[Touch] This is going to hurt you more than it’s going to hurt me
“I think it’s starting again,” Charlie leaned over to Carolyn and whispered.
“Carrie,” he looked around like not-very-smart bad guys do when they want to see if anyone is around to overhear.
“I have to tell you something.”
“I’m all ears,” she said.
Charlie smiled. There just were no coincidences anymore. “Yeah, about ears.”
“Yes,” she said patiently.
“I might lose my hearing in a few minutes,” he said while looking at her with one of those looks that asked forgiveness because he knew it wouldn’t make much sense and she’d immediately bombard him with questions or call him out on it or just be incredulous.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” she asked but couldn’t keep her poker face going and smiled.
“That’s a joke, right?”
“It was, Charlie, I’m glad you can still hear so you don’t miss out on my brilliant comedic mind.”
They both said nothing for a moment. Finally she spoke.
“How do you know you’re going to lose your hearing, Charlie?”
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been meaning to talk about with you,” he waited again but she wasn’t going to interrupt this time. “But I’d rather you not tell anyone else about it.”
“OK,” she agreed.
“So, right, yes, how to explain,” he searched for the words.
“Just blurt it out, Charlie. We’ve been friends long enough so that I hope you feel comfortable with that.”
“I do, yes. I will. Right,” he stopped and started. “So my hearing is about to go and what that usually, ha, listen to me, ‘usually’ as if this has happened a zillion times,” he laughed at himself but kept going.
“Usually that means one of my other senses is going to be heightened or better, but I won’t know which one it is.”
“Interesting,” Carrie said.
“You’re a doctor, maybe you can help me?”
“You’re about to lose your hearing and gain a heightened sense of something else and you say that you need help from a doctor? Please, Charlie, I need help from you.” She put a hand on his wrist. They had been friends for longer than either of them could remember.
“Wow, you’re hot, Carrie,” he said quietly.
“Charlie, you have called me witty, overprotective, brilliant, and a better tennis player than you, but you have never called me hot. Is this what you wanted to tell me, because I think I might want to have my attorney present,” she laughed at herself and squeezed his wrist harder.
“No, your hand,” he skipped over all of her clever banalities and looked at her hand on his wrist. “It’s hot like it was in the oven.”
She removed her hand from his wrist.
“No, please put it back. Just a minute,” he said. His voice sounded strange to his own ears like when you put your fingers in your ears and speak.
Carrie’s mouth moved and he still heard the words, but there was a slight delay, like two speakers where you tried to hit play at the same time going for the poor man’s complete home music system.
“Charlie, you’re scaring me a little,” were the words that eventually got into his ears.
“Carrie, I now hear you with a little delay. I might not be able to hear you soon, OK?”
“OK,” she said and again her lips moved but the sound didn’t reach Charlie until now maybe two seconds afterwards.
“But I can still talk and you can hear me, right?”
“I’m going to talk you through what I feel, OK? Please stay with me here, Carrie, I’m scared. I was joking about what usually happens to me, but this is really only the second time and I don’t really know why it’s all happening.”
He could feel his own voice more than he could hear the audio. She didn’t both with opening her mouth and just nodded and squeezed his wrist again.
“I feel your heart,” he said.
She looked at him with widened eyes.
“Well, I feel your heartbeat,” he searched for the words. He closed his eyes for a moment to focus even more. “I can feel your heartbeat in my wrist, but it’s as if I’m traveling up your arm now.”
He opened his eyes and looked at her. She wasn’t talking anymore. If he could read anything from the look on her face it was only: keep going. Tell me more.
“I don’t know how to explain what I feel, so I’m just going to blurt it out and hope it makes some sort of sense,” he kept his eyes trained on hers. He had her full attention.
“I’m up to your shoulder now. It’s a combination of a feeling I have in my wrist with your hand touching me and some sort of movie I’m seeing in my mind even though my eyes are open and I’m looking at you.”
She cocked her head to one side like a cocker spaniel. She looked a little like a dark-haired cocker spaniel with her warm eyes, long dark brown hair, and thick eyebrows. He decided at that moment that he shouldn’t dictate every single thought that came through his mind and got back to her shoulder.
“Well, this is kinda funny,” he continued. “It’s like an mining camp or something in your shoulder. There’s even a sign that’s rusted, hanging from a chain on a nail on a muscle in your shoulder.”
“What does the sign say?” were the words that barely sank into his ears and he watched her lips to see if he could read them.
