Blindness by Lynn A. Vande Stouwe

Blindness by Lynn A. Vande Stouwe

It happened on a Thursday not unlike any other, save, perhaps, for the snow, which wouldn’t stop, and that it was the morning after Rebecca broke his nose.

Daniel should have known better than to drive under such conditions, but it was the same morning he resolved to leave the Catskills to save himself, or at least Adina.

Adina needed curing. If he was not going to rescue her, who would?

#

To get to the augury in Boston before the eclipse, he needed to wake Adina by seven. He did not know where the augury might send them. He would pack enough to get them through a week but not enough to make Rebecca suspicious when she got home from work. He made these plans as he cleared the driveway of snow.

He should have worn something over his ears, he thought, to protect against the blast of the throttle as he revved the blower. He hated that the mechanical pulse, though deafening, could not drown out these and other self-protective thoughts.
Watch the ice. Cover your eyes.

His nose was already broken. And then there was Adina.

A red truck with fat tires as tall as a donkey spattered to a stop near his mailbox. Reid Johnson, wearing that camouflage baseball cap that must be soldered to his head. He rolled down the window, spit a black parabola of tobacco juice as he called to Daniel.

“Hey, Mr. Brooklyn.” He laughed every time, although it was not clever, calling someone from Brooklyn Mr. Brooklyn. “What happened to your nose?”

Daniel brought a hand to his face, remembered now that he had plastered it with white medical tape the night before, hoping to coerce the cartilage back into place.

“Tree branch.”

Reid nodded, long and slow, his face between a grimace and smirk.

“Need any help?”

“We’re fine, Reid,” Daniel said, though the snow overwhelmed the gap between his boot and shin with each step he took. There was a thick, wet sound when he lifted his leg.

Reid gave him a salute—he had been in the Marines, or the Army, Daniel couldn’t remember the difference—and drove off, the treads of his tires parting the snow like water.

#

Daniel needed money to pay the augury. It was $200 the month before, when she told them to come back at the eclipse. It would be more this time, if the opening she expected from the eclipse presented itself, if she could read Adina. He would tell Rebecca that they were going to Dr. Crane, who did not take Rebecca’s Oxford plan.

He turned the blower off and walked back to the house. Adina was sitting up in her crib, facing the window. Looking at something, he might have said, if he didn’t know better. His vision blurred from the light reflected by the snow, and an orange aura glowed around her as he strained to focus. It became unbearable and he looked down.

6:45 am. Rebecca would be at her desk, would have been there for almost two hours now. He called.

“Daniel.” she answered. Her voice was flat, tired by the very idea of him. “About last night.”

He wanted to ask her so many things but settled on the most important.

“I don’t want to talk about that. We’re going to Dr. Crane at Mass General today. I need to have payment on hand.”

“Who?”

“The prosthetic trial guy.”

“Didn’t you just see him?” She was typing short bursts of keystrokes. He knew they were stock tickers: three letters and a return key to conjure up neon bar graphs and streams of numbers on her Bloomberg terminal. It always looked to him like hieroglyphics.

“It’s a follow-up.”

“Is he—“ She stopped herself. “You need to email me. I’m going to be documenting all of this now.”

“You’re the one who hit me. Wouldn’t I be the one divorcing you?”

“Write the email. Drive. And the money will be there when you get to Boston. All right?”

He reflexively sucked his teeth then tried to mask the sound with his hand over the receiver. He needed to be calm. He and Adina were almost free.

“Thank you, Rebecca.”

As he moved to hang up, she yelled again.

“And Daniel, if you take Adina back to that lunatic witch, I’ll sue you for custody.”
The phone clicked, dead before he had a chance to be angry.

#

Adina felt her way around a bowl of Cheerios at the kitchen table. She rounded each one between her thumb and index finger before she brought it to her mouth.

“What’s happening?” She asked this all the time now. He incessantly googled everything she said, searching for parallelisms with a regular two-year-old. A regular child might ask, “What is that?” But for Adina, there was no that.

“I’m sending an email,” he said. “And then we are going on an adventure.”

