Annabelle Schoenfeld was deaf. She had always been deaf. Her parents were both deaf and her father was third generation. They were very active in the community. But that didn’t mean that Annabelle didn’t have friends in the hearing community. She could lip-read and she could talk aloud if she had to, though she found most of her close friends liked learning and conversing in sign language because it made them think they had a secret. Some of Annabelle’s deaf friends were annoyed at the ableism inherent in this fetishization, but Annabelle didn’t care. It didn’t bother her. She just liked having friends with common interests.
One of those friends was Perrine Chagall. Annabelle liked her because they both had an appreciation for good art and a weakness for bad men. It was Perrine who had made Annabelle realize she needn’t stay with Etienne De Bakker just because she’d known him all her life after he started displaying abusive behavior, and now Annabelle was returning the favor by helping Perrine to realize that this guy Massimo was only using her for her art-world connections while he flirted and philandered his way through half of Elsene.
“He’s not a bad guy,” Perrine signed in his defense.
“Yes, he is,” Annabelle countered. “You know he’s a liar—you’ve caught him lying. It’s willful blindness on your part if you keep trusting him now.”
This led Perrine to make a crack about deaf people talking about blind people, whcih made Annabelle roll her eyes—but she was able to convince Perrine to do the right thing and dump him.
A few days later, they met up for coffee again after the fact. It was satisfying seeing Perrine finally talking some smack about that loser she’d been dating. But something was wrong.
“What’s going on?” Annabelle finally asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t play dumb with me.”
If that had been a pun in Dutch like it is in English, Perrine would have snorted.
“You’ve been misunderstanding every other word I’ve said.” She was speaking out loud now, just to be sure the message was getting across. After all, Perrine wasn’t the one who was deaf. “Are you going blind?” Annabelle asked her friend.
“What? No!” That was what Perrine said initially, but after a little prying, Annabelle got a different story out of her. “I don’t know,” she sighed. “Things have just been a little fuzzy the last couple of days. Like when you unfocus your eyes—“
“You need glasses,” Annabelle explained to her.
“No!” Perrine insisted. “No, not yet. Please, just let me enjoy this for a while…”
Annabelle was confused, so Perrine went on to explain.
“Right now, everything’s fuzzy. It’s soft, without all the sharp edges of existence. Without glasses or contacts right now, it’s like the whole world is an impressionist painting.”
“That’s stupid,” Annabelle decreed. “You’re insane—you have to be able to see. You could have an accident—anything could happen.”
“You seem to do pretty well without your hearing.”
“I’ve been deaf my whole life,” Annabelle reminded her. “I’m used to it. You’re not and you could get yourself killed.”
But Perrine was immovable. She was seeing the world through the eyes of Van Gogh and loving every minute of it. She was passing by people on the street who she’d known for years and not recognizing them, which gave her the perfect excuse for not talking to them—unless, of course, they addressed her aloud; but then she just pretended not to hear.
Annabelle was concerned about this new development. At first, it was just Perrine she was concerned for, how she was fooling herself into thinking she was all right. But then something completely demented happened.
While she was coming home from work, she took a shortcut through a rather brightly-lit alley (as alleyways go) and noticed there was something wrong with the wall. It seemed… fuzzy. It immediately made her think of what Perrine had said about the world, about her new way of seeing it. It looked like a painting—a painting of a wall. She reached out and touched it—it didn’t feel like brick, like it should. Not that she’d ever felt that particular wall before, but she knew that brick walls aren’t supposed to feel like soft pillows. It made her fingers feel tingly, too. She looked at them and—no… She looked closer at her fingertips… Her fingerprints were gone! She looked away, panicked, looked at the other wall. The other wall was fine. She touched it with her other hand—brick. She touched it with the hand that no longer had fingerprints. A fuzzy patch stayed behind on the wall. She wondered if it would grow, it looked so much like moss.
“I’m fine,” Perrine insisted, though her apartment told a different story.
“Perrine, your sofa!”
“I can’t sit on that, it’s practically moldy with fuzz!”
“But it’s soft!”
“But what is going on?”
“Who cares? The world is a beautiful place when it’s like this! It’s not all dark and sharp and definitive—“
“Perrine!” Annabelle shouted, angrily enough she could feel it in the floorboards even through her sensory haze. “What’s going on?” she demanded once she had her friend’s attention.
Just then, there was a knock at the door. Annabelle knew it because of the way Perrine flinched, her eyes flitting to the exit.
“Who is it?” said Annabelle.
“Just a minute!” Perrine shouted for the visitor.
“It’s him, isn’t it?” Annabelle signed, following it up with the sign they’d agreed on for Massimo, with an obscene twist that made Perrine blush. “You didn’t break up with him, did you? That’s what this is about: he roped you into some fuzzy pseudo-relatioship without clearly defined boundaries!”
“No!” Perrine insisted, but then softened. “Yes?”
“You need to break up with him,” Annabelle put her foot down. “You need to do it now and you need to do it decisively. It looks to me like the fate of the whole world could literally depend on it.”