Monday, August 06, 2007

A dragon doesn't care whose lamp he shatters

"She gets headaches," my mother said.  

I went ahead and let her talk for me.  It had been so long since I'd spoken the old-fashioned lips-and-voice way, I wasn't sure I knew how anymore.  And I was nervous now about talking the other way in front of her.

The doctor looked politely concerned.  "I think they may be migraines," my mother added.

The doctor looked at me.  "Is there anything in particular that seems to trigger them?" he said.  To me, not her.  

"She spends too much time shut up alone up in her room," my mother said. "Reading.  I think maybe the combination of no fresh air and too much studying -- "

"Yes, I see," the doctor said.  "I wonder if I might talk to your daughter alone for a minute."

It wasn't a question. My mother looked alarmed and slightly insulted.  One glance at her face and then I kept my gaze nailed to the floor.  This wasn't my idea; she had to know that.

"We won't be long," the doctor added, and my mother turned on her heel and stalked out.

I hadn't realized how hard I'd been hunching my shoulders until she was gone and they relaxed, like letting out a breath.  The doctor didn't say anything, but I could see him biting back a smile.

"Anything you'd care to tell me?" he asked.

I'd known him for years.  Never thought about him much one way or another.  He was a nice doctor, he wasn't scary, and he always apologized when he had to give me a shot or prescribe some medicine.  But he wasn't anyone I considered a big part of my life. Once we saw him at the supermarket, and it wasn't until my mother said hello to him that I knew who he was. I'd never even bothered to look all that closely at his face.

I did now, and I knew I could talk to him.  Even if he noticed what kind of talking I did these days.  (How long had it been?  Had I ever known how to really talk?  I must have.  My parents had videos of me when I was little, and my voice was in them.)

It hurts my head when I don't talk, I said, watching him carefully.

He seemed fine with it.  Either didn't notice anything amiss, or didn't care.  "Can you tell me more about that?"

My parents are --  I stopped, trying to think of how to say it.  They don't like the way I am.  The way they think I might be.  They're afraid I'm --

I broke off again, hoping he'd interrupt and make this easier for me.  He was listening very seriously, but he wasn't going to help me.  Not like that.

I don't talk like other people, I said. I talk with my head. And it scares them.  They don't want me to be like that.  One of -- you know.  That kind of --

"A mutant," the doctor said, and I jumped a little.  I hadn't used that word even to myself.

I guess.

"There's nothing wrong with that," he said.  "It's a simple scientific fact."

They don't feel comfortable around me anymore.  

Every door and keyhole in our house was one I could be listening at, no matter where I was. They thought.

"Is that why you haven't been talking?"

I nodded.  And then I get these headaches.  It feels like pressure.  Like something's trying to get out.

"That's probably stress," he said.  "I don't think that keeping your thoughts to yourself is doing you any physical harm, if that's what's worrying you."

I didn't like the slightly amused tone under the I'm The Doctor voice, but still it felt so good to be saying any of this.  Scary as hell, but better than anything had in a while.

"Have you and your parents talked about this?"

I shook my head. It was just like that old saying about the elephant in the living room that everyone pretends isn't there. Except this was more like a dragon they were afraid to wake up.

We all knew it was there, and I at least wanted to touch the beautiful red scales, see the wings unfurl, look right into its glowing jeweled eyes.  But it wasn't allowed.

"Do you mind if I try something?"

The doctor was still slightly amused.  "If you'll excuse me," he went on.  "Can you say your name?"

I stared at him. "Or anything you want," he said.  "Just something you can say again exactly the same way.  The first line of a poem, if you like."

The only thing I could think of was the one I loved from Alice in Wonderland.  The Jabberwocky.  I'd memorized it for English class one year.  'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves --

The doctor smiled. "Okay," he said. "Now, if it's all right -- "  He put his hand out, slowly, until it covered my mouth.  "Not very high-tech, but good enough for a government job," he said.  "Can you breathe?"

I nodded.  

"Is this okay?"

Nodded again.

"Keep your lips shut, all right?  Now say it again."

I wasn't sure I could. I felt like I was suffocating, though I knew I could breathe just fine.

Then I thought of the dragon, turning its elegant head to look right at me.  Unfolding its wings, not caring if it destroyed everything in the room when it took off.

It was so beautiful.

All I wanted was to go along for the ride.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves --

Loud and clear.

The doctor's hand pressed a little harder as I said it.

"Well, I'll be damned," he said, and he was smiling again.  This time I didn't mind.

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