Ears To Hear

Life’s been crazy lately and I haven’t had time to do part two of the last post.  I still don’t, really, so I thought I’d put up some of my old writing in the mean time. This is a short story that I wrote ages ago. I’ve learned a lot since I wrote it, and I can see the inexperience peeking through the seams of the story. I still like it though, and altogether, I don’t think it’s a bad piece of writing.  I hope it’s enjoyable.

Ears To Hear

As a little kid, Kelsey had wanted a younger brother or sister, but as she got older, she just wanted a sister. This was especially true during middle school when she’d have given her right arm to have one more person in the house to take up some of her parents’ attention. Ultimately, the desire for a sibling had faded, and now that she was finishing her senior year in high school, she was glad to be an only child.

That satisfied resignation, of course, meant that her parents would change every thing.

“I don’t get what made you decide to do this now,” Kelsey said to her mom who was sitting on the cream-colored sofa picking through piles of pictures. Most of them were little Asian girls but there were a few boys in there as well.

“Kelsey, please don’t sit on the arm,” her mother reprimanded. “And I’d much rather have you drink that soda in the kitchen.” Kelsey slid down from her perch but didn’t intend to give up her Izze. She rubbed her socks against the taupe carpeting.

“What about this one?” She plucked the picture of an adorable four-year-old out of one of the piles. “He looks cute.”

“Cute isn’t the deciding factor.” Her mom retrieved the photo and replaced it in the pile. “We’ll probably get a girl. Most of them are normal. The little boys up for adoption all have problems.”

“What do you mean?” Kelsey asked and pulled out the photo of another boy, further disrupting her mother’s attempts at order. She was a little bit appalled by her mom’s statement.

“Families in this part of the world don’t give up their boys unless they aren’t perfectly sound.” She tapped a picture. “He’s blind.” Another picture, “he’s missing a foot. “This one has a heart defect. And this one is deaf in one ear and the hearing is impaired in the other.”

“So?” Kelsey took the picture of the deaf boy and held it up so that her mom was looking directly at it. “He needs to be adopted as much, no, more than some of these girls. And he’s cute.”

“That’s beside the point,” her mother said with exasperation.

“No it’s not. Seriously, look at him.” The boy’s eyes were bright and cheerful and there was a hint of a smile on his face. His head was tilted appealingly to one side and his direct gaze made him look smart. He was a handsome little guy even though his haircut was far too severe for a child nearing three years old.

“Yes, he is cute.”

“And hearing problems aren’t hard to overcome. We could get him one of those computer brain chip things.” She tucked a strand of her reddish-brown hair behind her ear.

“Good grief, Kelsey. It’s called a cochlear implant.”

“That’s what I said, but in layman’s terms.” Her brown eyes sparkled with self-deprecating humor. “I’m going to be a graphic-design artist, not a doctor. Anywhoo…”

“Fine, he’ll go into the ‘possibly’ pile. But we’ll probably pick a little girl.”

“Cause now that you’re done with me, you need another one?” Kelsey needled.

“Is that what all this resistance has been about?”

“No. I just don’t think you’re considering this like you should; your timing is terrible.” She got up and headed for the stairs up to the second floor. “And you never answered my question.”

“It was a stupid question which you should know better than to ask.”

“Still haven’t answered,” she said, leaning over the banister near the top of the stairs.

Her mother just sighed as Kelsey headed to her room.

* * *

Kelsey spent every possible minute she could with her friends that summer since most of them would be going to college out of state. They wouldn’t see each other again for a while since she would be at an art school that was a two-hour drive from home

Her parents turned one of the upstairs guestrooms into a real bedroom and spent many hours on the phone, making the arrangements for the actual adoption. A social worker toured their house and their were interviews. Kelsey’s mother coached her ahead of time on the answers that she should give. Apparently, some of her friends had already been through the process. Kelsey took the opportunity to accuse her mother of adopting because it was trendy.

Kelsey’s parents filed the last of the paperwork the week that she moved into the dorms. After that, it was just a matter of waiting for everything to be processed and approved.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving break, Kelsey’s dad got on an airplane for South Korea.

* * *

It was about 8:30 Tuesday night when she pulled her orange Camry into the driveway. Kelsey hadn’t been home since August and she was excited to be back. She burst through the front door with a joyous “Helloo!” and her parents shushed her, pointing upstairs.

“I love you too,” she answered, slightly irritated.

“Sorry, doll.” Her dad laughed and gave her a hug. “Ben’s upstairs sleeping.”

“Ben?” She thought they meant the boy they’d brought home, but his name had been different in the emails they had sent her about him.

