Saturday, June 07, 2008

absorbent beauty: an assimilation of darkness

A story

His sight was failing him.

He had never thought he would come to this, where he struggled to make out images, pressing his fists fiercely against the sockets of his eyes, as though in this way he could block out the encroaching darkness. If this were an enemy he could fight…! But it was not, and after being told that there was no treatment, he simply resigned himself to the reality: he, whose very profession it was to capture images and put them down on paper, was going blind. It was a testament to his strength of will that he did not allow himself to weep. He thought over his options, realized that he could still type, so long as his wife were to turn on the computer for him and sent him up with a Word Document, that he had the ability still to place from memory what moved him upon the page.

But in the meantime this darkness seeped in slowly, first at the corners of his vision, then taking more. This along with the trembling that seized his hands at times; at first he thought that, too, came with a kind of illness, but soon learned it was merely a fit of nerves, his reaction to the blindness. This calmed him and allowed him to take himself in order, so that at times he was quiet, still, his hands still as well, resting motionless at his sides. He breathed in deeply, then out again. He opened his eyes to see if anything had changed. But it was only that the world around him had grown dimmer, was more foreign. There was only his wife who was familiar to him and she, too, was fading every day.

When he woke this morning he saw her as flashes of sound and light. Not poetry, this, but a reality made new to him. The sparkle of her golden necklace caught his eye, the fabric of her dress as it touched against his leg. Even her hair as it cascaded down her back; all of this was light to him, light and touch. He saw the light reflecting off of it but could not see her features. He recalled them to him with a fierce effort of will, so that standing in his mind again he saw those compassionate green eyes, her soft lips, her heart-shaped face. He smiled at the irony of having to close his eyes in order to see better. He opened them again so as not to deny himself, not to ease the transition from this cacophony of half-seen images to the darkness that awaited him.

Even this he must set into writing, tell unto the world. This groping for the light, this puzzled confusion that assailed his sight; all this was something that he was beginning at last to grasp, to understand. He was far past the horror of it and looked only with curiosity upon the world, now. He was very sensitive to light. It was light that caught his eye, and objects that could only be perceived as shapes, so grandly large and structured were they. He knew to avoid these, could walk well enough with a cane, and preferred not to have anyone assist him as of yet.

Why his wife was as yet so calm, he could not answer. There were many times he remained awake, waiting for the telltale sign of her unhappiness, of the tears that she must shed. But he heard nothing. He only felt her beside him, sleeping smoothly, and an intense love welled up within him, that she seemed not to care what a dependant he had become, that she did not curse what fate had wrought for them. What bitter irony it was that it must be him, of all people, he who needed his eyes the most, who must lose them! What use a man without his eyes? He might as well be dead, he who cannot take in the world, who cannot perceive it in all its astonishing beauty at each moment of the day and night.

He took refuge in sounds now, learning to accustom himself to them, the quiet cough of the coffeemaker after it had finished trickling its brown liquid forth, the steps of his wife, soft when she wore the padded slippers that were her wont, stronger when she had donned her stilettos or some other form of dress shoe. He imagined her in front of the mirror, applying her cosmetics as she went outside, to do the shopping or otherwise to provide for them, and he laughed bitterly that he could not see her. How strange it must be to be married to a man who could not even appreciate you, though even now he could, but slightly; he saw her lips in a red shimmer, and her face itself had evolved into a kind of peach circle, but even that was better than nothing, and hungrily, he clung to it. He must memorize every image before it was taken from him completely, before he had nothing left but the memory of this, something altogether harsh and damnable.

There was the slight creak of the door as it opened, the turning of the key in the lock- there was the exquisite sound of music as it poured through the speakers. Odd that he had never been much for music, before; it had been words that awoke his soul, but now he could not read. Oh, but his wife read to him, her voice musical and sweet, and he lived for those moments that she read to him, spoke to him, told him anything- whether it be the news or something philosophical, a book that he requested. How patient she was, to put up with his many requests! He had never realized before the surfeit of books with which he had gifted himself, the amount of time he had spent reading words, words, words. Black and white words swam before his eyes, danced before him, mocking him, words on stopsigns and highway road images, words in books that had streamed together when he had inadvertently spilled coffee upon the page, works written in love upon a notepad when he went out to buy breakfast but wanted his wife to know where he had gone, words, words, words, beautiful and a blessing, something so exquisite; he had not known how to appreciate their essence before. The essence of beauty, for him, had lain in words, and now they were not his anymore.

