Welcome To the Neighbourhood

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A girl named Sparrow

I sat nervously at the table, nursing a latté and admiring her honey-coloured hair. Her eyes sparkled tentatively, hesitant freckles dotting the bridge of her nose.

It was an hour before I realised, she spoke without pause, seeming not even to draw breath. Those eyes, that nose – they were the only shy things about her.

“Everyone keeps talking about this ‘SkyTrain.’ I was like, ‘I haven’t seen it, and I drive,’ you know, like, ‘where is it? I see the sky, sure, like, but y’know, where’s this train you speak of, dude?’”

It was like those Tibetan throat singers who chant continually, using mystical, alternative breath control to keep a constant, droning tone for 30 minutes.

“I turned off the stove, you know, like totally turned it off, and everything, and went to watch this completely hilarious show on TV, that I like never miss, and by the time the show was like, half-finished, the fire alarm went off, and I was like, ‘what is that?’ You know, totally ‘Am I hearing something?’ because we’ve like never had like a practice drill or anything, so I went downstairs, totally to the street corner and everything and I was utterly freezing for like an hour before the fire department decided it was time they came and like wouldn’t let us back in until around like four a.m. or something like that and they like asked to speak to me, like, oh my god, I was like, ‘Like I’d date a fireman,’ y’know, and my roommate was like, ‘Like a fireman would date you,’ and she’s such a bitch sometimes, and like it was hilarious, you know, cos the cookies kept cooking even though the oven was totally off, you know?”

Constant, droning tone.

Like bagpipes.

“Spooky, don’tcha think?”

It had been so long since I’d been invited to take part in the conversation, I’d forgotten how to speak altogether. My larynx had devolved into a vestigial organ, without use or purpose. Teams of scientists had formed committees, written papers and wasted millions in government grants trying to establish the biological function of what remained of my voice box. The sternocleidomastoid muscles – the ones that wrap forward from the base of the jaw to the front of the sternum – had atrophied so dramatically that moving my head from side to side took both hands and nearly all of my effort.

At one point, what had once been my vocal cords had become little more than nerve ganglia – they inflamed and threatened to burst; a top ear, nose and throat surgeon had to be flown in from Bavaria to perform the tricky operation, cleverly transposed from a text book appendectomy. Through weeks of intense physiotherapy, however, I’d learned to communicate using a complex system of hand gestures, clicking noises and knuckle cracking; while I’d waited several lifetimes for her question, she didn’t have to wait long for a response.

Click crick wave, snappity crack clap.

“That’s so sweet!”

Shake click.

“That reminds me of this vacuum cleaner I had a while back, like, so worthless, you know...”

And that, Sparrow, is how I met your mother.

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