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The drive to UT-Austin is twenty minutes south, a stiff lonely journey. Signposts for Seton Medical Center haunt Maya along the way. Before she knows it, she’s pulling into the parking garage closest to her first job, swinging her car around floor after floor—she doesn’t have to turn too many times, there’s a slot that she obediently slides in without much hurrah.
She’s too early. She’d expected to search for parking for another ten minutes, but now she can unfold the sun visor to inspect herself. She needs to rub fingers along her hairline, along her exposed nape; she paws at her black clothes to get rid of bagel crumbs. She doesn’t normally fuss, not when she’s at university just to interpret, but lines of grief shouldn’t gouge into her face, no shadowy emotion should warp her irises. She’d taken the week offered by her boss after her mother had passed, and she had grieved, and now she needs to be ready. She needs to be an ASL interpreter and do her job.
The woman staring back at her is luminous, blue eyes bright. She hadn’t recognized herself when she confronted a mirror, days after the funeral. Her skin had looked like wax paper.
Entering the building, Maya climbs the stone-gray stairs to the third floor and checks the cluster of students already outside the classroom for hearing aids or cochlear implants. There’s no flash of shiny plastic, but the quicksand suctioning her stomach is quickly stopped up by the other interpreter coming, a tall sunbeam named Jennifer.
Jennifer envelopes her in a hug, and Maya forgets for a second before hugging Jennifer back.
How are you? Jennifer murmurs, her voice too warm, too low, and Maya doesn’t want tenderness, she’s here to do a job.
I’m good. Good, Maya nods, her voice coming out tense like a tight guitar string. But I am a bit nervous. This is a sociology class and I haven’t interpreted sociology that much.
Well, you only missed the first week. The teacher’s low-key. It’s painfully obvious the woman’s never met another deaf person in her life, but she’s learning, and she doesn’t freak out. She just stares a lot whenever the student and I chat.
The quicksand funneling through Maya isn’t there anymore, and she’s able to hold on to Jennifer’s arm until the teacher—a graduate student, Jennifer says—arrives and opens the door. The classroom’s an auditorium with row after row of garish orange seats, and Maya trails Jennifer, shrugging off her jacket against a sweep of goosebumps, dropping her purse next to where Jennifer puts hers.
Should I go to the teacher? Maya murmurs. The graduate student leans close to the computer, glancing to the back wall and the projector fixed there.
I’ll go with you, Jennifer presses her fingers into Maya’s spine and they approach the graduate student as one. The graduate student, a thirty-something mouse of a woman, blinks owlishly at Maya behind thick-rimmed spectacles but she takes the hand Maya sticks out, her grip feathery and too warm.
There’s a roaring in Maya’s ears like wildfire, and the water she gulps from her bottle doesn’t drown it out.
I should start, Jennifer murmurs, her words cutting through the roar. Just so you can observe before—
No, I can start, Maya says. She sees the deaf student now, a slouching hulk of a boy in his twenties, slouching in the front row, below Maya’s line of vision. Hearing aids cup his ears.
Jennifer is frowning, You sure?
Maya sees the concern on her face, and she feels a rush of anger then gratitude. Hot and cold. She smiles and knows it doesn’t reach her eyes. I’d like to get into it, she says. Fifteen minutes before we switch?
Yeah, Jennifer grabs a folding chair and it scrapes across the floor, the noises skidding up Maya’s spine before Jennifer picks it up and puts it in the corner, in front of their bags. Her wary movements, her care placing it down and sitting in it, makes Maya wonder if Jennifer could see her anger. Her mother had always told her she couldn’t hide her emotions.
But the teacher is talking now, rattling off names at a pace Maya barely keeps up with. When Maya fingerspells Zak Walsh, her fingers already stumbling and heavy, the deaf student raises his hand. The roaring in Maya’s ears is back and there’s a gummy voice now, chanting along some preschool melody Follow what you know, follow what you know. It’s advice her mother never gave. Nausea starts up in her, violently.
