You’re Not Listening

She knew sign language but seldom used it.

“I don’t have a reason to,” she told me. “I sign around my deaf friends, but almost everyone around me can hear.”

We were sitting in my living room, and I turned on the couch to face her.

“Teach me something,” I said to her. She held a pillow against her chest.

“I’m not doing that,” she told me. “I’m not teaching you sign language.”

“I want to learn it,” I said. “Learn it why, though? It’s not a joke or a magic trick.”

“I didn’t say that it was.”

“It’s a serious thing, and it matters.”

“But your friends know it?”


“Will I meet them? If I meet them, I might need to know.”

She tightened her arms around the pillow.

“I’ll be there. I can translate.”

“Teach me two or three things. Teach me Hi anyway.”

Hi is easy. Hi is this.” Then she signed a salute.

.           .           .

She had a house near the edge of the city. There were plants in every windowsill, and there were plants on the table. She’d studied botany in college, and she worked for a florist.

“We do arrangements,” she told me. “Lots of weddings. Lots of funerals.”

She had a vase of daisies on her nightstand. The flowers were wilted and browning, and when I reached for the vase, she told me: “Leave them alone.” “But they’re dying, I said. See? They’re brown.”

She turned the vase, and her lamp lit a blossom.

“I bring them home when they’re dying. They were meant to be seen, and they were beautiful once. They were blooming. No one bought them or saw them. Soon I’ll throw them away. I like to look at them first—while they’re pretty.”

“They’re not pretty,” I said.

“Not to you.”

She brought home daffodils, lilies, and roses. She brought a vase to my apartment, and when we made dinner together, we had flowers on the table. Petals dropped from the blooms, and when they fell, I collected them. I kept a box of lost petals in the back of the fridge behind some Cokes and a bottle of mustard. I kept her petals, her vase, and her notes.

.           .           .

I thought about what you said, she wrote, and you’re absolutely right. Mountains are better than beaches because there aren’t any sharks. But if there were sharks on mountains, beaches would be a thousand times better. Those were the kinds of notes she gave me. There were dozens, and I saved every one.