Some people have the gift to make an entire hall fall silent.
I’m proud to say I can do the same. Only I‘m none of those people you’re probably thinking of.
Of course it would be kind of great if it were my stunning looks that make people stop talking mid-sentence or the beauty of my smile causing them to stare wide-eyed. Sure, I try to keep my appearance as immaculate as is possible. Which isn’t easy in fact if you don’t clothe yourself in the morning, shave your own face or brush your own hair. And yes, I’ve heard a few times that I have a sunny smile (mostly from women over fifty, though). But no, I don’t think any of that applies here. I’m pretty certain that those rows and rows of mostly middle-aged, gray-faced men in dark, pin-striped suits aren’t turned toward me now in almost perfect silence because of my style in clothing. Neither is it my voice, because I haven’t spoken yet and I don’t really plan to.
Well, there’s no point in pretending I don’t know perfectly well what it is.
For once there’s the wheelchair. The powerchair that slowly moves to the front with a distinct humming sound, following the direction to which my right hand nudges the joystick. And yes… then there’s me. The tall and lanky guy in it, with the stiff limbs locked in weird positions, the incessant shaking and trembling of my body and the grimaces that appear on my face without prompting.
And the drooling.
Yep, especially that.
It takes me long enough to maneuver the wheelchair closer to the speaker’s table without running it over that the first in the room start coughing and scooting around in their seats, clearly uncomfortable. I’d bet most of them wish by now that they had stayed outside after coffee break. Well, too late, gentlemen. Now you’ve got to find a way to get through the next thirty minutes and pretend you’re interested in what I have to say. And no, leaving the room now would probably not be considered appropriate, in case you were wondering.
My aide Romina steps forward and dabs with a tissue at the corner of my mouth before she places my twitching right hand from the joystick to the enormous computer mouse that I use.
And here’s the perfect silence again.
Because if it’s not any of that then it’s surely the way I communicate, through a text-to-speech program that reads out loud what I‘ve written to accompany the presentation slides I’ve prepared. The voice from the speakers is a terribly good one, strong and sonorous, and with a perfect articulation I can only dream of. All I need to do is advance each slide by pushing my hand down on the computer mouse and then wait for the computer voice to finish their part.
I’m being honest here: it’s fairly easy. I mean, working the computer mouse is not the easiest thing in the world for me personally although probably a two-year-old could do it. But all in all it’s not a heavy task and it gives me the opportunity to study the audience. Provided my neck and head don’t have an altogether different plan and decide that the ceiling is way more interesting. But when I’m not having an absolutely shitty day I usually get to watch the faces of the people in front of me.
And this is when it gets really interesting.
Because it always starts out the same. In the beginning almost half of the audience is still focused on me instead of on the slides. My writhing body strapped into the chair seems to magically attract stares. Seriously, I bet every talk show moderator would wish for such an effect. There is the open, oblivious stare, paired with a slightly hanging mouth (not so unlike mine, thank you very much). The kind of self-conscious nervous gaze that jumps all over the place, fascinated, from my crossed, trembling legs to my heavily jerking left arm and back to the constantly shifting grimaces on my face. And then there’s the ashamed glimpse out of the corner of the eye and the poorly suppressed shock paired with relief that seems to say ‘Fuck man, I’m so glad that’s not me’.
That one’s the worst, seriously.
Sometimes people realize I notice them looking and then they get all kinds of flustered. A few at least have the decency to look guilty, while others give their best to pretend they didn’t notice me in the first place.
Well, try to convince someone else of that.
Only after a certain while, several slides into the presentation, does the picture change. I can see frowns appearing on a few faces and eyebrows lifted in mild surprise. They’re the signs of people slowly catching on. And eventually the dead silence that feels like a wall in front of me crumbles with people leaning in to their neighbors and quiet whispers of disbelief filling the room. It’s always like this. The content of my presentation usually takes a while to seep into brains that were rather preoccupied with staring at me only a second ago. I’m well aware that people simply need a moment to realize that what I’m talking about may be actually interesting to them.
At this time I usually pause a few extra seconds to give everyone the chance to get on board before resuming.
Toward the end of the presentation the room has turned to a state of attentive concentration and every single person watching the slides behind me. Only the last slide causes a bit of a disruption with the request for yes-and-no questions only and the remark that all other question will be answered via email. Now everyone is reminded that there’s a reason they just listened to thirty minutes of lifeless recorded words strung together to sentences.
In case they forgot.