After attendance roll, the teacher starts, talking about deviance, giving the word weight. Maya fingerspells out the word before Zak is giving her a sign, one index finger flicking away from his other index finger, “Deviance, deviance.” She copies him, signs “thank you.”
She follows the teacher when the woman uncorks a marker, the two of them dancing alongside the board. The ink smells like her own education, a biting memory.
Now if she could just step away from the board so I could write more …
Maya steps away from the teacher but she stares for a minute, her hands hanging dumb from her wrists. She’d heard words but the teacher hadn’t said anything. Her mouth hadn’t moved. It’d been like a stone dropped into clear water, her movements the ripples that followed.
So, Durkheim suggested deviance as a normal part of human nature.
Maya hurries to catch up, fingers slapping the back of her hand, everything feeling loose and rubbery. The teacher says something about going back to the computer and Maya follows her back.
She shouldn’t be so close. Jesus, she’s like a fucking shadow.
I’m so sorry, Maya takes two steps back, almost hip-checking the board. The graduate student stares at her.
What for? she replies. Maya searches the woman’s face and doesn’t find anything other than caution. The words had come loud and clear, but she can’t remember what had been spoken.
Am I in your way? Maya asks. She feels the gazes of the classroom, of Zak, of Jennifer upon her, and hot embarrassment sweeps up her cheeks, heavy around her armpits, burning up the goosebumps from earlier. Her fingers tremble, and she feels a surge of sweat.
The graduate student shrugs. Her lips curve up in a smile. Maya notices a smear of red lipstick at a corner of the woman’s mouth, a phantom distortion.
I don’t know, the graduate student says. You apologized, so you tell me.
Maya lets the water run from the faucet without putting her hands underneath. She’s not ready to let go of the sink, the support it gives. Her hands shook badly the entire class. Jennifer let her leave five minutes early, and she ran down the hallway to the bathroom. She thought she’d vomit. She heard that sullen rush and roar the entire class and the words in that gummy voice, harsh and direct, not at all like the graduate student lecturing to an introductory sociology class.
She barreled in the bathroom and clutched at the nearest toilet, dry-heaving until her body spasmed with a reaction deeper than nausea, bone-deep. She wasn’t ready to come back. She had never panicked like this before. She had never been like this before.
She stares at the white of the sink: it bleeds with the image of the graduate student’s mouth, red fading into white. That had been her mother near the end, when she was a patient at Seton. Her red mouth had been flecked with white spittle, grey and auburn hair peppering the hospital pillow. Her fingers had been white too, but she loved painting her nails red. Her hearing aids stayed on the bedside table after the first stroke, fossils of her attempts to conform.
“Don’t worry,” her mother had signed. “I’ll be out of here soon.” Then there was the second stroke, and Maya had been there too late. Maya had held her mother’s white fingers to her mouth, trying to breathe her own life, her love through them, her other hand rubbing “please, please” upon her chest. “Please come back here,” she’d signed. “Please come back.”
The water shuts off and Maya slaps at the faucet. She’s able to cup her hands under the stream. Her own panting echoes in the bathroom; her fingers curl red and raw, an offering to the sink’s porcelain mouth. She inhales and buries her face in her handheld puddle, and something in her touches down to Earth.
A week had been enough, she’d thought. She wasn’t ready to come back, but she would suffocate in her grief if she took more time off. She had one more class to interpret after this, and she needed to be there. Without her work, she was nothing.
Her head throbs and she pulls at her hair until it corkscrews out of the bun, resting on her neck. She runs slick hands through it, ignoring the dripping off her jaw, tying her hair back again but looser. She had applied waterproof makeup, and she would be fine.
She sticks her hands under the stream again, then there’s soap. Her sleeve falls down and she yanks it back up. She needs to get her hands clean, her mind clean and free of tricks. She needs to get herself ready for the next job, the next professor. She scrubs between her fingers, around the crevice between her pointer and thumb, along her knuckles. She feels anticipation as a weight, as if she’s preparing for a fight. She sticks her hands under hot water, relishes the sting of heat.
