I didn’t have to stay in the house- I was only trapped by my reluctance to be seen. Was it possible to go out without being seen? I had a car- Maggie used it for shopping- and all the windows were tinted. If I went out at night, the chance of someone getting a good look at my face was remote.
Driving around helped some but I still felt trapped. So one night, I ran away.
I don’t mean that literally, I didn’t intend on staying gone, but I snuck out the back door and went for a walk. I kept my hood up and my head down and turned my face away whenever I passed anyone. Mostly I stayed in the shadows. No one saw me, at least, no one saw me well enough to stare or scream and I felt freer than I had since my bachelor party.
One frozen bright morning, the doorbell rang. I expected it was someone selling something- insurance, religion, girl scout cookies- something. But when I looked through the peep-hole, it was a young man, not much older than me.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
“The tutor? Your dad hired me. I’m supposed to move in today.” How like my dad- he hadn’t even bothered to send me a text message to let me know about this much less ask if I wanted someone else in the house.
“Tell my father he can go to hell!” I had no intention of letting this joker into my house, certainly not on my father’s say-so.
“Happy to. Meantime, how about you cage the rage and invite me in for a nice hot bowl of ‘dad sucks’.”
He was taking this awfully calmly, my father must have told him that he’d be less than welcome.
“Saw right through that one, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s a little gift I have. Especially since I can’t actually, you know, see.”
Blind- the man was blind. What could I do? I opened the door. At least he wouldn’t be shocked at my appearance.
“Hi, I’m Will.” I could see now that he had a cane- unobtrusive but there.
“Come in. I’ll get Maggie. She’ll welcome you to hell, fix you up with your own bedroom and explain what happened to me and what I did to deserve this. Oh, and please, please, hang with us. Gouge the old man for everything he’s worth. He deserves it.” I started to go get Maggie and then came back. “You know what? Obviously he forgot to spin the borderline hostile act of hiring a blind guy to tutor his creep-show son. As for continuing education, I think I’ll take a pass.”
I left Will standing in the hall and sent Maggie to settle him in. I wasn’t mad at him but I was so angry that it spilled over. A tutor! I didn’t need a tutor. I was already done with school years ago. I had a bachelor’s degree in… oh. Advertising. A field for which I was no longer qualified. Eventually I was going to have to learn to do something else- something where no one would see me. Maybe a tutor wasn’t such a bad idea.
In spite of this realization, I avoided Will for the most part at first. Partly because I didn’t want to find out what he was supposed to be teaching me and partly because he made me ashamed of moping about aimlessly. I couldn’t avoid him at dinner and I found myself liking him quite a lot. He had a wicked sense of humor which he turned on himself as often as he turned it on anything.
Maggie sensibly moved him into what we had been calling my father’s room in tacit acknowledgement that my father was never coming near this house. Which put him right across the hall from me… and Will had ears like a bat. One morning, I came out of my room just as he was finishing dressing, the door partway open. I was barefoot but when I came a bit closer to see what he was doing- choosing a tie by the feel of it- he startled me by speaking as if he knew I was there.
“Defying expectations, Blindie keeps up his bitchin’ sense of style. A hold-over from my seeing days.” He’d mentioned that he had been able to see until he was 15- which sucks worse than never having been able to see at all. He knew what he was missing.
“Point being, no matter what, how you look matters?” That had been the philosophy my father had drummed into me all my life.
“Point being, it’s not about how others look at me, It’s about how I look at myself. Mental Rubik’s cube, I know, but one day it’ll make sense.” He waggled his eyebrows at me and we went down to breakfast.
One thing I had noticed, I didn’t seem to be sleeping nearly as much as I did before the change. I could spend the day bantering with Will and Maggie and then slip out late in the evening for a walk… and still be up for breakfast. I didn’t go out every evening at first but as I grew more confident of not being seen, I went out more and more. My walks started out being random… and one evening as I was leaving I saw a flash of green from the mirror.
I went in to the room, thinking the gypsy wanted to tell me something… and there was a street scene in the mirror. It was the fortune telling shop. Ok, the message couldn’t have been plainer- I went there.
The shop was there alright, but it was closed. The sign in the window said “Come Back Tomorrow” and while it might not have been a specific instruction to me, I decided that I should do exactly that. I really, really didn’t want to make her any more angry with me than she already was. From the shadow beside the building, I could see the news stand where I had bought the rose. It was closing up and the rose-girl was just locking the door. I felt a sudden rush of gratitude to her- she had bought me two years. Maybe it wouldn’t do me any good, but I still felt I owed her.
