Rough Music

The final episode of The Retribution Serial appears below, after Rough Music


Rough Music

by Gary Earl Ross

Marta and Theo met at an interagency softball game between his family services group and her school for the deaf. He tagged her out at second, and she stamped her foot in front of the umpire, angrily signing that this asshole wasn’t supposed to block the bag. She was surprised when he tapped her on the shoulder and, having grown up with a deaf brother, signed, perfectly, that he wasn’t blocking the bag. She smiled when he added, “And I’m not an asshole, either, maybe just an ass sometimes.”

A short but athletic Puerto Rican dynamo who’d had no luck with hearing aids or cochlear implants and didn’t even try to read lips, Marta was so struck by this tall half-Chinese man who knew American Sign Language that she withdrew her complaint and trotted back to her dugout—but only after she signed her email address and asked Theo to repeat it so she knew he’d got it.

A week later, after a flurry of electronic exchanges, they had their first date, in a chain steak house on a suburban business strip. All through dinner, as a few rude patrons stared with a mixture of wonder and horror—whether at obvious difference or obvious deafness neither could say with certainty—their hands moved in a blur, talking, teasing, explaining, exploring. By the time the cherry cheesecake was put in front of them, Theo was in love.

Over the next several months, however, loving Marta proved more difficult than he had imagined. True, he felt at peace when he was with her, when they were walking or holding hands as he drove with his left, or when her head was on his shoulder. But Theo loved to talk, and there were so many moments when Marta would not look at him to listen to the furious flutter of his hands and fingers. When at night they drove to their favorite lake and parked, his head and heart were so full of his feelings for her and his ideas and dreams for their future that he felt he would burst if he didn’t tell her. But she always wanted the dome light off so they could sit cuddling in the dark. Sometimes he spoke as she pressed her fingertips to his throat and felt the vibrations there but more often than not during a night at the lake even this compromise was abandoned as their hands soon began speaking another, more universal language.

Still, there was so much he wanted to say. Email wouldn’t do because he wanted to share his feelings face to face. He wanted to tell her that sometimes when he closed his eyes he could taste her in his memory, feel the softness of her tongue or the muscles in her fingers, hear her laughter, which she herself could not. Most of all, he wanted to look into her light brown eyes and hold her as he told her he loved her, and he wanted to whisper to her in the dark.

He complained to his best friend Jack. A tomcat by nature who saw no value in monogamy, Jack told him to let go and move on, to change the equation by taking himself out of it, to play the field because he was not yet thirty and didn’t need to go around saying—or signing—that he had found the love of his life. “There are too many women,” Jack said, “for you to work so hard for just one.”

But Theo couldn’t let go. Every time he tried, he remembered all the times they’d made love—in one of their beds, in his car, or on a blanket at the lakeshore. The things he remembered most when he wanted to detach himself from her were not the feel of his fingertips keying the knobs of her spine or the taste of sweat on her neck or the lip-bitten smile on her face afterward. What he remembered most was the sound of it all. For though Theo liked to talk, his reluctance to vocalize pleasure during sex had cost him more than a few girlfriends. None of that mattered to Marta, who couldn’t hear the silence that had made others angry because they thought he was bored. In fact, never concerned about what anyone might hear, Marta gasped and grunted and moaned with abandon. It was a rough music that never failed to flood his senses and fill him with joy.

Finally, he came to understand that the nature of love is sacrifice. He couldn’t have her as he wanted her, but relishing what he could get was better than not having her at all. Still, sometimes at night he whispered to her in the dark. Whenever she smiled at the feel of his breath on her ear, he knew that, in a fashion, he had been heard.

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Gary Earl Ross
Gary Earl Ross is a retired University at Buffalo professor and author of the books Wheel of Desire, Shimmerville, and Blackbird Rising and the plays Sleepwalker, Picture Perfect, The Best Woman, Murder Squared, The Scavenger’s Daughter, Matter of Intent, The Guns of Christmas and The Mark of Cain. His honors include the Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America for Matter of Intent and the Emanuel Fried Outstanding New Play Awards for Matter of Intent and The Guns of Christmas. He is at work on the Buffalo-based Gideon Rimes mystery series. Visit him at




Catalinas backside


A Serial in Eight Parts

retribution: deserved punishment for evil done.

Previous Retribution Episodes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Retribution Episode 8

I spent the rest of my vacation deep in the mountains where I could be alone and not have to see people.

I understood how Levi felt and could not find fault with his actions to achieve justice for his family. But I also understood the difficulties faced by society to mete out the justice that victims crave. Justice is a harsh mistress, which is why we cannot seem to bring ourselves to satisfy her. We could never be strong enough to mete out the punishment Allens had earned. I only hoped that Levi would be strong enough to bear the weight of society’s shirked responsibility, which he had taken upon his own shoulders.

When my vacation time was ended, I returned to my teaching and gigs, but everything seemed to be smaller somehow. In my mind’s eye I saw that head turning endlessly from side to side, and I had to remember Jan and Ryan to balance it. Jan the pretty, cheerful girl that I had known in college. Ryan the bright little kid to whom his father taught fractions while his kindergarten class were just learning numbers.

I spent much of my time thinking of what I had seen but could find no answers to the problem posed. Levi had done what he had to do and I could not fault him. Neither did I want to turn over justice to just anyone, someone who might have a perverted view of the relative value of a wrong and exact a disproportionate price. I turned the problem repeatedly this way and that, but found no solution.

I wanted and needed a world of black and white, and damned God for his world of gray.


Lester L Weil 1997

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