But her fingers still shake, so she pumps out more soap, hoping that one more time, thoroughly, will make her body hers again. Her hands, when they’re lathered in soap, don’t look like hers anymore. She’s reminded of cold fingers, pale fingers, punctuated with red polish. Not her own fingers.
Now she can’t look in the mirror. She’s too similar to her mother: they carried the same sharp regality, the same brilliant red hair and freckle-infested skin. If she looks up, she won’t see herself anymore.
Maya slaps at the faucet again. The hot water this time suffocates. She shakes her hands in the yawn of the sink and they feel like she’s stuck them in sand. She’s robbed them of their life, and she can’t work with her hands unlike her. But she is working, her hands are hers; the ghost is only in her mind.
She dries her hands with a paper towel. She feels as uncertain as she’s ever been.
The next class is in another building, but it’s a familiar one; it’s with a student and fellow interpreter Maya has worked with before, with a teacher Maya has interpreted before. She waits outside the door with beads of water still clinging to her hairline. When the student shows up, she waves to him and walks over, signing a hello. Her fingers still shake, but she doesn’t want to quit. She doesn’t need to quit.
The other interpreter shows up in the wake of the professor, a buttoned-up white-haired fellow, and they all follow the professor in the classroom, a small space with several rows of long tables. Few people come through the door. There’s less chatter too, and the quiet allows for determination to cement again in Maya as she watches the professor, waiting for a lull in his setting up for her to approach. When he brings out a thick stack of papers, she goes over.
The professor nods politely. I’ve had interpreters in my classroom before and I know the drill. There’s no rush and roar in Maya’s ears this time as he talks. But she still tells the other interpreter to go ahead and start. Uncertainty sparks at the small of her back, and she gratefully takes the seat in the corner and watches.
The nausea lessens, her fingers steady. When it’s time to switch, fifteen minutes later, Maya is ready. The first class was a fluke, she knows, and she’ll talk with Jennifer tomorrow.
So, to be able to consider Shakespeare and his use of tone, his use of language—
And she’s here. Here we go.
Maya glances at the professor, hoping that she’s hearing correctly. He’s still talking about Shakespeare, bent over the paper on the front table. But the other words, shot through with scorn, had been clear, drifting over his words on Shakespeare like a plane’s shadow on cement. Maya doesn’t know where those words came from.
I hope through this assignment, you’ll be able to consider his use of language and perhaps connect it to the way you communicate today. I may be getting a little ahead of myself, but I think every person who wants to be well-read would do well to read Shakespeare.
And that concludes that. I just hope the interpreter got all of that, as well as the humor behind it. She never smiles, so I doubt it.
Maya exclaims before she can stop herself. The professor’s gaze snaps to her, full of surprise and blue-eyed innocence.
What? Is something wrong? he asks.
Maya feels hot embarrassment again, followed by pinpricks of anger. All eyes in the classroom are on her, and she can’t duck away from them. She doesn’t know where the words are coming from, just that they’re coming, clear as day but imperceptible like smoke. She shakes her head at the professor.
Just a bit of carpal tunnel, she lies, her hands shaking in front of her. I’m fine.
The professor nods slowly, staring at her hands before returning to his paper. Now, Wednesday’s reading assignment …
Maya continues interpreting. She’s too aware of her mouth now, how it’s like a tight little staple in her face. She can feel concern coming from the other interpreter and hears the creak of the chair when the other interpreter leans forward. But she doesn’t need an early switch. She can do this. When the professor makes a joke, a pun Maya barely understands, she forces herself to bare her teeth while interpreting it. The student she’s interpreting for looks at her like he’s never seen her before.
