“Brenda and her friend Nora had been inseparable during catering college. They made plans for life, which varied a bit depending on what was happening. Sometimes they thought they would go to Paris together and learn from a French chef. Then they might set up a thirty-bedroom hotel in the countryside, which would have a waiting list of six months for people trying to come and stay.
In reality, of course, it was slightly different. Shifts here and there and a lot of waitressing. Too many people after the same jobs, plenty of young men and women with experience. Nora and Brenda found it hard going at the start.
So they went to London, where two things of great significance happened. Nora met an Italian man called Mario who said he loved her more than he loved life itself. And Nora certainly loved him as much, if not more.
Brenda at the time caught a heavy cold, which turned into pneumonia, and as a result lost her hearing for a time. She regarded this deafness as a terrible blow. She, who could almost hear the grass grow before her illness.
“I was never sympathetic enough to deaf people,” she wept to the busy doctor who gave her leaflets on lip-reading classes and told her to stop this self-pity, her hearing would return in time.
So Brenda went to the classes, mainly much older people, men and women struggling with hearing aids.
She learned how to practice on a VCR machine. You watched the news with the volume turned down over and over until you could guess what they were saying, and then you turned it up very high to check if you were right.
Miss Hill, the teacher, loved Brenda, as she was so eager to learn. Brenda learned tostudy people’s faces as they spoke, trying to make sense of what she couldn’t hear. Brenda understood that the hard letters to hear were the ones in the middle of a word. Most people could read the word “pay” or “pan,” for example, but it was much harder to see a hidden consonant like an L or an R in the middle of a word. “Pray” or “plan” were much more difficult to work out. You had to do that from the meaning of the sentence.”
Maeve Binchy (28 mei 1940 – 30 juli 2012)