It’s way too cold in this room for a blind person.
Margaret’s skin pulled taught from the goose bumps that covered her arms and legs. The stubble on her shins and knees caught in the fabric of her pants and she plucked them away from her skin between two icy fingers.
I am absolutely frozen.
She would mention the cold to the doctor when he saw her. She certainly wouldn’t be seeing him, that was for sure. Not today anyway. She’d had the drops in her eyes for only fifteen minutes now, but they were already on fire.
Like cinnamon gum.
She was startled by pain, and a chill when the drops hit her eyes. They would dilate her pupils, the doctor reminded her, and then, he would look inside. Now, she sat in a chair, back in the waiting room, waiting for the drops to take full effect. She was cold and she was blind. She wished she could read her book, but trying to focus on the pages had made her violently woozy, even after only 5 minutes.
Margaret had always been oversensitive to these drops; it would be another 24 hours before her pupils behaved properly again. Everything would be a blur until then, and there really was nothing to be done about it. As she sat and waited, she imagined the small black circles of her pupils growing larger and larger, eating up the amber color of her irises until they truly were windows; if not to her soul, then to something else she could not name. How far inside could he see? Perhaps all the way through to the back of her eye, possibly even further? She winced a bit at the thought of a stranger peering about the inside of her head, and could not even contemplate what the second visit would bring.
“Are you alright?” Her sister’s voice came from the darkness beside her.
“I’m fine. Just cold, and my eyes burn. I can’t see anything. I’m bored.”
“You want my sweatshirt?”
Margaret felt the zipper of her sister’s sweatshirt pressing into the back of her hand, and could not, for the life of her, remember what design was on it. She put her hand on the fabric, and held it there for a moment, running through her sister’s wardrobe in her mind.
“It’s the Sand Cats one.” Her sister’s voice was impatient. Margaret gave no response. “The black one, with the hourglass.”
“Oh, ok.” Margaret took the sweatshirt from her sister and put it on. Eyes closed, she zippered it up to her neck.
Still bored and eyes burning, she was at least a little bit warmer than she had been. The sweatshirt was a good one. Thick and fuzzy on the inside and the front pockets were quite large. Her hands were pushed deep inside, balled into fists and her thumbs still had room to pop in and out of them.
“Oof, Mags, you’re missing a good one.” Her sister whispered in her ear. Margaret pretended to ignore her. Lilly was ridiculous. Twenty-three was too old to be making fun of people in public. She was a college graduate for Christ’s sake. “Oh man! He did it again!” Lilly’s muffled giggles sounded like piggish snorts to Margaret, who, after a moment’s contemplation, told her sister as much.
“Relax, Mags; he can’t hear me, he’s still outside. You really should see this guy. He’s dropped his keys twice now and he hasn’t gone four feet. Oh, oh! There he goes again! No, no. He has them now. Oh no! He’s coming in!” Lilly coughed to clear the giggles and Margaret grunted in her general direction. Moments later, Margaret heard the tinkling sound of the bells on the door handle and the footsteps of someone coming into the office. She followed the sounds as they crossed the room and stopped by the reception desk. Then she heard the glass partition sliding on it’s metal track and the man spoke.
“Gabriel Aisling, I have a 3:15 with Dr. Palmer?” His voice rose with the doctor’s name, and something she heard there brought a smile to Margaret’s lips. She had imagined him sounding older, rough, and not having a beautiful name like Gabriel.
“You’re late, Mr. Eesling” a voice came floating through the partition.
“Aisling, with an “I” sound, you know?” His voice was a bit small; Margaret wondered how tall he was.
“You’re late, Mr. Aisling. We almost gave away your appointment.
“Yes, I know, I’m terribly sorry. I was leaving the house to come here and got distracted. I locked my keys inside and then I was going to call once I was going but my cell-“
“Just sign this form, Mr. Aisling.” Margaret heard the sounds of a pen chain hitting the window partition as a clipboard was thrust at Gabriel and then Lilly gave an explosive cough that was not quite adequate to hide her giggling. Margaret elbowed her in the ribs.
