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Before Blindness

The man and his wife began speaking to one another in sign language. Neither had ever spoken this way before. And yet, suddenly, in the middle of an argument, they'd lost their ability to hear and started signing as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
I can't believe it, the woman signed. How fascinating! This is like something out of a weird science fiction story.
Or a fantasy, signed the husband. It's crazy!
They turned on the TV, and the news anchor was signing about how people everywhere had lost their hearing and could understand sign language. It was happening all around the globe. No one knew how or why.
The man smiled and signed, I kind of like it.
The woman laughed and moved her fingers as fast as wings: Me, too. The world has changed in the snap of a finger. I wonder if it will last.
The couple rested their hands. They'd lost interest in whatever it was they'd been fighting about. Then the man became serious.
I'm sorry, he signed. I know things have been difficult between us lately. I never meant for our marriage to get so bad. The lawyers have only made it worse.
The wife thought about it and replied, I'm sorry, too. I guess when people get married they always think they'll be happy and in love forever. Nobody starts out wanting to be divorced. We lost our way somehow. We can't blame the lawyers for that, can we?
The man and woman gazed at one another as they hadn't done in years. Then, with the swift and sure movements of their fingers and hands, with their intense facial expressions and fierce eyes, they revealed the many things they hadn't said while their love had been dying. They regretted never having children (first his fault, then hers). They acknowledged the affairs (first her fault, then his). They forgave each other the lies. The broken promises. The surrendered dreams. The shouting matches that hadn't amounted to anything but prolonged resentments. They signed all that was in their hearts and minds. The yearning, sorrow, joy, and pain they'd held inside for so long.
Then, exhausted, they laughed and cried and hugged and kissed. The man turned out all the lights in the house. The woman invited him into the bedroom. There they discovered their old passion as if it were new again. The love. Yes, it was still buried inside them, deep down in the silent shadows. The couple, freed at last from the burden of their words, wrestled in bed like animals, purging the feelings that were far too complicated for the clumsy tool of spoken language to express.
Finally, they fell apart and slept hard through the night, naked and clean of all the dirt that had come between them.
The next day, the couple could hear just fine and had lost their ability to use sign language.
They turned on the TV, and the news anchor said the phenomenon had passed. People around the world had gone back to using their voices and hearing just as they'd done the day before. Some people had been terrified by the experience. Others had found it fun and exhilarating. There were those who had slept through it and never knew it had happened. Religious leaders everywhere were touting it as a message from God, although they had no clue as to what God had intended by it. While no one could explain the strange occurrence, there were studies underway, and everyone hoped to someday understand it.
The husband and wife blinked their disappointment and stared at the TV until, at last, the husband asked, "Does it matter that we can't sign to each other anymore?"
It was a rhetorical question. Naturally it mattered. But how much? They didn't know. Was one night enough to change everything? Soon their divorce would be final. They had only to sign the papers.
They went into the kitchen together. The man filled the coffeepot. The woman put bagels in the toaster. It was early morning. People drove their cars down the street. The breeze tinkled the wind chimes on the porch and sent the leaves rustling through the willow trees in the backyard. The terriers barked in the driveway next door.
The man and wife didn't know what to do, so they sat, twined fingers across the table, and waited for another sign.
And then, just as the morning sun began to filter through the kitchen windows... their eyesight... faded slowly... into blindness.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
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