Something spectacular was lost the day that Paul disappeared. His absence went nearly unnoticed by the rest of the Mallrats as Ebony commanded attention and chaos erupted. But his smile, the simple, steady gaze and angelic, happy calm….it had an uplifting, cleansing power that shone through all of the self-pity and despair that surrounded him., and without his smile, the mall certainly became an emptier place.
Patsy was nearly frantic, but the rest of the tribe seemed to carelessly dismiss his disappearance. Either he would return……or he wouldn’t.
So far he hasn’t. He has been missing for years. Patsy has had to learn to function without him, but she still retains hope that she’ll see him again someday.
Could he survive on his own? Could a deaf boy make it on his own in a world running so wild?
Why did he disappear? Where did he go? Did he leave by choice or by force? And either way, who holds the blame for his absence?
Patsy seems to think that Paul was driven to leave by Lex yelling at him. But is this really plausible? Would Paul care so much about Lex’s opinion? And how much effect could shouting really have on a child who couldn’t hear it anyway?
Paul and Patsy were always extremely close companions. Siblings so close in age often learn to communicate in a special language, but for Paul and Patsy, it was more. Profoundly deaf since birth, Paul never chose to communicate in a conventional manner.
He was never mute. He could speak out-loud if he so chose, but, from his perspective, speaking was a special act reserved for special situations. Better to save your breath most of the time and use your words to make a deep impact. From his perspective, hand signals were a much more obvious and literal way to communicate, and sign language was all that anyone should need to address day-to-day issues as they presented themselves.
Sign language was also a great way to tell a story. He and Patsy loved to amuse each other by signing stories. Unlike stories told by mouth or in a book, signed stories actually, physically came to life. It was like watching a moving picture show; it was shadow puppetry without the shadows.
Paul and Patsy shared a very exciting, animated life, even when they were cooped up, cramped inside the locked-down mall.
They were expert signers. They had never stopped at official sign-language. The pair would make up a symbol if they encountered something they didn’t yet have a motion to explain; the symbol, if used again became a rule. A word. A sign.
And signs did not stop with their hands. A tick of the head. A dart of the eye. A change in stance. Paul and Patsy had a complete vocabulary of stances, postures, facial expressions, tensions.
They had learned to read the secret language of the body, became completely fluent in each other, and eventually in everyone around them. Empathy was easy when you couldn’t help but understand the secret distress signals sent out by the people around you. These signals were constant. The air was simply electric with them.
Without meaning to, Paul and Patsy completely understood each other. They read each other like a gripping novel; they could sit together silently, barely shifting in their seats, and communicate volumes—communicate secrets and feelings that could never be expressed with words, even if appropriate words had existed.
They tried to keep to themselves. Accidentally understanding perfect strangers to this intense degree was often a strange and upsetting sensation. Useful, but discomfiting.
In this secret sign language, Patsy was extremely talented. But Paul….Paul was dazzling. It was like a sixth sense to him.
Paul had another sense that Patsy could never share: he could hear.
He was still deaf. It wasn’t his ears that he used. But he could feel sounds.
As he got older, he got better at it. The cool movement in the air as someone spoke. The goose-bumpy buzz created by high-pitched noises. And the pounding thunder that seemed to enter your chest and exit your feet with low noises.
His ability to hear sounds had grown so pronounced that he could often hear sounds that a hearing-abled person wouldn’t notice….he was almost able to hear an event before it even happened.
The rest of the Mallrats underestimated Paul. He recognized this.
It was hard for people to understand that his supposed disability was nothing more than a shift in perception. Lex thought he was stupid. He could tell this. And Amber and some of the other kids just seemed to think he was a lost cause, a useless appendage to Patsy, no different from Bob, their dog.
Is this what led him to disappear? Did he feel impotent, unimportant, even unwanted?
It is hard to imagine that Paul would ever choose to leave the sister he cared for so deeply, no matter what the situation was with the rest of the tribe. And Paul did have friends, even if none were as close as Patsy. He and Patsy loved to play with Cloe, and Salene loved him and took care of him, and Bob was there, still silent and loyal.
But if he didn’t choose to leave, how was he forced?
Perhaps he went outside temporarily and was unable to return.
Could Lex have literally forced him out, heartlessly dropping him off in the outside world? Could even Lex be so cruel?
Perhaps Ebony managed to snatch him as she snuck out of the mall. But would Ebony ever be so quiet about such a spoil? Wouldn’t she have bragged about it later, or even have confessed during a moment of good faith?
Could he have been kidnapped by someone else? Who would want to kidnap him?
….Most importantly, is he alive or dead?
In a world like this, it would be easy for a child to become the victim of violence or even starvation—many already have.
But would this be Paul’s fate?
He has often seemed to be dependent on Patsy, unable to survive without her. But he has also demonstrated a keen ability to use his special senses; they give him an awareness of the world that no one else possesses. With his ability to read peoples expressions, he might be able to guess their moves, and with his ability to feel sounds from far away, he might sense danger coming.
Perhaps it is a bleak existence without Patsy, but there is still a good chance that Paul is out there somewhere, making his way in the world, until his way brings him back to his despairing sister.
Perhaps one day he will return.