by Brian Evenson
It was a freak accident, a wire snapping off the load and whipping back
to slash across his face, breaking his nose, tearing open both his eyes. They took
him jouncing in the back of a pickup truck to the hospital where a doctor packed the
nose with cotton and straightened it while another doctor removed first the right
eye then the left. Two days later, his wife came to get him and helped him out to
the car, and drove him home.
Is there anything I can do? his wife kept asking him.
No, he would say each time, no.
His face ached. The nose that had been reset and packed with cotton ached.
Every eight hours his wife came and removed the cotton by tugging it out with her
fingernails and then packed the nose again. After a while the bleeding stopped entirely.
The outer rim of each orbit ached, despite the sedative, and he imagined if they weren't
covered in bandages and he could still see, he would see the flesh beside them bruised
Do you need anything, honey? his wife asked.
No, he said.
His eyelids felt strange to him with his eyeballs removed: deflated. With
the bandages covering them he could not tell if he was opening and closing them or
trying and failing.
Honey? his wife said. Anything?
No, he said. No.
After a week, he climbed out of bed. His room, reduced only to touch, had
gone strange around him; a dresser that he would have guessed was four steps from
the bed was in fact two. When he was certain he was at the door leading out of the
room he was in fact at the closet door, so that as he passed into what he thought
was the hall he found himself suddenly muffled on all sides by what it took him a
moment to figure out were coats.
Honey, his wife said, anything the problem?
No, he said, and felt his way out of the closet, carefully shutting the
door behind him.
But after a few days the new parameters congealed for him, and a few days
later became fully solid. He could walk from the bedroom to the bathroom, from the
bathroom to the hall, from the hall to the living room and back again, without difficulty.
He was beginning to sense things. He was becoming a different person.
He still seemed to see flashes of things, little crackling glimpses, as
if the nerves in his sockets hadn't yet realized his eyes were missing. Half-seen
things, ephemerae, ghosts darting through a dark space. His wife too he could hear
creeping about, a little like a ghost as well, staying out of his way but often waiting
in abeyance, ready to ask what she could do, how she could help. It was a habit of
speech she had gotten into and couldn't seem to get out of.
Anything I can do?
How can I help?
What do you need, darling?
No, he would say. Can't. Nothing.
They were living in the same house, but for him it was no longer the same
house anymore. It was like they were living in two different houses that overlapped
the same space, knocking slightly against one another as they passed. She lived in
a world made of the image of things. He lived in a subtler world where he could hear
a slightly whispering noise and know it was the sound of her thumb rubbing against
her finger. How could anyone who was still human hear that? It was as if he and his
wife weren't the same species anymore.
Sweetheart? she said, Anything I-
-No, he said.
He heard her suck in her breath. He waited for her to speak, but she did
not, just stood there, silent. He wondered what sort of silence it was. Brooding?
Hurt? Angry? Indifferent? If he could see her face, what would it look like? Would
her lip be quivering? Her neck blotching? He started to turn his head toward where
she was but halfway there he realized that no, he wasn't interested in giving her
the impression he was looking at her; he only wanted to hear her perfectly. So he
stayed there, half-turned, half-facing her and half-not. He wondered what she must
think of it.
When she finally did speak, it startled him. He flinched.
Why are you cutting me off? she asked.
I'm not, he said.
You're ruining our relationship, she said. You're closing yourself in.
I'm doing nothing of the kind.
Open up to me, she said. Come back into the world.
And then he heard sounds that he sensed were her moving, sliding toward
him, lifting her arms. He started to raise his own arms and suddenly found himself
in her embrace. He let her hold onto him, patting her softly on the back. It struck
him as artificial. How could he feel anything but distance from her when they were
both in the same space but were living that space differently, occupying different
worlds? At least he could see that. She couldn't even see it. Still, he should make
an effort. He should let her be helpful to him. He kept patting her back.
But why, part of him wondered, do we have to have a relationship in your
world? Why not in mine?
Three or four months later, when the relationship had gotten no better,
when she was still asking him if she could help, what she could do, what he needed,
wasn't there anything, how could she be of service, could she lend him a hand, lend
him her eyes or her arm, he decided it was time to take matters into his own hands.
When she went to work, he called a taxi, had it drive him to the grocery
store. The driver spoke with an accent he could not place, and smelled slightly of
sweat. The driver seemed nervous to have a blind man in his cab and chattered at him
Once there, he had the taxi driver guide him inside, told him to wait for
him. A clerk let him take her arm. She led him where he wanted to go.
Garbage bags and duct tape? she asked. That's really all you want?
He nodded. They're black bags, right? I need black.
Yes, she said. Black. But why do you care? You're blind.
They're not for me, he explained.
The woman didn't ask any more questions. He paid and then she helped him
make his way out the door. He stood alone waiting just in front of the store, wondering
if the taxi was still there somewhere. He was just about to go back in when he heard
soft footsteps, a slight hint of stale sweat, felt a clammy hand on his arm.
I did not see you first, the driver said, and led him to the car.
In front of his house the driver named a sum. He handed him his wallet.
Go ahead, he said.
How do you know I won't take much?
More? he said. I don't, he said.
What is to stop me?
Who knows? said the man. Try it and see.
He could hear the driver take some money out, sigh. There is some trick,
he said, handing back the wallet. Some hiding camera. No, you will not fool me.
At last the driver was gone and he was alone in the house. How long would
it be before his wife came home from work? He wasn't certain. There was no certain
way, blind, for him to tell.
He felt along the wall until he found a window. With his hand he carefully
traced its outline. He took one garbage bag out of the pack and unfolded it, then
took the duct tape, began to tape the garbage bag over the window. When he was done,
he ran his fingers along the edges to make sure there were no gaps, then moved on
to the next window frame.
When all the windows in the house were sealed, he took a chair from the
kitchen and stood on it in what he thought was the center of each room, groping up
above him until he found each light fixture. He removed the lightbulbs and then carefully
placed them on the floor a few steps from each doorway.
Then he sat on the couch and waited.
Eventually he heard his wife's car turn into the driveway. Rising from the
couch he made his way down the hall, deeper into the house.
He heard her open the door and then flick the light switch on and off.
Hello? she said. Anybody there?
He didn't answer.
Honey? she said, her voice a little tremulous. What's going on? What happened
to the windows.
He heard her take a few steps, heard the sound of a lightbulb crushing beneath
her shoe. She cried out.
Honey? she said, louder now. Where are you?
Down the hall, he waited without moving for her to approach. He would wait
until she was near him, very near, and then would speak.
Do you need anything, honey? he would say, his voice just louder than a
whisper. Is there anything I can do?
And then, suddenly, tables turned, she would understand, she would empathize,
and they would embrace, talk about how foolish they'd been and figure out how to be
It would be an understatement to say that her reaction was not precisely
what he had anticipated.