Author’s note: I’m rewriting this story as part of a writing exercise.
Ffffffffft. I love that scraping sound a joint makes when you inhale all the way to the bottom of your lungs. I blew it out of my nostrils like a dragon. I think I heard a car roll into the driveway, but I was too distracted shooting aliens on my Xbox. Pew! Pew! I love imitating the sound effects in video games.
“Honey, I’m home!” My wife yelled. It sounded like she had a lot of bags in her hands. I’d go help her, but I’m almost done with my mission.
“Welcome home, Sweetie!” I yelled from the den.
“Thaaanks. Hey if you’re not busy, can you help me with these bags?”
“Yeah be right there.” I finished the mission quickly and saved.
“Yeah no problem. What’s with all the groceries?”
“We have a special guest tonight, remember? I told you that my old friend, Robert is coming over. His wife just passed and he’s visiting friends and relatives.”
“Oh right! The blind guy.”
She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Yeah ‘the blind guy.’ My friend and pen pal for 10 years.”
“Well not ‘pen’ pal.” I said with air quotes.
“Oh whatever. Grow up. Here, start chopping these carrots. Try not to cut yourself and try to focus. I can tell you’re high”
“Oh yeah, babe. You want some?” I picked up the smoldering joint and held it out to her.
“Ugh, you know I don’t smoke that stuff.”
“Eh, well, it’s polite to offer.”
Once the prep work was done, I went to the living room to chill out with another joint and pass time watching TV. Why was my wife so uptight about this guy? I mean sure. They’ve been friends for a long time. But they weren’t “pen pals”. They mailed audio cassettes back and forth. How hipster can you get?
I was not looking forward to meeting this Robert guy. He was blind, and that bothered me. I don’t know why, but I could never admit it to my wife. It was just weird. Would he be stumbling through the apartment? Would he stub his toe? What if he has one of those seeing eye dogs and it pees on our carpet? At least he couldn’t criticize our god awful wallpaper that we never got around to replacing after we moved in. It’s just one of those things that we always said we would do, but now it just felt too late. Anyway, a blind man in my house was not something I was looking forward it.
When my wife married her previous husband, they were both broke. He was busy with officer’s training school, so he didn’t have time for a job. So she looked for ads in the paper. One ad stood out to her: HELP WANTED Reading to Blind Man, Summer Job. She went in and was hired on the spot. She worked with him all through summer, and then the fall, and then winter and spring. She became his right hand. She’d hand him reports that she filed, read him stuff, organize the office, and keep his planner updated. Then her husband graduated and they had to move. On her last day, Robert asked if he could feel her face. She agreed out of curiosity. He ran his finger tips over her face from top to bottom: forehead, eyelids, nose, lips, jaw, and even the top of her neck. She never forgot that feeling. She wrote a poem about it. She’s always writing a poem about something, anything significant that happens in her life, usually about once or twice a year.
When we first started going out, she read me the poem. She described what it was like, having someone touch her face so gently, about what went through her mind. I don’t remember the poem, but I remember not liking it. Of course, I didn’t tell her that! Eh, maybe I’m just not a poetic kind of guy.
They moved from Seattle to Atlanta when her husband became a commissioned officer. She tried calling Robert, but the time zones always made it difficult to talk for long. They eventually settled on mailing audio cassettes to each other, which sounds even more difficult, if you ask me. They talked about how Robert’s business was doing and how she felt as a military wife. She told him on one of the tapes, that she decided to live away from her husband for some time. Then another tape about the divorce. Eventually we started going out and she started telling Robert about me. She kept offering to play the tapes where she talked about me, but I never had time when she offered. I don’t know. I guess I was nervous about what she said. I mean, look at what happened to the last guy!
Now this blind man was going to be staying in my house.
“Oh! I just remembered. The game is on tonight. Do you think I could leave after dinner to watch in the den?”
“Ugh. Babe, I’m not going to tell you what you can and can’t do. But let me ask you this, if you had a friend who needed to stay the night, don’t you think I’d do everything I can to make sure he feels at home?”
