She is looking at me. Her blue eyes are glassy, they flicker down to her drink and back up. I look at my own drink and can feel her watching, wondering if I'm as interested as she is. I glance over and smile to show her I am. She smiles back. Most of her lipstick is gone, now a reddish smear on the rim of her glass. I walk over and take the seat next to her.
She fluffs her hair. It is unremarkable in both color and length. Her lips move, she says hello, and her eyes are brighter. They look backlit.
Physically, I appeal to her the same way I would appeal to most women in this bar. I am thirty-nine, in excellent shape with a full head of hair and a deep set of dimples, and my suit fits better than any glove. That's why she looked at me, why she smiled, why she is happy I have come over to join her. I am the man she has in mind.
I slide my phone across the bar toward her. It displays a message.
Hello. My name is Tobias.
She reads it and crinkles her brow, looking back and forth between the phone and me. I type another message.
I am deaf.
Her eyebrows shoot up, she covers her mouth with one hand, and the pink rises on her skin. Embarrassment looks the same on everyone.
She shakes her head at me. Sorry, so sorry. She did not know.
Of course you didn't. How could you?
She smiles. It is not quite whole.
I am no longer the picture in her head, no longer the man she imagined, but now she isn't sure what to do.
She picks up my phone and types back.
A pleasure to meet you, Petra. You are Russian?
My parents were.
I nod and smile. She nods and smiles. I can see her mind churning.
She would rather not stay with me. She wants to go find a man who can hear her laugh and does not have to type out his words.
At the same time, her conscience tells her not to discriminate. Petra does not want to be the shallow woman who refuses a man because he is deaf. She doesn't want to turn me down the way so many others have.
Or so she assumes.
Her internal battle is like a three-act play unfolding before my eyes, and I know how it ends. At least most of the time.
Her first question is about my hearing, or lack of it. Yes, I have been deaf from birth. No, I have never heard anything—not a laugh, not a voice, not a puppy barking or a plane overhead.
Petra gives me a sad face. She does not realize this is patronizing, and I don't tell her, because she is trying. Because she stays.
She asks if I can read lips. I nod. She starts to talk.
"When I was twelve, I broke my leg in two places. Bike accident." Her mouth moves in the most exaggerated, grotesque way. "Anyway, I had to wear a cast that went from my foot all the way up to my thigh." She stops, draws a line across her thigh in case I have trouble understanding. I don't, but I appreciate the attempt. And the thigh.
She continues. "I couldn't walk at all for six weeks. At school, I had to use a wheelchair, because the cast was too heavy for crutches."
I smile, half imagining little Petra with a big cast. Half imagining where this sad story is heading.
"I'm not saying I know what it's like to live in a wheelchair, or to have any permanent disability. I just always feel like...well, it feels like I've had a small taste of what it would be like, you know?"
She smiles with relief, afraid her story might have offended me. I type:
You are very sensitive.
She shrugs. Beams at the compliment.