April 16, 2024

No News From Doodlebug Island…by William F Jordan


Of all the eloquent speakers who live among the leafy wonders of Doodlebug Island, none is more eloquent than a man who doesn’t speak at all! Struck dumb and with total hearing loss through what his doctors called “brain fever” when he was but a year old—a disease now more familiarly known as scarlet fever—Al Kinesian retained his sight and an inventive mind with which he has developed a language of his own, one that depends on gesture and intuition rather than sound. Furthermore, it is a language filled with more nuances than the average person would deem possible.

To begin with, Al has a separate hand gesture for each person on the Island past the age of five. Those younger than five simply carry that of their parents and an accompanying movement denoting ‘small’. The identifying gesture usually devolves
from an observed habit or from an individual’s physical makeup, but it can also result from a shared event. George Whiting, for example, was a rebellious teenager given to smoking roll-your- owns, so his gesture came to be the act of removing a cigarette from his mouth.

Virgil Schmid caught the snapping end of an overstretched barbed wire across his face, and the resulting eyebrow scar has forever identified him. Lester Bumstead was thrown from a horse when he was ten, and his bouncing ride together with the parabolic arch of his airborne experience came to be his reference.

A sagging belly, a goatee, a cleft chin, dimples, a penchant for dangling earrings, being overly-talkative, overly-quiet, hair in unusual shapes, sizes, or colors, being bow-legged, club footed, tall, short, bent, twisted, pretty, or handsome—all have lent themselves to Al’s discerning imagination.
Somehow, Al taught himself to read, but the means by which he learned remains a mystery, as do the sounds the words make in his mind. What is not a mystery is the uncanny way he employs words.

Singularly adept at gesturing a more-than- adequate description of such things as sunsets or human actions, he excels in painting word pictures and in making animate objects come alive through his writing Perhaps because he cannot speak, everything in his imaginative world can and does.

That includes Al himself, trees, birds, grass, horses, and all other life forms. Only humans are muted. Psychologists might explain such behavior on Al’s part as compensation, but absent even the hint of resentment, such a thing is unlikely. It is more conceivable that he has found a suitable vehicle for conversations denied him in real life, and a way to make
observations that gain weight through their unusual source.

Residents of Doodlebug wouldn’t know any of this were it not for the fact that Al lets me publish his work now and again, and he has gained a large following. In his most recent story, he describes a sorrel pony named Robespiere who is tasked with the job of hauling dudes through the pines and chaparral of the Lazy Eight.

“Hey, Charlie, get a load of the guy on my back. He isn’t much of a rider, but my, he’s pretty. With those woolly chaps and that ten-gallon hat, why, he’s a Tom Mix lookalike, and that’s a fact. Oh, and the saddle he brought! Tapaderos that almost drag the ground, a high cantle, tooled everything from horn to tread covers, conchos and strings from, pommel to fenders, skirt to gullet. One thing I can tell you, if he puts those oversized Mexican spurs into me again, he’s gonna be picking prickly pear out of the soft spots of his posterior!”

‘Robes,’ as he is called by his friends, is much given to social commentary. “It’s a funny thing, Charlie, people talk about ‘common’ sense or ‘horse’ sense, but never ‘people’ sense. Guess that’s because there are too few examples of it among their population.”

Al’s silent eloquence is thought to speak volumes.

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