Leslie spread out an array of flashcards over the dining table, each printed with a pictogram and its corresponding name in Spanish. Several workbooks lay unfinished on the floor, and a video language tutorial was paused on her laptop.
Her head hurt and she was on the verge of a complete emotional breakdown.
Doctors were telling her Steven’s physical injuries were healing well, and his prognosis was for a full recovery. His neurological recovery was going much slower.
She was still at the table, head in hands, fighting back tears when she heard Steven rummaging in the kitchen. His right arm, broken at the elbow in the car accident, would be in a sling for several more weeks. The limited range of motion in his other arm hampered his efforts to fend for himself. All he wanted was a glass for his soda.
He couldn’t reach the handle of the dishes’ cabinet and opening the can was a nearly impossible task. Leslie, knowing Steven wouldn’t simply ask for help, reluctantly entered the kitchen. She took down a tumbler, filled it with ice, and popped open a soda. When the carbonated head receded, she wordlessly handed Steven his drink.
A slight nod was his only acknowledgment of her assistance.
“We can work this out,” she said, standing in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room. “I know you understand what I’m saying, even if I don’t understand you. I’m trying. You could try too.”
The glass to his lips, Steven gulped the whole drink, belched loudly when he finished, then put the empty tumbler in the sink. His expression was difficult to read, but his silent retreat from Leslie’s appeal was not.
“You can’t keep up this silent treatment forever,” Leslie called after him.
Steven stopped, set his shoulders and rolled his head like he was stretching his neck. He stood still for a minute longer, then walked away without a word.
“It wasn’t my fault,” she called out, refusing to chase after him.
He stopped walking away when his phone rang. Fishing it out of his back pocket, he thumbed open the call when he saw the caller ID. He listened for a few seconds, took a deep breath then let loose a constant stream of fluent Spanish, not his native language.
Though she didn’t understand what he is saying, it was clear that he was angry.
Finally taking a breath, he handed his phone to Leslie.
Not knowing who was on the other line, she tentatively took the device.
Leslie listened, watching Steven and his reactions.
“You said this was temporary,” she said. “You said his dysprosody would eventually abate. That was more than three months ago.”
She began pacing.
“He doesn’t even try, he still blames me,” she said. “I know that. The other driver hit us, there was nothing I could have done. He’s angry that I wasn’t hurt in the accident too.”
Steven crossed his arms, a look of annoyance on his face.
“I am,” Leslie said. “It doesn’t matter, he won’t talk to me… Spanish, English… nothing.”
She stopped pacing so she could concentration on what the person on the other side of the conversation was saying. Leslie tilted her head, uncertain of the directions she is being given.
“Okay, I give it a try.”
Leslie handed the phone back to Steven,
“Danke,” she said, her college German finally being useful.
“¡No puedes hacer eso!” Steven shouted.
“Ja, ich kann,” Leslie put her hands on her hips.
Steven set his jaw, fists clenching and unclenching.
“This is going to stop,” Leslie said, softening. “The doctors said you recovered from the dysprosody weeks ago, so the only reason you’re still faking Foreign Accent Syndrome is to punish me.”
Steven crossed his arms and looked away.
“I’m done,” she said. “Either you start talking to me now, or I’m gone.”
Steven shook his head.
“Then that’s it,” Leslie said. “Adios.”
*Dysprosody, or Foreign Accent Syndrome, is a rare affliction that can occur in patients with severe neurological damage from something like a stroke or head injury. A patient’s speech patterns, inflection or actual language can be altered. There are documented cases where people woke from comas and spoke with a foreign accent, or in another language. A skill not present before their injuries.