The Hidden Language of Signs

Ursula hates crowds, hates people, hates their noise and concern. Their faces press against her eyes, make the blood pound in her temples, squeeze the air out of her throat. She counts the tines on her fork over and over again and hunches her shoulders against the candlelight.

“I was four,” her mother says, talking to her aunt, telling old stories. “We were swinging on the gate, do you remember?”

“Oh, sure,” says her aunt. “I remember.”

“And I got my hand caught in the hinge, and crushed all the little bones in it. And I started screaming and screaming–”

“–and Mom came running out and rushed you to the hospital and wasn’t Dad mad, because we weren’t supposed to be swinging on the gate–”

“I was there for four days. They wouldn’t let anyone in to see me, not Mom, not Dad, not anybody. I was alone for four days and in excruciating pain the whole time.”

Ursula pulls one tine back and listens to the note it makes. G, maybe, G#. She lets the note roll between her ears, over and under and through stories of old pain and reflections off the surface of the wine.