S H O R T S T O R Y ~ P A R T T W O
THE JOURNEY OF THE EYEBALL
b y k a t h e r i n e v a z ~ t h e a z o r e s
NOTE TO READERS: This story is in two parts.
If you wish to print the whole story, remember
to print both parts. The link to the first part
is near the bottom of this page.
THE KICK left the eye's vision blurred, and in the dimness it wondered if it were a boy again in the Azores, seeing the women in their doorways doing their embroidery in the last light of day -- God's light -- because electricity was too expensive. The rooms glimpsed through the open doorways darkened steadily. To laugh whenever possible -- in a vague way, José's resolve to do this began with those women. They worked a lifetime on beauty but never seemed to win a lighted house. He would shout jokes to them, and they would look up for a moment, just one, to laugh with great joy -- suddenly a pole lowered and knocked its blunt end against the eyeball, sending it spinning into other hard globes its size, with a shock so intense the eye asked aloud if it had died. And wondered how it could recall something in José's memory, despite the brain and body being gone.
The eyeball had landed in a pool hall. Double vision prevented the eye from focusing on the stomachs leaning over the table. Men were growling and smoking cigarettes. One player was chalking up a cue stick, and a fine dust sifted down. The eye tried to contract its muscles and use the stub that remained of its optic nerve to project itself off the table, but the hand holding the stick lowered to form a bridge, and the eye was struck again. The impact as it hit a mass of balls split open the sclera, and the eye's insides began slowly leaking. It was then that the eye, surprised that it continued living, told itself that maybe not everything could be survived. "My, my," it sang, to cheer itself up. "We got trouble, right here in River City. What rhymes with..." but none of the players was laughing. They looked underwater. The eye shifted around to watch the little river leaving it, with the pictures of Ana drifting away; this by way of the eye saying its prayers. It pushed itself into one of the side pockets and rested in a moist pouch, the stitching and padding like a gauze bandage.
It was grabbed from the pouch and set on the table to face a triangle of brightly colored balls. This is how death looks, it marveled, amused; a formation of petrified eyes. From behind came the blow of the stick.
"Scratch!" someone yelled, and the eye sailed over other green plots, past Tiffany lamps with their panes of black-edged flowers, through the hanging smoke, and out an open window to lie on asphalt among some pebbles. Was it groggy, or was that Zé's body hurrying past? "Zézinho!" the eye said, but whoever it was kept on -- and was the hair really gray, or had the kiss shots in the pool hall momentarily removed the color from everything? Gray? That was curious. It was late afternoon, but of what day? The eye recalled the tree with its diverging twin roots, and wondered how to return there. What remained of the eyelid, torn and stained like a blind in a bad motel, lowered down, and the eye, before losing consciousness, begged for some end of what it could not say.
A dog awakened it, picking it up cautiously in a mouth that was fragrant like rotting straw. The tongue was velvet, with those bumps that put everything eaten onto a pedestal of sorts before it is consumed. The eye was ready to surrender, but the dog did not chew it. Thrilling, stupendous! Animals do not always prey on weakness! The eye bathed in the saliva, thick but not unwelcome.
The journey was not lengthy, and the eye was released into the dog's water dish. Green fibers from the pool table floated off the backside of the eye. It bobbed around and saw that the dog had entered through the plastic flap attached over a cut-out section of the door. The eye and the dog were in a yellow kitchen the eye did not recognize, but it was homey. Bits of onion skin, coffee grounds, and some coiled hairs skated across the linoleum floor. Give me this! rejoiced the eye. These fallen things meant that life, full and unclean, was in the house, breakfasts and things frying and hands moving across scalps. The eye could not shake its double vision, but here it hardly minded, since that forced every object to wear the register of the dream of itself.
When a woman entered the kitchen, she was herself and also the wish of herself, attached to her as a ghost. She was wearing a robe. "Bad dog," she said, plucking the eye out of the water dish and setting it in a basket of eggs on the counter, near a ceramic crock of metal utensils and wooden spoons with the pale brown halo given to them by double vision. Was she in her robe because it was morning? Was it morning? Or was it afternoon, and had a lover recently left her? She was leaning with her arms stretched out to hold the sill of the kitchen window as she looked through it, regarding who could say what: Was he gone? Was she awaiting him? Dreaming him up? Or had he departed so far in the past that on weekends, when she did not have to put on new eyes and another face to go to work, she slept uncontrollably?