“Yeah, Bae-Min sounds enough like Benjamin that we’ve been calling him Ben,” he explained.

“Oh, ok. You didn’t change his name, though.”

“Not his first, so he’s Bae-Min Jansen.” Her dad lifted the strap of her huge duffel bag off her shoulder.

“That doesn’t sound too bad. What was his last name before?” She asked as they started up the stairs.

“Kwan. Did you know that in Korea, they put the family name first? So you’d be Jansen Kelsey Elizabeth there.”

“That’s weird,” she laughed.

* * *

The next morning before breakfast, as Kelsey was getting settled back into her bedroom, she kept getting the feeling that someone had been in there and moved things while she was gone. It annoyed her and she guessed that it must have been her mom. It was just one more example of how her mom thought it was just fine to rearrange Kelsey’s life without asking.

She dumped the duffle bag out on her bed and began sorting the dirty laundry into piles. She thought she heard her mom calling her from downstairs and she glanced at the open door. A little boy with dark hair and dark eyes was standing just inside the room. He was wearing a white polo shirt that was tucked into his dark gray slacks. His arms were crossed and he was gripping his elbows as if he was cold. His shoulders were drawn up and together. He was the picture of tension.

“Hey, you,” Kelsey said though she was wondering if the boy would like her. He didn’t seem particularly happy to see her. She heard her name shouted again and she stood up. Ben uncrossed his arms just long enough to make a summoning motion. Then he stepped backward out of her room without taking his eyes off her.

“I’m not going to bite you” Kelsey assured him though she wasn’t sure he would understand. He did relax and walked with her along the hallway and down the stairs, his head tilted to the side the whole time so he could watch her as they went.

“Are you taking him somewhere?” She asked her mom when they got downstairs.

“No. Why?”

“Cause he’s dressed kinda nice.”

“He dresses himself. I wish you had been doing the same by that age. Breakfast is ready. Would you please get the orange juice out of the refrigerator?”

They turned on the TV after breakfast but it didn’t seem to interest the newest member of the family. He wandered around for a while before disappearing to his bedroom. He came back down a few minutes later carrying a kids’ digital camera. Kelsey didn’t pay much attention to what he was doing until she realized that he was taking an inordinate number of pictures of her and then showing them to her dad. It was a bit annoying so she got up and went to the kitchen for a bottle of water.

When she came back, he was waiting for her and snapped a couple of pictures as she came around the corner. She took a step toward the family room and he lowered the camera, watching her with interest. She walked past him and turned back to look at him and he took another picture.

“Would you quit that?”

He took another. Kelsey wanted to grab him and carry him to the couch like she would do with one of her cousins’ little children. But, he stood there, looking at her in a way that made her think he had more dignity than those kids, so she left him alone.

He trailed her for the rest of the day and made her the primary subject of his photography.

There were pictures of her mashing sweet potatoes, pictures of her drinking an Izze, pictures of her watching TV, and pictures of her talking on the phone. She had relief from her mini paparazzo for an hour after lunch while he took a nap and then for about half an hour mid-afternoon when the camera batteries died. Then her dad replaced them and Ben was back.

She had finished putting her things in order and was sitting on her bed, chatting with a friend through Facebook when Ben came into her room. He stood just inside the door, like he had that morning. The difference was that, instead of seeming tense, he looked happy.

Kelsey patted a spot on her bed. “Come here, you.” Ben approached slowly and climbed up. He was about to take another picture, but she put her hand in front of the lens. Having a picture of her hand made him laugh and he promptly took a picture of his own.

“Kew-si, wook,” he said. They were the first words he’d spoken since she’d met him. He offered his toy to her and she accepted it and scrolled through the pictures he’d taken.

“Hmmm… nice framing,” she said and meant it. “But remember that scarcity makes value, so don’t take too many.” She turned the camera off before she handed it back to him. He seemed to get the message because he didn’t immediately start taking pictures again. Instead he pointed at the display on her laptop.

“This is a big-kid toy,” she told him.

* * *

Sunday was Kelsey’s last one at home. She was packing up again that morning when Ben came into her room.

“C’mere,” she invited, patting a spot on the bed that wasn’t covered in clothes, books, papers, or shoes. He shook his head and stood uncomfortably in the doorway. “Fine then,” she said and put a stack of folded shirts into her over-sized bag. He beckoned to her, trying to get her to come with him. “Just hold on a sec.” She put some more clothes in with the shirts. When she looked up, Ben had gone.

