|Creative Non-Quiction Winners
The results of the second creative non-quiction (quiction = quick + fiction) competition sponsored by DEL SOL REVIEW, BREVITY, AND QUICK FICTION.
The Way Fire Talks to Wood
In front of me in line, a man hisses at a woman. I can't distinguish all of the words, but the words don't matter; his voice crackles and stings. He talks to her the way fire talks to wood.
She stands perfectly still, unflinching. She makes no eye contact, but I see her head sink lower between her shoulders. I feel her heart constrict. I picture Queen Anne's lace in November, a singed claw still defiant at the edge of the road. A frail fist clenched in the hard place between sun and frost. Silence. Her hand flutters to her throat. Her eyes are red-rimmed coals. This is the way wood answers fire.
When he turns and catches me staring, he shrugs, offering me a closed-mouth smile and a wink. He dramatically wraps both arms around her neck, pulls her close. Repelled, I'm still relieved by his abrupt playfulness. Then I realize that he's holding her exactly the way lightning embraces a sapling, enfolding leafless limbs in its crooked gold arms. Hollowing a scorched place at its core.
But I'm not deaf. I hear things, but they are the wrong things. And if I become deaf, what then? Several years ago, we feared my mother, who has had hearing loss since age six, as I have, was going deaf. Her graphs of audible frequencies plummeted to Severe. The next level is Profound, which means Deaf to me. I planned to enroll in sign language class. But the loss leveled off, and she got more powerful hearing aids and spoke too loudly inches from my face.
I grew tired of being the idiot, so I went to my mother's ear doctor. "Your hearing loss is symmetrical," the audiologist told me, "That's good." Why, I wondered? So that neither ear feels left out? I would like one perfect ear canal, with overly-sensitive nerve endings, to put the other ear to shame.
When my father bothers my mother, she simply takes out her hearing aids. She reads just feet away from a blasting action movie, in blissful silence. When road noise is too loud, or Sean rants about the evils of Walmart once again, I wish my hearing loss was that bad, that I could pull out my hearing aids and envelop myself in soundlessness. Eventually, I will be able to; my nerves will continue to freeze up, deteriorate, refuse to detect sounds.
I watch mouths move as people talk; lips, tongues and teeth show me whether a sound is a soft W (lips pursed together, open around an invisible straw) or a P (lips gently pressed together), and I know if the word spoken is win or pin. I become distracted by the intricate, graceful motions of mouths, by a glint of silver filling or an especially active tongue flicking between teeth and playing along gums, watching mouths rather than reading language.
Sean comes home from a late call and crawls into bed. I reach over and his body is stiff. He speaks slowly about the head-on collision between a farmer's truck and an underage stripper's red sports car. It is the first fatality he has seen as a firefighter, and his voice is soft and flat like a talk show rumbling in the next room. Though I strain to hear, I do not ask him to speak up. I don't want to know details about the farmer's almost-severed neck. It does not matter if I hear specific; all that matters is that I know he has been shaken, and comfort him.
I am used to the fluctuation between silence and sound from my parents' home, and I know our lives will continue to dance ever closer to these extremes. Instead of soft expressions of love, Sean must speak loudly to me. We will have no whispered conversations in the dark. Later, when I can only hear yelling without hearing aids, we will communicate by winks, grimaces, back scratches. Deafness will whittle away those not dear to me. I will sit in a silent room and won't mind.
My grandfather and I sit in the August sun, on the back porch of the house he built himself, watching ruby-throated hummingbirds hover like living jewels near the plastic feeder. The glass of molasses-sweet tea he poured weeps cold and wet in my hand.
"Them humminbirds really do sing. Says they don't in bird books," he says. He wears hearing aids in both ears, and when the batteries are low, they squeal. He can't hear even that, so the batteries are often dead.
"Some mornins they wake me out of a sound sleep," he says.
I know he hung the feeder from the peach-tree branch over the back porch because Grandma liked to watch the birds in the summer. She's been dead six years and the plastic has faded to pink.
"Can't imagine how such a little bird makes such a loud noise," he says. Sweat gleams on his forehead, the color of mulch. "The sweetest songs."
Later, I'll check Sibley's Guide to Birds and learn, indeed, they're voiceless. But now, I say, "I can hear it. It's beautiful."
He turns to me. "What, son?" he says.
Oz Spies lives in Denver with her husband, Sean, a couch-loving mutt named Angus, and a severely overweight cat, Muldoon. She received a MFA from Colorado State University, and currently works in the nonprofit sector.
George Tucker was raised in the Arkansas Ozarks, where he learned how to dowse for water. He studied writing at Florida International University. Currently, he teaches writing part-time and works at an interactive ad agency where he spends inordinate amounts of time exploring a newly-minted genre: Google haiku.