Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Til Deaf Do Us Part

First published at Defenstration (2007)

It was quiet...too quiet. That could only mean that my hearing aid had fallen out again. It didn't fit right, and I kept putting off getting it fixed. I rubbed my eyes and slid out of the recliner onto the floor. My basketball-damaged knees popped as I did. “Ain't it fun getting old, Josh?” I talked to myself a lot since Agnes passed. I reached under the chair and disturbed a family of dust bunnies, but didn't find what I was looking for. I did retrieve a button, three dimes and two stale pieces of popcorn. That wouldn't have happened when Agnes was doing the cleaning. It wasn't until I stood and looked across the room that I noticed the overturned lamp.

“Frankie, did you jump up on the bookshelf, again?” I'd fallen asleep in the upstairs sitting room while watching the Mets humiliate the Yankees. The Boys from the Bronx would get even tomorrow. The room had been Becky's until she left for college. Agnes had converted it into a TV/sitting/sewing area so we wouldn't have to go up and down the stairs as much.

“Frankie? Come here, boy.” Fearless Frankie the Mexican Marauder. There wasn't much to him, but his cacophonous yelps let me know when anyone was around the house. He could have sounded an alarm while I slept; but with one ear shot and the other just about worthless without the hearing aid, I might not have heard him.

I skimmed the floor one more time looking for that dang hearing aid. “How come things never fall where you can see them?” I gave up and inched my way toward the door.

A flash of light coming from downstairs assaulted my eyes as I stepped into the hallway. I raised a hand to my forehead and looked through the railing into the living room. Was it a burglar? Becky worried about me living alone. I told her I didn't have anything a thief would want. Maybe I was wrong.

I twisted to the left so my better ear faced downstairs. I heard faint sounds coming from the kitchen. Someone must have broken the window to the back door. Muted voices wafted up the stairs. I hurried back into the sitting room as fast as my arthritic knees allowed, lifted the receiver off the phone, and dialed 911.

“Hello? Operator? Is anyone there? I need help.” I laid the phone on the nightstand and took up a position behind the door, glad for a change that I'd lost that fifty pounds. I wasn't sure what to do. Could I make it to the front door undetected? What would the intruders do if I saw their faces? Was I better off hiding in a closet until they left?

Another flash moved across the foyer and into the dining room. Where was Frankie? Was he hurt? Dead? Poisoned? Was he waiting for me to come save him? The voices moved closer.

I sat on the frayed carpet behind the door and pulled my knees toward my chest. Was I a fool for thinking I could fend for myself? Becky had asked me to stay with her and Jeff, but I didn't want to interfere in their lives. A nursing home wasn't an option for me, I couldn't stand being around all those old people. Besides, I'd lived in this house for sixty-two years. I was comfortable here.

I looked through the crack in the door and saw a shadow in the hall. It was moving away from me, which meant the intruder was coming my way. I crawled to the closet—the pain in my knees reminding me that a man in his eighties shouldn't be on all fours—, reached for the handle and opened the door, hoping it wouldn't make too much noise. I moved into the closet and closed the door. Didn't I used to keep a baseball bat in here? I couldn't locate it in the dark. Had Agnes moved it?

After my eyes adjusted, I saw the light crawling under the door. I took a few breaths to slow my racing heart. I felt sweat roll off the top of my shaved head toward my eyes. The voices were close—one high, one low. A man and a woman? My own Bonnie and Clyde? Were they killers? Did they get their kicks out of intimidating old people?

I saw a shadow pass under the closet door. Had they heard me talking on the phone? I started to stand. My hand touched something hard. The bat. I grabbed it in my right hand and put my left on the door handle. Okay, Josh. Here's the plan. You're going to open the door, step into the room with the bat held in both hands over your head, and yell like you did the night you won the NCAA basketball championship. That'll scare 'em away. On the count of three. One. Two. Three.

“Dad? Are you all right? You were supposed to come over for dinner. Did you forget?”

I lowered the bat when I saw Becky and Jeff. Frankie was in Becky's arms, her fingers caressing his neck, my silver hearing aid dangling from his mouth. I felt the heat rush to the top of my head, my embarrassment on display. I didn't know what to say. I was afraid of what might come out. Instead, I leaned against the wall and laughed until my throat dried, and I started to cough.

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