Maya vomits in the parking garage, yellow splattering across gray. She tastes acid, sweet and burning, as she takes a deep drink of water, and splutters. Her face feels wet again, this time with sweat. The crisp January air doesn’t cool it off. She sits back in her car, her body pounding with heat. She can’t believe she’s sick; she takes the Tylenol bottle wedged in a cup holder and screams as she hurls it out the window—a violent rejection. It skitters a tap-tap-tap across the concrete, an unsatisfying response to her.
This day had meant more to her than she had let on to anyone. She wanted this to be a day where interpreting would be a job. There would be no mention of her mother. There would be no idea of the deaf community, beyond simply being a facilitator. She was someone who was in and out, impersonal and professional.
The smell of her sweat and wet cotton fills the car. Her first memory of her mother comes: six-year-old Maya on her mother’s knees, the July air a hot smother of worry. Her mother’s cheek was wet against her back with either heat or emotion, and Maya felt her own small body shake as she watched President Bush on the television, signing the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. Back then, she hadn’t understood, but in that room, she’d felt like a long-held breath was being released. Her mother had explained that night how she’d been discriminated against because she was deaf, and now it wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
It’d still taken Maya’s mother another seven years to get a steady job. After five years of teaching ASL interpreting classes at Austin Community College, Maya’s mother slumped on the couch, delirious, her bubbling hysterics filling their apartment and calling Maya out of the kitchen. Her mother had gotten tenure, weeks before Maya turned 19.
When Maya had entered the interpreter training program months later, her mother had started her complaints about the quality, the lack of commitment of her students. They were all interested in ASL interpreting music and that was it. Maya needed to lead the way, because the rest were all showboating, smiling clowns. There was no desire to do work, no desire to go above and beyond. If those students were interested in interpreting, they would reach out, they would be constantly fighting to interpret the right meaning of whatever was being said.
When Maya was about to start her last quarter in the program, someone at her mother’s dining room table thumped his palm on the table, the action enough for Maya’s mother to freeze in the middle of a fresh tangent, a tangent renewed by the idea of Maya graduating. He signed, “Interpreters can’t read minds. You need to be patient.”
Her mother shot back, hands jagged weapons on the offense, “Maybe they should read minds. Maybe they should.”
Maya, leaning against the wall, had felt her shoulders rise to her ears, her arms stiff and tight across her chest. She hadn’t known her mother in that moment. Her mother was tough, but reasonable. Her mother had fought, but she’d never asked for more than she could give. Maya wondered then if her mother had forgotten her own struggle two decades ago. But Maya had never jumped in, and she’d soon forgotten the exchange, until now.
Maya blinks. That small moment had been three months before her scheduled BEI exam, the exam that would determine if she became an ASL interpreter in the state of Texas. But she’d been carrying the weight of that expectation, letting it hang in her stomach without knowing where it’d came from. It’d been heavy when she’d been taking the exam, sinking her below the surface of her own panic. Her hands had shaken so much the person monitoring her asked if she’d like a break—she shook her head no, she wanted it over with. She’d felt dizzy relief when she’d found out she’d passed the test, relief ascending to euphoria when her mother signed, “I’m so proud of you.”
She thinks back to the graduate student, the English professor. There had been words coming from them that she knew they wouldn’t say. Still, she had heard them. Maya had never been criticized for not smiling—there had been moments in the past when her team had asked her if she was okay, because she seemed a little tense. That was as far as it had gone.
“Maybe they should read minds,” her mother had stated. “Maybe they should.”
An awful certainty starts to root in her. Maya feels heat on her face, and she touches her cheeks to find them wet with tears.
Maya gets home before her husband, Simon, does. The condominium sprawls past unfamiliarity, the shadows in the corners multiplied. She turns the faucets for their bathtub, leaves her sweaty black cotton on the bedroom floor, and adds lavender bath salts, the only kind in the bathroom cabinet, a housewarming gift from Simon’s mother given three years ago. She catches sight of her pale elbow in the mirror and doesn’t pay attention to the rest.
