1. and i think to myself, what a wonderful world
She turns on her side and swings her hand somewhere in the direction of the clock. Six am, rise and shine. Bob and Ted in the morning, her new favorite friends. Los Angeles should be a better place to wake up to. Joey groans and slips out of the sheets and fumbles toward the bathroom.
Her hand slaps the light switch, and she blinks rapidly under the stark florescent light. The mirror is there in front of her, revealing her bed hair, naked body and smudged eyeliner she was too lazy too take off the previous night. “You look like a wreck there, honey,” she tells herself and reaches for the shower knobs.
The hot water hisses and streams and beats against the back of the shower. Joey steps inside and lets the water wash away any remnant of yesterday. She sings in the shower, softly, and this morning it’s Louis Armstrong, I see skies of blue, red roses too. She sings as she soaps herself up, as she shampoos her hair, and all her words are muted by the sound of water hitting her body, hitting the back of the shower.
She always takes too long in the shower, and today is no different. Only when her fingers begin to prune does she realize how much time has passed, and then a “Fuck” and a lavender towel around her head and the phone is ringing and she hasn’t even had coffee yet.
Puddles form in her wake as she runs for the phone. She is breathing heavy. “Hello?” She switches on the coffee machine.
It’s Jack. Jack from the office. And he sounds unusually perky. Excited. There is nothing exciting about the O’Dwyer campaign. Something is happening. Joey’s brain is beginning to form cognitive thoughts again. “Joey, you got your meeting at the White House. Tuesday morning, with Josh Lyman. He’s – ”
“I know who he is.” Joey’s hands are tingling and she’s caught between anger and excitement. They’ve screwed her over -- but the White House, the one and only.
“Anyway, get into the office.” He sounds like the prettiest girl at school just asked him to the prom. “We still need numbers on district 5 and the poll came back and –”
Joey cuts him off. Joey always cuts everyone off. Her hands are always flying everywhere, gesturing with abandon, they like to joke that they have a life of their own. Joey and her frantic hands, Joey is going to the White House to complain and make a case and Joey is going to win, she can feel it.
“I’m coming, I’m coming. Tell Lucy to pull the numbers on 7 and 9, and get some of those interns out canvassing in the 5th, I don’t care what the poll says.” The coffee is dripping, pinging, then muted as it fills, it never fills fast enough.
She hangs up the phone and begins to laugh. She’s standing naked in her kitchen, drip-drying with a towel around her hair, and she’s going to the White House. She reaches for the towel and rubs her hair down quick, it’s rough against her ears. She drops the towel on the floor and moves it around with her foot a bit to mop up the mess she’s made. The coffee machine is steaming, the outside of the jar is fogged and everything seems to be hissing. She runs into the bedroom where Bob and Ted are still talking, this time about the weather.
She doesn’t know why, the weather in LA is always the same.
She’s ransacking her closet and singing because Joey Lucas is going to the White House to meet with the Deputy Chief of Staff and the very idea is music to her ears.
2. it’s not that we never loved you
“Leo,” Josh says, urgently. He’s been running his hands through his hair all day. “Leo, I think we should bring in Joey Lucas.”
“The pollster? From California?” Leo’s hands have stopped moving.
“Yeah. We need, admit it, Leo, we need to know what we’re getting ourselves into.” Josh rests his arms on one of the chairs in front of Leo’s desk. His tan suit is rumpled and his shirt has a stain on it, he thinks it’s from coffee but he can’t really remember.
Leo’s hands have found papers to shuffle. Josh is always impressed that Leo always seems busy. “We’re already in it, aren’t we?” Maybe he is busy all the time.
“Leo. One poll.” His voice is optimistic and pleading at the same time.
“And how do you propose we do that? Ask one thousand people how they would feel if their President concealed a major illness from them?” Josh gets the feeling he’s in the business of trying Leo’s patience today.