“It says ‘Out of Order’ and it’s dated 2009.”
Carrie spoke, but he couldn’t read the lips this time and the words that came through were muffled and distant.
She looked around the table where they sat in the restaurant and the bill for the drinks sat in a tray complete with a pen. She kept her one hand on his wrist and with her other hand pulled the paper and pen to her and wrote. She turned the paper around.
‘2009: tennis injury’ she wrote.
“Ha, funny about the old mining camp and rusty sign. It’s like an abandoned ghost town where no one has been for a long time.”
She scribbled on the check. ‘Hilarious.’ Her face wasn’t saying the same thing.
“Sorry, Carrie. I’ll move on,” he said and she nodded.
“Oop, here we go. We’re apparently heading over your shoulder, up your neck and into your head.”
Carrie looked less than enthused, but pursed her lips in a sign of ‘OK, OK, mister, just get a move on.’
“Wow, it’s like outer space and a coral reef at the same time. Networks of neurons and jellyfish and lots and lots of goo.”
“Ooh, and, oh, yuck, those look like those nasty sea cucumbers or sea slugs. It’s murky in here. Nasty.”
‘Thanks,” she wrote.
“Ooh, shiny things. Flashing connections, black pearls, and what look like cobwebs.”
She wrote something. ‘Black pearls?’
“Well, one, no, just two of them. Sort of lodged over there and to the back,” Charlie described as best he could what he was feeling.
Carrie’s eyes went wet and her lips trembled. She looked like she was fighting something. Her grip got stronger and she wrote on the paper.
“Oh Carrie, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
She again tilted her head to the side and shrugged a shoulder slightly as if to say ‘Now you do.’
“Do you want me to stop?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“We’re moving down,” he said and felt his body and gravity as if he were falling in a rollercoaster.
“Through the neck again,” he rattled off his journey. “Oh, yuck, Carrie, how can you be a surgeon and see all of this stuff on a daily basis? I can barely handle a brief visit here.”
She bounced her head up and down and little to the sides as she said ‘I manage. I’m used to it.’ Charlie was having a good time translating her movements into language.
“Heading down into your body and, oh, gross. Those must be the lungs,” he stopped. “Now, Miss Calladine, did you smoke in college?”
She smiled and her eyes creased in an acknowledgement of guilt.
“Moving right along,” Charlie continued. “Oh, heading back up. It’s like I don’t really have control of where I’m heading. Ooh, that must be the heart. Whoa, that’s cool. Have you ever seen a real heart, Carrie?”
Carrie watched as Charlie kept his eyes on her but it was clear his mind was watching the journey elsewhere. He was both present and not there at all.
“Ooh, another sign. Let’s see what this one says,” he even leaned in a little as if to get a closer look.
“Dusty and old in here,” he said and she squeezed his wrist harder.
“Sorry,” he whispered.
A blankness came over his eyes and that Carrie hadn’t seen up until now. His face lost some of its color and even his wrist seemed to go a little cooler.
He continued to stare into her eyes, but it was clear that he wasn’t seeing her. He was seeing through her, feeling into her, but he wasn’t seeing her right there. He was in her heart. She wrote.
‘What does the sign say?’ she wrote on the check.
Tears formed in his eyes. He slowly licked his lips because they had just dried out. A dribble of mucus rolled out of his left nostril.
“Charlie, what does the sign say?” her words matched up with what he read on her lips, but he couldn’t speak.
Tears rolled down his cheeks, but he didn’t move or speak.
Slowly, she took her hand from his wrist. His feeling was gone. His sense of touch was broken. The blank stare lifted and Charlie was back across from her at the table.
No one spoke. He stared at her, but no longer through her. In her eyes he only saw worry, questions, hope.
“Charlie, what did the sign say?” she whispered and he heard the words again in real time.
He didn’t speak. He couldn’t speak. He also didn’t know what to tell her. Finally, he knew he had to say something.
“I don’t know,” was all he managed.
“You no longer know or you don’t want to tell me or you really don’t know?”
“I don’t know.”
“I can’t remember.”
“Are you trying to protect me? I feel that it’s something bad, Charlie. Do I not want to know? But I want to know. I need to know. Don’t I, Charlie?”
“I don’t know.”
Tears formed in her eyes again. His eyes were again watery, but no more tears flowed.
He just repeated the same thing one last time in quick, feeling-less words.
“I don’t know.”