On the train home, he worried about why he hadn't been able to
contact her. It was bad enough being away, missing her, missing
seeing her brown eyes following him, missing her lovely, heart-shaped
gentle face. It was painful, but bearable. Not misery, but the sort
of pain that all lovers experience, when thoughts of the loved one
provide as much in the way of pleasure, as sorrow in the temporary
loss of them. But to then find, when his return was delayed, that
she was not at work and he could not even leave a message for her -
that made the other brief sadness pale into insignificance. He felt
as if an umbilical cord had been cut, or a balloon set free
unwillingly into the sky, drifting - not knowing where he was going,
not knowing what awaited him.
She should have moved in with him, of course, after college,
but she had some crazy idea about establishing her independence. And
mostly, she coped well, though occasionally, she had to rely on the
people around her. She had been obstinate in her refusal to install
a telephone at her home. If something happened to her, she signed to
him, she would bang on the wall. One of the neighbours would come;
they always wanted to put themselves out for her. When he remonstrated
and said she should at least be able to dial 999, she looked impatient
and signed back swiftly, 'I can't hear and I can't speak. There is no
Angry at his own stupidity, he had realised that he had never
attempted to take the neighbour’s number. Perhaps deep down he’d been
resentful of anyone else helping her but himself. The train shook and
rattled suddenly, as it went through a tunnel and he saw his face,
tense and worried, reflected in the dark window.
His mother had been shocked at the idea of him going out with
a deaf girl, when he got round to telling her.
'What do you want to tie yourself up with someone like that for
, Dave?' she said, irritably. ‘You can’t even talk to her. You’re
just attracted by a pretty face.'
He was disappointed in her. They had always been able to
understand one another. He had expected her to know instinctively
that this was not a whim; this was serious.
‘You don’t understand. I love her,’ he said. But she was not
‘Relationships are hard enough without that sort of barrier. I
only want the best for you. I don’t think you know what you’re doing.’
He tried to explain he knew exactly what he was doing. He'd
been with Claire for most of their college life, and acting as her
interpreter on many occasions had provided them both with a special
sort of intimacy. You can't look at someone in the eyes, in that sort
of one-to-one situation without getting a very clear and accurate
knowledge of them and vice versa. In fact, almost as soon as he knew
her, he realised how aptly she was named. Claire. Talking to her
through hands and eyes was like sitting by a mountain pool, looking
into the clear, unsullied depths. There was no guile to her -
everything she said was direct and honest.
‘It’s not the same as with you and Dad,’ he had said then to
his mother. Dave had got quite used to miming, when his father had
lost his hearing. His mother had not; she had lost her patience.
Dave didn’t remind her that she and his father had not really
communicated for years before the accident which caused his handicap.
He knew that she had managed to direct her anger at a failed marriage
to the event that eventually brought an end to it.
It was through his father’s problem he’d got to know Claire.
True he and Dad had developed their own language, but seeing his
father’s frustration as family anecdotes were reduced to a brief
précis, he had already started to find out more about signing. When
he saw Claire at the college, her dark hair framing her face, her
warm, brown eyes full of concentration as she watched her interpreter,
he’d been drawn to her - overwhelmed, in fact, as soon as he saw her.
The opportunity to speak to her came one day when she was on her
own, struggling to make herself understood. He’d had no hesitation
in going to her rescue. Her interpreter had gone; a death in the
family. She did not know how she would cope. He reassured her -
they were doing the same courses; he would help her - he would learn
as they went along, and he did.
At first, he was embarrassed and inhibited in his conversations
with her. His moving fingers clumsily conveyed polite pleasantries
and necessary arrangements. Her fluttering hands replied with the
articulacy of a ballerina, making teasing comments, expressing ideas,
the nuances and subtleties of the conversation showing in her eyes and
on her lips, sometimes emphasised in the harsh animal sounds from her
throat. But when, in a smiling gesture, her fingers unexpectedly told
him - 'You have wonderful hands,' he seized her own and kissed the
As her interpreter, he worked hard to find the words to convey
the various ideas that were being expressed by those around him, and
Claire's responses. Later, he extended his repertoire into the
vocabulary of love and the colloquialisms of sex, laughing at himself
as she laughed at his early embarrassment. Soon, those first
inhibitions were lost, and they could tell each other anything,
publicly, but silently, sharing a joke that others could not share,
sometimes aware of fascinated spectators, but uncaring, lost in each
And now they had moved on - students no longer. Each with
their own small flats, mortgages, jobs; she in a temp. job in data
entry - he in the lower echelons of marketing.
The jarring movement of the train reminded him where he was.
The scenery had sped by, and he had hardly noticed it, abstracted by
his thoughts of her. The current project had taken longer than the
expected week, and when he had telephoned her office to explain, he’d
been told that she had not been in for three days. He had written
immediately, but had received no reply. Now, as the train pulled
into the station, his worry about what might have happened to her
weighed him down, pushing out the thoughts of their past happiness.
His mother was waiting at the station entrance. He’d almost
forgotten that she had said she would pick him up. It was a left over
tradition from his student days that he knew still gave her pleasure.
True, the subject of Claire had become an unspoken barrier between
them, but even so, this was their only important area of discord. He
was only too aware of how a split could widen into a chasm, and he
would not let that happen a second time in his family. But he was
torn now between the two women. He wanted to see Claire alone. If
something had happened to her; if something was wrong, he could not
bear to share his pain with someone who had not loved her.
Even so, when he got in the car, heaving his stuff into the
back, he said, 'Can you go straight to Claire's.'
'There's no need,' she said, as she started up the car. 'She's
'What? What do you mean? What's she doing there?'
'She came to find out where you were. She was in such a state,
I couldn't let her go home. If I'd known I could have driven over
there to tell her what was going on?'
He felt ashamed he had not trusted her enough to suggest she
contact Claire. Even so, he could not yet understand what had
'I wrote,' he said. 'When I couldn't get hold of her, I wrote.'
'She's been here a week,' his mother replied. 'I couldn't let
her go home. She could hardly keep anything down. I'd have driven
her to her own family, but she was too poorly to go on a long drive.
Why didn't you tell me she was pregnant?'
He looked at her blankly, trying to take it in. 'What? I
His mother raised her eyebrows. 'Oh, I see. Sorry, I thought
she said you knew.' Then she rested her hand on his arm. 'Perhaps I
misunderstood that bit.'
'But how ... ?' he started to ask.
'It's all right, love, ' she said. 'We've been talking all
week. It's just a matter of finding a way. After all, we're both
women. We've got things in common. You, for instance. And the baby.
I'm chuffed that I'm going to be a grandma. We understand each
She pulled up in front of the house.
'Oh that's good, she's got up. She's at the window. She must
be feeling a bit better. She's a lovely girl,' she added.
He looked up and saw her peering down, her eyes larger than
ever in her over-pale face. He felt a rush of warmth and happiness.
He got out of the car, and lifted his hands, and in an exaggerated
gesture, his fingers told her that everything was going to be fine.
In response, Claire's hands spoke out a message of love and welcome.