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11:08 am | 17 August 2004 | CLICK part three

CLICK part three

My sister’s eyes were destroyed by developing chemicals one night in the darkroom. She was vague on the specifics of the accident, on why she hadn’t worn her goggles. We assumed she was still grieving and didn’t press matters further, didn’t ask why only her eyes were burnt and not her whole face. The livid pink of the scars faded rapidly, and before long she looked mostly normal—the lids were thick with scars, yes, but not too horribly so.
The sharpness of her tongue anchored her—she’d drift into spiraling rhapsodies of her mind’s landscape or the imagined source of an ambient sound (a branch scraping the side of the house became a mammoth bird’s scrambling)—and just as quickly, something acerbic would tether her again. Even the blindness didn’t let her retreat into her internal world—the peculiar ironies of life made themselves obvious, still, hooking cynical fingers into her hems and tugging her, resentful, back to earth.
My sister had always loved metaphors, analogies, allegories—anything to tell a story without telling it directly—and now her writing, formerly swells of visual description, evolved accordingly. She dwelled even more in the realm of ideas, and it seemed like the barrier between her fantasies and the objective world we inhabited grew fainter and fainter. Now there no longer remained the hard evidence of sight to convince her that spirits didn’t inhabit her closet; that each tree wasn’t, in fact, weeping. We had always attributed her fancies to her intelligence, remarking to puzzled acquaintances that she was eccentric because she was an artist, and they couldn’t be expected to behave like the rest of us, could they? Now that she was blind, her sudden lapses into silence were more explicable, and she was left alone much of the time, sitting with her head angled as though trying to pick up satellite broadcasts.
I closed my eyes at parties, in the yard, sitting in a parked car, and tried to imagine what she felt. It was frightening—every place I went was a jumble of sounds I couldn’t identify, noises that all seemed threatening. At the hardware store one night I tried it again, inhaling the cold greasy scent of metal and the sharp yellow smell of pine, tasting the dustiness of the air. Suddenly a sharp, long scrape squealed to my right, and I snapped my eyes open, sure a forklift had come to crush me to my death. It was only a stockboy greasing a vise, throwing me a perplexed look as he slid the bolt home and shoved the can of WD-40 into his apron pocket. I smiled at him sickly and realized I was already forgetting what my sister’s eyes had looked like. They had been blue…but which blue? I spent an hour staring at the paint chips that night, closing my eyes to remember hers, picking up and discarding strips more and more frantically. I could only narrow it down to three. The names were terrible: Blue Bayou, Gentle Breeze, Crystal Pool. I thought suddenly how my sister would’ve mocked me for doing that, staring at anxiously-clutched paint chips, and I stuffed them into my bag and left without buying the things I’d needed.

After the accident, my sister became more focused. She had always been greedy, nervous, distracted—compulsively doing several things at once, in the way that a shark had to keep swimming or die. When she could see, she would bring complex knitting projects to the movies and even then she was fidgety, jogging her knee until I elbowed her and told her to stop. She had been constantly hungry for information, knowledge, more and more, in a not-entirely-healthy way, and she drank in everything until I thought she would exhaust herself. After the accident she relaxed a little, became able to focus single-mindedly on whatever information she could get—the way a gourmand, once imprisoned, will savour a piece of brown bread with a previously-unknown delectation. After the accident, one flavour at a time was satisfying enough.
She learned Braille quickly—my sister, who’d always read so much, so rapidly, so frequently, and for whom languages were so easy. Still, Brailled books were limited, and the available selection of audiobooks, too, was ludicrously inappropriate for someone with her tastes—the misguided gift of a trashy novel was found in the wastepaper bin, disemboweled of its thin brown coils of tape—but through a British vendor we found the works of some ancients, and these she spent hours listening to, head tilted. She liked Herotodus best, and I think she found comfort in someone else who simply told a story without being bogged down paying undue homage to reality. “He kept record of both fact and of local tales without differentiation or prejudice—at one point, he mentions that when the Phoenician fleets sailed around Africa the sun switched positions in the sky and appeared suddenly on their right side—for which he was completely mocked by Aristotle,” she said. I giggled, as I thought I should.
“Except,” she continued, seriously, “that the sun does change position in the sky when you cross the equator. Herotodus was right a lot more often than anyone gave him credit for.” I include these tales with no recourse as to their veracity, merely to illuminate what is said by their neighbors, who should know best, came the voice of Herotodus from the stereo—or, rather, came the actor’s voice, breathing into English those words that are twenty-five centuries old, moving forward into tales of spirits wandering the Greek countryside, doing battle with and being destroyed by what seems sometimes an entire generation who were half-god: Theseus, Perseus, Herakles, the Dioscuri, Achillieus, Helen of Troy...these things did not happen. No, of course not. My sister’s face burned with a strange energy as she listened. I went outside to cry.

Winter came, and on the first day of snow my mother and I stopped by her apartment to check up on her. As we pulled up, we saw the door swing open, and my sister emerged, bundled like a Gypsy in swaths of black wool, testing each step with a ginger foot. As she reached the sidewalk a gust of wind loosened bits of snow from the branches of the tree in front of her house, and when they landed on her face she recoiled as if struck, jerking her head back with a catapult snap. She slumped when she realized it had been only snow, then turned and slowly made her way back inside. When we went inside a few moments later, she said airily, “Oh, I won’t be going anywhere alone this winter—I’d probably slip, fall, and freeze before I was found. I may be blind, but I don’t intend to be eaten by pigeons,” something meant to be a smile twisting the left side of her face. My mother threw me an inscrutable glance.

part four (the last part) coming tomorrow


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