I manage to pull my hand back from the computer mouse and settle it on the armrest, signaling the end of the talk. The applause that follows is appreciative and I try to look grateful and not move too weirdly while all eyes are on me. Everyone knows it’s not over yet and I steel my back, mentally preparing myself for the question round. Not that trying to sit up straighter actually changes anything in the twisted way I’m slumped in the chair.
“On slide 32 you showed Moor's relation applied to your case. Is it right that this can also be seen as a supportive argument for reversal of inhibition?”
I nod, pleasantly surprised. An excellent observation indeed. Obviously, I didn’t go into details because of time constraints but the middle-aged man with the ridiculous bow-tie is completely right. I try smiling thankfully at him as he sits down again but I don’t think I’m successful.
A red-haired guy gets up and asks while looking at his notes instead of me: “Would you say that your method is superior to the one presented in a recent study by Heynes?”
My shoulder twitches and my right knee jumps up a bit, undecided. I think I showed plenty evidence that my method is fairly good, but it certainly depends on the details. I didn’t do direct comparisons with Heynes’ method and don’t want to make generalized statements in this early stage of my work yet.
But of course there’s no time to communicate that.
“Doesn’t this all mean that we’ve been wasting money for years?”
I turn my head on the headrest to look at the man asking the question, a balding guy with a thick mustache who sat in the front row to the right. I pause and then nod, smiling apologetic. This draws a few chuckles from the audience.
The man isn’t finished yet, though. “But won’t conditions change in the future?”
'Slide 44,' I think. Honestly, when you fall asleep during a talk, why would you ask questions afterward? I stare at the man, my left foot rattling against the footrest and my arm jerking outward a few times. The mustache trembles as the guy stares back and when he doesn’t get any other reaction he flushes pink and hurriedly sits down again.
An excellent idea.
A few more reasonable questions follow and I shake my head and nod in answer. Sometimes I kind-of gesture to my assistant and she notes down a more complex question for me to answer via email later.
An older guy with a gray suit and cropped hair style gets up from his chair and takes the microphone in hand. “What are the limitations of your work?”
“Please phrase your question as a yes-no question,” Romina reminds him.
“Ah, right…” the guy blinks, frowns and clears his throat. “Uh… so… I can’t quite believe that such a simple solution should be enough to solve a year-old problem.”
That’s not really a question at all but I lift the fingers of my right hand a fraction before Romina can authorize the next question. The technician fixed a microphone to the front of my shirt, although Romina told him it wasn’t necessary. I can as well try to put it to some use.
“E…” My throat is dry from the air-conditioning and the fact that I didn’t attempt to speak for a while. I swallow, which takes some time, and then start again. Everyone is definitely staring at me at this point. “E. F. … Schumacher…” I choke out.
The thing is, my articulation really is bad. It’s like my tongue has a life on its own and more often than not my jaw is clamped shut or refusing to close at the appropriate occasion. This is just what is happening right now and although I tried to bring across not much more than a word I didn’t succeed, apparently.
The hall has fallen silent again.
“Uh… excuse me?” The guy’s face is perplexed.
I turn my head to look at Romina, grimacing helplessly, and she translates for me. “Mr. Hallman said: E. F. Schumacher,” she tells the audience. Bless her, she really is gold. She has worked for me for almost four years now and she knows to read me even when I myself wouldn’t understand what comes out of my mouth.
The guy’s frown stays. “Schumacher?” he repeats.
From the back someone starts reciting the beginning of the famous quote by the statistician and economist: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex…” and somewhere in the audience people chuckle.
All in all the rest of the question round goes surprisingly well and then there’s the end of today’s session. Chairs scrape over the floor and chatter soars around me as people stream out of the room. A few brave ones are passing by the speaker’s table and politely congratulate me on my talk. I sit and nod at them and try to give my best smile, which is more or less exactly all I can do on my own. Romina is packing up my laptop and the mouse and noting down email addresses from those with a question. She hasn’t yet set up my talker for me to reach. Not that most people are patient enough to wait for me to type in a response anyway, which is the reason why I don’t use it in question rounds.
“Will we meet you at dinner tonight?”
I look up to recognize the guy with the bow-tie from the question round. He has a friendly, although slightly intimidated smile. I’d like to give him a positive answer but dinner is scheduled to last well into the evening. When the mere act of getting into bed involves a hoyer lift, your entire nighttime routine is a bit more excessive than for other people. I’ve spent a night in the hotel room already and it has worked out okay, but my aide and I are both still getting used to the foreign equipment. Everything takes longer than it would normally and even without that it would take forever. Plus I can’t take up food that hasn’t gone through a blender before and I’m not entirely sure that I want to eat lobster through a straw right in front of those people that I’ve just painstakingly convinced that I’m more than an object of pity.
