Please don't think I'm blaming you, my love, but it wouldn't have happened if you had been here. You were at that metallurgy conference in Sault-Ste-Marie, remember? Truth be told, I didn't resent your absence. I relished the prospect of stretching out diagonally on the bed, but once my head hit the pillow, I knew that it was going to be one of those nights. My perimenopausal body has lost its ability to regulate its own temperature, so I was wrapped in prickly heat one moment, ice-cold the next. If you had been beside me, I would have clung to you as to a bulwark, but instead I tossed and turned, kicking off the covers then pulling them back over me. All this motion must have upset something, for at 2 A.M. (I noticed the time on the digital clock as I shifted from my stomach to my side), one of the long black filaments that sit pedunculated at the base of my eyelid loosened and slipped into my eye.
At first, its unwelcome presence was signalled by nothing more than a scratching sensation that could safely be ignored, I thought. If I closed my eyes, the lash would surely dislodge itself by morning. I did so, but the pool of tears that immediately formed under my eyelid gave me no respite. Half an hour later, I was sitting bolt-upright in bed, driving the heel of my palm against my eye. I was maddened, tormented, but somehow I managed to get up and stumble to the bathroom. With difficulty, I prised the lid open, only to reveal a patchwork quilt of red veins criss-crossing the surface of the eyeball. There was no sign of the eyelash itself. Nevertheless, I filled the glass that sits on the counter to the brim with water and plunged my eye into it, in an attempt to flush out the offending particle. The itching abated almost immediately, so I made my way back to bed. I sunk into sleep just as the sky was lightening to dove-gray outside the window.
I awoke at 10:30. I told myself that there was no serious harm done, even though there was still the faint tracery of veins visible against the white of the eye, and, from time to time, golden sparks would shoot across my field of vision, as if someone were setting off fireworks in my head. I puttered around the house, even tried to read a little, although I couldn't fool myself into believing that the injured eye was pulling its weight. When I heard your car pull into the driveway, I rose to admit you. When I opened the door, you stood bathed in the midday sun. Instead of moving towards you, I fell back with a cry, my hands over my face. The flood of light had fallen upon my eye, irradiating it. I felt a sharp, needling pain, coupled with an unbearable pressure. You took my elbow and guided me into the cool of the vestibule. Ten minutes later, you were on the phone to our optometrist.
As I lay on the sofa, a damp cloth pressed against my forehead, I heard you cajoling the receptionist into granting an emergency appointment, employing the same dulcet tones that you used to coax me out of my brassiere a quarter of a century ago. It wasn't long before you bounded into the room. "They'll see us in an hour. Rest up, then we'll go," you said.
In the car, I huddled in a corner, my eyes shut. Even so, my eyeball throbbed. You drove carefully, yet there was a vertiginous swirling in the pit of my stomach. I was relieved when we pulled up to the curb. Dr. Khan was in the reception area, and without preliminaries, he ushered me into the inner sanctum where his equipment awaited. He clucked when I told him what had happened. After an initial investigation, he tilted my head back and squeezed some gelid drops into my eye. 'Topical anesthetic. It should give you immediate relief," he said as I blinked. "You've managed to scrape a few layers off the surface, but, luckily for you, the eye is a robust organ. I'm going to put in a contact lens and prescribe some antibiotics. Things should knit back together nicely. Come back and see me in a week."
My vision was still hazy, but the blessed absence of pain made me want to open my eyes wide. I took in the room, the chart with the giant "H" topping it, Dr. Khan sitting at his desk, his slim brown fingers clutching a pen as he wrote out my prescription. You know as well as I do that Dr. Khan is not a handsome man. He's bony, and his prominent nose juts out from his face like the prow of a ship. At the time I thought it was gratitude, but as I sat looking at him, the boniness and the convex proboscis seemed to recede, and I saw instead the play of light against his skin, the mild expression in his eyes. As he escorted me out, he smiled, and somehow his inner essence, his benevolent spirit, was contained within that smile.
