Distance

Aileen Liu

     I am going deaf.
      Well, not deaf, precisely.
      A month ago the plates of my mind began to shift and my world became a badly dubbed movie—characters’ mouths move but their voices come a split second later. Experience comes to me in pieces. Conversations have become a puzzle, pieced together with edges overlapping messily. Every moment is secondary to me, every sound an echo, and it is only growing steadily worse. Each morning, I check the clock and say the time aloud, and then track how long it takes until I hear myself. Each day the delay grows by a few minutes. Soon I will be a day behind.
I go to the doctor. I am already nearly an hour behind, so I speak and she writes. “When did this begin? Why didn’t you see me earlier? Where does it hurt?” I can only answer the first question. She scribbles on the notebook I have given her, referring me to an audiologist. She looks dubious. She looks on the verge of saying something. I want to cry out, “Is it cancer?” Instead we shake hands.
      In the car I automatically turn on the radio but instead listen to the meeting as I drive home. I hear myself moving in the checkup room, alone. I hear her footsteps coming down the hall, the click of her high heels. She says hi. The door closes. “What are we here for today?” She sounds distracted. I haven’t yet realized that she’s there; I can hear myself humming a tuneless melody, more breath than sound. I am aware now of her standing close to me. I can feel her presence as I turn the steering wheel into the parking lot of my apartment. “Hello?” This is where she touched me on the shoulder. As I walk up the steps I hear myself saying apologetically, “I am going deaf. Well, not deaf, precisely.”
      My girlfriend is making dinner in our apartment. She turns at the sound of me coming through the door. She speaks to me. Like an idiot I watch her lips move, trying to read their movements but understanding nothing. She stops but I have yet to hear what she has said, and so we say nothing more. We sit and eat in silence, while I listen to the radio and watch her face. Finally her words catch up. Her voice fills my ears at last: she is leaving me. She knows I have heard. She pushes her chair back and I take her arm and plead. She shakes my hand off, stands, grabs her coat from the sofa, and leaves. I watch the door of our apartment swing closed. I sit and stare at the stove until the sounds reach me. I hear the screech of the chair against the linoleum. My pathetic plea, then her voice. She has her back turned to me; I can hear the distance. “I just can’t stay here any longer. You never listen to me.” Then the slammed door.

      The next morning I am jolted out of sleep by the sound of her entering the bedroom. I sit up. There is no one else in the room but I follow with my eyes the reverb of her feet on the carpet. I hear her go to the nightstand—I see the alarm clock bleeding 7:12 AM, and her copy of Love in the Time of Cholera is missing—then to the closet. I get up and yank open the doors. The left side shivers with swaying wire hangers, suddenly exposed. I can hear her taking her shirts and sweaters off the hangers. When they begin to clink against each other I know she is nearly done. I listen to her drag the suitcase out of the room, her breath heavy with the exertion. I think I can hear a hitch in its rhythm. Then again. I think—wish—she is crying. I try to follow the sound of her but can only hear my deep and even breathing, still in sleep. I hear the front door click shut and know she is gone. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I listen to my deep and even breathing, listen to myself in ignorant peace. I listen to my deep and even breathing. I listen to me sleep for an hour while the sun slowly creeps into my window and into the corners of my empty closet.

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