But what leaves my mouth is a ribbon of yellow, darting about like a blowfly on a string. As we gape, it stills, wilts to a limp little death, and fades.
I say, “what the-“
But what comes out is dirty wool, greasy and crawling with throbbing fluroescant green ticks. As my voice trails off, so the wool slides from one shade of filth to the next, all the way into invisibility.
“!!!” My exclamation is the shape of one red bird of bones, in a leap of alarm.
The people in the office stare at me.
“I’m not doing it on purpose-“ An explosion of lurid pulsating balloon-esque punctuation and the smell of a hot engine on a hot highway on a hot day.
I leave without saying another word.
My first instinct is to call home. When Dad picks up the phone I struggle against a tight throat and hiccup the colour of water tripping in a vast and empty cavern. He can’t hear me.
The doctors I visit are clueless. They provide me with endless hypotheses, none of which offer even the hint of a cure. Camps are formed in the medical field, quickly polarized into whether or not the effect is psychological, physiological or due to external interference. We must run more tests, they state, over and over again. The fact that I stop turning up to any of these tests doesn’t appear to faze them in the slightest, and they carry on without me.
One physicist is certain there’s a wormhole in my head, to another dimension. I joke about singularities and how dense I am, and he never replies to that email (which doesn’t stop him publishing a lengthy article on the topic).
(I send a letter for publication in the next issue, and point out that if he wants to use the wormhole to send a message through, as was his final climatic suggestion, he’ll have to pay the toll, little billy goat.)
(They publish it, sans density joke.)
I’m allowed to keep my job, and never answer the phone again. Surprisingly little changes. The stealth chatter I had via email become bigger and lengthier and just as silly. No one comes my work station to talk to me, except, that is, when they are bored. Then they gather round and beg me to say something, anything. Better than TV. Better than the internet. I tell them I have no voice yet my voice has consumed everything I am, and they shriek at the translucent nautilus that glide out, ghostly and lonely and dropping crow’s eyes.
I stop talking to myself. I didn’t realise it was such a deeply ingrained habit until anarchy-branded turtles swam from between my lips and bumped against the train window. Caltraps and bubblegum fell as I muttered to myself at the intersection of Collins and Spencer. A single resonant chord struck in the tones of a sprained elbow tendon while I watch trams pass and look for familiar faces aboard them. The smell of harmonicas and brine while I browse the racks in a trendy little boutique. All these things are accidental, and draw too much attention.
Mum still calls, because she doesn’t know what else to do. She talks until she has nothing else to say to the empty receiver, knowing I’m listening, full of candy floss and lions, and every time she says goodbye she hesitates, waiting for me to say it back.
Random religious people accost me in the street. Some of them want me to be a modern day oracle, a prophet full of secrets and wonders, and occasionally I am tempted to set up some crazy cult, the Church of Tessaology, and sit around on a cushion eating ice cream all day while my loyal followers build a pod of wooden mechanical hippopotamus so that we may parade around town looking like right tools. Hippolicious tools at that.
Others want to exorcise me. Yeah, right there in the street.
I find myself invited to exclusive functions in echelons of society I didn’t even know existed, much like the Elephant Man was put on display, like a clever little parlour trick. I suppose I am.
Sometimes, I even go as far as to attend these fancy shindings. I learn how to apply eye make-up just to blend in, put them at ease, and then vent my disgust in grand ballrooms and chic penthouses. Disgust has little stamina, and inevitably I end up delivering unto them a soliloquy that even Shakespeare would baulk at, in which is all the frustration I cannot give voice to. I fill their parties with thunderclouds and smog storms with the roil of stale oil and melting polystyrene curling in their delicately powdered noses.
The invitations stop after a few stunts like that.
I stop seeing my friends.
There’s no point. A one-on-one meet up is too much work for the other person; holding up an entire conversation on their own and me only being able to answer yes/no questions, and being able to ask none in return. I give up on groups – I was always the quiet one on the outer, now I’m even further removed from that.
No one can decipher all the nuances of my exhalations. I know, because I am me, and they confuse me even when I know what I am saying. It is an entire new and uncertain language, and no one spends enough time in my presence to justify learning it.
My entire emotional spectrum falling out in rainbows for all the world to see, I’m as transparent as I’ve never been, but I can’t ask for the time, I can’t whisper a snide comment, I can’t shout a warning or tell someone they’ve dropped their ticket, I can’t announce this pizza to be exactly what I need, I can’t tell someone their taste in TV is appalling, I can’t sigh with content at the first mouthful of tea from the first cup of the day, I can’t correct someone on the movement of the continental plates, I can’t congratulate you-
It’s an external synthesia of the subconscious, one supposed specialist says. It’s beautiful.
No, I say, the mournful cry of the wandering albastross drawn in water-coloured grass, it’s lonely.
My blog fills with spam-like posts; the debriefing of the day, inane observations, and my half of every conversation I couldn’t have. And I thought I crapped on too much before. There are few people who can sate my demands for email, the only form of communication left to me, and fate conspires to have them go on lulls simultaneously. Unsurprisingly, I start developing carpal tunnel.
At night, I lie in bed and sing to myself. I watch the colours and shapes and ideas that thread from my mouth until I’m too tired, and fall asleep with all my unspoken words pacing, restless and unheard, through my mind.
When people tell me to look on the bright side, I roar at them, and a monsoon flood of dried chilli blinds them. Then I go back to writing what I want from the deli in clear precise letters. They’re used to me there. They almost know my order by heart: 200grams of gypsy ham, some home-made pate, sundry others. Food for one.
In this movie, I can’t help but laugh, and my laughter is a fountain of warm sparks and the smell of marshmallows and woolly dinosaurs, swiftly damped to the flat odour of wet concrete as the rest of the audience turns to glare at me. I hunch in my seat and pull my scarf up over my mouth. Worse than a mobile phone, that.
Afterwards, as I’m leaving, someone touches my arm. There’s always someone coming on with oh hey, you’re that girl with the thing, right? Do something! Like the Elephant Man. Like a parlour trick. Like I owe it to them.
I turn, my I’m-not-a-friendly-person face on, and she smiles at me awkwardly. I hand her a sheet of paper I keep in my pocket – it’s too old and crease-torn, I need to make a new one – and watch her read my FAQ. Yes, I am. No, I won’t. Thank you for your co-operation.
She holds up one finger and I wait while she fishes about in her bag, because in her face I can’t read any hunger, no expectation of free entertainment. She hands me a piece of paper, soft with the same wear and heavy handling as mine.
Hello, my name is Shelley. I am deaf. Please be patient and enunciate clearly when you speak to me.
I can read lips.