The Enemy Doesn’t Care About Us ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Published in Wanderings Magazine.)
The house was quiet. Cully lay on his back on the rug underneath the old-fashioned chandelier and looked up at the ceiling and listened. Clarence Shelton was moving around in his room upstairs. He walked from one side of the room to the other and back again. He scraped a chair and opened and closed a door. He kicked off his shoes and lay down on the squeaky bed. He laughed his laugh that was like no other laugh in the world: a ghostly hyena.
“Wonder what’s funny,” Cully said.
“He’s probably reading the funny paper,” Grandma said from the horsehair sofa in front of the bay window where she sat, crocheting the little squares that she would make into an afghan. She always had what she believed was a logical explanation for everything.
Clarence Shelton didn’t laugh like other people because he couldn’t hear himself the way other people can. He had been deaf his whole life, so he didn’t speak, either, except gibberish that nobody understood. He was what people call deaf and dumb. While most other people talked more than was good for them, Clarence Shelton was silent. He lived in a silent world that set him apart.
“Wonder what it’s like,” Cully said, and not for the first time that day.
“Be thankful you don’t know,” Grandma said.
“I wonder if it’s worse to be blind.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Grandma said. “I wouldn’t want to have to choose.”
Cully covered his ears with his hands to try to get an idea of what it must be like to be Clarence Shelton, but he could still hear sounds. He heard the knock on the door.
“See who that is,” Grandma said.
Cully got up off the floor and went to the door. Maydelle Peterkin was standing there looking at him with her strange blue eyes. If he had known it was her, he wouldn’t have bothered to get up.
“It’s only Maydelle,” he said over his shoulder to Grandma.
“Can you come out and play?” Maydelle asked him with her annoying way of pursing her lips. “I’ve got all my dollies in the shade and I was just about to serve tea.”
“I can’t,” he said. “I’ve got a headache.”
“Why don’t you go outside for a while and get some fresh air?” Grandma said. “You’ve been inside all day.”
“I like being inside,” Cully said, but he went out anyway.
Maydelle had her little table set up underneath the maple tree in the side yard. The table was spread with a white cloth and the tea things. In one of the four chairs arranged around the table sat Veronica the bride doll and across from her was Philomena the clown down. Philomena had a slit in her shoulder where the dog had grabbed her and run crazily around the yard with her in his mouth; some of her stuffing was leaking out.
“Veronica has been having such a difficult time lately,” Maydelle said as she sat down and pointed to the one empty chair where she wanted Cully to sit. “Do you know she was left standing at the altar again?”
“Who cares?” Cully said.
“But through it all she keeps her lovely smile.”
“It’s painted on.”
“Here. Have some tea.”
She poured the imaginary tea into the tiny cup and set it on the tiny saucer and handed it across the table to Cully.
“What am I supposed to do with it?” he asked.
“Drink it,” Maydelle said.
He pretended to take a drink and then pretended to spit it out. “It tastes terrible,” he said. “What did you put in it?”
“Oh, it’s the finest pekoe,” Maydelle said. “Only the best for Veronica and Philomena.”
“That’s stupid,” Cully said. “Do you have anything to eat to go with this terrible tea?”
“Here’s some biscuits. We call them cookies but the English call them biscuits.”
She held an empty plate toward him and he pretended to take a biscuit and took a bite of it.
“It’s stale,” he said.
“Oh, you men!” she said. “Always complaining about everything!”
Cully believed he had indulged her long enough. “Want to play cards?” he asked, hoping to change the subject.
“No. You cheat.”
“I do not.”
“You try to cheat me because you think I’m stupid. The only way you can win is to play with somebody you think isn’t smart as you are so you can cheat them.”
“That’s not true.”
“I’ll play scrabble with you.”
“I hate scrabble,” he said. “I’d rather be dropped out of an airplane on my head than to play scrabble.”
“Then I want a divorce.”
“That’s fine with me,” he said. “You get your lawyer to draw up the papers and I’ll sign them.”
“Of course I get custody of the children,” she said.
“Fine with me. I don’t want them anyway.”
“And I get the house.”
“Hey, wait a minute. What do I get?”
“You get the car and the garage and some of the furniture. You can have the kitchen table and your own bed and that broken down old chair you like so much.”
“Since you get the house, where am I going to put those things?”
“I said you can have the garage.”
“I’ll change the lock on the door to keep you from coming in.”
“I’ll come in anyway if I want to.”
“You just try it and see what you get.”
While Maydelle was pouring the imaginary tea for Philomena, the deaf mute Clarence Shelton came around the house and went up to Grandma’s door and knocked. Grandma opened the door and he went inside.
“Wonder what he wants,” Maydelle said.
“It’s Saturday afternoon,” Cully said. “He’s going to have Grandma call him a cab.”
“Where does he go on Saturdays?”
“Downtown, I guess.”
“What does he do there?”
“He eats dinner in a restaurant and goes to a show.”
“How does he order from the menu?”
“He points to what he wants on the menu and shows it to the waiter and the waiter writes it down.”
“But what about the show? How does he know what’s going on if he can’t hear what the people are saying?”