The black-haired man is getting visibly flustered when he can’t read a response in my erratic movements, but he’s still smiling. “Is this a no?” He laughs a bit nervously.
I try shrugging and my legs go into more severe spasms, lifting up from the footrest.
“Maybe?” the guy ventures.
I nod, relived he got that.
I manage to turn my head to the left. A man with a large red face is approaching me from the side, holding pen and paper in one hand while the other is thrust out to me, offering a handshake.
“My name is Kent Bonde, I’m thrilled to make your acquaintance.”
Let’s face it: here I am, needing help moving my hand from the joystick of my wheelchair to the table in front of me. How on earth would anyone think that I could shake hands? Sure, I’d really like to be able to since it’s such a frequent social gesture. But if I attempted grabbing that guy’s hand I’d probably end up slapping his arm instead, if even succeeding to get anywhere near it. Though, thinking about it, hitting him is maybe not even such a bad option.
Instead I force myself to smile until the man, Kent, finally realizes his faux-pas. His arm falls to his side again and he coughs uncomfortably. He hurriedly introduces himself as a reporter of a local magazine and when he doesn’t receive any response to that safe for a dizzying wiggle of my head he leaves with a promise to write an email.
Which he probably won’t ever write, but I don’t find that I care at all.
Just then I hear a short chuckle and look up again. A woman is standing in front of me.
Just so that you understand: one, her gender alone makes her stand out in the sea of men filing out of the room behind her, two, she’s younger than me by a few years perhaps and thus much younger than the average person attending this event and three… she apparently wants to talk to me. Which all in all makes her about hundred times more interesting than most people in the room.
And yes, she’s attractive.
Like… holy shit, she’s so out of my league it’s almost ridiculous. Her long, dark brown hair is held back by a red hairband and flows in waves over her shoulder, her brown eyes are those large, deer-like ones that make you want to marry her on the spot and her nose is cute with freckles that the bit of make-up she’s wearing fails to conceal. Her smile is confident and friendly, and her gaze rests steadily on my face instead of watching one of my restlessly moving limbs, making me instantly like her.
“My name is Lauren Brooks,” she says. Her voice is lively and clear and it sends shivers down my spine. “I got to say I totally loved your talk!”
I wonder how I could miss her in the audience before and conclude that she must have sat in the front to the left hand side of the audience, out of my field of vision.
“Um... I really don’t want to be a bother but if you have time...?” Lauren gestures with the closed laptop she clutches in her hands, which gives me an excuse to take in her entire appearance. She’s wearing a cute short dress, blue with a red ribbon around her waist – maybe a touch too cute for a serious event like this – and matching red pumps to it.
I got to say: she’s totally killing that look.
Where’s Romina? I try to locate my aide but she seems swarmed by people. Shit. Being able to communicate would be freaking awesome right now.
Lauren watches me. She seems a bit hesitant but not uncomfortable, clears her throat and then goes on, taking my silence as approval. “I work in a field related to yours,” she says, “And I was wondering if you’d be willing to have a look at my current project… I think it’s quite interesting but I feel a bit stuck in the moment and I really just hoped you’d maybe have an idea that will help me go on. With you being an absolute expert in this.”
If she goes on like this I fear I’m going to blush, so I nod my head quickly to speed things on.
Lauren puts a laptop on the slightly raised speaker’s table in front of me, opens it and sits on the table’s surface next to it.
It kind of makes sense. There’s no chair since the only one was removed to make space for my wheelchair. So it seems only naturally for her to sit on the desk. But I’m not sure if Lauren knows just how far the skirt of her dress has raked up her long thighs as she crossed her legs and that my eyes are almost perfectly on level with her crotch now. I think I can see the glimpse of her red satin slip for a split second and I quickly try to look somewhere else.
Because I have manners. Some.
Just to land accidentally on her boobs that are bouncing in front of my face as she leans forward over the screen. They’re nice boobs, too. Neither too small nor too large, and sitting neatly next to each other below her low-cut neckline.
My cock gives a very distinct twitch in my pants and I stifle a groan.
I need to pull myself together or this is going to be embarrassing.
Lauren opens a presentation and shows me a few videos and illustrations, continuing to lean over to me, her hair falling forward and a wave of her perfume clouding my senses.