Oh, he could speak, and dictate if he wished, but that was not the same, not the same as the fingers clacking implacably against a keyboard as he sped through the story in his mind, relaying it upon paper, putting ideas upon the page. Unless he counted the precise number of letters in a word, he would not know how many stops to backspace, now, if he wanted to change something- and he would not be able to reread something he had written, but only have it read to him. He feared his dependency and hated it; he, who had been the breadwinner, reduced to this, the closed four corners of a world bounded by blackness, the darkness of his unhappiness, the despair it caused him. And yet, who was he to complain? It was his wife, his wife that he pitied, so that at times thoughts of suicide crossed his mind, not that he had any true plan but he believed that she must pity him now, who had never given her cause to pity him, and that hurt his pride and caused him pain. Also, what kind of life for her was this, forever chained to a blind man, a man who begged her to be his eyes, to describe to him the dawn and the darkness, all that which he could only see in flashes now, and soon would not see forevermore?

There was a kind of darkness of spirit that weighed upon him, a gloom that ever-intensified, something which he tried to hide from her. He was amazed that he did not feel her cheer to be false or overbright; she seemed to have accepted who he had become and did not love him any less. Even so, there was something suspicious in his mind, for he could not take this gift; it did not make sense. How could a woman like her, young, or at least youthful, and beautiful, resign herself to being chained to him? He was a burden to her, who had once been able to make her happy- for with this he flattered himself- and he hated the fact that he could not do this any longer, that it was she who patiently washed him and combed his hair, helped him dress, helped him to the bathroom, who guided his hand to his fork and enabled him to eat, she who had become his nursemaid even though he was not yet old. He felt himself to be less than a man, though he did not confess it to her; he did not want to worry her, who was an angel, with the acknowledgement that he felt himself unworthy.

But he could still see, and damn it, he would see- he opened his eyes to take in the light, the fuzzy flashes of color that remained to him. Yes, that was red, and there green- and there the sounds outside. He made his way over to the panel, the bright window that led to their balcony. He stared outside, could make out the chairs upon the balcony floor, white lawn chairs. He explored them with his eyes, and then thought that in the future he should only know them through his fingers; his hands would become his instrument, his entry into an unknown world. No longer would he be able to assess friend or foe from their manner or the expression on their face; he would not realize that he was being laughed at or mocked except from a slight change in tone; he would have to gain acuity in all these lesser senses, allow himself an entryway so as to save himself from the darkness. He looked outside again, and felt with a sense of overwhelming unhappiness the pain of not being alive, of not being himself, and then, he could not help it; he crouched down upon the floor and cradled his head in his hands, letting the tears flow.

It was in this way that his wife found him, and he could hear her anxiety in the clack of her heels against the floor, and the groceries that had spilled from her hands with a thud, the bags that hit the tiles. He felt her hands on his face; her hands soft and cool against his beard, which must bruise her, slightly abrasive, the stubble that was forming on his face; he could not see to shave. He felt her hands explore his face, touching lightly upon his eyelids, then felt her lips lowered to his eyes as well, kissing away the tears. He felt her lick delicately at one, then cup his chin, trailing kisses down to his lips, where he met her lips awkwardly. She was so close to him now that he opened his eyes and could see hers, make out a whole eye with absolute clarity, and it was this blessing that brought home to him what he still had, and what was still his. She placed his hand against her back and sat there on the floor with him, her legs curled underneath her body, between his knees, his back against the wall, and kissed him persuasively, and gently, until he was alive with desire. She did not speak to him just then, but only guided him, and after a time she rose to put away the groceries, and to set about their familiar routine.

