“Another round,” she signed to him across the table, beneath fake lilacs and ivy.
It wasn’t yet time to close, but management had started to turn patrons away. “We will be shutting our doors early tonight for an employee appreciation evening. We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause,” the sign at the hostess counter had read.
I sat alone in the barroom, contemplating another drink and eyeing the deaf couple at the booth. They were moving as they sat still.
“Okay,” he answered her and nodded.
My waiter came by. “Can I get you anything else tonight, sir?” He sported black dress clothes and a forced smile.
“Just the check.”
He departed from my table, just as most every other customer had departed from the restaurant, just as most everybody in my family had departed from belief, just as every American soldier had departed from Afghanistan.
A host and hostess were giggling near the entrance. They shut the restaurant’s ornate front doors and continued to talk. One of the doors squeaked loudly and required an extra shove to close; it was wooden and had red and flesh colored streaks across purposefully-crude wood carvings, which I thought to be Scandinavian-inspired.
I noticed this door because there was something wrong with it; I don’t remember what the second door looked like — only that it looked different.
My waiter returned with the check. I filled it out crudely, for the pen he had given barely wrote.
A waitress approached the deaf couple. “Can I get you two anything else, or just the check?”
The woman’s eyes widened and she looked to her husband for an answer. He turned to the waitress with the same widened expression, and shook on his ear.
“Can I get you anything else?”
The man nodded in understanding. “Two lights. Beer,” he said unconventionally. This was not what the server had expected, and she walked away in a dash of frustration.
“Asshole,” I muttered under my breath.
Above the couple, false lilacs swayed with the rhythm of an overhead vent. I thought about how though it made a sound, they could only feel it. I wondered if I had ever felt something without hearing, something beyond the lightest tap.
I realized that I hadn’t.
When I was in the Marine Corps, I picked up French and American Sign Language to pass time in the barracks. I should have never been deployed; my battalion made fun of me for stacking sandbags atop my seat in pickup trucks and tanks, in case of landmines. My “high chair,” they called it. But can you really blame me?
One small sip of scotch remained in my Gibraltar glass. I swirled it leisurely in my hands, intent on downing it after a moment.
The couple’s waitress groused with co-workers behind me. The employees had my ears, but the couple had my eyes. And so it was that by the time the waitress had begrudgingly delivered their pint glasses, I had picked up enough to know that their recently departed son had left behind a lovely family.
They had almost finished setting up for the appreciation dinner. Laughter again filled the restaurant: off-duty employees wandered into the event from the back door, cooks emerged from the kitchen to join bartenders behind the counter, streamers and balloons filled the bar area, and I felt the shift manager eyeing me awkwardly from my peripheral.
I didn’t finish my last sip.
I crossed out my original tip and I jotted down a smaller amount and I left. For the rest of the night, I wondered how long the deaf couple had stayed and if they were going to see their grandchildren soon and if everything was going to turn out okay for them.