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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Islay: A Novel
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One Saturday Mortima arrived in a strange, incongruous good cheer, with a kind word for all present, and did not protest as was her wont to appear modest when ushered to the chair of honor, the one facing away from Lyson’s door. Mary took perverse delight in the way Mortima seemed to wear her girdle upside down and backward, pushing the front in and down, the rear up and out. Yet this new twist disconcerted Mary: Mortima giggled along with everyone around the little gathering. And her gestures seemed softer, more graceful. Obviously today she had something up her bosom, something big. Mary could only pray it was not about some poor husband, hers or any of her friends’. She bustled about, making her guests at home, all the while keeping a secret eye out for any evidence of the hobby Lyson might, just might, have absently left lying about for Mortima to slip into her bosom.

Today, many friends came, all of them Mary’s. For some reason, Lyson’s did not. Then Mary recalled that today was the opening day for trout. Lyson had been invited, but he’d begged off; there were some unresolved things he needed to work on for his hobby. Mary ached inside for Lyson; he so needed to go out in the sun, out in a creek and let the little fish nibble away his worries. She glanced over at the locked door and let her shoulders drop.

She wished she’d caught on, really she ought to have caught on much sooner and headed off all this nonsense. She’d known all along her husband was a fool, but never could she have dreamed he could be so foolish. Yet, there it was, this enormous enormity, entrenched in her home!

It’d happened, somehow, because she’d grown up with a raftful of brothers, and it was a given to her that boys would be boys. She believed, unlike girls raised in homes untroubled by brothers, that foibles of men are better humored than censored. She’d allowed the project to take over the spare bedroom and also his Saturdays; far better to allow the husband to make a fool of himself in the home than out. At first this arrangement appeared to be working out well; at least Lyson was so happy in his project that she couldn’t but allow herself to be lulled into contentment, too. That’s the nice thing about happiness: It’s catching.

Now this! Before she’d caught on, his hobby had blossomed into a full flower of scandalous dimensions. She saw that the circumstances left her no recourse but to secure the den with a new lock and to keep close track of the key, to see it to its hiding place with its own key that needed to be hid, too.

Mary was adamant about keeping his dream a secret. She guarded the key even from Lyson. He had to ask to be let into his own den.

The trouble with locked doors is they attract eyes. This kind of thing can get your fingers stepped on, Lyson.

I understand! I understand!

Lyson, we must do something about your dreaming dreaming—

I’m thinking! I’m thinking!

Even then, it dogged them everywhere, its shadow as stubborn as the tendrils of a dream whose roots have long been forgotten, yet continue to grow and grow so that it cannot be let go. Mary sighed at the door.

Mortima saw and wanted to turn for a look at the door. Instead, she turned to Ursula at her side. Mary wasn’t fooled; Mortima could see out of the corner of her eye almost as good as straight ahead.

Ursula was telling her close friend Charity across the circle of friends, Oh, we’re planning divorce. Her gestures were strong and bold, purposely large in defiance of Mortima, who perked up, her eyes fixed on Ursula rather than on Lyson’s door.

You see, Ursula went on, recently read new book that proves 99 percent of deaf-hearing marriages fail, divorce. A shrug. That’s why decided, better divorce now while husband still good friend, still have love.

Everyone stared, every hand stilled as Ursula nonchalantly helped herself to a cracker and bit of cheese. Mortima licked her lips.

Ninety-nine percent! Janice finally exclaimed, her hands making the gestures in a flurry of jumps.

Oh yes, Ursula nodded her fist in the exaggerated manner of confirming an indisputable truth. Deaf-hearing marriages impossible succeed. Fact, the book said those 1 percent deaf-hearing marriages that don’t divorce, that’s because hearing suppresses deaf, prevent associating with other deaf—

Ninety-nine percent! Janice exclaimed again. Never dreamed! You know that my husband, himself hearing, always good to me, better than some—glancing secretly at her sister Monica—husbands, themselves deaf but always selfish, trouble, trouble—

Mortima looked sharply at Monica, and Mary, too, to see if perhaps their masks would drop enough for a secret or two to slip through. But she had looked too sharply; Monica and Mary caught her sharpness and held their faces nonchalant.


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