“He reads people’s lips and figures it out. That’s why he sits real close to the front.”
“How do you know so much about it?”
“Grandma told me. She’s known him for a long time.”
“You talk about him like he’s your hero or something.”
“He’s not my hero. It’s just that I don’t know anybody else like him.”
“My mother heard that he’s got a wife somewhere. Maybe his wife is a dummy, too. Wouldn’t it be funny if they had a bunch of little kids and they were all dummies?”
“He’s not dumb,” Cully said. “He’s what you call a mute. That’s what makes him different from everybody else.”
“I’m afraid of him. My mother told me he might try to rape me. She said if he comes near me to start screaming.”
“I am not insane.”
“He would never hurt you. He’s got too much sense for that. I’ll bet you he wouldn’t come anywhere near you. I’ll bet you he can’t stand you.”
“How much do you want to bet?”
“You don’t have any money,” Cully said.
The cab pulled up to the curb and stopped and honked its horn. The driver of course would not have known that he was honking for a deaf man.
Cully knew that Grandma allowed Clarence to wait inside her house until his cab came and she would touch him on the arm to let him know the cab was there.
When Clarence came out the door, he was looking down at the ground, not paying any attention to Maydelle and Cully sitting at Maydelle’s little table about fifteen feet away.
“Watch this!” Maydelle said.
Sliding off the chair, she began writhing around on the ground as if she was dying. She moaned and kicked out her legs and clutched at her throat and waved her arms in the air as if signaling to Clarence Shelton to come and help her. She let her underpants show.
Clarence, for his part, didn’t take his eyes off the ground. He seemed to not even know Maydelle was there. He went out to the street and got into the cab and the cab drove away fast.
“Haw-haw-haw!” Cully laughed. “I win the bet.”
Maydelle got up off the ground, frowning and brushing the dead grass off her legs. “There was no bet,” she said, “and even if there was, you wouldn’t have won it.”
“Did anybody ever tell you you’re crazy?”
“I’ll get him to notice me. I’ll have a seizure right in front of him where he can’t ignore me no matter how hard he tries.”
“You can’t have a seizure whenever you want to.”
“Oh, yes, I can! You just wait and I’ll show you how it’s done.”
“What do you expect him to do?”
“He’ll pick me up in his arms and rush me to the doctor. He’ll speak for the first time ever and it will be to save my life.”
“He can’t speak.”
“I know! I’ll set a firecracker off right behind him. We’ll see if he’s really deaf or not. If he is, he won’t flinch or anything, but if he hears the firecracker it will scare him so bad he’ll start yelling at me. I’ll be famous then because I will have made him reveal his true self.”
“Why would anybody fake being deaf?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s a spy or something and he’s pretending to be deaf while really he’s telling the enemy everything he can find out about us.”
“The enemy doesn’t care about us.”
“Maybe he’s an alien from outer space and he wants to kidnap us and take us back to his planet with him to be slaves.”
“I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want to kidnap you,” Cully said.
Cully was trying to bite a hangnail off his thumb and Maydelle was scolding Veronica for getting a stain on her bridal gown when they heard someone coming and they both turned to see Harmon Buxton step through the gate breezily as if she owned the place.
“Hey, you little devils!” Harmon said when she spotted Maydelle and Cully.
“Hello, Harmon,” Maydelle said sweetly.
“Up to no good?”
“Just having tea.”
“That’s the ticket! Is your mama about the place?”
“She’s waiting for you around back,” Maydelle said. “She wants you to move some furniture up from the basement for her.”
“Righty-o!” Harmon said and was gone.
Harmon was a woman but she was very tall and broad and she wore men’s clothes and men’s shoes. Her hair, which she had cut at the barber shop, stood up on top of her head, and on the sides it was combed back over her ears. She used men’s cologne and smoked little thin cigars, which was sort of a trademark for her. Wherever she went, she always trailed the scent of cologne and cigars.
“Harmon’s taking mother and me out to supper and then to a show,” Maydelle said. “Would you like to come along?”
“No,” Cully said. “Not in a million years.”
“Well, you needn’t be so snooty about it.”
“What’s up with Harmon and your mother?” Cully asked. “Are they sweethearts or something?”
“Of course not!” Maydelle said. “They’re both women. How could they be sweethearts?”
“Well, Harmon seems more like a man. Grandma says she’s stuck halfway between being a man and being a woman.”
“Do you ever feel like you’re surrounded by freaks?” Maydelle asked.
“All the time.”
“Since Clarence and Harmon are both so different, maybe we should try to get them to go out on a date together. Don’t you think that sounds like a good idea? They might end up getting married together.”
“I’m going back in the house now,” Cully said. “Try not to bother me again.”
“Would you like to walk down to the store with me and get a soda?” Maydelle asked sweetly. “I’ll buy.”
Cully ignored her and went back inside. When Grandma asked him why he had come back in so soon, he pretended he was Clarence Shelton and didn’t hear her. He picked up the Bible story book that she always kept on the side table and turned to the story about the Nine Ungrateful Lepers and began reading. He didn’t care much for Bible stories but he had to admit he liked that one especially well.
Copyright © 2011 by Allen Kopp