She took him to their bathroom and drew him a shower; she accompanied him and helped to wash him, soaping his back and drawing the sponge over his body. She laughed out loud, a delightful sound, amidst the soap and spray, and ran her fingers through his wet hair. He shivered with sensation. He felt her kneel, felt her cleanse him, save him, purify him even now. He opened his eyes still to see, and realized how God had gifted him, and in what way. He wanted to thank her; he didn’t have the words- he reached for her; she found him; he enwrapped her in an embrace. She led him and played with him, as though she were a child, and finally, turning off the tap, she stepped out first so that she might dry him off, with a towel. With a smile he caught her and enwrapped her in the towel as well; she was surprised, as well she might be, by the sudden moment of joy that overtook them both. Well, and there is joy in darkness, he thought to himself, and he was glad to know it, and realized that he was luckier than most men, and gifted besides.

Things continued in this way, and each day his sight deteriorated, and the doctor his wife brought him to was increasingly pessimistic. He had accepted his fate, and she as well, but words were painful and stuck in his throat. He saw less and less every day, and reacted to this differently at different times, sometimes what he felt was that there was an agonizing amount still to write, and that he had not the words to do it all, so that he covered sheets and sheets with scribbles about the world as it was, and only she could cool his fervor, calming him when he needed it, stopping him so that he might sleep, and enter a world of darkness just like the one that was claiming him.

There was a day when he woke to blackness. “I can’t see,” he said, and he felt her stiffen, and then sit up beside him in the bed. She hugged him; he felt her arms around him and wanted to throw them off, as though they were a chain; he wanted to scream, to shout, to blame her; cannot you see, you fool, that I am blind, and useless, and that your love is thrown away on such a one as me, why don’t you leave me, as I have no doubt you will, once you have been tested and tried, and then realized that such thoughts were ungrateful of him, so that he leaned against her, relying completely upon sensation, realizing that he had no sight to guide him. She helped him to dress and made him breakfast, set about telling him the morning news, spoke to him cheerfully, read to him and provided what amusement she could. She touched him frequently, as though to assure him, to let him know that she was still alive and close, and that he was not left adrift in this sightless world, and he, for his part, decided to be fascinated by the light pressure of the warmth upon his eyes, of the smells that assailed him. Had he ever been so completely aware of his wife’s perfume? No, he decided, and nuzzled against her shoulder to smell it better, and looked up at her, or at least in the direction he thought she was, and told her “You are beautiful.” And he heard a strange catch in her laugh and thought, at last; it has caught up with her at last, she cannot help it, she is dying of pain for me, and moodily, he wished that he had ended this when he still could have found the implements to do so, for now he was a burden to her, and he wished more than anything not to be that to her.

He heard her later, crying, and wished that he might dry her tears, that he might somehow tell her that it would be all right, but it wouldn’t be, never again; he was not a man, simply an encumbrance, and their marriage was as well. He would tell her that he would divorce her- pain struck him at the thought of it- and that she would have her life back. He would hire someone for himself- surely his parents could see to it; they could find someone who would not rob him blind, and who would care for him, or care at least for the money he would pay them, he thought cynically, for no man cares for his fellow, only for his fellow’s pocketbook. And with this thought in mind he was silent, and waited for her, to tell her.

They were in bed. She had cuddled up beside him and perhaps thought him asleep. “I will divorce you, if you wish it,” he said, and the words sounded curt and formal, and harsh, more harsh than he had wished them to be. “I will divorce you,” he said more softly, “this is no life for you,” but he was stopped with the touch of a finger to his lips, and then her mouth, salty and sweet beneath his, and her tongue, playing upon his lips. He uttered a soft sigh and felt her face, the hard, pert chin; his finger grazed an ear and the strands of hair beside it. He allowed his hand to rest on her hair, to run through it, strands of exquisite softness that in his memory recalled themselves to him as gold, and he felt her undressing him, and putting his clothes aside, so that they might lie skin to skin, and flesh to flesh.

