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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Four Days in Michigan: A Novel
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Lisa moved between her siblings and held out an outstretched palm to each of them before signing. “Stop that! I know everyone’s upset about Mom dying, but fighting isn’t going to make her better. We should be supporting each other, not arguing.”

“I’m just stating the facts, and you know it.” Judy made a face. “And I never understood why, since you aren’t even Deaf.”

Chuck stood still. He wasn’t Deaf, but he had grown up in the culture. And he knew it well. He’d been a big supporter of Deaf community advocacy over the past two decades. So they no longer had to stay quiet, out of sight. So their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act were met So they had interpreters when needed. He even capitalized the D in the word “Deaf,” just like his family did when they referred to a Deaf member of their community, to differentiate themselves from deaf persons who didn’t sign.

Lisa turned to Chuck and gestured toward the bedrooms. “You’d better go see Mom. All day, she’s continually asked when you’d get here.”

He nodded, deciding to ignore Judy’s putdown, and walked down the hall, the dog leading the way. His mother was dying from colon cancer. It had been discovered two years earlier, well after his father’s fatal heart attack. She’d actually had the abdominal pain for months before but had attributed the discomfort to stress, and went to see Dr. Benson only when the bleeding started. By then, it was too late.

Chuck pushed open the door to his mother’s room, knowing she wouldn’t hear him knocking, and looked in. Sitting up in bed, propped up by two pillows, Sandra Winter was staring at a picture in her hands, lost in thought She looked much more emaciated than she had at his last visit Her face was gaunt, her body a mere wisp of its former self. Despite her debilitation, Chuck was pleased to see she still retained her elegant bearing.

The slight breeze created by the opening of the door alerted her. Sandra lifted her eyes and, when she saw who it was, let out a cry of pleasure. He walked over, and they hugged tightly.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” she signed, finally letting him go and setting the picture down on the sheets. He could tell the arthritis in her fingers was worse by the way she moved them.

“How are you feeling?”

“Not good. I’m ready to get this over with.”

“Mom, don’t give—”

She cut him off with a wave of her hand. “I’m in constant pain, I can’t eat, and I spend most of my time lying in this bed. Why go on? There’s nothing left for me in life. So I don’t want to hear any more of that—from you or anyone else. But before I die, there’s some unfinished business I need to take care of. And it involves you.”

Her son raised his eyebrows as he put his right forefinger in front of his mouth and moved it forward, the sign for, “Really?”

“It’s a long story, though, but only for you to see.” She pointed across the room. “Close the door so no one else can watch, then pull up that chair here. It’ll take awhile.”

As Chuck did as she requested, his mother caressed the dog by her bedside, then picked up the picture on her bed and stood it lovingly back on the bedside table. She smiled at her son as he sat down next to her.

“Comfortable?”

He nodded.

“Good.” Her fingers began to move earnestly despite the arthritis. “Then let’s start at the beginning.”


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