“But I don’t have any blind friends.”
“You don’t have any friends. Period. Besides, the man’s wife just died. Can you imagine how that must feel? He’s lost his wife.”
I didn’t answer. I had no idea how that must feel.
She began rambling about Robert’s life, so I poured myself a drink and tried to focus. Apparently when my wife quit to move to Atlanta, Robert hired a new girl. This girl would become his future wife. They only had eight years together before her health went into rapid decline. Breast cancer. There was nothing that could be done. He was reduced to sitting by her bed, holding her hand, crying, praying. They lived together for 8 years and the man never had the pleasure of seeing her face. Can you imagine? I began to pity the man. Tragic really.
She left to go pick him up for the airport. While she was gone I finished my drink and poured myself another one, this one stronger than she would have approved. I killed some time by checking on the oven and just relaxing on the couch.
I was listening to my stomach grumble when there was a knock at the door. I opened it and let the two of them in.
“Here, let me take that.” I said to Robert, taking his duffel bag. I wanted to show her that I was making an effort. I offered my hand to shake his, but realized he couldn’t see it.
“Here, let me shake your hand.”
“Thank you, kind sir!” boomed Robert. His meaty bear paw crushed my hand. His voice, personality, and body filled the room. I was impressed by his beard. It was bushy like Karl Marx’s. He waddled in, my wife leading him to the nearest chair.
“Here let me take those to your room, Robert.” said my wife, leaving me alone.
“Thank you! So you must be the husband! I’ve heard so much about you.” I was again struck by his persona. It felt like he was excited by every sentence he spoke. He was so at ease, that it felt like it was he, who was trying to make me feel at home, and to be honest it was working. All except two things. The first was that he looked right at me when we talked, even as I moved around the room. I didn’t expect that. The other was that he didn’t wear sunglasses and his eyes twitched as if he were blinking, even though they were closed. Why don’t all blind people wear sunglasses? Otherwise they weird-out people like me.
I wanted to make conversation, but didn’t know what to say to a blind man. “So… did you get a window seat on the airplane?” I instantly regretted opening my mouth and mentally kicked myself. I was glad my wife didn’t hear me ask such a stupid question.
“Aisle, actually. So tell me, you follow football don’t you? How are the Falcons doing?”
“Oh real well this year. Yeah, phenomenally actually. Especially Julio Jones. Uh, do you watch, or I mean, do you listen to football too?”
“Ha! I do. Go Seahawks, baby!”
I didn’t know what else to say. “Hey can I make you a drink? What’s your poison?”
“Whisky neat, please”
“I knew it! I had you figured for a whisky man. I’m a whisky man myself. I have some real nice bourbon I think you’ll like. How do you take it? Water, coke?”
“Just a little water, please.”
“Same as me. Coming right up. Anything for you, dear?” I called to my wife as she came back to the living room.
“Oh I’ll just have what you boys are having.”
We moved to the dining table and started our feast. We barely spoke except to ask, pass the salt, though the food was on-point and needed hardly any. I was famished before dinner. The weed made me hungry and all I had to fill my stomach was a few stiff drinks. So I was ecstatic about stuffing my face with everything in sight, not least of which was my wife’s unbeatable apple pie.
Finally we moved back into the living room. We left the dishes right where they were. The sofa and recliner chairs was arranged in a “U” shape around the TV. My wife and Robert talked endlessly. I barely had a chance to speak up, but then again, I barely wanted to. Robert talked about how he and his wife had just started selling life insurance, which had apparently been pretty profitable. He also talked about his hobby, amateur HAM radio. He said he made a bunch of friends all over the world that way. I turned on the TV in boredom. I was happy for my wife to have time with an old friend. Sometimes he’d ask me questions like how long I’d been at my job (5 long years.) Did I like my job? (No it was boring as hell.) Did I ever think about other positions? (Sometimes, but the money was too good.)