One female gesture, and the old, heinous litany of possibilities and readings crowded in! The eye was furious. Though the brain was somewhere else, it had obviously left its chemicals where they could continue to bring harm. Why couldn't there be such a thing as a plain picture, without the last particle of a person asking, What? What is it? In fact the eye did want an explanation from Ana: Your arms, that day; what did they mean? First it had to get out of this stupid basket of eggs.
The woman set an iron frying pan on the heat. She reached into the basket, seized the eyeball, lifted it, and scarcely allowed it a glimmer of horror before cracking it down hard against the hot rim of the pan. His brown iris, his retina, his humor, his back muscle, everything shrieked as agony seared across it. She lifted the eye and brought it down again, aiming to crack it, branding the stripe in. When it did not open and spill, she threw it into the wastebasket. Senseless, the eye managed to tip itself onto a banana peel to cauterize the injury. When the woman had fried an egg, eaten it, set the dishes in the sink, and gone back upstairs, the eye hurled itself against the side of the wastebasket to knock it over. The dog watched indifferently as the eye escaped through the plastic flap on the door. The diagonal stripe cut through the double vision as the eye rested on a bed below an oleander bush; the injury would cut through everything that the eye saw forever. It would bear this mark, like a darkened doorway where women labored with their fates unchanging. The eye wanted to tell them: I went half around the world, thinking I would earn a huge, lighted house. I work and work, with the dimming light of my dreams. Where at least is the beauty that drives you women blind?
Stars like sparks danced in the periphery. Despite all of this, the last, most basic of animal drives commanded the eye: Proceed. Select a direction, proceed.
North. North to Ana, Ana's house. The park, the door in the white wall. Your knight arrives. The deeds arrayed. See. And now? Now?
The park was there, although the plants were cut in half when he saw them. They waved like welcome banners, blue and green and red, a garden of rich silks. Each separate vision had a slash through it. The sky and flowers, as the eye rolled forward, presented themselves in a wild blend, and the eye recalled that this was not far from one style of perception back in the Azores: Life must be seen densely, with its spears of color, shape, sound, meaning; life not lived in delirium is not mysterious enough to be interesting. The delirium was not suffocating, because overhead and in the sea beyond -- what vastness! Such an effort to grasp that!
Ahead of the eye reposed the silent house.
The eye squeezed through a grating over the basement and up a pipe, hurtling toward joints that would brace it for the next upward leap, ignoring the centipedes and silverfish, climbing with a blind trust, until it reached patches of her hair. Tangling itself through her hair, the soap caustic, it emerged into Ana's bathtub, where it forgot itself and skid up and down the smooth porcelain, giddy. It rode the sides of the tub until the centrifugal force threw it out onto the tile floor. Where was her dropped hair? The bathroom smelled of disinfectant. Where was her rose perfume?
The carpet in the hallway was plain. The furnishings were large and expensive but simple. Dustless. The eye did not know what it had expected. It had often imagined this house, and carried the pictures of those imaginings, but always with more edges and crevices. With more shades and textures than this. Something that did justice to Ana. Funny Roman statues, wide hats on chairs, tumbles of books and bottles and photos in gold frames.
In the dark bedroom, moonlight pierced through the slats of the Venetian blinds, remodeling the floor with alternating black and white stripes. A form covered with a white sheet lay on the bed: Ana. Was it night? Her hair was spread out against her pillow, and double vision made it appear that she was sleeping under her own full-length soul, but then the eye saw something that turned it to stone. He was here too. He lived here. He walked on the costly drab carpets that he paid for with the same magic wallet that had bought Ana this huge house. Ana's hands were over her chest, and her husband's were over her hands. The eye could not tell how many hours went by as it watched and waited, rocking like a child hugging itself, back and forth. As the night wore on, the eye moved as slightly as it needed for its sear mark to hide within the dark stripes on the floor, and the white of the eye within the stripes of moonlight, shifting to realign itself with the light and the dark and the hour, until it sat in the puddle it had made under itself. Your arms folded, Ana: Explain. Explain why I am awake, and you are sleeping peacefully. Incredible that contentment should be more sought after than love. But she had not only contentment and her clean rooms, but love -- José's; he made this house complete. He was the part that made it possible for Ana to live with her husband. How the eye hated the brain that would not leave it in peace! The stupid brain of stupid José, who gave Ana the happiness she needed to live with her husband. The eye debated how to climb the bedpost and caress its way up her leg, but the journey was much too far.