On the way back home, I knew that something was definitely up when we passed Mrs. Neuler's magnolia tree. It flowers in spring, its creamy blossoms briefly adorning its branches before falling to the ground and lying underfoot in drifts, like cerise-tinted snow. At this time of the year, the tree's naked boughs stand proudly outthrust, straight as sentries. As we passed (you were driving faster, now that I was no longer whimpering in the back seat), I caught a flash of something pale in the corner of my eye. I blinked, and the tree was bedecked. I blinked a second time and the tree was bare again, yet the afterimage of its blooming lingered. I felt dizzy and thought it prudent to keep my eyes closed for the rest of the trip.
You deposited me at home and ventured out to fill my prescription. I went to bed, but couldn't sleep. To amuse myself, I took to placing my hand over my uninjured eye and gazing around. It was a most curious experience. Though my vision was clouded, somehow each discrete thing that my damaged eye surveyed looked more vibrant, more alive, more itself, if that makes sense. Take the faded cornflower-blue counterpane, for instance. It remained as wan as ever, and yet, simultaneously, it contained a host of deeper, richer blues: navy blue, indigo blue, the pelagic blue that I have only seen from the open deck of a cruise ship.
I wondered if this alchemy would work on me. I like to think that I harbor no delusions about myself. I am a mousy brunette, and that is that. While other girls were striving vainly for effects that they would never be able to achieve, or hiding behind a succession of borrowed personae, I had resigned myself to what I was. I dressed in sensible sweaters and skirts, in shades of charcoal and moss-green. My makeup was so inconspicuous that only a trained eye could tell it was there at all. (I remember your astonishment when you first came across my discarded washcloth. You tried to make light of it, but all your jokes about tribal war paint couldn't quite hide your discomfiture. The next day you kept stealing surreptitious glances at me, as if you were keeping company with a stranger.)
So, when I approached the full-length mirror and slipped off my robe, I didn't expect to see Helen of Troy reflected back at me, and in that, I was right. I didn't even look younger, exactly. The lines that radiate out from the corners of my eyes like cracks in sun-baked clay were still there; my breasts sat no higher on my chest than they had the previous day. And yet, something was different. My face was open in a way that it hadn't been in a long time, as if some unseen armor had fallen away. My eyes were wider, my smile less guarded. I looked innocent. Are you rolling your eyes? You are perhaps thinking of infants or ingenuous woodland creatures, but that is not the sort of innocence I am speaking of. Cast your mind back to how I was when we first met. Some of that girl's eagerness, her inquisitiveness, her desire to scoop life up in handfuls was present on my face.
I heard your key turn in the lock, so I pulled the robe over my shoulders and scurried back to bed. I heard your quick tread on the stairs, before you entered the room in that way that I love, all noise and bluster. As you stood at the foot of the bed, clutching the white bags from the pharmacy, I closed my left eye in a way that I hoped would go unnoticed.
"Why are you winking like that? You look like a pirate."
There was no use in pretending. We have been married too long for that. All I could do was turn it into a joke. "Arr," I said as I leaned back against the pillow. You grinned.
For the rest of the day, I turned my right profile towards you and glanced at you furtively, out of the corner of my injured eye. It was as if I was seeing you, not for the first time, but for the fourth or fifth time. I didn't like you when we first met. Due to my girlhood love for Keats, my taste in those days ran to pale, ascetic young men, and you didn't fit the bill. You were sturdy like an oak tree, your cheeks rosy from kicking a ball around with your friends on balmy summer afternoons. When you cheerfully confessed that you hadn't read a book all the way through since high school, I inwardly shuddered. If it wasn't for my mother's prodding, I likely wouldn't have seen you again. It wasn't until our third meeting that your vitality, your animal spirits began to draw me in. I liked the way you described your career plans. When you said you wanted to be a mining engineer, you made it seem like an adventure. (And who is to say you haven't done better than me, my love? While you traipse around the country, blasting holes in rocks and scooping out the treasures within, like a dwarf king in a fairy tale, I spend my days trying to pound the basic rules of grammar and English composition into the heads of sullen teenagers who would be better off learning how to be plumbers or hairdressers.)