“No, no.” Josh is strangely excited. “We put a poll in the field. Would you vote for so-and-so, some governor of an industrial state, maybe Michigan, yeah, Michigan, if you found out he had a degenerative illness? Mention nothing about MS. Nothing of the President. We could even claim it was for, I don’t know, worker discrimination purposes if anyone ever saw it.”
“No.” Leo seems to be looking for something. “Margaret!” he yells, “Margaret where is the Dennis file? I have a meeting with State in ten minutes and I need the damn file.”
“But Leo, how can we – ”
Margaret walks in, and Josh stops talking. She moves some papers around on Leo’s desk, and hands him a blue folder.
“The Dennis file. State in eight minutes.” She leaves, and shuts the door behind her.
Leo sits down and begins flipping through the file. “We’ve already taken a poll, Josh, and you were it. We didn’t fair so well. So I think we can imagine how well the rest of the country will take it.”
Josh pushes himself off the chair, hurt and reeling. Leo won’t meet his eyes.
“We can trust her, Leo, I know it. We need help here, you know that too. This is huge, Leo, huge and –”
“Don’t tell me how huge this is, Josh.” Leo slams the file on his desk. “Do you think I don’t understand the magnitude of the story we have to release? We’re talking trials and testimonies, possible impeachment, and why in the world would you want to bring someone else into this?”
“I just thought--” Josh is beginning to think he’s never going to be allowed to bring up an idea ever again.
“Well, start thinking about something else. Go talk to CJ and Toby and try to get a read on the Democratic leadership. Take your goddamn industrial governor and try it out yourself.”
Josh tries one more time. “We really could use her.”
“And I don’t trust her. So the answer is no.”
“Alright.” Josh stands a bit straighter. “Anything else?”
“No, that’ll be all.”
Josh leaves out the backdoor, one of three. Margaret, the staff, the President. Leo’s office is the key, and Joey Lucas is staying in California.
3. but this beginning is just another end
“I hear you told Josh to ask me out,” she says, carefully, trying to enunciate properly.
Donna spins, a whirl of blond hair and surprise. “Oh my god, you scared me!” Joey smiles. “I mean, I didn’t expect anyone, normally it’s so quiet, I mean, it was quiet and I wasn’t expecting – I’m sorry, can I help you with something?”
Donna’s helpful smile is plastered across her face. Joey repeats herself slowly. “I hear you told Josh to ask me out.”
Joey has never seen anyone blush as much as Donna at that moment. Her cheeks are flushed and her eyes are wide. Joey studies Donna carefully, not just because she sent Kenny home an hour ago, not just because Donna’s smooth lips are move quickly, but because Joey has mastered the art of watching.
“I just thought, well, you know Josh, he always manages to mess things up with girls, and he likes you, Joey, he does, and I just thought he needed a little push.” Donna is talking quickly moving her hands side to side. She has long slender fingers and Joey has to work hard to follow her words.
“Donna.” Joey likes the way her tongue feels when she says that word. “I don’t want to ask Josh out.” She concentrates on keeping her hands still. “And I don’t think you did either.”
Donna frowns, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that last part, you think what?”
Joey sighs, and this time her hands move when she talks. “I think you wanted to ask me out.” She tries to place extra emphasis on the “you” but vowels have always been difficult for her.
“Me?” Donna’s voice practically squeaks and her face blushes even more, if that is possible. She backs up a step and runs into her desk. Pencils fall. Donna turns, apparently trying to put them back where they belong, affording Joey a nice look at the precise point Donna’s hair hits her back.
She watches Donna’s back, sees her take a deep breath and lift her head. Joey waits for her to turn around. She doesn’t say a word, merely waits in the silence that is her life. She wonders how long it will take. Eventually Donna will turn around; she has to in order to leave the building.
Donna shoulders rise and fall. She seems to be gathering herself, like the pencils. She turns slowly, eyes on the carpet. She mumbles something; Joey can’t read her lips.
