Emma Simmons was as angry as a deranged bull. Her mother was going to make her go to church every week, a duty Emma considered pure torture. Emma had to sit through the whole service not hearing one single sound wave because she was stone deaf. She’d been born that way. She knew, after the service, the old ladies in their flowered dresses would watch and pity her, the deaf girl. But they were nothing compared to Ms. Lorenzo, Emma’s nemesis. She was the church organist. Ms. Lorenzo’s job depended on the one thing Emma couldn’t do—hear. Ms. Lorenzo didn’t just hear musical notes; she could hear car tires squealing, dogs barking, the microwave beeping, and phones ringing. Emma wouldn’t have minded missing out on those sounds, but Ms. Lorenzo, along with almost everybody else, could hear people talking to them. Emma could only attempt to lip-read people’s speech. As Emma fixed her hair for church, her phone buzzed inside her slipper. Emma took it out and flipped it open.
Emma texted back, “K comin.”
Emma walked downstairs and slipped on her shoes. She opened the door to the garage and got into the car. According to her phone, two minutes and thirty-six seconds after she got into the car, her mother hopped into the car and started the engine. Emma could feel the vibration through her seat.
Once Emma and her mother were seated in the pew, Emma flipped open to a random page in the pew Bible: Mark 7:31, the healing of a deaf-mute man. Gosh, this is so unfair, Emma thought, some guy 2000 years ago has his hearing restored to him by the Son of God and I’m stuck in the modern world and nobody is healing me. Emma felt a vibration in the floor. Ms. Lorenzo was playing a hymn. Emma put down the Bible and gave Ms. Lorenzo evil glares for the rest of the service.
Emma stood for the closing hymn and then followed her mother outside. She signed “home” to her mother.
Her mother signed back, “OK.”
After a few weeks of regularly going to church, Emma thought, this church thing is thinly veiled public humiliation. After church, Ms. Lorenzo walked up to them.
“Hello, Ms. Simmons. I noticed your daughter looking over at the organ. If you wanted, I could let Emma put her hand on the side of the organ so she could feel the vibrations while I play.”
“Let me ask Emma,” answered Ms. Simmons. “Touch organ vibrations,” she signed to Emma.
Emma signed back with petulance, “No, Mother, home.”
Emma’s mother sighed and turned to Ms. Lorenzo. “I’m sorry, Emma doesn’t seem interested. It was extremely nice of you to think of her.”
As soon as her mother’s lips stopped moving, Emma started pointing toward the car and tugging on her mother’s sleeve.
When they got in the car, Ms. Simmons turned to her daughter and signed, “Rude daughter.”
“Hate Ms. Lorenzo,” Emma signed back. Emma glared out of the car window for the entire ride home.
Evelyn Lorenzo was attempting to practice Bach’s Fugue in D minor for the upcoming memorial service when she had an idea. These page turns are difficult. It would be helpful to have a page-turner, she thought as the rain drummed on the roof. Sometimes Evelyn whished she was deaf to the outside noises of the world… that’s who she should pick: Ms. Simmons’s deaf girl. The girl seemed to enjoy the organ. Every time Evelyn caught her eye in church she was looking at the organ. Evelyn decided to ask Ms. Simmons after church tomorrow.
* * *
The next day, Emma woke up and felt miserable. She’d spent yesterday afternoon in the rain running errands with her mother and Emma had caught a bad cold. She stumbled downstairs and found her mother in the kitchen making coffee.
Emma signed, “Sick, no church.”
Her mother felt Emma’s forehead.
“Feel warm, stay home and nap,” signed Ms. Simmons.
Emma signed, “OK.”
Evelyn firmly played the postlude and rushed outside to find Emma’s mother before she left. Evelyn walked up to Ms. Simmons and noticed that Emma wasn’t there.
“Ms. Simmons, where is your daughter?” asked Ms. Lorenzo.
