In One Day in May, Erin, a young sign language teacher, tries to teach Graysie, her five-year-old deaf student, how to read a calendar. As hard as she tries, Erin cannot get Graysie to understand that May has come and gone and she must turn the page to June.
About the Author
Anastasia Jill (aka Anna Keeler) is a queer poet and fiction writer living in the southern US.
Anastasia Jill is a current editor for the Smaeralit Anthology. Her work has been published or is upcoming at Poets.org, Lunch Ticket, FIVE:2:ONE, and many other literary journals.
Learn more about Anastasia’s writing at her website: anastasiajill.weebly.com
One Day in May by Anastasia Jill
I kept trying to tell Graysie it wasn’t May anymore, but my fingers couldn’t buckle down to form the words.
“No,” I said, even though she couldn’t read lips well. “Today is June first.” I tried to keep my temper because it wasn’t her fault. She was only five, and besides, she’d never felt the familiarity of the human voice against her eardrums.
Before this year, I’d never had any problems helping whoever my ASL teacher paired me with, but I’d spent the length of my senior year with this poor girl, and we still hadn’t established a connection.
Instead of responding, her tiny fingers toyed with the ends of her brown hair, and her gray eyes stared into mine, either from a lack of understanding or interest. Today, like every other day, she looked at me like she couldn’t follow what I was telling her. She kept pointing to the calendar in front of her, to the date circled in pink marker: May 31st.
I took it from her, flipped the page, and guided her finger to the blank square under June 1st. “Today is June. Yesterday was May.”
She shook her head and threw her body against the chair, exasperated. When she first saw me this morning, she looked surprised, sat down with the sticker littered calendar, and pointed to the previous day. It was the first time I’d seen a smile on her face, but it went away when I couldn’t decipher what she wanted.
A deep bass broke the silence as my phone’s alarm played Diana Ross’s The Boss, signaling the end of our session. I closed my notebook and cleaned up the table while Graysie fidgeted with the white bow in her hair. Before I could say anything, she closed the calendar, ran to her cubby to grab her lunch bag, and darted out the door.
I remembered what the teacher had said, “Graysie is stubborn. She doesn’t open up to people. Even her own parents are a bit distant, so don’t take it personally.”
After cleaning up the table and gathering my things to leave, I took another look at the classroom. Today was the last day for many of the volunteers, but I had forgone college for the next year and planned to stay on. Even so, I had serious doubts about continuing to work with Graysie because we’d made so little progress. I wasn’t a quitter, but the road to nowhere was paved with good intentions, and perhaps my altruism.
My purse slammed against my hip as I hurried out of the building to join my girlfriend, Jackie, who was parked curbside. She impatiently revved the engine to get me to move faster.
“Jesus, Erin,” she shouted through the open window. “I’d like to make it to the movie before graduation . . . from medical school.”
I rolled my eyes, opened the door to throw my bag on the backseat, and then gave her a quick peck on the cheek.
“What took you so long?” she said. She tried to disguise it, but the traces of her Irish accent still came through. “Are things not going well with that girl you’re working with?”
I chuckled, rolling down the window to get some air. “I thought we were making progress today, but she shut down when I didn’t immediately understand what she was saying.”
“She doesn’t say anything,” Jackie said. “I thought that was the point.”
“I don’t mean literally,” I said. “She kept pointing to a calendar thinking it was still May, I guess? I don’t know. It was weird.”
“To be fair,” said Jackie, “she is five. And deaf. She’s not exactly the best person to pick up on everything around her.”
“But,” I said, pulling my legs up to my chest, “she’s actually a smart girl. That’s why it was weird.”
Jackie shrugged. “Just because she can’t talk doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep listening.”
I undid my hair from its intricate bun and let it flow over my shoulders and down my back. After a while, I said, “I’ll end up doing what I need to do.”
Jackie shook her head and turned up the radio to blast out my self-directed rambling. “Anyway,” she said, “I was thinking before the movie we could run into Target to grab some snacks. I’m not paying twenty dollars for a tub of popcorn.”
She parked halfway between the theater and Target, and we hustled to the snack aisles and stuffed our arms with chips, sodas, and various forms of gummies that could be shoved into the bottoms of our bags.
At the register, Jackie said, “You mind paying for it? I mean, considering I’m buying the movie tickets.”
With an overdramatic sigh, I reached for my purse to take out my wallet. I stuck my hand inside and realized it was emptier than it should have been. I set it on the counter and searched the contents, trying to figure out what was missing.
“For God’s sakes, Erin, don’t tell me you forgot your money.”
“No,” I said, pulling the wallet out and slamming it on the counter. “I think I lost something else.” I slipped my debit card out of its pocket and handed it to the cashier. After she rang up one of the candy bars, I stuck it into my purse and reflexively reached for what wasn’t there.
“My phone. I lost my phone.”
Jackie took the stuff from the cashier and said, “It probably fell out when you tossed your bag in the backseat.”
“No, my purse was closed.”
A mother with a wailing infant nudged us out of line.