The warmth of her! The incredible warmth; it was as though her skin blazed with light, and he felt her turn, so that he caressed her back, his fingers exploratory pads upon the ridges and planes of her shoulders, her spine, the curve of her buttocks. He reached his hand beneath her hair to find her neck, kissed it through her hair, and felt her body respond; she shivered. A touch, then; he had never realized the power of a touch as he did now. He did not kiss but simply moved his lips from the tips of her fingers up one arm, till he reached the shoulder; it was gentle. He felt the growing hairs upon her arm and smiled to imagine them, each growing hair follicle upon that arm was his. He reached her shoulder with his mouth and took hold of her waist between his hands. She placed his hand upon her breast; he circled it, only now becoming aware of her in a new and different way. He reached her nipple and flicked it with a practiced hand, and became aware once again of the way it hardened to his touch, so that he lowered his mouth to her and felt her moan with desire, and he felt himself again to be a man.

There were tears in his eyes, but they were tears of exaltation, as though he had discovered something more mysterious and beautiful than anything he had ever known. He learned her body anew, felt it tighten and tauten beneath him, felt her relaxation, her ease. He nuzzled her to him, played her with his fingers, caressed her with his hands and mouth. He felt her turn to him with desire, felt her fingers in his hair, heard her murmur words low and intoxicating, “I love you,” she said, and then later, stronger, just as passionately and just as committed, when both were in a golden haze, having satisfied the desires of the body, “I love you,” and he held her closer to him in the darkness, and felt that he had been touched by a little of what was beautiful in the world.

He learned her shape, her curves, her fingers, her toes. He fell wildly in love with the little hollow at her throat, which he nuzzled with his mouth and touched with his hands, and he learned, too, what torturous joy the hands could inflict. His hands skimmed her as though she were a pond of water, and he creating ripples, or pressed as he increasingly demanded of her and she gave unflinchingly, willingly, with desire and a little awe. His hands touched fleetingly or rested in one spot. He could feel the little scar upon her back- an upraised piece that was surprisingly smooth, smoother even than her skin. This too he worshipped with his body, even as he worshipped all of her, her skin, her eyes, her face and hair. Their bodies entwined to mimic their souls, which rested peacefully, cocooned together in a nest of light and darkness. And he learned that he was not blind after all, when he had the capacity still to give to her, and he learned too that she loved him. He was attentive to every sound she made, each whimper or murmur, every cry, uplifted and sanctified, as though she were an angel, but a human angel, one who was created for him, to save him and love him even though he was not worthy, and would never understand from what depths of the soul she was able to come to him still, and not find him repulsive or repugnant.

“Your eyes,” at last she whispered, “your beautiful eyes,” and she lightly danced her fingers on the lids, so as to have him flutter them open. He saw only darkness but he felt her tense; she was crying now. “They are so beautiful, still,” she said, “if only you could see them. They are green, but there are ripples of blue, and grey, and one would not know you cannot see. I am so sorry,” she said at last, and he thought his heart was break. She was sorry? She, who had every cause to turn against him, to rail against their misfortune, to save herself and run from him; she was sorry?

“I do not know what I deserve,” he said thickly, “but it is not this—“ and he motioned in an effort to encapsulate her and all that she was.

“I know, darling,” she said very softly, “you do not deserve this,” and he realized she had misunderstood him, and thought he was referring to his blindness.

“No,” he said strongly, clearly, “that was not what I meant. It is you I am speaking of- I do not know what madness it was that made you accept me that June, I only know that I was blessed, and that I am blessed- to have you in my life. And that this has only made me see it clearer,” he motioned to his eyes, “I have loved you always, but I do not know if I have ever known you as clearly as I know you in this moment.”

He could feel her wish to say something, to protest, to tell him it was of no import, but he did not let her; he merely cradled her closer, and nestled together, they slept.


Credits: Blindness by Jose Saramago, "The Fountain" soundtrack


Thomas D said...


I found myself thinking of Blindness even before I got close to the end--Your 'wife' and the doctor's are much alike. You write beautifully.

(incidentally, have you read Seeing ?)


Moshe said...