Old Man Shows No Interest At First When She Starts Flirting.

Story by Jennifer Oliver

“Don’t worry about me,” I told the instructor. “I can read lips.”

“Really?” she asked, astonished.

“Yep,” I said. To illustrate my point, I used my finger as an imaginary reading guide directed at her lips and continued with a straight face, “Once upon a time…”

I’ve been an avid lip-reader all my life. So much so in that I can read more than just lips. Your whole face is an open book. Your body language and gestures paint the picture for me.

Without you uttering one single word.

I’ve made it my life to study mannerisms and facial expressions to help accentuate the spoken word when the spoken word by itself was…well, Greek to me. I’ve come to rely on it so much that if someone were to approach me while I was in the middle of cleaning my glasses, I’d say, “Wait! I need my glasses to hear!”

One audiology course I took in college brought home to me how much I relied on lip-reading to understand people. My instructor asked that we all take out a sheet of paper and number it one through twenty.

Then she lip-synched twenty words to us. Her point was to educate us on the skills required in the art of lip-reading. She glanced my way with a twinkle in her eye, knowing I would ace it.

And of course I did. My classmates looked at me like I had sprouted an IQ far above my shoe size.

As a result, my occupation as a lip-reader has made me privy to conversations in public places. Eavesdropping by proxy, if you will. I’ve watched a couple send their kids to the salad bar so they could discuss their impending divorce. I’ve seen two girls being catty about another girl sitting two rows down at a high school football game. An old man snuggled up to his feline companion in the park one time and baby-talked sweet nothings to its benign expression.

One poignant experience, however, haunts me to this day.

It wasn’t noon yet so not many customers filled the food court at the mall. I was enjoying my stir-fry, and two tables across from me was a man biting into his sandwich while perusing the sports section of a newspaper. A cursory glance told me that he was single at the moment, probably a grandfather.

An older woman — probably a grandmother herself — sidled up to him.

“Excuse me. Is anyone sitting here?”

He shook his head and returned to his newspaper.

I already knew the score. She was single herself — no wedding band — and with all the seats available in the food court, the woman chose that particular spot to sit next to a prospect. She wore designer jeans, her hair and nails styled professionally, and her crisp, white shirt made me think of an Army officer’s wife. An officer’s wife whose husband was either mired in a midlife crisis with a young thing or had passed away.

She began idle chatter with the man, who politely folded the newspaper and answered her questions. From his glazed eyes, I ventured he was clearly not interested in the conversation, but his broad smile reassured her that she was indeed worthy of his attention. This seemed to make her more animated, glowing like she was sweet sixteen again. Then I saw kindling in his eyes as they began to traverse interests in common. She was very much a fan of his basketball team, and they both enjoyed Friday night bingo. Both of their spouses had passed away from long-term illnesses.

Well, look at that. Exchanging wallet-sized photos of their grandchildren.

I felt a small thrill as they both stood up, and like the gentleman that he was, he cleared her table of napkins, wrappers, and an empty soda cup along with his. They left the borders of the food court, bumping elbows, into a future left to my imagination.

I had just borne witness to an old-fashioned chat room at the mall.

My husband enjoys the fact that I can read lips. The other morning, just as I shifted the car into reverse, I happened to glance up to the second-story window. Stephen was in the window, waving goodbye to me with the “I love you” hand sign.

“I love you!” he mouthed to me so as not to wake up the rest of the household. “I’ll have dinner waiting for you, hot mama!”

Sigh. Much like a classic novel, that’s one open book I will never tire of reading.

Isn’t this a wonderful story? Pass it on to all your friends!!!!