Image © Adrian Williams 2015
|by Bud Smith||December 30, 2015|
The woman at the desk has frizzled hair and sharp teeth. We’re old friends.
“You don’t have to sign in,” she says.
She is smoking a cigarette in secret.
I wave and walk down that lemon and kelly hallway.
On Thursdays for mandatory community service hours, I read to the blind.
But like everyone else on this planet, the blind have no use for books.
Here are some of my lies:
I have lied about the Wizard of Oz. I gave him a hook for a hand and a fear of any kind of snake, big or small. I made the bricks out of watermelon sugar. I gave the witch heroin for blood. I had her speak in Nigerian Jazz.
I have re-fabricated other false pasts. Huckleberry Kim accidentally froze the Mississippi River, while her lover Tree Top Jim, swam in it. Kim used just a single drop of an experimental world destroying weapon called Ice Ice Baby Nineteen.
The Little Women all had flame throwers, and could see the future by placing their palms on the foreheads of sleeping tigers. Jane Eyre died in a spelunking accident searching for El Dorado. Lot’s Wife didn’t turn to salt, she turned into a pterodactyl, which he rode with a sophisticated saddle, right into the center of a sand storm that was whispering both their names.
You’d think I’d be more popular here.
But I’m not popular here.
The orderly won’t look me in the eye.
He pretends to mop the floor as I pass, but my brain didn’t melt in my fire. I know the bucket has no water.
My girl for today, the worst girl in the entire facility, is by the window.
Maybe twenty. Maybe I am being punished by being given her.
Maybe she is being punished harder by being sentenced to me.
People like us are often herded together slowly by the invisible will of the damned, fake-happy.
I say, “Hello.”
She looks. She has no pupils. Her eyes are solid milk.
She springs from her wheelchair—onto sure legs, surprises me.
“You don’t need that, I guess.”
“Oh me? I’m a back flipper from way back.”
With her palms, she smooths the creases of a dress overrun with gold finches.
Maybe she is at an eighth grade mixer waiting to be asked to dance, but is feral and just got done foaming at the mouth through the braces. I have no corsage. My parole officer wants me to take a job at the municipal dump: night shift.
“You can tell a lot of things about a person from their hand shake,” she says.
Her hands are like burnt ice cream.
“What does mine say?”
“You were in a fire,” she grins.
I sit down on the bed. “Yeah, I was in a fire, Nancy Drew.”
She sits back down in her wheelchair, proud of herself. Probably somebody else in the home told her about me already. They’re kicking field goals with me here.
The blind have no love for me either.
“How’d the fire happen?”
“Ah shit, shut up.”
“I wanna know—tell.”
“Why you roll around in a wheelchair if you don’t need it?”
“I like to bump into things. I want a demolition derby. I’ve listened to them on TV. They sound fun. I’m tired of feeling around. How’d you get cooked?”
“Oh it was stupid. I was trying to set my motorcycle on fire. I was trying to blow it up. For the insurance money.”
“What’s it like to ride a motorcycle?”
“I’d feel bad describing it.”
“Probably feels like being a loud bird, I’d guess.”
“Loud bird. Yes, that’s it.”
“Low flying monster hawk.”
I’ve got Life of Pi on the coffee table. I am trying to decide if I am going to make the tiger be the entire forces of Nazi Germany or if I am going to make the boat be a kite.
“Did you hurt anyone else, burning the bike?”
“Do you want to feel my face?” I ask.
“No, that’s okay.”
“Don’t you want to know what I look like?”
“I can tell from your voice and the things you say that you’re ugly, but don’t take that the wrong way. It’s the tone of your voice.”
I laugh. She’s right. I say, “You’re no looker either.”
“We make a good pair, an asshole and a blind girl.”
“Well, you’re not just blind, you’re also an asshole. I don’t think I’m gonna read to you.”
“Oh boo hoo. You sound like you’re from New Jersey. People from New Jersey don’t even know the whole alphabet.”
“Where you from?”
“I’m from Hell.”
She stands from the wheelchair and walks over. “I changed my mind, let me feel your face.”
“Nah, get away from me.”
“Don’t be such a pathetic milquetoast.” she whispers.
I look over my shoulder and the orderly is looking in the doorway and suddenly I’m more paranoid about looking like a punk who’s afraid of a little girl, so I give in.
I close my eyes and she runs her fingers across the rippled folds of my cheek, my brow, my chin, my twisted nose.
“You were foolish,” she says.
“I’ve heard that.”
“You don’t even have glasses on. Do you wear contact lenses?”
She smiles again. Her teeth are perfect but for some reason still have metal braces.
“I want to show you what I see, sometimes it’s better than a dream.”
“What do the blind dream of?”
I let her close my eyelids for me.
I let my lids fall. Let them seal in total.
“Don’t get nervous. Just relax.”
She rests her fingers on my eyeballs, applies slight pressure.
And then the world lowers its volume. The world hums and says goodbye repelling down a deep chasm. The sky folds in and the clouds fold in, all vacuumed away into a chamber of perfect snow packed nothing.
This must be why people meditate or do the dishes.
She applies greater pressure.
With the pressure I can see my blood vessels.
I see a faint purple light rising.
Then a pink.
The light becomes brighter. It transitions to orange and then white and then back to pink.
She presses slightly harder.
I sigh, completely gone gone.
“Here it comes,” she says.
“What?” I say, hoping to be shown a vine obscured temple, a white lightning sneezing horse, a volcano of pinball answers, a question that erases itself. The music, perhaps, of my life, I’ve never heard, but have often longed for.
This is when she rips my eyelashes off.
“Are you fucking kidding me!”
The orderly comes through the door and pushes her back in her wheel chair.
She’s celebrating like she just kicked the winning field goal and I am the Super Bowl.
And I’m walking down the hallway with my hand over my face, just a little blood, but oh god the pain and the orderly is saying, “You okay, man. You okay.”
“I knew she was gonna do that shit.”
“Thanks for the heads up.”
“Anytime,” he says, slapping my back.
The woman at the desk has finished her secret cigarette. She smiles the smile of a deeply imbedded spy, “They love you here.”
I’m all temporary hate.
As she signs my paperwork.
I glance at the two more community service hours added to my tally. And I think about how I could have stayed picking up trash on the side of the road. Or I could be washing and waxing cars at the police station. Or I could be giving out soup at the shelter.
“You coming back,” she says.
A drop of blood from my face, lands on her hand, the slip, the metallic butcher block desk.
I say, “Everyone is hurt—everyone is angry. I’m right at home.”
“Bout sums it up,” she says, passing my slip to me.
On the walk home, I wonder, how I can I bring a demolition derby to this needful girl?
Bud Smith is the author of the novels, F 250, Tollbooth and I’m From Electric Peak. His work has been at Hobart, The Rumpus, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Smokelong, Word Riot, among others. He works heavy construction in NJ and lives in NYC, with his wife, a textile artist.