Three Words


Time for a spot of fiction. I wrote this story for Short Fuse and read it on stage on Tuesday 18th of March 2010.

You banged your head this morning and ignored it.

After arriving at work, and turning on your computer, you go to the break room for your first coffee of the day. On returning to your desk you see Toby in the corridor. You say, “hello,” to him, and he says something back. You don’t catch what he says. Toby mumbles a lot.

You shut the door to your office, and start to perform triage on the emails that have arrived over the weekend. A task that normally takes all morning, and everyone here knows that you need to be left alone for this. It is an hour before Mark, the intern, interrupts you. He starts to speak to you, but all you hear is gibberish. It is as if he has started speaking another language.

“Excuse me. Can you say that again?” you ask.

Mark repeats himself. All you hear is the same nonsense.

“I can’t help you right now.” You start to panic. “Can you please get Chetan for me? It’s important.”

Mark closes the door behind him. At least he understood you. Your emails are all legible; no problems there, but you could not understand what Mark was saying to you. Chetan pushes the door open slightly and taps on it. He says something. A different nonsense this time.

You explain that you don’t understand what he’s saying and that he’ll have to write down his half of the conversation on the whiteboard. “Have you hit your head?”

“I think so. The side of my head hurts,” you answer.

“Go to the hospital. I’ll drive you there now. Do you want me to phone Cassie?”

Cassie, your girlfriend, is at home. A day off from work. “Leave it. I’d better find out what’s wrong first.”

You are driven to the hospital. At the reception desk for A&E he explains the problem you have as he understands it. The receptionist looks skeptical, but a nurse does come to see you eventually. He tries to talk to you. You tell him that you really can’t understand what he is saying. He takes a pen out of his pocket, and he scribbles a message on the corner of a free newspaper. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

The nurse returns with a doctor after ten minutes. This doctor is carrying a spiral bound notebook. He opens it and writes very slowly. “My name is Dr. Neale. I’m a neurologist here. Follow me.”

You follow him through the hospital. The nurse stays behind. You become lost in the white floored white walled maze, and are totally disoriented. After ten minutes of walking you arrive at an office. The doctor leads you inside, and he sits down behind his tidy desk. On the notepad he writes, “I don’t know what is wrong with you yet, but we are going to get you an MRI. And then, from there, we’ll try and see what we can do.”

You get an answer to what your condition that never goes away is. It is called pure word deafness. Six months later and you are at home on sick leave. The prognosis is vague; the problem might go away, but the problem is more than likely not going to. There are the weekly treatment sessions, a condition of your paid sick leave, but their effect has been minimal; even if they have helped you develop coping strategies.

You are still in love with Cassie, although your relationship is strained. She comes home from work one day, and you ask how her day was. A habitual tick that you’ve not gotten rid of. A habit that you think has helped you both. She replies, “good,” and you hear that.

“What was that? I just caught something you said.”

Cassie answers, and it is all word salad apart from the fact that she’d had a good day. “Wait I just heard you had a good day. Maybe I’m getting better.”

She smiles at you, and she shrugs. “Coffee?” you asked. She nods.

While making the coffee Cassie comes in to watch you in silence. You wish she’d talk to you more often. You don’t quite know how to tell her, but just hearing the sound of her voice makes you feel better. It makes you feel as though one day you’ll understand the babble. Besides there are only three words you want to hear again. You know that presently you wouldn’t understand them as words if she said them. But the meaning would be clear to you if she said them. It’d still be those three words.

You know when people lie, even the small innocent everyday lies, because you hear them. That is all you hear coherently. When you are watching the news if a politician is talking you hear a tangle of half sentences.

You tell your neurologist about this at your next meeting. He laughs, and then he writes down his reply which tells you that what you’ve told him is impossible. You ask him to say this aloud. You can’t trust the written word anymore.

“Two plus two is five,” he says, testing you with a confident smile.

You correct him. “Two plus two is four.”

When you arrive home after that session with Dr Neale you find Cassie in the bedroom crying. You sit next to her, and you wrap an arm around her to comfort her. You whisper in her ear, “what’s wrong love?”

She replies “I love you.”

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