I guess tonight wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
Then the worst imaginable thing happened. My wife started to doze off. After the alcohol and the big meal, she could barely keep her eyes open. I was left alone with the blind man. Now what?
“Hey Robert. Let me know if you want to go to bed. I know it’s been a long day for you.”
“Thanks thanks. I think I’ll stay up a bit longer. The jet lag and all that, you know?”
“Anything you want to watch, or like, listen to on the TV? We have like 200 channels.”
“Haha yeah you can just say watch. Um naw, just put on whatever you want to watch. I’m always learning something, you know? Learning never stops.”
I scrolled through all of the sports channels, but it was just non-stop talking and commercials. Eventually I settled on a public access channel that had a special about cathedrals. It wasn’t much, but it was better than commercials. The guy on TV talked about their history and the evolution of their architecture.
“Can I get you another drink?” I asked.
“No I’m feeling pretty good right now.”
“Oh speaking of feeling good, want some weed? I got this stuff that’s really mellow.” I was already at the kitchen counter rolling another joint.
“Sure I’ll try some.”
I lit it and took a hit. “Here.” I said handing it to him. “Take a deep breath and hold it.”
“Haha I know.”
“Oh? Oh. Ok cool” I was taken aback.
I joined him on the sofa and we passed the joint back and forth until it was too short to hold. We just chilled on the sofa while my wife was passed out in one of the recliner chairs.
The silence stretched thin and I felt I had to say something. I started describing what was on TV: guys talking, maps of Europe, medieval blueprints. Eventually something occurred to me. “Hey, do you know what a cathedral looks like?”
“The big religious buildings, right? Yeah I guess so.”
“I mean, how do you picture in your head when someone says ‘cathedral?’”
“Yeah, yeah, good question. You want to describe one in detail?”
“Yeah, I’ll give it a shot. Um, they’re big, huge really. They’re really tall and have a bunch of windows. And they have these flying buttresses, which are like supports from lower towers. Eh, I don’t really know how to describe it better than that.”
“That’s alright. That was pretty good actually. Here’s a crazy idea. Do you want to draw it for me? Go get a pen and some heavy paper and we’ll try it.”
I found a pen in our junk drawer in the kitchen, but where to get heavy paper?
“Does it have to be heavy paper?” I called into the living room.
“Yeah it does, because I need you to press down hard into the paper without ripping it.”
We didn’t have any construction paper, but we did have a paper bag the groceries came in. I ripped a square of it and brought it back. We both sat on the carpet and scooted up to the coffee table.
“Alright go ahead. Press hard. You’ll see”
I started with just a box and a triangle roof. It looked like a generic building. It was so generic, it could have been my house. He ran his fingertips over the paper and felt the indentations.
“I’m not doing a very good job, am I?”
“No you’re doing great. Keep going.”
I drew a tiny door on the front to show the scale of the building. Then I added windows with arches, spires, flying buttresses. I’d take a break occasionally and he’d feel the new drawing. I was on a roll.
“Doing a fine job, my friend.”
My wife woke up. “Huh? What’s going on? Why are you guys sitting on the floor?”
“We’re drawing” replied Robert.
“A cathedral” I added.
“But you don’t draw. Since when do you draw?” She asked me.
“Just keep going.” said Robert, “You’re doing great. Press down hard”
I kept adding detail after detail until it was really an impressive work of art, even if I was an amateur.
“Alright. Now, close your eyes. Trust me, ok? Close your eyes and tell me when they’re closed.”
I did as he said.
“Now place your fingers on the drawing. Good. Now I’m going to guide your hand.”
He placed his hand on top of mine and ever so gently pressed my fingertips into the paper. First we traced the box and roof, then the door and windows, and eventually traced every feature. I could see it all in my mind, just like I had drawn it. The experience was unlike anything I had felt before. My mind was being blown, and it wasn’t the weed.
“There. Pretty cool, huh?”
“Yeah… that’s… I see now.”