She’s the spitting image of her mother, but she’s not her mother. Her mother hated the scent of lavender, and she tries to not dwell too much on the unfamiliar cloy as she lowers herself down in the steaming water. The steam does something to her mind, makes it into an empty room. Something behind her shoulder blades unfurls and she slides down, letting her ears slip underwater. Below the surface is a cocoon of quiet, and Maya wants to carry it along after the bath is over. She sighs and feels her tongue move away from the roof of her mouth. Her muscles feel like sunbaked clay. Inside is a flood of peace.
Her mother had always escaped to the bath when Maya was young, used it as a refuge. She would come through the doorway after a long day and there would be the familiar sign for “bath,” her eyes wet with exhaustion. Maya remembered being young and hesitating at the bathroom door, listening to her mother splash, smelling vanilla if she sat near the door. Sometimes Maya heard crying, low and throaty, the sound of the ruined.
Maya had taken baths herself when she’d started working, first at Whataburger and then when she’d been in the interpreting program. She’d come home to their apartment with her muscles seized and hard, hands shaking. Her mother had known to get out of the way. In those baths, Maya had put her ears under the water too, creating a wash of distance that always ended too soon. She’d been jealous of her mother then, the feeling jagged and unfair.
Through the cocoon, the water splashing against porcelain, she hears the faraway tap of the front door closing. She sits up and hears Simon’s footfalls, along with his bus rumbling away, making its way through the neighborhood. There’s the exhale of the closet door opening, the clicks of the hanger going back in and the door closing. Simon is home from work, and she’s not ready for him. She’d left the bathroom door ajar; with Simon, she’d always asked for privacy during those baths, reinforced it with the door shut. Today, she had thought there would be more time alone and she can’t shut him out now. He would know something went wrong. She sits back and clears her throat, a sharp commanding sound—only a matter of time before he discovers her.
Simon comes to the doorway, stands there awkwardly, his tie still tight against his throat. He smiles like she’s a stranger.
Long day? he asks. Maya nods, tries to splash around a little bit. It becomes important to her that Simon smell the lavender, that he recognize she is still her. What she’d seen in the mirror, thought about in the car, what she’d heard while interpreting, all that could be drowned with the scent of lavender.
But Simon is frowning, I thought you didn’t like lavender.
She shakes her head. Her hair floats around her like red algae. My mother didn’t, she says. Your mother got it for us, and today was a good day to use it. She’s not sure if she wants Simon to ask, even more unsure of telling Simon anything. But he’d held her up after her mother’s fingers had stilled, he’d carried her through the rain to their car. He had gazed after her this morning with too much caution, he’d wanted her to take two weeks off. He was a bank teller, he and some amount of their savings could support them. Maya had refused.
Simon shuffles in the doorway, Well, how about teriyaki for dinner? Then we can talk about your day.
There’s more; his voice is too level, too practiced. It’s his voice when he’s about to reject a loan for a bank client. Maya wants to loosen the tie for him, let those other words that aren’t practiced come out, but she stays submerged. She nods and stares at him, daring him to say more, come closer to either her or the truth.
But he retreats, leaving her with the bathwater, hollering, Spicy barbeque pork okay?
Maya calls back a yes, then unplugs the bathtub. Her body under the surface looks grotesque, a warping, wobbling picture of limbs. She presses fingers on two freckles on her calf, doesn’t feel it as much as she sees it; her spine is stiff again. She watches the water tornado its way down the drain, a hand pressed to her mouth. The gurgle of water reminds her of quicksand. She can smell her knuckles, they smell like lavender, not her mother, not her mother at all.
The teriyaki comes and Maya fields Simon’s lingering gazes as he talks about his day. There was a client wanting to refinance in Georgetown, another wanting a second mortgage.
Maya had kept Simon from her mother for two years, trying to avoid the interrogation that would inevitably come. When she finally knocked on her mother’s door one evening, with Simon’s hand anchoring her, it was because Simon had had two quarters of ASL classes newly tucked up his sleeve.
