a short story by Jerry Zinn
“I’m going blind,” Steve would often inform me before he made a racket bumping into the coffee table or the mantle, or causing my wingback kitchen chairs to scrape across the hardwood. He wasn’t blind of course, not then. But Steve was convinced. He was what experts call a hypochondriac. Meaning he had a lot of things he didn’t really have, stuff no doctor would ever diagnose.
Once my beloved husband came down with Ebola, during the crisis naturally. To hear him complain of bleeding out of his eyes, his nose, God even his pores. It was something to behold, because it was nothing. No blood, no leaking orifices, no Ebola. Where the blindness came from I’m not sure. Steve probably watched one of those shows, the medical ones I’m always telling him to turn off.
“Marta,” he’d always say in a low, condescending way, “don’t tell me what I can and can’t watch. Marriage isn’t a dictatorship.”
If only Steve could see past his Ebola-afflicted nose. It was a dictatorship all right. In the vein of some of the classic buffoons, Mussolini or Franco. But I wasn’t the monster on the pulpit, surrounded by statues I presented to myself to further my false glory. Steve lived atop a pedestal of his own creation.
“I’m going blind,” Steve would say in exasperation like my wailing mother-in-law. Then he’d close his eyes and start walking around, trying to prepare for when they were gonna come and take away his sight. I could tell he would be a mess if he ever did stop seeing for real. Anything he couldn’t see he walked or swung into.
“I’m going blind, really!” he insisted.
“Yes, oh I’m sure you’re going something…” I replied with no shortage of spousal sarcasm. I was tiring at cleaning the flotsam and jetsam of lampshades and picture frames in his wake while he acted out a bizarre fantasy. Steve wore a strong prescription. I don’t know the number exactly. After all, I never needed help seeing a fly on the wall. Not even readers for the newspaper.
Weeks went by, and his paranoia strengthened. He was fixated. “This may be the last time I ever see an egg,” Steve said holding a brown one up and inspecting it for flaws like a jeweler does a diamond. Seemed a painfully pedantic thing to go nostalgic over.
“It’ll be the last time you see me make you one if you don’t hand that back!” I snatched the egg, cracked it on the corner of the pan sizzling with butter so hard the shell exploded. I spent a minute or two fishing out the shards as the egg curdled.
“Orange juice is so brilliant, so remarkably vibrant. Those bits of pulp, they’re wonderful floating around in there.” Steve swirled the glass with scientific interest. All the sudden he was talking like a drunk poet, going on and on insufferably about the most insignificant details. Chocolate became, “a supple bar of soft gold,” bricks were, “hand-hewn pumice cured by the sun’s touch,” and blankets, God the blankets were, “woven threads of heavenly fleece, intertwined in a story that will never end.” Steve was a terrible poet whose descriptions ruined my perception of the world. I started to wish I was blind.
Steve was an alien, everything foreign and revolutionary. In the beginning he’d turn off the world, slam shut his eyes, and grasp around in a game of Marco Polo. Progressively he spent more time not seeing. But he kept up with the amazement. Only he’d ask me for help. “Marta, what’s this painting look like? Remind me how beautiful it is.”
“Open your eyes you damn fool!” I was reaching the end of my wits.
“But dear, I am going blind. I will need you to tell me about the things I cannot see.” He’d stopped using contractions, so his speech came across more contrived than usual.
“Well until then, see for yourself!”
What really got me was when Steve started wearing his sunglasses inside like Jack Nicholson. He’d latch onto my arm as though he were an invalid or a fading nonagenarian. People stared, but with weak smiles of pity. “If only you knew,” I’d think. “My husband can see fine. It’s just an act, a melodramatic pantomime.” I was ready to nominate him for a Daytime Emmy, toe to toe I’d’ve placed him with those other insufferable pretenders.
Wash those for me, will you dear?” He was pointing ten feet away from where the dishes sat.
“Wash them yourself!” I barked back.
“You know I cannot.”
“Damn it, Steve! Quit with this cockamamie nonsense! You see just fine with your glasses!”
Not long after, Steve stopped seeing at all. That is, he kept the sunglasses on. He spoke in a wistful tone about trivial things like tomatoes, wooden pencils, and azaleas. If a man could will away his vision, Steve had done it. I could stand, naked as the day I was born, in the kitchen, and he’d stumble in without a word. Either he was the most committed actor of our generation or he’d severed his optic nerves with sheer will power. I waved my hand across his face and… nothing. Not so much as an involuntary breath.
“I am just so lucky I got you, Marta. What would I do without you?”
I was starting to dream I’d get the chance to find out. Sometimes I’d see him sitting on the couch, listening to the news on the TV damn near silent. Guess his hearing got better when he turned off his eyes. It ate at me more each day. Just when I thought I’d adjusted, accepted my husband was a blind man, he’d say something that embroiled me.
“God Marta, you do not know what you have. Being able to see is such a gift. If only I had not squandered that blessing.”
I poured our coffees, and then I saw the bleach. I was ready to doctor his mug, give him a thorough cleaning, but I opted for cream. His sense of smell had improved. Besides, I didn’t want a swig of Clorox by accident.
When people asked me what happened to Steve I wanted to tell them he died. Would have been easier to explain. A year went by, and things were stationary. I was forced to adjust. Only good thing was Steve couldn’t read about diseases he didn’t have, so he didn’t come down with anything else. Finally I just accepted it all, threw in my towel.
Steve was blind. That’s what I told myself. Didn’t doubt it any longer. The world smells that defeat, that stench of giving up. Yet I suppose there’s something to be said for irony. Maybe Steve heard it, or smelled it, or sensed it. No matter how much you lie to yourself, you always know you’re lying. With all my 20/20 I didn’t catch it until it was the last thing I saw. And Steve? I heard him take a step back onto the curb. Want to know what I think? He saw the bus.