Joey sighs in frustration. “I can’t hear you.” The words are difficult. She signs the words as she says them, as if Donna could understand.
Donna lifts her head. “What would give you that idea?” Her eyes don’t meet Joey’s. She is still pressed up against her desk. The glass walls of the bullpen afford no protection. Joey takes advantage of the situation. Three steps, and Donna is inches away. She looks up and quickly presses her lips against Donna’s. She thinks, actions speak louder than words, and Donna makes no move to push Joey away.
She steps back, Donna is breathing deeply, eyes closed. She is flushed, a porcelain doll, looking just as innocent and fragile. Joey knows better.
This time Donna moves forward and catches Joey off guard, lips against lips, Joey’s hands pressed hard against Donna’s desk, affording her no escape. They breathe. And again Donna reached forward, her hands in Joey’s hair, throwing Joey off balance. Donna is no innocent doll, no fragility despite her small bones. And Donna wants Joey, she can taste it, feel it.
Joey has a plane to catch. She pushes Donna away carefully, releasing her from the glass prison, and breathes deeply.
“Good-bye,” Joey says, and turns to head back to California.
If Donna calls after her, she doesn’t hear.
4. sometimes when the rain falls
Her hair is damp and the light above her door flashes red. She grabs a hotel robe and wraps it around her, a towel covering her wet hair, and opens the door to find Joshua Lyman leaning on her doorframe.
He immediately blushes and looks away. “Hi,” she says, and touches his arm. He looks back at her. “Hey.”
He’d been staring at her all night, thinking she didn’t notice. There’s not much that Joey doesn’t notice.
She turns away from the door and starts walking toward the middle of the room. Josh’s hand catches her on her shoulder and she spins around, her towel smacking him in the face. He says something, and his hand flies to the side of his face. She grimaces and put her hand on his arm.
“Sorry,” she says, and he looks her in the eyes.
“It’s okay,” he says, and she notes that he is talking slower than normal, for her benefit. She resists a smile.
She takes his hand and leads him to the bed. Joey sits down and gestures for Josh to do the same, but he sits in a chair and moves it face her. He turns it backward, straddling it, his arms resting on the back of the chair. Joey swings her feet and waits for Josh to speak.
The silence extends. He is staring at the floor. “Josh?” she says, and he looks up at her as if he is surprised to find her there. He stands up and starts pacing. She really has no idea what this is all about, but she’s beginning to get worried. She would say something, but the sentences are too long and Josh seems too focused on something anyway. Joey doesn’t want to break whatever it is he’s holding on to.
He finally stops, and his body moves as if he’s given a great sigh. His back is to the television, he’s framed by black.
“I like you,” he says, and Joey has to keep her smile in, because the words he chose are like he’s a little third grader on Valentine’s Day. He’s looking at the door now, as if calculating how fast he could make a break for it.
She interrupts his thoughts by saying, “I like you, too.” And the words don’t sound right, she knows, but he hears her because his eyes are wide when he looks at her. They are full of surprise and question and she thinks he might be the most insecure man on the planet.
Joey unwraps her hair from the towel and shakes it loose. It falls in a framed disarray around her face, and she smiles again. She signs, I like you, and his brow crinkles in concentration. She laughs. She can’t contain it. Joey’s laugh is indescribable, off-kilter and loud, but honest.
She gestures for him to come closer to her. He moves slowly, uncertain. Joey stands up and grabs his tie, pulling him close. Before either of them can think, they are kissing, and Josh is softer than she imagined and she wants so much more. There is the bed and there are limbs and lips and fingertips. Joey takes her robe off and stands naked. Josh stands there, looking at her, and Joey has never felt so naked, but then he closes the distance between them with a kiss that speaks volumes. She unbuttons his shirt while he kisses her collarbone.
