its head fervently.
A firm grip took hold of her arm. Dr. F kicked long fluid strokes with his fins, pulling her toward the ladder. He shoved her up out of the water and scrambled backward, fins sticking out from the ladder. He fell on his bottom next to her and stuck his feet straight out across the sloshing surface of the pool. Crab-walking away from the sinking dorsal fin, he wiggled to get the air tank off his back. Faith’s eyes darted from him to the water. She could not stop hyper-ventilating. “Uhh, uhh,” the sound escaped her mouth as she tried to regain normal breathing. She swallowed. A metallic, copper taste caused her stomach to lurch. She closed her eyes to fight the nausea.
A hand touched her shoulder. She jerked and kicked away from it. “Uhh!” she screamed. Dr. F grabbed her by both shoulders and held her firmly. She stared into his eyes and shook her head. His eyebrows knitted tightly together, and he slowly nodded as his mouth moved. Something about his face cleared the terror in her mind. She stopped fighting and relaxed. Her head turn to the right. Red covered her shoulder. She jerked away. It wasn’t her, it was him!
Blood flowed from a gash that laid open from his knuckles to beyond his wrist. She grabbed his forearm and squeezed her fingers around the muscle. He looked up into her eyes and smiled, then his eyes rolled up as color drained from his face. He fell limp across her lap. She held tightly to the arm. It was the closest thing to a tourniquet she could devise.
“Ooooo!” she screamed and stamped her foot. “Ooooo! Ooooo!”
She felt the vacuum effect of air moving and knew the heavy doors had been opened. People frantically ran in to them, cell phones to their ears. “Mum, mum, mum.” She screamed the best she could and held up Dr. F’s bloody, torn hand. Someone wrapped something white around Dr. F’s arm and pried her bloody hands off. Adrenaline waned. The room tilted and began to spin. Everything elongated into a darkening tunnel—consciousness waned with it.
# # #
Faith sat next to her family as Dr. Fitzgerald stood at the podium, delivering the speech he and Faith had written. His heavily bandaged hand resting on the podium, it had been six weeks since the accident. Representatives from large corporations sat among local residence as Dr. F spoke. A slide show flashed brightly colored pictures of severely injured sharks; rescuers feverishly scrambling to save them; medical staff, including himself and Faith, administering hypodermic aid to the animals; expansive undersea terrains; healthy, revived sharks traversing the aquarium; and finally young people pressed up against glass walls admiring and learning about the sharks.
The words of his speech scrolled along the bottom of the huge screen. Faith drew her eyebrows together. Subtitles? She scratched out a question on her program and handed it to her sister. Hope glanced down and then back up at her. “Don’t you know?” she signed with small, discreet gestures.
Faith leaned back, “Know what?”
Hope turned her head and glared at her for a moment. “Dr. Fitzgerald is deaf, Faith. The subtitles help the audience understand him. Although, I don’t think they’re necessary.” She leaned away from Faith and shook her head. “You really didn’t know?”
Faith shook her head. She lifted her eyes back to the podium and the man who stood before the people. Suddenly the audience jumped to their feet. Their hands slammed together and vocal vibrations filled the air. Faith stood and clapped too. She smiled at her sister, who stared at Dr. F. Faith touched her sister’s shoulder. Hope turned.
“I saw him first.” Faith signed.
Hope dipped her head and smiled.