The same double vision that greeted my own reflection alighted on you as well. You were gray and rumpled, one tail of your shirt hanging out of your pants, your hair mussed on the right side, and, simultaneously, you were that beautiful young man who stood waiting for me in my mother's foyer on a balmy summer's evening when I hadn't been expecting you.
When night fell, I pulled you towards me. "Are you sure you're up for this?" you asked, although your fingers were already working their way beneath my nightgown.
"It's my eye that's damaged. Everything below the waist is in good working order." I couldn't see your face clearly, nor could you see me, yet I knew that in the dark our younger selves entwined and kissed.
The next morning, you told me that Fiona would stop by around lunchtime. Our daughter had been a cuddly and placid infant who matured into a biddable child. As her teen years approached, I was sure that a great reckoning was set to descend upon us, yet she remained even-tempered and considerate. It is only now, at the age of twenty, that a wrinkle has appeared in her character. What is most painful is that she reserves all her hissing acrimony for me; with you, with her university friends, with waiters in restaurants, she remains her calm, imperturbable self.
I spend the morning trying to brace myself, but, nevertheless, I felt my heart clench when I heard her key in the lock. She slunk in, dropped her bag in the foyer, and kissed you before approaching me. "How is the eye?" she asked, leaning in. These days, when she speaks to me, her voice is thick with hostility born from sins of omission or commission that I committed when she was five, or twelve, or seventeen. At that moment though, her tone was mild and inquiring.
I was so grateful that I clutched her hand as I answered. She smiled, and, before I had to ask, began preparing a salad for lunch. I watched her as she worked. A narrow shaft of sunlight lanced through the window and lit upon her. I let my eyelids flutter down and drew them up again. As I did, her slender hands, diligent in their chopping and mixing, transmogrified into baby hands, with pudgy fingers and a belt of dimpled fat encircling the wrists. Her cheeks plumped up, her eyes grew large and artless.
Not only that. On her, my new power works forwards as well as backwards. (You may scoff at that word, "power". It perhaps takes you back to the comic books you devoured as a child. Nevertheless, "power" is what it is, and that is what I will call it.) For us, settled as we are into the autumn of our lives, a vision of the future would reveal a pair of doddering, white-haired fogeys. Not so for her. As she settled on the couch and crossed her ankles, I caught a flash of her at thirty, settled into her skin, the nicotine stains faded from her fingers and teeth. When it was time for her to leave she lingered at the door, as she had done as a little girl on the rare occasions when she was reluctant to go to school. Spontaneously, she reached out to hug me. When she pulled away, I saw who she would be at my age, a gracious, accomplished woman with smiling eyes and a thoughtful brow, your levity and my seriousness both evident on her face. As she made her way out to her car I had to turn away so that you wouldn't see the tears that had sprung, unbidden, to my eyes.
You have perhaps read this with a growing sense of unease, my love. Do you think I have done something rash? I haven't, not yet, and you know it. For the past week, haven't I tipped my head back obediently twice a day, so that you can administer drops to my eye? Hour by hour, my eyesight has sharpened; soon it will be back to normal. Objects have firm contours. When I read, the text does not blur and shift before my eyes. And yet, something has been lost. Faces are flatter, colors less vivid. I can live with that, for now. But there will come a time when I will wish to be delivered from the world's commonplace drabness. When that day arrives, the tweezers that lie in my purse may come in handy. I use them to groom my eyebrows and pluck away the stray hairs that have begun to sprout on my chin (I know you know this, although you are too gallant a man to say anything). The angled ends are quite sharp, and could be put to a different use. "The eye is a robust organ," Dr. Khan said. Even so, a couple of shallow slashes delivered to the cornea may do. I won't know until I try.
And I will try. One day.
Bindia Persaud was born in Georgetown, Guyana, grew up in the north of England, and now resides in Ontario, Canada, where she works as an editor. Her work has appeared in The Rose Red Review, Zetetic: a Record of Unusual Inquiry and Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal.