Excerpt from House of the Deaf by Lamar Herrin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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House of the Deaf

by Lamar Herrin

House of the Deaf
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2005, 240 pages
    Sep 2006, 270 pages

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Todo Por La Patria.

Ben stood where she’d positioned him. The pavement had been littered and swept and rained on hundreds of times since his daughter had lain here. Each horn that blew, each motorbike that drilled by, took some of her with it. He looked back along the diagonal to the headquarters’ entrance. The two Civil Guards were hardly on alert; they chatted with each other, rocked back on their heels, and cradled their guns idly, like something they’d been told to hold on to for the duration of the day. He looked from them on another diagonal to where that white car was parked. As far as those boys knew, it too could carry explosives. It could wipe out Madeline Pratt and Ben Williamson where they stood, or the vagaries of the blast could reach the Civil Guards and countless others, instead, and leave the two of them unscathed.

"They didn’t catch them, did they?" he said.

Madeline Pratt shook her head. "They have a phrase they use in the press. Desarticular comandos, which means they disband a group of four or five terrorists operating in Madrid. Another comando, or another team, comes in from the Basque country to replace them. The authorities try to pretend otherwise, but it’s not really a matter of a particular person and a particular crime. . . ."

"Why?" he asked. "Why do they pretend otherwise? So they can show that justice is being done?"

"Yes, you know . . ." and she forced herself to look at him out of that desolate dead space around her eyes, "for society and especially for the families, so that they can get some sense of—"

He stopped her. She was going to say "closure" or something equally cruel in its banal right-mindedness. "Closure" would have been a bomb blast out of that white Seat, and it hadn’t come.

He smiled at her. He wanted her to take away this smile and study it, take it to heart. He saw her eyes widen and begin to glisten. She was a tall woman, almost his height, and he could feel the shakiness in her knees. "Go away," he told her. "Go back to your students. It’s been long enough. Erase Michelle Williamson from your mind."

When she wouldn’t leave, he insisted. After she’d taken a few steps he called her back. "My daughter, when that car blew up, she was running away from the blast, wasn’t she? She was almost safe on first base."

When Madeline Pratt didn’t know what to say, he dismissed her entirely. He waved his hand in front of her face. She was so brittle-boned he could have crunched her into a powder, except that she deserved better than that, bereft of one of her most promising students through no real fault of her own.

Late that afternoon Ben Williamson sat in El Parque de Buen Retiro watching the evening’s promenade. He was off the main thoroughfare, where, in addition to the promenaders, performers staged their mime and puppet and juggling shows, beggars begged, and teenagers ran amok.

He was sitting in a formal garden of trimmed hedges and conical bushes whose leaves had the metallic glossiness of holly. Along the axis of this garden couples, mostly his age, walked arm in arm. It was quieter here. Behind him was a basin where a single jet of water spouted. There was a stone gate down to his left, imposing enough to be an official portal, and beyond it lay a building belonging to the Prado Museum. Out of the ruckus of that main thoroughfare, up to his right he heard guitar music competing with a violin and human voices singing for their supper, all amplified, yet strangely remote. He heard the delicate splash of the water in the fountain behind him and the footfall on crushed stone of the deliberately pacing couples.

From House of the Deaf by Lamar Herrin, the complete text of chapter 1, pages 1-15. Copyright 2005 Lamar Herrin. All rights reserved.

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