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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He watched the couples, observed them closely as if he were recording his own heartbeat, his rate of respiration. Gentlemen in suits and gentlemen with canes seemed right, just as women dressed in tasseled shawls did. The evening was growing cool. But he saw more jeans and khaki and even exercise suits than he did elegant attire, and more running shoes and cheap versions of Birkenstock sandals than polished leather. But regardless of how they were dressed and out of what period of Spain’s history they seemed to emerge, as they paced by him it was as if he were being introduced to an elemental rhythm that was the social equivalent of his heartbeat, his breath-taking. People paired off and lasted the years so that they could come here in their middle age and round out the course of their lives. If he wanted to think of it that way.

He drew a breath, and, arms linked, one couple replaced another. His heart beat, and to the music of that drum, the feet paced by. The water spilled back onto itself and rose again. The smells were the prickly unsweetened smells of an orderly procreation.

If he wanted to think of it that way.

Or he could think of it as lockstep. The pacing as penitential. The procreation a mockery. The fruits of their labor were up on that thoroughfare living by their wits.

Until a bomb went off.

Here in the Park of the Buen Retiro.

What Madeline Pratt didn’t know was that Ben Williamson had spent days reading about ETA. Days he’d gone to visit his daughter Annie in college, he’d slipped into the library, found a carrel and pulled books down off the stacks. ETA—Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna—Basque Fatherland and Liberty. The only insurgency that Francisco Franco hadn’t been able to wipe out. Insurgency was in the Basque blood. One summer, in an effort to disrupt Spain’s tourist trade, ETA had planted bombs at random in favorite beaches on Spain’s costa azul and costa del sol. They’d buried the bombs in the sand. A German had had the bad luck to spread his towel over one.

Why not here? Blow a hole in Spain’s generational chain. Here, this potbellied paterfamilias and his hobbled wife whose ankles turned in her shoes.

Or this next couple, younger, much more attractive, she tall, blond, still with a coltish lift to her knees, and he sporting a jaunty handlebar moustache. Both stylishly dressed.

One couple interchangeable with the next? He remembered what Madeline Pratt had said about "disarticulating comandos." The futility of putting a face on what was essentially faceless. His daughter had had blue eyes, the blue of a mountain lake—he had seen the very lake in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park—but with a subtly tightened, puzzled look about them, as if at any moment that blue water were about to freeze. A mouth that was pensively pressed shut; a pert point to her chin. Across her temple there was a blue vein that gave her away, pulsing when she was otherwise composed. An eyelid also sometimes twitched. He too had had a twitching eyelid, but the time he’d called her attention to it had led to a rebuff. A twitching eyelid meant nothing. They had taken her away from him before he’d been able to find something that did mean something. He could see her now, far more clearly than when she had been alive, but she, of course, was her own shield. She’d died on her shield.

Sitting there, witness to a procession he was ineligible to join, but, nonetheless—as his heart beat and his lungs filled—in a processional state of mind, all he could tell himself was that he ’d need a face—one of theirs. He’d need a face to make a fair exchange.

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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