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3:40 pm | 16 August 2004 | CLICK part one

You know I do that thing where I have about 1500 interests/hobbies that wax/wane, and anyhow I'm all nutso for design this month so the writing is not really happening. In apology I submit the following, part one of a story called


One Monday, during the summer when my sister was twelve and I was barely eight, we sat together on our rust-patterned swingset on the hill. She flattened her body out like a board, leaning way back, looking at the sky through the interstices of branches riddled with sun, while I laid on my belly, arms straight ahead, pretending to fly while my jelly shoes dragged in the scoops of dirt beneath the swings. After a moment she sat up, ground to a halt, and began turning in circles, twisting the swing’s chains together. “Claire,” she said, “If you had to go blind or go deaf, which one would you pick?”
I wrinkled my nose against the dust and stopped swinging, sagging over the black rubber seat like a wet girl-ribbon. “If I had to?”
“Yeah. Like if God was gonna make you pick.”
I looked at her, still twisting, lip bitten in thought. “Which one would you pick?” I said. She turned once more and lifted her feet, releasing the swing, spinning until she blurred and then scraping to a halt. She stood and turned to face me, hands fisted on hips. “Neither. I would kill myself,” she said fiercely, and flounced down the hill.

My sister went blind at the age of twenty-five.

After the accident, she didn’t kill herself. A few months later she admitted that, though she was now entirely dependent on others for transportation and all public ventures, her interior life hadn’t changed all that dramatically. She could imagine what things looked like, given skeletal description, and she could still listen to stories, music words. “After all,” she said, “I can imagine a sunset. One sunset’s not so much different from another. It would be much harder to guess what a new song sounds like.”
She said she had gotten her best thinking done while the bandages were still on, that it was as though a switch had been flipped and all the abrasion had canceled itself out; that if seeing was believing, she was now free to believe in whatever she chose. The doctor who spoke to my mother and I about it said he’d never seen anyone so calm, so accepting of a loss of such magnitude. The doctor’s little white moustache was preternaturally neat and I couldn’t stop staring at it. “She’ll probably have some sort of a delayed breakdown, so you’ll need to keep an eye on her,” he cautioned. My mother nodded scholastically, taking down notes on the backs of the brochures wadded in her fists, with titles such as Now That They’re Blind…What Can We Do? I stared at the hateful little moustache and started giggling. My sister would hate the way his moustache looks, too, I thought, and then began to cry.

She moved back into our mother’s home in the suburbs for the first few months, and I took a year off from school to help out. She was five years older than I, and the exchange of roles was disorienting—taking care of my older sister made me uncomfortable at first. But our closeness helped, and before long, things seemed normal. She had still lived longer than I had, had done more things. She hadn’t lost her experiences, only her eyes, and her opinions didn’t change much. The first week she was home, I went into our childhood room and sat on the edge of her bed. She turned toward me like a still-blind puppy. “Claire,” she said. “How did you know it was me?” I said, nudging her affectionately. When she smiled, the edges of her bandages puckered up, and I could just make out the livid flesh of her eye sockets, pink as chewed gum under the gauze. I gulped and turned away. “It’s the way you flop on the bed,” she said. “I can feel the edge of it go down. You’ve flopped like that ever since we were little.” I smiled ruefully.
“Um, I came to ask you if you want us to try contacting Dad, just to, um, let him know what’s going on.” The bandages lay smooth again as the smile faded from her face. “Claire,” she said, and her words were hard, “I don’t want to hear about him again. I had no use for him before, and suddenly being crippled hasn’t changed that.” I put my hand over hers for a minute and then backed out of the room. She rolled her head toward the window again and sighed heavily.

She was on her feet after two weeks, banging dizzily through the house like a trapped bird. Mom had redecorated since we had moved out, but we restored the furniture to a semblance of its arrangement when we were children, and my sister learned her way around after not too long. I remembered that when we were children she had been a sleepwalker and had not bumped into anything then, wandering around the house in her little-girl nightgowns like a Victorian ghost. This wasn’t much different, I thought to myself, listening to her clunk through the pantry. “Just hold on and I’ll get it for you,” I called, putting a pencil in my book and setting it down. She appeared in the doorway, a can of corn in one hand, a can of pineapple in the other, giggling. “Claire,” she said, “canned goods are total bullshit. How am I supposed to tell what’s inside?” She shook the corn experimentally by her ear, then shook the pineapple by the other. “Oh, sweet mystery of cans, at last I’ve found you!” she sang, dramatically, letting them drop to the floor. We fell into each other, shaking with laughter, and then suddenly she was crying, slumping to the floor. I bent to her, but she shoved me away, pushed herself up painfully, and scrabbled around for the cans she’d flung. I watched her silently, and then used my toe to nudge the pineapple out from under the coffee table into the path of her blindly groping hands. She picked them both up and went back to the pantry. I stared at her retreating back and then picked up my book again.

My sister had always been neurotic about her appearance, fretful, often refusing to go out at all if the convexity of her stomach made itself apparent through her heavy sweaters, tugging at hemlines, poking at stray bits of hair that flew electrically outwards. Now those considerations slipped away. She requested that all her clothes be dyed black, so that she’d always match, at least, and let the matter drop after that. Her body changed, too; not outwardly, I guess, but she inhabited it less and less, became less like the tortoise we’d always accused her of being. She wasn’t fully present in herself after she went blind, and began to remind us of, as my mother once remarked, “one of those weird Jim Henson critters. You know there’s a stunt guy inside, but mostly it’s foam and fur.” Inside my sister’s bone-skin-and-blood casing, something got smaller and smaller.

next is part two

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