“Where could you have left it?” Jackie said.
As we walked away, I mentally retraced my steps, thinking about it all the way to the car. Then it hit me. “The school,” I said. “I left it on the desk. I used it for an alarm and just left it there.”
Jackie raised an eyebrow in irritation.
“They’re still open,” I said. “I just need to run in, grab it, and leave.”
She paused for a moment then sighed and reached into her bag. “Here,” she said, handing me the keys. “I’ll save you a seat. Just don’t be too long.”
There were fewer cars at the school because most of the kids had already gone home. I walked down the hall to Graysie’s classroom and scanned every table and surface for my little black phone.
Another door opened and shut behind me, and seconds later, Graysie stood a few feet away. The bow that was in her hair earlier now lay crumpled in her hand.
“Oh, hey—” I said, and then stopped myself, remembering who I was talking to. I raised my hands in a salute and then spelled out her name. “What are you still doing here?” I signed.
I took a quiet breath to calm myself and then sunk down to her level. “Is Mrs. Halbrook around?” I signed. My hands were shaking a little, but if Graysie noticed, she didn’t comment on it. She just shrugged again.
“Great,” I said aloud, crossing my arms. “Have you seen my phone?” I signed.
She cocked her head, unsure of what I meant.
“My phone,” I tried again, pressing my three middle fingers to my palm, holding my thumb and pinky out, and drawing my hand to my ear. “Phone,” I mouthed, making the motion over and over again.
A knowing look crossed her face, and she walked to the red square that was her cubby. She retrieved a large purple backpack, opened the zipper, and pulled out the short, glossy calendar. She brought it to me and opened it to an earmarked page.
I had to bite back my frustration. “Yes, Graysie,” I said, signing with a little more confidence this time. “This is May.” I pointed to the month in black comic sans type. “But it’s not May.” I flipped the page, pointing to the type under the stallion pictures. “It’s June.” I spelled it out letter by letter. “June. June first.”
She shook her head, grabbed the calendar from my hands, and turned back to the previous page. She pointed again to May 31, her little finger jamming the page so hard she left a dent.
“What?” I signed. “What are you trying to tell me? I don’t understand.” While my hands moved, I looked her in the eye and tried to gauge if she was focused or not.
On the brink of tears, she took a deep breath and held her hands in front of me for the first time all year. Her motions were clumsy because she hadn’t been paying attention to the lessons, but she moved slowly, and I could make out what she said.
Four fingers touching her thumb and jerking away. “Leave.” Point to me. “Me.” Palms clapping together twice. “School.” A hand shape tracing down her jawline. “Yesterday.”
I repeated it to myself a few times, trying to make sense of the words. “Me. Leave. School. Yesterday?”
She pointed to the date on the calendar again then flipped back to today. She brought her hands up and pointed. “Me.” Opening palms into a Y formation. “Still.” Palms up and moving in a small circle. “Here.”
She nodded, and I whispered the words, forgetting for a moment that she was standing right there. I came back to the present when she pointed at my hair. My hand cupped the loose strands, and I realized she’d never seen my hair free from its bun.
“Yeah, it’s long, isn’t it?” I signed, not hesitating over the motions as I always had.
She nodded, a smile creeping onto her lips. She signed, “Pretty.”
I blinked once in surprise and my breath caught in my throat. “Thank you,” I signed. “That’s the first thing you’ve really said to me.”
She responded, “You’re still here.”
I looked to the calendar that lay between us, to the date circled in pink marker. You’re still here.
“Oh,” I said out loud. I picked up the calendar and flipped between the two pages. At the beginning of the year, we had circled the days of the week we’d be here, so the kids knew to be ready for us. May 31st was the last day circled.
I held my hands up again. “You thought my last day was yesterday?”
My grin emerged on its own, teeth tripping over guilty lips. “It was, but I’m not leaving.” Hesitantly, I signed. “I’m staying for a while longer.”
I thought she was going to hug me, but instead, she went back to her cubby to get something else out of her bag. Then she handed me my phone and gave me a tiny smile. “I kept this so you would come back.” With her backpack over her shoulder, she signed, “Thank you,” and then she hurried out of the room, no doubt to wait for her mother.
With a deep sigh, I slipped my phone into my bag and followed her.
Graysie stood at the curb, a school attendant in tow, looking for a parent who couldn’t be bothered to show up on time. I knew full well Jackie would never let me live down skipping on her, but I punched in a quick text anyway.
I spaced out at Graysie’s side, palms clammy and mind numb with the shame of my prior doubts about her. Steel-the-phone was a game I didn’t want to play again, but at the same time, I couldn’t abandon her.
I didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. But that didn’t stop me from waiting with Graysie on the curb.
About the Story
As a writer, Anastasia Jill is always looking for ways to challenge herself in terms of covering the human condition, especially in regards to communication. In writing One Day in May, Anastasia thought it would be interesting to write about characters that don’t speak with words, but rather, with sign language. The tension in the story comes from the difficulty the hearing character faces in trying to bridge that gap.
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