Joey finds her wrists pinned against the bed, and she’s moaning, she knows, she’s making some sort of sound and Josh’s eyes never leave her face. They move rhythmically, naturally, and Joey wonders why it took them this long, is infinitely glad that it was Josh at the door. He almost left without a word, not that she would have heard it. But here he is, and here she is, and his sweaty palms are wrapped around her thin wrists.
She makes a sound and Josh’s face breaks out into a smile, and she starts to laugh. He tumbles on top of her and they are a mess of legs and arms and she can feel Josh laughing beside her.
5. oh baby, it’s a wild world
The room is vibrating. You can feel it through your feet, through Kenny standing beside you. The room must be buzzing. It’s almost alive. Televisions all tuned to the same channel, all watches to the same time. It’s the night they’ve all been waiting for, and you are in the middle of it all.
You’re shaking hands and smiling, the universal language of politics. All you really want is a drink, and you sign your request to Kenny, vodka on the rocks, and he disappears into the crowd.
The hotel ballroom has been decorated with red, white and blue balloons. There’s a “Say Yes to Joey Lucas!” poster in the corner. There are so many people and no one even knows yet, but it’s pretty much a sure deal. The people around you are all talking about it. You’re about to be the first deaf person elected to Congress and you’re going to have to use your hands to say thank you to all those that helped you along the way, to say, we won.
We won. Your hands are signing the words over and over.
Kenny taps your shoulder from behind and passes you your drink. “Thanks,” you say, and he nods in reply. He’s standing beside you, your other half it seems, your voice of the campaign. Literally. All the questions you’ve had to answer about how it feels to have a man speak her words, how a deaf person could even possibly think to run for office.
You aren’t sure you’re up for what you’ve gotten yourself into. It sounded so novel and just this side of impossible when Josh Lyman, in an airport bar, suggested you run for office yourself. The idea percolated and then took off like lightning, and suddenly you were on the front of Newsweek. “Joey Lucas: Breaking the Bounds of Sound,” and you, only you, smiling.
Inside there is the quote everyone loves to repeat, have repeated again and again. “It’s not how you say it, it’s what you say.” You meant it, of course, with all that you are. But are you ready for this? Kenny is steady beside you.
You tap him lightly on the arm. It’s impossible to sign with a drink in your hand, so you just gesture toward the balcony and sign, “air,” and he nods and then points to his wrist. You’re going to be in the spotlight soon, you’d better be prepared.
More handshakes and smiles as you make your way toward fresh air, toward a sliver of freedom. And then you are there, and you inhale deeply, the warm November California air almost making you dizzy. You close your eyes and listen. You feel the party beginning, the wind picking up slightly.
From the start your campaign has all been about words. Words finally had meaning, you finally had your voice. But everyone hears what you doesn’t say.
Your glass is empty and you balance it on the ledge of the balcony. We won, you sign.
You wonder if this is all a gimmick. If you are the poster child for disabled people everywhere. Would you be where you are if you could have said everything yourself, if you weren’t such a novelty yourself? You glance at your watch.
Kenny is going to come and get you in a few minutes. You have a speech to give. You have a speech to give and you don’t have a voice, but you have Kenny and you have this campaign. And they are your words, you remind yourself. You have just as much of a voice as any other American, you vote the same way, you express your concerns with the same letters to Congress, you watch the same things on television.
You think with your hands and they are flying all over the place. A silent rhapsody in your final moments of average civilian life, if you’ve ever been an average citizen. Whether your disability was a strength or a weakness, you’ll never know. But your words have already been heard, and that’s more than half the battle.
You turn and Kenny is walking toward you. You smile and go to meet him. The numbers are in, and you’ve won, of course you’ve won. You’re smiling, you even laugh, and there’s applause as you watch hands rhythmically clap together. You walk toward the stage that has been specially designed for you.
Two microphones, no podium, so everyone can see your hands, can see Kenny’s hands, can see the dance they call language revealed. The cameras turn on, you see the light switch from red to green. With the biggest smile you can muster, you lean into the microphone and say, “We won!” with your hands, and with your voice.