Love Behind the Mask
by Trish Hubschman
His name was Tony, though I didn’t find that out till later. He sat in my station at Marco’s Pizza. I was new here and wanted to get to know the customers. Tony had big brown eyes and dark hair. I was certain the rest of his face behind the mask was handsome. Despite the dwindling Covid pandemic, we were still required to wear masks that covered our mouths and noses in some places.
I stood beside his table. He was alone. I had a bright smile on my face, even though he couldn’t see it. “Hi, I’m your waitress, Dana, I said in a bubbly tone. “Can I take your order? “He didn’t say anything. I felt uncomfortable and a bit annoyed too. I continued to smile though. I pointed to the menu. “What would you like to eat?” I asked. To my belief, that did get a response. He nodded and pointed to something on the menu. I edged behind him and looked over his shoulder. “Good choice,’ I replied, jotting it down on my pad and swinging away. I turned back, remembering I had forgotten something. “Can I get you something to drink?” I asked. There was no reply, just the stare. I sighed inwardly and pointed to the water glass I had laid on the table when I came over. He shook his head. I scurried away and went into the kitchen.
My manager, Ben, was in the kitchen taking inventory. I told him about the man in my station who wasn’t speaking. Sweat was trickling down my back. “Does he speak English?” I asked.
I swear I saw Ben smiling with his eyes. “That’s Tony. He’s deaf.”
“Oh!” I said, nearly dropping the plate of baked ziti I had just picked up from the counter. “How does he communicate with people? How do they communicate with him?” I wasn’t just asking out of idle curiosity. I had a feeling about that guy and wanted to be able to communicate with him and get to know him outside of Marco’s. I didn’t tell Ben this.
Ben crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, he’s a darn good lip reader, “he said, then stopped. He put his finger on the mask where his lips were. “I guess these things make lip reading difficult or impossible!”
I nodded. I felt so bad for the guy out there. “I gather you’re friends with him,” I said to Ben. “How do you communicate with him with the mask on?”
Ben dropped his arms. He seemed pleased by my assessment. “Tony’s a great guy. He’s a regular here, comes in at least once a week. You’ll get to know him,” Ben said. “Hm, how do I communicate with him? I guess it’s a combination of pantomime and sign language, and sometimes I spell things out on Tony’s arm.” He held his index finger up, then chuckled.
Oh boy, I could never put my finger on someone’s arm and write something, especially with a good-looking guy. It was too personal! “I took Spanish as a second language in high school,” I said. Some good that did me. I never used it. “My sister did take sign as hers, so I know a little bit.”
“Well, give it your best shot,” he told me.
I intended to. I turned toward the door with Tony’s plate of ziti in my hand. “I better get this out to him before it gets cold.”
“Wait a second,” Ben called. I turned my head. He had three fingers up. He turned them sideways and tilted them in front of his lips.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The sign for water,’ he replied. “Go ask the customer if he’d like a refill of water.”
Behind my mask, I smiled. I didn’t tell Ben that I’d had simply pointed to the water glass on the table earlier.
The new waitress is pretty. I can’t explain this, but I feel kind of drawn to her. I also feel bad for her because she doesn’t know about my deafness. I’ve been deaf for years, and I’ve never had trouble conveying that to people, but with the pandemic and the requirement of us wearing masks, I’m at a loss here. I can speak pretty well, and I have a cochlear implant, but, I admit, I usually turn the external device off when I’m in Marco’s. They keep the music so darned loud in here! I prefer people knowing I’m deaf before I speak. If I speak first, then they think I can hear and continue talking to me. And not even realizing they’re doing it; they turn their heads and still talk. Since I can’t see their lips any longer, I don’t know what they’re saying. It’s confusing, to say the least, but I have an organization to things.
I looked up from my cell phone. I’d been glancing at texts. The strawberry blonde waitress with the vivacious personality was coming through the kitchen door. I was sure that was my plate of food she held. I was starved! She was headed toward me. Ben wasn’t far behind her, his mask beneath his chin. I wanted to get to know Dana. Ben being our interpreter would help immensely.
She put the plate of baked ziti down on the table in front of me. “Here’s your lunch, Tony. I hope you enjoy it.”
I looked at Ben. He repeated what she said. I raised my eyebrow. She used my name. should I wonder how she learned it? I did the sign for thank you, two fingers on my chin, then brought them outward. She didn’t know what it meant and looked at Ben. He told her. “Would it be all right if Dana sits at my table while I enjoy this wonderful meal?” I asked Ben.
He was quick to shake his head. “No way. Dana has work to do. If you notice, this place is buzzing right now?” he said.
I did notice, but it was worth a try. “How am I going to get to know Dana better. She can hear me speak, but I can’t read her lips with the mask on?” I said to Ben.
“How about you do this?” Ben said, making an arc with one hand and tapping he palm with the index finger of the other.
Dana was looking back and forth between us. She had no idea what was going on. I felt twice as bad for her.
I smiled at Ben’s suggestion. “Can I have your pad and pen, Dana?” I asked. She dug into apron pocket. “Most people would ask a lovely lady for her phone number. I can’t do that.” Dana looked stricken. I shook my head. “No, no, I’m okay with being deaf. I was just pointing out that deaf people have to do it differently, but with technology, we can still communicate and get to know others.” I ripped the paper off the pad and handed it to her.
“Can I have the pen now?” she asked, holding out her hand. I gave it to her. She scribbled her email address and handed me the paper.
“Now back to work,” Ben commanded and Dana scurried off.
I folded the paper with her e-mail address on it and tucked it into my shirt pocket. I intended to start our electronic communication as soon as I got home. I looked up at Ben. He pulled out a chair across the table from mine and sat down. “Eat your lunch,” he said, waving to my plea. “And enjoy it.” With his first two fingers, he pinched the mask beneath his chin and pulled it up over his mouth. I burst into laughter.
Trish Hubschman is the author of the Tracy Gayle mystery series: Tidalwave, Stiff Competition and Ratings Game. Tracy is a Long Island private detective. Her sidekick, Danny Tide, is the leader of the rock band, Tidalweav. Tracy is hired to find out who set fire to Danny’s tour bus. While doing this, more dangerous things develop.
Trish is a graduate of Long Island University’s Southampton Campus and has a bachelor’s degree in English-Writing. She is deafblind and lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, author Kevin Hubschman, and their dog, henry.
Her website is: www.dldbooks.com/Hubschman/
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