Friday, April 21, 2023

Driveshaft by B. Lynne Zika

        She was centered in her work. There were other things she loved: her husband, her daughter, the cherry bookshelves in her study which housed Wolfe, Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Schrodinger. The names her intellect held sacred belonged to men. Yet she was not rooted in these things, nor in her Americanized Tudor-style home.

        Her husband was born to love. Even his career was based on helping. And when his hands—graceful in their power—signed a sentence, two, three, they rested, palms open, ready to receive. I could not say if his deafness had any bearing on this, though I imagine not. By hand or voice, when certain men speak, they are poised to listen.

        Her professional office bore a different style than her home. The el of her clear glass desk wrapped around her. Its legs were metal, painted black. She abandoned the executive high- backed chair in favor of a lumbar-supportive, ergonomic model when her back upped its low murmur to a loud ache. Each night, before she left for home, she arranged the desk surface so that no piles of paper obscured its clarity.

        Occasionally—not often—she indulged her desire to stop at a small bar situated along the drive home. If possible she chose a seat which would not invite company. She often held a book or, better, a newspaper, and pretended to read.

        The barkeep (who respectfully never asked her name) would lift an eyebrow and one index finger: The same? With her nod, he poured and set in front of her a shot of Grand Marnier and a very hot cup of coffee. Milk, not cream. No sugar.

        While she sipped, her husband set their daughter to her homework and faced the preparations for dinner. He set a soup pot filled with water on the stove to boil, then pulled an onion from the root vegetable bin and from the refrigerator a carrot, one zucchini and several mushrooms, a wedge of Romano and one of Parmesan, which he grated.

        First the mushrooms. He wiped them with a damp paper towel and sliced them somewhat thin. In a huge iron skillet heated with a few tablespoons of olive oil, he browned the mushrooms five or six at a time. Overcrowding the pan would pull the water from them, and they would not brown. He did the same for half the onion, carmelizing the tiny slices in small batches. Next he set to julienning the vegetables. First the carrot, then the seeded zucchini. He stirred a bag of fresh tortellini into the boiling water, with a dollop of olive oil, and set a blinking timer.

        He heated the oven, prepared a loaf of garlic bread, and slid it directly onto the oven’s center rack.

        As the pasta boiled—separated by the occasional stir of a slotted spoon—he stir-fried the carrots until crisp-tender and set them in a holding bowl with the mushrooms and onions. When the timer began blinking its green DONE!, he drained the tortellini and threw it into the hot skillet replenished with additional oil. Using the same slotted spoon, he lifted and gently turned to coat each piece. The vegetables in the holding bowl made magnificent swan-dives and joined the pasta. Next he stirred in a handful of the grated cheeses (his hands were large), turned the heat to low, covered the skillet with a domed lid, and set the still-half-full bowl of cheeses onto the center of the dining table.

        He signed to his daughter, “Almost ready! Can you clear the books and set the silverware and napkins?” Then he placed in reach for her two wine glasses, an eight-ounce drinking glass, three plates, and a bottle of California Merlot, already uncorked. He turned off the oven and opened its door. The garlic bread beamed at him, crusty and pleased with itself. His wife walked in the front door. Her keys clattered as she tossed them onto the credenza. Over dinner she signed to him, “They’ve asked me to go to London.”

        “When? For how long?”

        She signed, “Permanently,” and then, “Will you come?”

        He gazed at his daughter.

        Then, to his wife: “No.”

        The young girl’s fork stopped a whisper from her lips, a bite of tortellini turned to stone on her tongue. She did not yet understand what this would mean, but she knew it to be momentous, though she didn’t know the word itself. With her eyes on her father’s face, she spoke.


        The woman’s face had grown dark, a deep-crimson darkness which was not visible but keenly felt by the very legs of the dining room table. She did not answer her daughter but instead gave one lift of her chin toward her husband.

        He fixed his eyes on his daughter’s face and signed to his wife.

        “You know very well my client base here. Do you imagine I could abandon my practice? Begin again in an unknown country where even my language would not be known?”

        He could read the puzzle on his daughter’s face. “I do not mean spoken languages, little one. But ASL and BSL developed completely independently of one another, so our signs are not the same. And the British use a two-handed alphabet for spelling. When I arrived, I would not even be able to tell someone my name.”

        She signed, “Daddy?” She lifted her napkin and pulled the dead pasta from her tongue. “Then where will I be?”

        He lowered his chin to give himself a moment to think. This pacific child, their daughter, was too young to shoulder the responsibility of deciding for herself, of being asked to choose. His years of training had taught him this, grounded him in Stages of Development, the age- related skills acquired in the milieu of being human. Though he counseled adults, he had not forgotten the roots of his lengthy education. And so he signed to her:

        “You will do as you’ve always done. You’ll do your homework on this solid table…” Here he paused to gavel the tabletop, showing her its sturdiness. “…and on weekdays, you will go to your school and ride your bike and help me pick the tomatoes in our little garden. Then on weekends —“

        He stopped signing to hold the small head thrown against his chest, willing his heart to beat loudly enough for her to hear its steady rhythm.

        His wife stood up. She both signed and spoke: “I have to go back to the office for a couple of hours.” She considered stroking the girl’s hair but let her be. Her keys were waiting on the credenza.


B. Lynne Zika, a long-term closed-captioning editor, is an award-winning poet and photographer. Her recent book,  The Strange Case of Eddy Whitfield, multiformat, is available through standard booksellers. Her father, also a writer/poet, bequeathed her this advice: Make every word count.