January 2019 WinnerPosted 01/03/2019 under Magazine,
January 2019 Contest Winner
Sharon Frame Gay grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road. Her work has been internationally published in anthologies and literary magazines, including Chicken Soup For The Soul, Typehouse, The Write City Magazine, Fiction on the Web, Lowestoft Chronicle, Thrice Fiction, Crannog Magazine, and others. Her work has won prizes at Women on Writing, The Writing District and Owl Hollow Press. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. You can find her on Amazon as well as Facebook as Sharon Frame Gay-Writer. Twitter: sharonframegay.
Second Sight by Sharon Frame Gay
I glued my eyes shut by accident. Believe me, it was incredibly easy to do. Sitting at the desk, I reached into the drawer for eye drops, grabbed a small bottle of glue instead, and the rest is history.
I heard the nurses and doctors snickering in the hall at the ER. They called in an ophthalmologist who examined me, and decided I should be okay.
“In the meantime, you need to keep your eyes closed. Keep gauze shields on them and remove them only to rinse your lids twice a day with this solution to dissolve the glue.” He pressed a plastic bottle into my hand. “I’ll want to see you in a few days. Call my office for an appointment. Remember, don’t force them open. Those tissues are delicate.”
His breath smelled like garlic. He might have been eating lunch when the call came in, left the table in a hurry. “Gotta run! Some dumb-ass glued her eyes shut!”
“You’re lucky this time,” he said. “I think you’ll make a full recovery. Not sure if those lashes will ever grow back, though.”
My neighbor Cora drove me home from the ER, concern in her voice. Interesting how I never heard the rich nuances in words before, how every inflection means something. Cora’s voice was a soothing brook, meandering through a meadow. It was calming. I wanted to gaze at her face through my bald lids. I felt naked and vulnerable in the car, bracing myself for turns, wobbling in the seat.
Cora led me into the house, her hand on my shoulder. I stepped on my little dog Nash twice as I stumbled through the living room. He yelped and jumped aside. I wanted to cry, but didn’t think my poor eyes should be awash in tears. Where would they go? I pictured my eyes like a cartoon character, welling up with liquid, skin stretching and splitting, torrents splashing on to the floor. Pent up anguish settled near my heart. I felt my chest tighten, stomach clench.
Cora placed me at the kitchen table. “I called Rod. He’ll be home soon. In the meantime, do you want something to eat?” She patted my shoulder.
“No, I’ll wait for Rod. Thank you so much. I’m very grateful. What a stupid day this has turned out to be.” I smiled, looking up where I thought her face was, my eyes covered with white gauze circles, resembling Orphan Annie.
I heard her leave, the door clicking like a single stroke from a tap shoe. Then, all was quiet except for Nash scratching at himself, licking his fur.
Sunlight was shining through the window pane. I felt it on my arm, rubbed at the warmth. There was a glass of lukewarm water that Cora had placed by my right hand. I raised it to my lips, felt it dribble down my chin.
It wasn’t long before Rod’s sedan pulled into the driveway. The car door slammed. A muttered curse drifted through the window screen. Nash barked, ran through the house, his nails skittering along the floor.
“Where are you, Maggie?” Rod shouted as he walked in.
“In the kitchen.”
“Jesus Christ, how the hell did you manage this one, Mags?”
“I picked up the glue bottle instead of the eye drops from the desk without thinking. The doctor says I should be okay.”
“Can’t you be more careful? You’re always doing dumb things. I’ve told you time and again not to be so absent-minded.” There was a deep silence, then he walked away, opened a cabinet. “I can’t stay here all day looking after you. There’s a meeting this afternoon with my boss. I’ll make you a sandwich, then I have to get back to work.”
He didn’t say he was sorry, or he loved me. His voice, unlike Cora’s, sounded like a hard mountain trail, rocks tumbling over cliffs, an avalanche of anger. His words etched at my heart, carving canyons of hurt. I realized I had never really heard his voice before, the deep chasms of indifference, the underlay of disgust.
Rod tossed a sandwich on a plate, slid it across the table. It bumped my hand. I picked it up, took a bite. The sweet tang of strawberry preserves coated my tongue along with peanut butter. My spirits lifted. I savored the tastes, the textures.
The next few days were difficult. I stumbled around the house, arms in front of me like the monster in an old fashioned Frankenstein movie. Each time I bumped into something, I thought “this will leave a mark”. The doctor said no showers, so I gave myself sponge baths, turning on the faucets, leaning into the sink, hands flailing for a washcloth flung over a towel bar, a cake of soap.
The cloth caressed my body, soothing. I took my time, inhaling the soap, the steamy scent of hot water, taking extra care around my breasts, my belly, remembering the baby. Remembering what it was like to lose him four days after he was born. I recalled his smell, the rubbery feel of his skin, his tiny toes and fingers. Doctors said there was nothing I did wrong. He was going to die, and that was that. I was not a bad mother. He failed to thrive, failed to survive. The way some bulbs don’t come up in the spring. The way baby birds fall out of their nests. Mother Nature, they said.
Since then, I fed my stomach with grief and food, filling the empty space above my hips where he once lived and grew. Somehow, I was pleased when my pants no longer fit, as though I might recreate the pregnancy, make it right this time.
Rod made sure I understood he no longer found me attractive. His words cut. He stopped touching me. Finally he moved down the hall. That was two years ago.
