the call to adventure
BY ANDREW GRETES
The boy has a three-step plan.
Step 1: Wait for lightning to strike his mother’s honeysuckle bush.
Step 2: Rush outside and sign: “Here I am.”
Step 3: If the burning bush isn’t fluent in ASL, write the words on a notecard.
A two day stakeout ensues. Sighs fog the boy’s bedroom window. On the third night, the boy resolves to jumpstart his journey. He sneaks downstairs. Borrows the grill lighter and a can of hairspray. Torches the bush.
The boy’s mother is slapped with a $500 citation.
“Getting here wasn’t cheap,” says the fireman.
Headlights flood the grass. The grass glows white like two sheets of ice.
The mother says: “Like you never did anything stupid when you were nine—”
“Truck only gets 3.2 miles per gallon.”
The boy watches. Smells damp rubber and charred honey. Reads lips.
The boy spends most of his time at the library. He finds it easier to communicate with books. He reads about heroes. He learns—if you’re a hero—the universe has a three-step plan.
Step 1: Begin on a different note.
Exit your mother through the wrong orifice. Kill snakes in the crib. Have kings want to murder you. Get your mother to pick you up by the ankle and dip you screaming in the river of the dead.
The pediatrician shakes the rattle.
The boy is six months old.
The mother says, “I don’t understand.”
The boy yawns.
“Your baby is deaf.”
Step 2: Listen for adventure. Answer its call.
If a green knight interrupts your new year’s party and asks you to hack off his head, offer him a glass of punch and sharpen your ax. If a man walking on water approaches your boat and says you’ll become a “fisher of men,” paddle ashore and buy a bigger net. If your parents are murdered in an alley, learn to sew and become a bat.
It’s possible that the honeysuckle bush—before shriveling like a roasted spider and passing its torch to the neighbor’s red cedar tree—commanded the boy to lead an expedition of “deafies” to the Promised Land. Shangri-La. Where “hearies” never chew gum while talking. Never offer their condolences. Never say “never mind” when asked to repeat themselves. Never talk to the interpreter. Never ask about another deafie in another time zone who you—naturally—must know. Never pray for God to “heal” you.
A week after the debacle with the burning bush, the boy rides his bike to the park. He stands in front of the lake. He unzips his backpack. Takes out a plastic sword. Chucks it in.
Behind the boy is a girl. She’s ten. Her hair is cropped short like Joan of Arc. She says the Lady of the Lake is off-duty. Needs a break. Hands get cold. Pruny.
The boy sees her. He signs incomprehension.
She signs back. Repeats the joke about the Lady of the Lake.
The girl is a CODA: child of deaf adults.
Step 3: Befriend a helper. Preferably a helper versed in magic. Or alchemy. How to transform one into two. Solitude into solidarity.
The boy’s sword laps on the shore. Ducks open their bills, discover plastic isn’t bread. Not that the boy notices. He’s too busy staring at the girl. Wondering if heroes can skip steps. Or if step 3 is ever step 2. Friendship as an adventure. People as calls.
Andrew Gretes is the author of the novel How to Dispose of Dead Elephants (Sandstone Press, 2014). His fiction has appeared in such publications as Witness and Word Riot. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of Southern Mississippi. His website is www.andrewgretes.com.
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