THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDER
The doctor's words rang in his ears.
-Six months...nine....twelve at the most. Then...well.
-A virus..nobody's fault..no known cure..nothing to be done.
wait, wait and prepare.
Margaret was helpful, understanding,loving and patient
She would be his eyes, help him to manage, help him to get through
She didn't understand. How could she? How could she know what it was to be deprived of the one thing that is taken for granted by everyone, from birth to the grave, to only stand and wait? She shut her eyes tight. Some light still got through. Eyelids are ever so slightly transparent. She knew that when it became too difficult, when she stumbled over things that she knew would be right there in her path chairs, the table, not the unexpected, a bicycle, the windowcleaner's bucket, a child's toy left forgotten in the space, between the backdoor and the dustbin, she knew that when it became too difficult, she could open her eyes to the blinding light that she had so easily denied herself so that for the time being as long as it suited her, she could try the experience of being blind. The knowledge that she could put an end to it the instant it became too much bother, too much trouble; the knowledge that she could after all, open her eyes again and see, that knowledge prevented her from really knowing what it was really like to live in a perpetual night that is blacker than any night on the face of God's Earth, that knowledge saver her. Margaret was helpful, but couldn't understand.Joe was blind, and she could only sit and listen without really understanding.
Right away, as soon as he knew, as soon as he was blinded by the virus, something that could invade a pinhead without being seen by the naked eye, a minute organism that had managed to do what a battery of guns had failed to do, a minute being that God had created, had struck him and left him unable to see his grandchildren, although he could hear them playing; as soon as he was blinded he made the most of his life. What else could he do? It takes more than even blindness to alter a person's way of doing things....of seeing things. Joe made the most of his life. He did all the things that he had ever done. He did them slower, much slower than before, but he did them. He didn't read, but he listened to Margaret reading. She read from the bookshelf, familiar stories that he knew and loved. She read from the Bible, and the familiar became fresh and new through her voice. He listened and understood the stories that he had heard from his childhood. The words took on new meaning through their being spoken. Words that had lost some of their value, some of their significance through usage, became new again, revitalised, refreshed, and were once again understood as a child understands before the world taints and wonder turns to cynicism. One day, a day like any other in this early time of their new life together, Margaret called him. He did not answer. She called again. A faint voice came up from what seemed like the depths of the house. She listened. Her name was being called out from somewhere below her feet. There was a knocking, then her name, then more knocking, until she was following the sound of her name, and the knocking.
She stood at the door to the cellar steps, and listened. A sharp draught of cold, musty air caught her throat, and she coughed. He had stopped calling her name, but the knocking sound continued steady. She stared down into the blackness of the steps that went down to the dirt and the cobwebs, and Joe. He was chopping firewood. He had always chopped the firewood in the cellar, and he saw no reason to stop doing it now.
He had tried the lightswitch, tried it and laughed silently, tried it and turned it off. He hadn't remembered to get a new lightbulb. The steps were easy with arms outstretched, hands and elbows touching the whitewashed walls, dusty on either side. He had searched for the axe, and found it where he had left it, it's sharp blade embedded in the round block that served as a solid base on which to chop. The wood was heaped at the side of the block. He began to chop the wood. It was slow work at first. He caught the side of his hand, and his thumb, before measuring his stroke, and holding the short pieces of wood at right angles under the sharp axe. In between the strokes, he heard Margaret calling down to him. He called back. Margaret stepped carefully down the steps. The blackness smothered her. She held her hand in front of her face, but she couldn't see it. She moved it in front of her eyes. She saw nothing but black. Joe chopped steadily on. She wondered, and she understood. In the black that was as thick as the coaldust that covered the walls of the cellar he was at home. He could chop firewood without chopping his fingers off to lie black and bloody in the dirt of the cold stone floor. He could do what she could not. She was helpless in the pitchblack. She stumbled over the old pram that had held the twins. It had been there since they were old enough to walk, full of coke and firewood. It had always been there but she fell over it. Then she understood, and was full of sadness, full of joy. She could walk back up into the light, back up the dusty steps, to a world she could see. Joe could not. The blackness of the cellar came with him back up the steps into her world of light.
She understood, and was sorry. Robert L. Fielding