these hands will help you home

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I look through the plane’s oval window, hands cupped up around my glasses on either side to block out the glow from the fasten seatbelts signs peppered along the aisle.  The eye of the moon outside is looking at me, hazy through lashes of cloud and swirling fog.  It blinks.  Down and below it there is a thriving lurid darkness, an ultramarine sea festooned with arteries of light, with pinches of saltshaker hello-I’m-here dots.  Cars on a highway, trundling one after another.  A radio antenna.  The plane wallows sideways.  Descends.

I look at Elena across the aisle.  I wave to catch her attention, and when she gives it to me I point to the window, smile, sign to her.  I’m deaf as the day I was born on planes and for a while after, usually.  It’s all right.  She watches my hands, intent.

Like stars?  she mouths.  I’m using vocab she doesn’t know yet.

No, I reply.  I can’t hear my own voice when I say, “Shine, shining.  Out there, it’s shining, all of it.”

She nods.  She signs back, flaring her fingers in a sliding semicircle down her face, It’s beautiful.

During the whole flight she played a plague game, one wherein the goal is to infect and then eradicate the planet’s whole human population.  “How’d it go?” I ask.  We’re waiting for our luggage.

Lipreading her is easy, but even when I miss words her gestures fill in the blanks for me.  “I killed everyone twice.  Once with a virus—then with a brainworm.”  She taps her thumb smugly to her temple.

I smear my hands together and say, “Nice.”

Our ride’s late.  Leaning forward in a chair in the terminal, the lights overbright on her hair (shine shining it’s shining all of it), she asks me to sign something for her to decipher.  I decide on a song, trying to use mostly words she knows.

Such a stunning coat of many colors, I gesture slowly, walking her through it.  How he loved his coat of many colors!  It was—

“Red!” she says, and, “…y-yellow and… green!  And… and, uhm, oh, brown, brown and blue!”

Her cheek on the pillow later, she looks at me and says, “You know, I don’t mind when you’re deaf.”  I worry about it—she knows.  She touches my face, four fingers and thumb again:  motions between us.  “It’s okay.  It’s easy.  We make a good team.”

Under her chin there’s a hollow for my face and I hide it there.  Through my forehead I can feel her breathing, swallowing, beating.  I close my eyes.  I see lights in the darkness.