When it came time for her to leave, no one could get Ben to understand that she was going away. He only spoke a little bit of English and knew a very little bit of sign language and none of them spoke Korean. Kelsey finally just repeated the sign for goodbye (which her parents taught her) a couple of times, hugged them all and left.

* * *

“He ran around the house looking for you all week.” Her mom told her when they got in contact over the internet in the evening. They were talking over webcam and little Ben kept reaching out and tapping the screen saying “Kew-si, Kew-si.” He didn’t seem to understand that he wasn’t just seeing an image of her, but was also able to talk to her.

“That’s really cute. Didja miss me, Ben?”

“Is Kew-si.” He tugged her mom’s sleeve and pointed.

“That’s right, Ben. Say hi.” Kelsey’s mom did the sign for “hello.” Ben imitated her and Kelsey did it back. The little boy’s eyes widened and he signed “hi” again. Kelsey laughed and did it back.

“Kew-si! Kew-si!” he cried. “Come?” he said with voice and hands both. For the first time, Kelsey realized that she liked the kid.

“Soon,” she said. “I’ll be home again in a week, ok?” He didn’t understand so she googled the sign language and told him again.

* * *

“Mom? Have you been moving stuff in my room?” Kelsey shouted down the hall towards her parents’ room.

“I haven’t been in there since before you left.”

“OK, then.” Kelsey called and went back to unpacking. She was glad to be home for Christmas break. Ben was crouched just inside her door, running his fingers through her periwinkle carpet. He looked like he wanted to come to her, but something was holding him back. She pitched a pile of white laundry into the corner by her desk and dumped her reds into a hamper. “C’mon, Ben.” She scooped up a pile of blues and led the way to the basement. She let him pour the detergent in and push the button to start the cycle.

“Lets go watch TV.”

Ben didn’t seem too interested in any of the cartoons that were on and he started wandering around opening cabinets and drawers. Kelsey watched as he straightened a pile of magazines, re-stacked coasters, and made their three remote controls perfectly parallel to each other and squared off to the table. He moved on to another part of the room and Kelsey discretely moved one of the clickers. When he came back over, he noticed that it was askew and fixed it.

“So you’re a neat freak, are you?” she asked. He didn’t understand but he smiled anyway. “I think you’re the one who’s been moving things in my room. It’s just a good thing you’re so cute or I might be mad at you. Now that I think about it, you don’t like to come into my room when it’s messy either.”

Just then, her mom came downstairs. “Kelsey, I’m going to the health club. Would you watch Ben while I’m out? All you really need to do is feed him lunch and put him down for a nap afterwards.”

“Mom, I’ve been babysitting since I was thirteen.”

“Alright, alright. Have fun.” Mom waved a goodbye and was out the door.

Ben and Kelsey went upstairs to his room to play. Kelsey had been in there once before but not for very long. It was painted with old-fashioned locomotives on the lower part of the wall and the sky and clouds on the upper.

“Mawbews,” Ben suggested and pulled out a crate filled with them.

“Wow. That’s a lot,” she said it in sign language too. She was getting quite adept.

“Wes,” he agreed and began to sort them by color into piles on the floor. Kelsey spent a few minutes trying to teach him the basic game of marbles that she knew, but he was too young and the game devolved into them rolling the little glass spheres at each other. It made Ben giggle and she found that his laugh made her laugh.

A stray marble went spinning under his bed and Kelsey went after it. What she found shocked her. There were several dozen plastic sandwich-bags filled with food scraps under there along with unopened juice boxes and candies.

“What’s this?” she asked, holding one up.

“Foo-et, to not ket unkry,” he answered quickly, not bothering with sign language. He was eyeing her uneasily. All she could think to do was put the bag back under the bed.

“C’mere.” She pulled him into her lap so that they were face to face and he could read her lips and hear her at the same time. It was a good thing that little kids learned languages so quickly. Ben was almost fluent in English despite his hearing problems. “You will never be hungry here. Mom and Dad will always have food for you.” He glanced anxiously at his hiding place.

“No,” he shook his head vehemently. “Sometime chust unkry.”

“Tell you what,” she had to pause and think of the sign language. “We’ll leave the food there, but you never eat any of it, ok? If you get hungry, just ask me, or Mom, or Dad. We will feed you. You won’t be hungry. And, when you’re ready to throw this away, I’ll help you, ok?”

He nodded and gave her a hug. “Fank oo.” She hoped that she had done the right thing. She knew that kids who had been in desperate survival situations often took to hoarding food when circumstances got better. She also knew that taking away their stashes only made it worse. Hopefully she could show him that he didn’t need to do it.

That night, Kelsey helped her mom put Ben to bed and they stood outside his door, talking for a little while.