It wasn’t a one-sided misery. I lost myself in a sea of depression. At first Rod was patient, kind. He brought me flowers and cooked meals, tucked me in at night with a kiss on the forehead. But as time went by, he felt pushed away, and retaliated with distance. He moved on. I did not. We both harbored resentment and guilt. He poured himself into his job. I hunkered down in the storm cellar of my own unhappiness, waiting for the clouds to pass.
I didn’t recognize our marriage for what it had become. Hollow shells that looped around our souls like chains instead of strands of love and nurture. I didn’t see that Rod was already gone. I only heard his footsteps each evening, smelled his hair when I reached over his shoulder, set his plate down on the table. Tasted his grief and anger and swallowed it down with my morning coffee.
For three days I wandered blindly from room to room. The heat from the register wrapped around my ankles, and I stretched out my toes to capture the warmth. I rummaged through the refrigerator, opening containers, smelling them, guessing the contents. Nash stood below, waiting to catch morsels as they fell to the floor. Peeling off a slice of cheese, I felt its smooth texture against my tongue, tasted its tart creaminess, let the flavor linger in my mouth.
Voices on the telephone had new vibrations, emotions I never heard before. My mother sounded weary, worried. She’s far away in New Mexico, but will call me every day. I longed to reach through the phone, run my fingers over her eyes, feel if they are the same shape as my own. Friends are concerned. I fend them off when they offer meals, visits. It’s too much to retell the story. Too overwhelming to frame it in such a way that makes sense, that draws empathy rather than criticism. I hide in my shame. My mistakes.
When the dressing is changed, small slivers of light leak through the tortured lids. There’s just enough illumination to give me hope for a moment, then the gauze goes back on, and I am left to sift through the day alone.
I found my iPod, listened to old songs from high school and college, immersed in a baptism of memory. I played one song over and over, sucked the marrow from every note until it was dry as bone. The music reminded me how wispy I felt, my spirit so light as I danced with my friends, our futures glowing on our skin like silk, like amber, poised to catch us in our youth forever in a kingdom that had no limits.
Hours dragged by. Cora stopped in with food and a visit, the meandering brook of her voice washing away my solitude for an hour until she touched my cheek, said goodbye. Then I curled up with Nash and fell into a dreamy state, floating on the sofa.
At night, Rod and I sat together as he watched the news. He smelled of frustration and sadness. The touch of his hand as it brushed against mine was cold.
I began to like this blindness. I no longer have to see the disappointment in his face, the anguish in mine. Outside, the weather is how I want it to be, sunny with dandelion clouds that ride the sky. It is only February, but I imagine flowers popping up in abundance, dancing in the wind, lining the sidewalk. In this new world, everyone smiles, their voices gentle as rain. There is no guilt now. There is nobody pointing fingers. I cannot see the dirty laundry, the dishes in the sink. Therefore, they don’t exist. The blindness wraps me in a cloak, protects me from the vision of who I should be.
Cora took me to visit the doctor. He reminded me to keep my eyes closed as he removed the gauze, then applied a solution, wiped it away slowly, gently. I wanted to grasp his fingers, bring them to my mouth, suck on them. I wanted his fingers to enter my body, caress me, his voice low and kind. I wanted him to love me.
“Now, Maggie, try to open your eyes,” he said.
I did it very slowly. It was like a castle gate opening, a harsh grating sound deep in my head.
My vision was blurred.
“Blink several times,” he said.
Things came into focus. I saw the doctor for the first time. He was smiling. I looked at his hands, the hair on his knuckles, his fingers. They were calloused and hard, and I was no longer sure I wanted them inside me. I turned away, ashamed of my thoughts.
The doctor was pleased. Although my vision is blurred, the eyes will make a full recovery, he said. He told me to make sure they are well lubricated, rest them, not over-do it on the computer or watching television. Keep them out of the harsh winter wind and glare.
His words startled me. I turned and looked out the window and saw snow on the ground, the trees barren. The flowers I imagined did not exist. There was only the pewter sky of February.
That night, Rod and I sat on the couch, several feet apart. He grunted when I told him about the doctor’s visit, thumbing the television remote, changing channels between my words.
I took a deep look at him for the first time in years. He is balding, tiny spikes of hair struggling through a shiny scalp, scarce and forlorn. As though he heard my thoughts, he glanced at me, then away, as if he understood that we have both let each other down.
Walking through the house the next morning, I paused at the spare room, the closed door. I opened it, saw it in disarray the exact way we left it when the baby died. There’s a crib in a carton, never assembled. Boxes of baby things stacked in a corner like a tower of dreams.
I let myself cry then. Great choking sobs that flooded the injured eyes, ran down my face, my body cleansing itself of the detritus of life. I left the door ajar, setting the memories free, and walked back down the hall.
Seated at the desk, I noticed nicks and mars on the surface of the wood, the ring from a cup of coffee permanently displayed. The chair moaned as I settled in, sifted through the mail.
The desk drawer slid open with the touch of my finger. Inside, the space was messy, pencils, pens and little notes festooned about. None of them are important. There are no answers here. No clues to the treasure of finding myself again. These things, these papers, were already part of my past.
I picked up the eye drops, then the glue. Balanced them in my hands, felt their heft, lifted one up to the waning light in the window, then the other. I placed the glue in the waste basket, right side up. My fingers lingered there a moment, as though saying goodbye to a friend. Then I stood, eyes fully opened, finding my way back from the dark at last.