Jesus F… Christ, is this girl totally oblivious of her effect or is she doing it on purpose?
Well, it’s not like I’m a virgin. But believe me, when you are like me, dating is no picnic. I’ve had a few brief relationships, with attraction mostly on the intellectual level. But I do have physical needs (in case you were wondering) and in that field it definitely gets hairy. I mean, have you ever tried flirting using a talker? Believe me, the computer voice just sucks at doing sultry. Not to mention that thanks to my condition I’m almost exclusively on the receiving side of pleasure. I wish it were different, but duh… I have the success rate of a drunken truck driver performing an abdominal surgery blind. I can’t even get myself off most of the time, how do you expect me to master such a fickle thing as a vagina?
I can’t come up with any reason why Lauren would throw her feminine charms into my twitching face and conclude that she’s probably just very, very cute and very, very dumb.
And somehow very intelligent at the same time, as it seems. I don’t recognize the logo of her university although I figure from the looks of it that it must be a small one maybe farther south. Nevertheless her results are stunning. It takes only seconds for me to see the potential in her work, she’s got a unique angle on the topic and my professional interest soars. As she continues to narrate her thoughts to me several ideas start to form in my head and without me having to do anything more I can see the entire project gaining shape. Thankfully the distraction also turns my horniness down to a more bearable level.
Because a hard-on when there’s zero you can do about it… sucks. Absolutely no pun intended.
I make a short sound in the back of my throat, causing Lauren to stop, and angle the wheelchair to the side a bit by knocking my hand against the joystick, slipping out of Lauren’s radius of influence at the same time. “Romina? Can I get you for a sec?”
My aide’s name is impossible for me to pronounce right but the vocals I can do and there’re few words with the same sequence that it can be confused with. Plus, the ugly sound of my voice itself is unmistakable. I swear, if you’ve heard it once it’ll probably haunt you forever.
Romina turns from where she’s spoken to a few people loitering behind, notes down something on the pad in her hand and gestures at them in goodbye, smiling friendly but definitely. They nod hurriedly and look past her and at me, stunned. Probably they heard me speaking as well. One of them pulls at the sleeve of the jacket of one of the others, all the while not leaving his gaze off me, and another stumbles over his own feet while attempting to walk to the exit and staring back at me at the same time.
“Patrick, I’m so sorry, I totally forgot!” Romina apologizes as she approaches quickly, waving the notepad. “There will be hundreds of mails I’m afraid.”
“I’m already now looking forward to it,” I say, aiming for dry humor. Oh, how I sometimes wish my voice could drip from sarcasm. “You couldn’t have told them that it’s not worth the effort because… let’s see… I’d die soon or something?”
Romina grins and chuckles. We’ve got a good dynamic between us, I think. She’s in fact my most favorite aide to bring to events like these, simply because she takes everything in stride and is generally not overly impressed by the entire hubbub that comes with professional conferences. “Talker?” she asks, wiping quickly with a paper cloth at my chin at the same time. Spit, again? Shit…
I notice Lauren has gone still and stares at us, puzzled.
Of course. To anyone not knowing me for as long as Romina does our conversation must sound quite weird. Speaking is hard for me and very exhausting when I have to concentrate on getting as much right as possible. With Romina I know that she even understands me when I don’t put so much effort into it and so I let my articulation slack when talking to her. Like…. a lot. Which results in utter garbled mess coming out of my mouth if anything at all, while Romina answers just normally. Because somehow she actually understands me. I don’t know how she does it, it’s probably a combination of figuring out the consonants that I can do well and sensing those I usually trash, knowing to tell actual vocals apart from the random sounds I make and filling in the words that I swallowed entirely by whatever fits best based on context. As I told you, she’s amazing.
The only other people with this talent are my parents and my brother. And they’ve had almost thirty years of training.
I smile reassuringly at Lauren while Romina adjusts the screen that is attached to my right armrest and was folded away previously to make it easier for me to reach the laptop mouse on the table.
“I’m going to put the equipment back into the speaker’s room,” Romina says and places my hand on the joystick. “Are you good here?”
I jerk my head at her in a nod and my aide leaves the room with the laptop and her notes in a bag.
Am I good? I dare looking at Lauren who smiles at me and tucks a strain of her beautiful hair behind her ear. Her long, crossed legs are slightly swinging back and forth under the table, making me all dizzy. She clears her throat and looks at me expectantly.
No, I’m not exactly sure I’m good.
--> Chapter 2
--> Chapter 2