by Gwenda Major
The boy sees the policeman’s mouth working angrily, recognises the shapes of “fire” and “stupid.” The mouth is asking questions, revealing metal fillings, a bubble of saliva at one corner. He presses his right index and middle fingers to his ear. “Deaf,” he says. “Deaf.”
At the police station they leave him sitting on a bench against a stained grey wall. He wants to do a pee and tries making the sign for toilet, but they just ignore him. He shuts his eyes.
A thin woman with a ponytail introduces herself, finger spelling L-A-U-R-A. They go into a room that smells of damp clothes and sweat. A policeman asks a question. Laura signs it to him and voices his answers. The policeman writes them down. On and on. Over and over.
At last Laura fingerspells the word “c-a-u-t-i-o-n” slowly then makes the sign for “warning.”
A head comes around the door. Laura taps a double “m” into her palm. “Your mam’s here.”
Mam’s face is a furious mask. She still has her shop overalls on and her hair’s a mess. She signs the paper at the desk and shakes Laura’s hand. At the door of the police station he turns and lifts his middle finger, mouthing clearly “fuck off.” His mother’s hand meets his cheek with a smarting slap.
The next day at school he’s a hero. The hearing lads gather round him and slap him on the back, give him the thumbs up sign of approval. He grins, basking in the attention.
At home later he goes straight upstairs to play on his computer. He lies in wait for the zombies, then blasts them full in the face. The head count mounts.
When his sister Karen shakes his shoulder to tell him tea’s ready he jumps. A hollow-eyed zombie ambushes him, killing him on the spot. “You stupid,” he signs to Karen. “Me dead now. Your fault.”
“Piss off,” she mouths.
The telly flickers through tea time. Mam and Karen don’t like having the subtitles on so he gives up trying to follow. Next time he looks men are digging frantically in a huge pile of bricks and rubble. They pull a blackened body out and lay it softly on the ground. A woman wails nearby. Then a couple with dazzling white teeth and expensive clothes get out of a long sleek car. Cameras flash. A man in a studio mouths at the camera, pointing at numbers on a screen. A helicopter lands in a field. A family beam at each other over plates of pizza.
That night in bed a parade of images play across the boy’s mind – Mam shouting, the woman spelling L-A-U-R-A on her fingers, the men laying the blackened body on the ground, the white smiles of the people getting out of the car, the policeman with the spittle at the corner of his mouth, the slack-jawed zombies blasting him. He shuts his eyes but there’s no escape.