CONTACT, T.K. Dalton

by T. K. Dalton

In the car, Mom made eye contact with me. I hate eye contact, and this is because—as you know—I’m awe-tastic. People like me hate eye contact and Mom knows I hate eye contact. Everyone who knows me knows this: my brother Grant knows it, The Rocket knows it, The Rocket’s mother knows it. Even Dean—basically my evil enemy—and even Dean and his whole family, they know it, too. But understanding directions and following them are different.

From the backseat I collected my evidence and I hypothesized two main kinds of eye contact. (Science helps me deal.) Sometimes, eyes connect accidentally, the way boys’ hands graze while running laps during gym. Mom’s belongs to the other category, where one pair of eyes catches the other, cops-and-robbers style. My brother, Grant, saw the attack, saw Mom’s blues shout FREEZE. But instead of defending me, he just looked away. To the windows, to the walls, he started signing, quoting the rap song Dean sang on replay those days. Dean’s new friends were skateboarders who wore too-large t-shirts and too-low pants, loud boys who could hear but preferred not to listen. In the school hallways, in the cafeteria where they ate French fries and ice cream sandwiches for lunch everyday, and in the bus lines where they pushed to the front and always forced the monitors to send the line back to the door to ‘Do it again,’ in the sticky, dim food court of the Mall and in the crowded, cracked parking lot where they often gathered to practice jumps and grinds, these boys interrupted each other like crows fighting for the best seat on a power line. After the cochlear implant fixes my brother’s hearing, I thought, maybe Dean will welcome Grant into that circle of skateboards and curse words and loose jeans and stolen cigarettes. Maybe Grant will enter that circle of normal boys.

This is a fact: thoughts show on your face. Pretending to check the mirror while reversing onto our busy-street, Mom read my eyes, then my face, as easily as she reads the tiny letters in the Globe.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Aren’t you excited to see your BFF?”

No answer was my answer. I looked away to see a flicker in my brother’s bedroom window. For Deaf people, the home phone rings this way. Using inference skills, I imagined who might call him now, not long after the news of his implant had spread like a cold to his Deaf friends. A text message followed, and before I even eye-dropped on him, I’d identified the caller: his BFF, Colette.

“Earth to Dewey,” Mom said, cutting through my thoughts with a message we used regularly. “This is mission control. Can you hear me, Major Tom?”

I replied the same as usual. “Copy, Houston.” These words meant more together than they did apart, combining to make a kind of key to a kind of map. I learned about these keys – not the door kind and not the basketball kind – in Adapted Geography, my favorite class in the Academic Support Center.

Mom must have thought, New Subject, the way I often did. “So. Your Bee Eff Eff?”

I sighed. “Who’s that?”

“Raja, I thought.”

“Mom,” I said. “Even I know BFFs are for female adolescents, not males. And The Rocket is not my best friend forever.”

“He’s going to Opening Day with you and Grant, right? You’re giving him Grandpa’s ticket?” These were not real questions, and I made sure to translate them as facts.

Colette deserves the ticket, Grant signed. She just called to talk about it.

Mom changed lanes, a move called thread-a-needle. “Did I misunderstand you before?” she asked me, looking straight at the steering wheel. “I told Mrs. Clemens he could have it.”

“We haven’t decided,” I said, and then signed, to catch Grant up. Not that I needed to do this anymore. Not after he gets the implant, I thought. Not after he makes me useless. “You don’t know your facts.”

“I know some facts you don’t know,” Mom said. “Mrs. Clemens wants The Rocket to find a new interest, and I said, Why not some guy time with your brother and your BFF?”

What did she say, Grant asked me impatiently.

What do you care, I thought. His news – I’m getting a cochlear implant – sat in the middle of my brain as I translated. I barely finished signing what she said before exploding in every language I knew. “The Rocket is not my BFF, Mom, not now, not forever. Anyway, my best friend last year was Dean.”

“Who is it now?”

“I’m still de-cid-ing. Maybe Grant.”

“He’s your brother. I’m not sure he counts.” Mom stopped at a light and made gym-class eye contact. “I’m not an expert on the rules, though.”

“Well, it’s definitely not The Rocket. I only see him in English.”

“My mistake.” Mom let me think about what I’d said.

“You can’t put me and him in the same boat,” I said, and then signed. “I’m calm, The Rocket’s not. I think about the view from other people’s shoes, The Rocket doesn’t. I stay on-task and follow directions, he never does. We’re not in the same boat. Me and Grant, yes. Me and The Rocket, no. We’re in different boats. You can’t just change the boat I’m in. That’s not fair.”

Mom considered this appeal. I calmed myself, pressed my head on the window. When we arrived, she parked, suddenly, violently, in the closest spot available.

“You want fare, Dewey?” She unbuckled to face me. “Drive a taxi.” She laughed at her joke, which Grant later told me he recognized, without speech-reading or translation, as the one she’d told him on Friday, after the last consultation before the procedure. He’d been upset, I guess worse than me. I stayed silent, wordless and fuming.

“Hm,” Mom said-and-signed. “That joke worked on your brother.”

As if the solution for one of us could apply to the other. As if that has ever been the case.

T.K. Dalton’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and appears in The Millions, Southeast Review, Radical Teacher, Phoebe, Tahoma Literary Review, Late Night Library, and elsewhere. He earned an MFA at the University of Oregon, and lives in New York City, where he works as a sign language interpreter.

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