“Emma is at home with a bad cold,” answered Ms. Simmons.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Ms. Simmons. I wanted to ask your daughter a favor. I’ve noticed Emma seems to enjoy the organ when I play it in church. I need someone to turn pages for an organ piece; I’ll be playing for Jane Samuel’s memorial service. She was the former church organist and I’m expected to play a very difficult and memorable piece for the service. I thought Emma might be the right person for this.”
Ms. Simmons was speechless. Not many people actually want to interact with her daughter, she thought. But Emma hates Ms. Lorenzo. But Emma’s lip-reading teacher said Emma needs to spend time with non-deaf people so she can cope in the real world. Ms. Simmons coughed.
“Are you sure Emma could be your page-turner? She can’t even hear the organ; she can only feel the sound waves vibrating through the floor. Also, she is a very bad lip-reader so you two couldn’t communicate,” spoke Ms. Simmons.
There was an awkward moment of silence.
Then Ms. Lorenzo spoke, “Are you implying that Emma is the wrong person for this?”
“Yes, I suppose I am,” answered Ms. Simmons.
“I disagree. I could nod my head when I want the page turned by Emma. If worse comes to worst, you could be our translator.”
“As you wish, Evelyn. When do you want Emma to practice with you?”
“How about Thursday night at seven-thirty? That would work well for me.”
“Thank you and see you then, Evelyn.”
As Evelyn Lorenzo walked away she thought, My goodness, that woman is very overprotective of her daughter. Just because Emma is deaf doesn’t mean that she can’t have a life.
When Ms. Simmons got home, she went straight to Emma’s room.
“Emma, phone,” she signed.
Emma took out her phone and read the text message: “Emma, Ms. L wants U 2 help her turn pgs 4 organ piece. She wants you only, nobody else. Practice Thurs nite 7:30.”
Emma whipped out her phone and started texting: “U kno how much I the her. No fair.”
Ms. Simmons texted back: “I want you to try for me.”
Emma texted back: “hte U 2.”
Emma signaled her mother out of the room.
* * *
Seven-fifteen, Thursday night. After some angry signing between her and her mother, Emma admitted defeat and reluctantly walked downstairs. As Emma stepped out of the car, in the church parking lot, her mother signed, “Smile.” Emma plastered a grimace on her face and walked in. Ms. Lorenzo was already seated at the organ. She indicated for Emma and Ms. Simmons to come over to her.
“Ms. Simmons, I might need you to sign something to Emma,” said Ms. Lorenzo.
“I’ll be sitting in the back pew if you need me,” answered Ms. Simmons.
Ms. Lorenzo turned to Emma and handed her an index card. It read:
Put your hand on the side of the organ to feel the vibrations.
When I nod, please turn the page.
Emma nodded at Ms. Lorenzo and put her sweaty hand on the side of the organ. As Ms. Lorenzo began to play, Emma gulped and thought, What if I totally mess up? Emma almost missed the first page turn. Her hands fumbled for the page. Emma then paid attention to all of Ms. Lorenzo’s nodding cues. When the song was over, Ms. Lorenzo smiled and handed Emma another index card. This one read:
Good. Let’s do it again.
Emma put her hand on the side of the organ and Ms. Lorenzo started again. Emma noticed that the third page turn was during strong vibrations and the fifth page turn happened during weak vibrations. After a few more practices of the song, Emma was handed another index card. This one read:
Great job!! It was a pleasure to work with you. One more practice right before the service and we’ll be golden.
* * *
The service was perfect. Emma turned the pages at all the right times. Afterwards, Emma handed Ms. Lorenzo a note. It said:
It was fun to help you. You are a nice person to remember me, the deaf girl. I used to hate you because you could hear so well and I can’t at all. If you wanted I could teach you sign language so we could “talk” until I get better at lip-reading.
Ms. Lorenzo smiled. She turned over Emma’s note. She wrote:
I’d love to learn. I could teach some music too. Beethoven was deaf too, you know.
Emma and Ms. Lorenzo hugged. Deal.