Even though it was late, she didn’t seem to be afraid of the city at night. I followed her, keeping well back. I’m not even sure why I followed her. She led me into a neighbourhood that I never been before- decrepit and derelict- and went into a building with ratty little shops on the first floor but apparently tenement apartments above. In a minute or two, I saw lights go on in a second floor window. I watched the window for awhile and could see glimpses of her beyond a short row of plants on the window sill.
I stayed until I saw the lights go off- all but one dim one. She was leaving the light on for someone. I pondered this. It could be a roommate.. or a boyfriend. No, wait, she told me that she didn’t have a boyfriend. Of course, that was months ago and things could have changed since then.
As I walked home, I took note of places I wouldn’t be seen. Behind fire escapes, in the mouth of alleys. And there were plenty of shadows, the streetlights were not good here.
Next evening I went earlier, in hopes of catching the gypsy shop open but it still had the sign in the window. Had it been open at all? There was no way I could know.
Since I had nothing better to do, I watched the news stand. The rose-girl was working again and she was nice to watch. She was pretty but not in the glamorous way that Laurel was pretty, she looked fresh and effortless. And she was friendly, she had a smile for everyone and called several people by name.
As it got close to time for her to close, I noticed the homeless men (and one woman) stopping by, one or two at a time. She handed all and sundry cups of coffee until there was no more. Then she cleaned the pot and put it away. This was obviously something she did every night- giving away coffee instead of throwing it away. She knew every one of their names and they knew hers… which is how I found out that her name actually was Rose. I hadn’t been so far off in thinking of her as ‘the rose-girl’.
So I followed her home again- just to make sure that she was safe. She might be friendly with the homeless people but this was also close to the Dead Rabbits gang territory. With that in mind, I started showing up every night to shadow her home. It was unaccountably important to me that she be safe.
I’d been doing this for several days when she came back out of her building almost as soon as she got there. She walked around the neighbourhood for quite awhile, looking for someone. Eventually, she found him- her father- and managed to get him to come home although he was obviously intoxicated on something. This made me very late getting myself home that night and I heard about it at dinner the next evening.
Will was teasing me. He could do things I never imagined a blind person could but sometimes he did make a mistake. That night he was refilling his water glass between dinner and dessert while Maggie was getting the confection of the evening. He managed to pour it almost full… and then poured a bit more… and then I stopped him before he over-filled the glass. He chuckled at me… since he’d been waiting for me to stop him.
“Ass-wipe” I muttered.
“You have the humor of a marmot. So, I heard someone sneaking in late last night. Where’d you go?” he asked.
“Isn’t the good thing about having no parents that you have no parents? Get off my back.” I grumbled at him. I really didn’t want to tell about following Rose- it sounded too close to stalking. “You know, since we last talked, I’ve been thinking, and is there any kind of eye operation? Because I saw, like, every doctor in the country.”
“Miracle only,” he said. “But.. thanks.”
Maggie had come in by then. “So where’d you go last night?” she chimed in- not letting me change the subject.
“I went to see about this girl.” I said, rather vaguely.
Maggie almost clapped her hands. “I’m so happy for you!” she exclaimed.
“I didn’t even talk to her!” Congratulations were a bit premature at best.
Will grinned. “Baby steps,” he said. “You think you might say ‘wassup’?”
“The benefit of you being blind is you can’t see how I should so never say ‘wassup’.” I could just imagine what the response to that would be. But we ended the meal in high spirits. It was good to have friends who believed in me even if the odds were definitely not in my favor.
Even though I no longer expected to catch the gypsy’s shop open, I kept going back. I found I could get close enough to listen to conversations and read the titles of the books she read between customers. Rose read voraciously and I began ordering the book she was currently reading as I would be able to read it as well.
Will found out that I was reading more and we had some satisfying discussions about some of the more classic works. While he could teach math and history, his passion was for literature, especially classic English works. I had mostly found his favorites to be dry and boring before we discussed them but he made them come alive. It was a little while before I realized that he loved teaching and agreed to informal classes. I didn’t need a literature degree but it was only a formalization of the discussions we were already having and it made Will happy… or at least happier. Besides, I found that, if I brought up a book at dinner, he was less likely to tease me about my increasingly late nights.
And I was staying out later and more often. More and more frequently, Rose would go out looking for her father after work. Whatever his addiction, it was getting worse.
I didn’t like it when Rose had to go out again late at night. When she walked home from work, there was a spring in her step and she made me wonder if she liked to dance, the way she moved. When she went out later, she was not happy- her movements were subdued. Perhaps she was trying to avoid attention but there was no bounce in her walk. I couldn’t tell if she was frightened or just worried… or possibly both. Occasionally she found her father quickly but usually it took an hour or more. Those nights I didn’t dare leave her. She managed to stay under the Dead Rabbits’ radar but she frequently crossed over into their ‘turf’