Her mother had still narrowed her eyes at Simon’s slow signs, signing to Maya when Simon was in the bathroom, “Why not a deaf boy?” Maya had tried for a long time, going to deaf picnics and deaf church meetings, screwing her smile in place until she wasn’t sure where her discomfort came from. Simon didn’t know who Maya’s mother was, but he loved Maya so he enrolled in classes and started learning.
Maya starts. Simon is staring at her, expectant. Half her teriyaki still sits in front of her.
What? she asks. She shovels teriyaki in her mouth, chews even though it’s gone cold and tough like a rubber band.
Was everything okay today, at UT-Austin?
She nods, swallows. The meat rasps against her throat and she fights to inhale past it. Simon reaches out, covers her hand with his.
You know I’m here for you, right? he says. You can tell me anything.
Maya fights to inhale again, this time over a flood of emotion. She turns her palm over, squeezes Simon’s hand. She feels the press of his wedding ring, solid against her palm, and is rocked by a surge of gratitude for her own delicate band.
Simon takes his hand back. So how was your day?
The bathwater from before is in her stomach. She smiles, a weak, watery attempt; her words come out quiet and wandering. She can’t tell him. It’s not a bank loan, a configuration of numbers and credit. There’s no math problem where she gets a solution for hearing voices.
It was fine, she says. It was hard, but I got through it.
Simon’s gaze is too steady now, his fork on the table. Will you be okay tomorrow? he asks. And Maya can’t answer, and she shoves more food in her mouth to fend off Simon’s unwavering husbandry, his concern for the wounded animal at the table.
Simon is talking more. I can take care of you and make sure you have the proper time to—
What? Maya speaks through her food. Meat sits wet in her mouth, slips down her throat when she swallows. She doesn’t want to hear Simon say the word. She can’t imagine herself stuck here as much as she can’t imagine herself out there, every classroom and job a minefield.
Simon retreats, tries again. If you had a hard time today, could you consider taking more time off? His voice is gentle, his voice reminds her of Jennifer this morning. She shakes her head, staring down at her dinner. She’s lost her appetite.
Maya, look at me.
She does, squinting against what she sees: Simon focused entirely on her, his plate pushed aside. There’s only concern in his green eyes. The fork teeters at the edge of the table, Maya wants it to fall, to take his attention off her.
Are you sure you’ll be—
I heard what you said! Maya’s words come bullet fast, tearing through flesh and bone. They burn hot, slicing through intestines and making Maya wince, her fingers twitching with a ready apology. The fork clatters onto hardwood but Simon still stares at her, his gaze too similar to the student in that Shakespeare class. She pushes away her food.
I don’t think I’m very hungry, she mumbles. I’m sorry, maybe later.
They show their backs to each other for hours, Simon tapping away on his laptop. Maya hears him from her cower in the bathroom and doesn’t move. Her mouth is rigid again, and she swears she sees her mother when she first looks at herself. She smiles big and clownish, and doesn’t see anything familiar. Lavender still perfumes the bathroom.
Simon goes to bed, signing “goodnight” as he passes her, his hands gentle. Maya signs “goodnight” back, her fingers crooked towards the floor. She wants that to be the end, to have her hands hold the power to put this all to rest. She passes through the dark bedroom, sits on the living room couch, hears the cars coming up the winding neighborhood street and past. Branches bob outside, and Maya sees them as arms, shadowy and rigid. She wonders if her mother’s death felled her. She’s not a shadow, not planted in rigor and rules—she plans on standing still tomorrow, keeping her face soft and expressive for her job.
She knows if she goes back, she’ll feel her mother pressing on her. She knows if she doesn’t go back, it’ll be worse.
She wonders if her mother ever noticed her standing too close. She wonders if her mother ever noticed her being too stoic. There are recordings of her, after Maya passed her BEI exam and then passed the national exam—she was in a broom closet for the national exam, interpreting to a television. After she passed both, she’d went to jobs with new business cards; her mother showed up when she could, pointing a video camera at her.
