*Inspired in part by "A Violent Quiet" and Alan Burnett's "I Brush My Teeth With a Tooth Brush"
It is quiet up here, the sensation of falling numbing all other sensations. Those already on the ground deafened by the very thing that inadvertently provides solace for those still in the air. Even heat - solar, geothermal, mechanical... it matters not - fails to register in a mind subconsciously waiting for an impact that will return the ability to hear.
Listening is accomplished through eyes, not due to the matter of decibel, but due to the matter of subject. It is not its volume, but its volume. Overwhelming individual perceptions combine to overwhelm the individual. Defensively, ears turn themselves off. They need not recognize the sound of gunfire, for the eyes perceive muzzle flash just fine. The almost cartoonish sound of small pieces of metal flying by only serve to make the experience more unbelievable. What does it matter if being killed can be heard? It will be felt, regardless. And the disgusting splash that punctured flesh makes will one day finally be recognized for what it was.
Until then, there is a naive ignorance of the furor. Fingers shake far too rapidly to safely hold the detonator for very long. With the realization that everything here is an enemy, there is a smile. The very air reeks of murderous intention. In a few moments it will even feel of it. The tumbling whistle of random ricochet goes unnoticed until the infinite calculations of fate cross its path with that of a baby's finger-sized blasting cap.
For an instant the explosion is heard.
And then... nothing.
He did not hear the blood-curdling screams of the other survivors caught in the blast. He did not hear their curses - at him; at war; at life in general. He did not hear anything.
Because he cannot.
A medevac flight was never so peaceful.
It's hard, she says. Or so he sees. He tries to keep his frustration from being deaf away from her. She's only doing her job. But lip-reading is not coming easy to him. Taking a deep breath, he nods in acknowledgment, knowing she will smile in return. It's a beautiful smile and, truth be told, it's one of the few reasons he bothers coming to this lip-reading class. As soldiers often do - albeit typically with nurses - he has fallen in love with a caretaker. Perhaps it's her perfume. Perhaps it's the softness of her touch when she tries to reassure her students of their progress. Perhaps it's the way she places her tongue on her upper lip when lost in thought. Probably all three.
He feels his own sigh and resolves to impress her today.
She moves to the front of class and continues the day's lesson. He smiles as she exaggerates the motions of speaking - her mouth moves with, he gathers, the flourish of a Shakespearean actress. Pointing to a female soldier in the front row of chairs, the instructor mouths a phrase and asks the student what was said. Though he cannot hear the response, the accompanying actions of the instructor make it obvious: "I brush my teeth with a toothbrush."
Moving to another student, another phrase is mouthed - this one accompanied by a hand sweeping over a head. "I brush my hair with a hairbrush."
So far, these seem to be easy and he can wait no longer. His hand goes up, eagerly volunteering for the next phrase. The instructor smiles a wry smile - the way her lip upturns only on the right side of her face betrays a sense of pride in her student... or, perhaps, something else - and she again moves towards him. She mouths the new phrase, making a delicate brushing motion across her legs and allowing a look a deep satisfaction to cross her face.
He almost frowns, completely unsure of what she said. He asks her to repeat it and she does so, with even more emphasis. In deep thought he purses his lips. The resolve to impress her threatens to overwhelm him. He responds, "I brush my thighs with a pastry brush."
She laughs and the embarrassment washes over him like a tide in the Bay of Fundy. Momentarily unaware that no one else in the room could hear his response, he storms out of class, intent on fading away. Surprisingly - then again, probably not - a hand grabs his shoulder in the hallway. He turns, still red-faced from the incident, and the instructor beckons him to return to class. "It's all right," she mouths.
Frustration still painted on his face, he remains hesitant. But she pulls him in. "You're cute when you're embarrassed," she says. He can't help it. He returns to his seat, full of borrowed resolve. Such is the case with a soldier's misguided love.
Weeks later, upon graduating the class, the instructor presents him with a gift after the other students have left. A small box. Inside, a pastry brush and a note with her email address. She smiles; kisses him on the cheek - it is only then that a long-forgotten reaction takes place... he checks her left hand. It is devoid of ring.
He can't hear her and can only imagine the loveliness of her voice. "Call me," she says, complete with accompanying hand - thumb and pinky finger extended - to her ear.
A pantomime was never so loud.