“Awesome.” She said. Everything was awesome. She went back to her Cheerios.

She was so simple first thing in the morning. He felt guilty for the afternoons when he counted the hours until her bedtime. He was guilty, too, for the mornings where he wallowed underneath the comforter, letting her sing his name from the crib for a little longer than he should.

“I seen a lady.”

He closed his laptop. Seen? She had never used the word before.

“You what?”

“Outside there. A music lady.”

He looked at her eyes worshiping the window, the thin grey clouds that hovered over the pupil. She would always look toward the brightest spot in the room, searching for contrast, the doctors said, where it was strongest.

He peered through the glass. There was only white snow.

“That’s great, Adina.”

“Awesome.” Her hands found the buckle of the booster seat. She unclipped it, swung her legs over the side and scaled to the ground, one hand guiding the other with great deliberation, as if she was descending a mountain.

#

A snowplow passed as he strapped Adina into her carseat. The rattle of its chains drowned out her guttural, ritual scream. Whenever she was picked up, strapped in, or moved anywhere at all, she screamed.

As he struggled with the buckle, he felt a tinge of heat on his neck, almost like a breath cutting the chilled air.

“Help her,” a feminine, lilting voice whispered.

He spun around. But there was no one there. Only wind, snow, ice.

#

He was calculating how long it would take to reach the augury, who was not in Boston proper but just past, in Salem, when he saw the old white Mercedes on the side of the road.

Its right wheels grappled with the edge of a ditch. It was a city car–probably someone’s spoiled wife driving up to study the progress of a tennis court going into the backyard of their “country house.”

He only slowed because he noticed the ukulele in the woman’s hand.

“Adina? Adina, do you see her?”

He looked in the rearview mirror, but her head lolled to the side in the carseat. Though her eyes were half open, the acute angle of her head meant she was sleeping.

He wanted to speed up again but the woman waved, his braking having given her false hope. He rolled down the window. A flurry of snow settled on the passenger seat.

“Can I give you a lift to the Hess station?”

Her eyes were green enough to remind him of spring. Underneath her blouse he could make out the thinness of her waist, the gentle slope of her hip radiating from it. She thumbed back to the Mercedes.

“I’ve replaced every part of this car twice. It’s done.” The woman smiled, tossed her dark curls over her shoulder with a stretch of her milky neck.

He glanced up at the rearview mirror again. Adina would be asleep for an hour at least.

“A ride?”

“If it’s not out of the way.”

“We’re heading towards Boston.”

“Perfect,” she said, “I’m going to Salem.”

She opened the door and let herself in. She balanced the ukulele on her knee as she closed the door slowly, quietly, like she knew Adina was sleeping in the back, even though he hadn’t said a word.

“So are we, actually.”

She buckled her seatbelt, studied him with a wide, unembarrassed face.

“Your nose is bleeding again, Daniel.”

#

He watched the dial on the speedometer, which hovered around 30 mph though the Acura heaved with total effort. He was trying to remember when he had told the woman his name.

“There’s an eclipse this afternoon,” the woman said.

“I know,” he said. He could see her white smile in the corner of his eye.
She picked at the strings of her ukulele with the tips of her fingernails. Through the sleeve of her blouse, which was thinner than tissue, he could make out a dark, round freckle near her elbow.

“Don’t you have a coat?” he asked.

“I don’t get cold.” She shrugged, which sent the curls cascading again, down her back like a wave.

“You need one up here. You can’t just hop in a cab, as you learned the hard way.”

“Five trucks went by with-out sto-opp-ing,” she sang. She strummed again, singing the last words. His initial excitement over his lush, adult travel companion was fading with each nonsensical jingle picked out on the ukulele, as if their journey was the stuff of troubadours. There was a green pallor, the longer he looked, to her hands.

He heard a rustling from the backseat as Adina rolled her head, searching for a comfortable position, eyes open but not moving.

The woman turned around to look.

“Your daughter’s blind,” she said, like he didn’t already know it.