She goes through the DVDs until she finds the unmarked clear case with the block letters written on the DVD itself. Maya Church, 2005. Her mother’s handwriting makes nostalgia flutter below her sternum.
She keeps the volume barely audible. Her face on the television screen is a pixelated mess. Her signing is too big, too showy for a small Baptist service. There’s no flash of white that would signify teeth—her mouth remains a tight pink line. Maya knows that’s not her, Maya knows she was nervous interpreting and couldn’t work up a smile.
Another rummage through the DVDs. She discovers one from June 2013, with the scrawl UT-Austin Grad below the date. Her face in this one is filmed clearly, but her mouth hasn’t changed.
Following a slight rattle in the middle of her third search has her finding a pink flash drive. Her mother’s favorite color was pink. Maya gets her laptop, and she can click on the flash drive icon, but not the folder labeled with her name, MAYA. She can’t go any further. She’s too aware of her mouth now, how it curls and splinters. She fights the hot sting of tears in her eyes and shoves the laptop off her lap, leans into the heel of her hands until she can’t feel the tears anymore and white spots appear. Her hands inflicting pain, at this moment, is a blessing.
She starts. The white spots dance a momentary apparition. Then Simon comes out of the shadows, half of his sandy hair sticking up. He rubs his own eyes. What’s going on? he asks. I keep hearing things.
Maya blinks. Nothing, she says.
Why are you up? You have work tomorrow, don’t you?
Maya can’t say anything. She feels embarrassment as a warm flush between her breasts. Simon sits on the couch. Maya wants to move. She doesn’t. Her laptop beams bright beside her, the television frozen on an image of her mid-sign. She doesn’t say anything as Simon takes it all in. She wants him to still recognize her, even like this. She knows the other home videos on their shelves; she knows their wedding is one of them, she doesn’t want that to sour as well.
Simon’s hand flits across her shoulders, and he pulls her close. She yields, letting her body become molded to him. The funeral had made her body rigid, grief pooling and aching in her joints. Her body feels strange when she doesn’t resist.
I’m here for you, Maya. Whatever you need.
She feels the words in his chest, traveling up his throat, and knows there’s only sincerity behind them. She doesn’t need to hear his thoughts. She feels in that moment she doesn’t deserve him. The laptop blinks to black and soon the TV flits down to the company logo pinballing around the screen. All that’s left is the glow of the lamp, shadows puddling beyond the corners of the room, shadows touching both Simon and Maya. Simon smells like fabric softener and musk, and Maya breathes it in. She hasn’t been touched like this and felt it since her mother died; satisfaction pools deep inside her. Grief still threatens to raze her, but not tonight.
I don’t know, she whispers. It falls heavy like a confession.
Simon squeezes her shoulder, That’s okay.
Maya feels split in half, battered by panic. She wants to return to interpreting—but not with something more in her head. She forces her breaths to come and go, forceful and gut-deep.
Minutes tick past. The sound of cars gets less and less frequent until there’s only the sound of Simon’s breathing. The branches outside wave like branches. Maya watches her wedding ring flash in the shadows and matches Simon’s breathing with her own. She wants to submerge herself in lavender again, make her body herself.
Soon, Simon kisses her temple, a paternal gesture, Let’s go to bed.
Maya wants to kiss him further, take him inside her until she’s his. She wants her body to be further and further away from her childhood. And she will; but she allows Simon to turn off the television, turn off the laptop. Then he’s by the light switch, he looks at her, and holds out his hand. It’s so easy to surrender, but something in her resists.
Okay? Simon asks. Maya takes his hand, but she stands firm. She won’t be led to their bed. She squeezes his fingers and purpose stirs awake inside her. She’s going to listen, one day. She will go back and interpret. She wants to listen. She imagines that over Simon’s shoulder, there’s the scent of lavender to take in, and in time, herself. She will find out herself.
Okay, she says.