by Catherine Scott
The McCarthys lived a quiet family life and kept themselves to themselves. Colleen worked in admin and Mick did ‘something for the government,’ although Colleen was never sure what it was. Their only daughter, Nula, was extremely bright and held high hopes of attending drama school when she completed her ‘A’ levels one year ahead of her peers.
Then, overnight everything changed when Mick was shot dead on his own doorstep in front of his wife and daughter. That was 20 years ago and Nula had never spoken since. The psychiatrists said she was severely traumatised and that although they ‘mustn’t lose hope,’ it was really anyone’s guess as to if or when she would talk again.
However, Nula was very able to make herself understood. Over the years she developed her own, very effective, version of sign language. Her mother, desperate to understand and with a deep need to feel useful, had fallen in with it and would interpret on her behalf to third parties.
Nula became quite a celebrity being invited to ‘speak’ at the local and national level about her experience. Without exception she was warmly received and handsomely rewarded.
Nula became a poet. She signed her work, gesticulating wildly, at spoken word open mic evenings. The audience, wanting to appear intelligent, nodded knowingly and clapped enthusiastically for this unconventional poet whose words actually didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Nula considered them to be idiots.
Sometimes, forgetting she was mute and not deaf, some brave (or stupid) person would offer ‘well-meaning advice’ via her mother on perhaps how she could make her work more accessible to the general public. They quickly remembered her disability when she flashed them the classic two finger sign, thus effectively silencing any criticism.
A few people attempted to learn her version of sign just to be able to talk to her, but Nula was way ahead of them and would change the signage to suit herself. She would embarrass people by appearing to become offended at something they had ‘said’.
On a personal level, people found her easy to talk to. Without realising it they would let their guard down and drop little tidbits of information her way. Mrs O’Sullivan’s long lost (and illegitimate) daughter, Mr O’Connor’s sexual preference for young girls, Miss Bryony’s (many) indiscretions, etc. Nula kept a written account of these conversations for future use.
The truth was that about eighteen months after her father’s death, Nula had made the conscious and very powerful decision to remain mute. She enjoyed the attention her ‘condition’ attracted and welcomed the financial benefits she reaped as a result.
All was going swimmingly until her mother suffered a stroke which left her with a severe speech impediment. This meant Nula had a problem. But Nula was smart and credited her mother’s illness for her own unexpected recovery. Now it was time to use another form of sign language. An even more powerful form of sign. Nula decided to write.