Lurching backward, the burned slash bleeding as it crossed the stripes of moon, the eye hastened down the hall, through the drain in the tub, down the pipes, and out the basement. José was not accustomed to nightmares. He was nearing the top of the tower and about to win the day, and was merely exhausted from the exertion required for so many events. That had to be it. A touch of delirium. All that mattered now was the title, the prize, and going out to the clearing, to the tree that was Ana with its golden needles.
First the eye needed to rest and let the pictures stored within it settle back into an orderly pile. The world was spinning and tilting. The eye wanted its wandering body back. The hideous immensity of Eyeness, this Eye, Eye, Eye! Always Eye! No wonder it was like ai, ai, ai, a cry of remorse, disbelief!
No rest was allowed. Three potato beetles surrounded the eye and extended their tubes greedily toward it.
"Well, well, well," said one, his pincers widening and shutting with excitement.
"Don't. Bastards," said the eyeball, but they were already on it and took turns sticking their proboscises into the hole of the pupil.
"Unh, unh," groaned one beetle.
"Hurry with your business and be off," pleaded the eye. Its attackers stretched their jaws with delight. The eye pretended it was not itself as they jabbed it, and when the third finished, they called it dung and threw it down a hill.
The eye begged the magic of the tree to rescue it and explain to what end, what on earth were picaresque adventures about nowadays, when one episode was so interchangeable with the next that there was no deepening into subsequence and consequence? A journey of tests mattered only when a reward waited beyond the final line. To be younger, stronger, and more romantic had to add up to some preferred glory; where was the banquet?
An optometrist walking through the park found the eye and took it home. He was white-haired and appeared to live by himself, surrounded by pretty statues. Talking to the eye, calling it one of his own, he placed it on a pad that suggested alcohol. Putting a metal contraption over his own eyes, the doctor picked up a steel instrument, and the eye understood that it was about to be repaired.
"No," it said, without passion. "Don't make me whole again."
"Quiet," said the doctor. "I won't do anything that you won't be able to bear."
The eye was astonished that someone could hear it. Because it was in such a stunned state, the doctor could perform surgery on it, tightening the muscles, applying salve to the burn, stitching the tear, and placing some clear plasma over the bruised cornea.
The eye woke up by itself, with the panorama in focus but colorless. Everything was black and white. The doctor had disappeared, without leaving a note. What was this strange yard, and why -- the eye shook itself. No more questions. The landscape was drained, and explanations were more drainage.
The eye was found by the three young girls who had been playing catch. If they were here, then surely the tower, the final match, was straight ahead; he was only tired. Their hair looked gray in the twilight -- or were all of them really so much older? What was the year?
More questions! The eye admonished itself again to forget such things as the girls knelt to poke it. "Look what we have here!" said one.
"There're some eyelashes stuck on it," said one, picking it up and pulling its lashes off. She squeezed them onto her own lashes. That made the eye feel like exclamation points on someone else. She laughed as she said, "I'll look terrific tonight when I dance with the men."
The second, with red hair in a rough flame, took out a knife and pared off some of the repaired cornea, saying that she would place it over her own eyes in the hope that she would view everything more insightfully.
The third took the knife and carved the iris out, saying, "This brown will make a good eye shadow. I have to get up early for work, and it'll make me look more awake at my awful job."
"Try it on now!" urged the party girl.
"Good idea," said the one wishing for insights and answers.
"Yes, yes, yes, take me, murmured the eye as the knife claimed everything that remained. The eyeball felt a part of itself being smeared on the girl's eyelids, changing them into the color of the doorways behind the women of José's youth.
What was left of the eye either dissolved in the firmness of their hands or fell to the ground as muscular chaff. The trio walked on, carrying the pieces of José. His destiny, having lost his body, was to live from this moment asunder on the surfaces of women he scarcely knew. The eye, though not wholly itself, clearly saw that it could only go forward divided like this: One part toward the lukewarm comforts of a job, another toward parties and joking to forget the job, and another going after explanations that do not arrive except in the strangest of codes.
CLICK HERE TO LINK TO PART ONE
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