She should have turned back with that, at least pretended to look out the window or remark on the trees, how they looked broken under the ice. But she didn’t move, kept her green eyes trained on Adina’s uncertain gray ones.

“Your poor wife,” she said, her voice low and breathy.

“Yes my poor wife.” He could feel a pounding in his temples. “My poor, rich wife who broke my nose.”

He was desperate to unload some kind of burden on this woman. It seemed unfair that he might take all the suffering himself, the driving, while this milk white woman with her summer blouse and ukulele sat passively, along for the ride.

She turned back around, finally, giving Daniel something like relief.

#

“Why are you going to Salem?” she asked. The snow was coming down harder the farther east they drove. Three hours and they were not even past Lenox with its rolling hills masquerading as mountains.

“We’re sort of going to see a doctor.”

“In a blizzard? Better be her cure.” He saw her eyes wander to the sideview mirror and wondered if the angle let her study Adina. He would stop for gas at the next exit, even though the tank was three-quarters full, and make some excuse to get rid of her.

“In all likelihood, nothing is going to cure her,” he said. He believed this, even though he wanted not to.

“Shhh,” she hissed, as angry as he should have been. “What if she hears you?”

There was silence for a moment. It gave him the space to concentrate on a black patch of ice in the road that could only be crossed by lifting his foot from the accelerator, letting the car coast.

She hummed now, craned her neck.

“The eclipse is here.”

He slowed, looked through the top of the windshield and he saw it—the black disc of the moon beginning to slide its way across the sun.

“No. Not yet.” They were at least an hour from Salem.

“It’s happening.” She plucked at the strings of her ukulele.

“Dammit.” He slammed a fist against the steering wheel. His fingers ached. The horn blared. He stopped the car. There was no point now.

He buried his head in his hands and began to weep, not caring that the woman could see his tears. He would never save Adina.

“There’s no cure at all?” she asked, as if she knew his thoughts.

He shook his head, swallowed the lump in his throat.

“I’d give anything.”

Her plucking turned to something like a melody, growing stronger, louder until it superseded the rhythmic rubber sliding of the windshield wipers, until it was the only thing he could hear. It was not just loud but consuming, and he wondered for a moment if he was dying. He looked to the woman for an answer. She smiled, gently shaking her head in time with the music so her dark hair caught the last light of the sun, letting off a sheen that seemed too brilliant for the darkening sky. Her smile was the last thing he remembered before the heaviness of his eyes became too incredible to bear. He let them close with a great, heaving finality.

#

“What is that?” He heard Adina’s marvelous, delicate question before he opened his eyes. He must have fallen asleep. When he moved to stretch, the rigidity of the leather seat stopped him, and he remembered they were in the car. He was still drowsy and languid.

“What is what?” he fought to open his eyes, to break free from the deepness of sleep pulling him back.

“Right there.”

He couldn’t go back to sleep. The car was on. He could hear the humming of the engine, feel the faint heat blowing from the anemic vents. He needed to see that Adina was safe.

But when he brought a hand to his face, moved the tips of the fingers to his throbbing nose, he grazed where the lid of his eye should have been but wasn’t. His eyes were already open.

“Adina, are you all right?”

He could hear the excited scrape of her pink shoes against the back of his seat.

“Look,” she said.

He put his hand to the window. The glass was cold. He felt above the door handle for the button to roll the window down. Snow blasted his face.

He reached into his pocket for his phone, gripped the hard edge of the case, but realized it was useless. He had no memory of where to find the numbers, what button to press to even make a call.

“Where is the music lady?” He felt the pounding again in his temples.

“Just Daddy-a-dina.”

Out the window he heard the grinding of tires against the ice, a damp screech as they came to a halt.

“Mr. Brooklyn? Stranded all the way out here?” The voice called to him. “Looks like you’re in need of a rescue.”

The air was cold on Daniel’s face, numbing his nose. Adina squealed, clapped her hands. He imagined her catching the fat flakes on her tongue, between her caterpillar fingers. There was nothing left to save.

“We’re fine, Reid,” he said. “Everything is fine now.”

And it was.

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