“I’m beginning to think that you were right,” her mom confided. “Maybe we shouldn’t have gone through with the adoption.”

“Wait, what do you mean?”

“Well, I don’t feel like we’re really connecting with Ben. He spends so much time wandering around the house by himself. When you were little, I couldn’t get you to leave my side.”

“That could just be personality difference.”

“I suppose you’re right. But he never talks to us, either. Oh, he answers questions, but he doesn’t say anything otherwise. I don’t feel like I’m being a mother to him.”

“Mom, he’s been here, what? six weeks? Maybe you should give that more time. And I bet he’d talk more if it were easier for him. When he knows more sign language it will be better.”

“I wonder if we ought to get him a hearing aid.”

“Dunno. He seems to do pretty well. Then again, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind being able to hear.

* * *

Christmas was over and it was the day before New Year’s Eve and Kelsey’s mom decided that they ought to go swimming at the health club.

“I don’t know about this, Mom. It’s gotta be around freezing outside. The pool just isn’t appealing this time of year.” Kelsey was digging her swimsuit out of the summer clothes stored in totes in her closet.

“Don’t be a spoil sport. It will be fun. Ben will like it. He’s never been to the pool before.” Ben and Mom were sitting on Kelsey’s bed. They had a bag filled with children’s floatation devices, like water-wings.

“Here it is, we can go now.” They went.

The pool water was surprisingly warm. Kelsey and Ben just floated while their mom did some laps. It was nice to do nothing for a while. Then a couple more people came in. Kelsey’s mom recognized one and went over to talk to her.

“Are you having fun?” Kelsey asked her little brother.

“Wes!” He nodded emphatically, dunking his chin in the water. He spluttered a little and grinned.

“Here.” Kelsey helped him float on his back like she was doing.

“Fun,” he said with satisfaction. He didn’t want to float like that for very long though. He wanted to move around the pool. Kelsey showed him how to propel himself through the water. The way he splashed and flailed was really cute. The blow-up water-wings got in the way of his speed, but they kept his head above the water, for the most part.

Kelsey’s mom called her and she turned to see why. She recognized the woman her mom was talking to. It was Ms. Haddison, her eleventh grade history teacher. Kelsey waved and swam a bit closer to shout a quick “hey, how’ve you been.” When she turned back toward Ben, she found that he’d made astonishing progress toward the other side of the pool.

“Hey, come back here,” she commanded. He, not hearing, kept on. She started toward him and another swimmer, a guy with a powerful stroke, collided with her. Both of them flailed for a bit before recovering. Treading water, they exchange apologies. Kelsey then glanced around for her brother. She didn’t see him immediately because he was underwater.

She was there in a flash, pulling him up to the surface and towing him to the tiled edge of the pool. He coughed and gagged the whole way there, but hadn’t swallowed very much of the water.

“Are you ok?” She was so flustered she couldn’t sign. She lifted him out of the pool and pulled herself up next to him.

He nodded vehemently and continued to cough. The plastic sleeves on his arms hung limp, almost completely deflated.

“Wucky watew.” He made a face.

“How’d this happen?” She pointed at the water-wings. They couldn’t have had a hole in them. There was no way they deflated that fast on their own.

“Fey wew makink me swow.” He pantomimed deflating them. “I was fastew wifout fem.”

“Good grief!” She pulled him into a tight hug, then signed, “I’m just glad you’re alright. I love you and don’t want you to drown.” He smiled and signed back.

“I love you.”

Kelsey’s mom was unaware of the whole incident and would remain so.

That evening, Ben asked Kelsey to help him throw away the food that he had stashed away.

“Oo wuv me. I won’ be unkry,” he explained. It almost made her cry and she hugged him for a long time. Then the two of them pulled all the plastic bags out and put them in a trash bag. She let Ben carry it down stairs and drop it into the trash barrel in the garage.

After he was in bed, Mom found Kelsey in her room.

“You’re old history teacher told me something interesting today,” she announced.

“She’s not old, Mom. She’s about twenty-seven.”

“That’s not what I meant and you—“

“I was just teasing you. What did she say?” Kelsey plopped down on her bed and pulled her laptop close so she could get online.

“She said that there’s a doctor here in town who could look at Ben and tell us what we can do to make it so he can hear. Isn’t that great?”

“It is. I think it would be awesome to have him able to hear as well as we do.”

“I’d like to be able to tell him that I love him and know that he is hearing me.” Mom was so excited that she was making the bed bounce. Kelsey looked up from her computer.

“You don’t need words for that.”

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~ by lamichaud on April 4, 2012.

 
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