We were waiting on the platform when the investigating mime, our only hope, arrived. He stepped off the train, blinking in the bright sunlight. The brass band went through the motions of a welcome march; a few of us threw our hats up in the air, opening and closing our mouths like gasping fish.
Mrs. Klawitter, my elderly neighbor, put her hand out to touch me. Although in poor health, she’d insisted on coming, and I’d helped carry her. A dusting of her lavender talcum powder sifted onto my sleeve.
“Do you think he can help?” she mouthed at me. I shrugged. The train silently produced smoke, then whispered away along the track.
The mime moved through the crowd, peering into our faces. He pretended to take an instrument from his case, and insisted on examining our ears. Frowning, he stood in our center and spread his arms in a helpless gesture, shaking his head. We shrugged back. He stepped off the platform.
We followed along behind him, pointlessly tiptoeing. The mime moved along the street, noting the wordless cracks in the sidewalk, the quiet patterns of grass sprouting around trees. He pointed to a bird, opening and closing its beak without producing a note, and spread his arms eloquently again. He gestured waves coming onto a shore and cupped a hand to his ear, scowling, unable to hear them. We nodded.
The mime stopped, stooped, turned over an invisible rock. Mrs. Klawitter’s grip tightened. A cat came down from a porch and brushed the mime’s ankles, its sides vibrating with the force of its purrs.
Above us, an inarticulate gull glided, the wind pushed clouds around. A discarded newspaper blew by, mutely curling and uncurling in the breeze. Its headline trumpeted in blaring letters: THE TOWN WITHOUT SOUND — EXPERTS BAFFLED.
Stopping to pet the cat, the mime sat down, bringing his hands to the sides of his head, acting out deep thought. We strained our ears futilely and continued to hold our breaths.
Mrs. Klawitter was the first to fall, her face a delicate shade of blue ash. And as the others began to topple, it came to my mind that there were deprivations worse than no sound.
Cat Rambo lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest, in the shadow of doomed Mt. Rainier. Her short story collection, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, appeared from Paper Golem Press in 2009. She is the fiction editor of Fantasy Magazine.