“The nurse will be with you in a moment.” The receptionist was only halfway through her sentence when the partition door slid shut, and the last half of the last word came out muffled, and thick.
Margaret listened as Gabriel walked across the small room and sat down. He smelled of hay and cinnamon. Margaret thought that his hair might be a sandy blonde, and a bit too long. She wondered if he had a beard, and what were the color of his shoes. Margaret was not much for beards, unless they were very short. He sounded as though if he did have a beard, it would be a short one. She did not like brown shoes, but if they were the right shoes, the color could often be forgiven.
His chair made a bit of a squeak and she heard the scribbling of the pen on the clipboard.
“Gabriel Aisling?” The nurse’s voice was booming in the quiet room and Margaret was not the only person startled. She felt Lilly jump a little at the sound and was glad for her small discomfort.
“Over here! Ready to go!” Gabriel stood and walked toward the nurse who took the clipboard and walked back through the door from which she had emerged. Gabriel followed her, and the door closed behind him.
“What a dork.” Lilly tossed out the comment like a Vanity Fair lap card.
“Why?” Margaret asked, indignantly. “Why is he a dork?”
“Why wasn’t he?” Lilly picked up an old magazine from the table next to her chair and flipped through the pages. She was almost as thin as the model in the Vera Wang, she was sure of it.
“Was it his shoes?
“His shoes, is that why?”
“Ug, Mags, he just, I dunno. He was dorky, and a klutz. His sweater was too big, and he needed a haircut. And his glasses were ridiculous. What do you care anyway?”
“Well, after today, he won’t have any glasses, now, will he?” Margaret snapped at her sister. She really was absurdly judgmental. It was unflattering and immature. It was rude.
“You know what, Maggie, how about I go and you drive yourself home, hmm? Jesus. You’re not dating the guy. I know you’re nervous about this thing but don’t take it out on me.”
Margaret was fuming, but could not drive herself home. If Lilly left, she would be stuck, and Lilly might just do that.
“You’re right, I am scared. That must be it. I can’t believe I’m going to let someone slice up my eye with a laser.” She changed the subject and the air felt clear.
“Well, it’s better than wearing glasses forever, I guess, so just buck up. It’s two weeks away anyway, right?
“I still have to make the appointment,” Margaret replied.
“Margaret?” Another nurse’s voice came from the door and Margaret stood. She put a hand out, and the nurse stepped forward to take it.
“Ok, Lilly, I’ll be out soon, I hope.”
“It might be a little bit,” the nurse said to Lilly. Dr. Patton is a little behind today; there was a problem at the hospital. Lilly rolled her eyes and huffed, going back to the pages of her magazine, and the nurse led Margaret through the door.
As they walked to the examination room, they passed a door, which was slightly ajar, and again, Margaret smelled hay, and cinnamon. Brown shoes or not, she really was fond of a man in a sweater.
“You ready to go?” Lilly was out of her chair, backpack slung over her shoulder, before she finished the question. It had been over 45 minutes since Margaret had been taken into the examination room.
“I just have to write the check.” Margaret was feeling her way around her bag, and shortly produced her checkbook. She laid it on the tiny ledge in front of the partition track on the receptionist’s window. “Do you have a pen?” She leaned her head in through the window and raised her brows at the receptionist seated below. Without looking up, the woman handed Margaret a pen. “Um, could you possibly fill this out, if I sign it, of course? I can’t see very well and-“
“The machine will print it for you ma’am, just sign it.”
“Oh, ok, great then.” Margaret cracked her eyes enough to find the correct corner to sign, and then shut them as she wrote, tears were streaming down her cheeks from the sting. “Here you go.” She handed the check through the window, with the pen, and then leaned in further. “Miss? Can I ask you a question?”
Margaret heard the receptionist flipping through a book of some sort. She imagined not looking the receptionist in the eye as she asked her questions.
“Would you happen to know if that man who was in here before was married?” Margaret’s voice had dropped to a whisper.
“Who, Dr. Palmer?” The secretary’s voice was not a whisper, and Margaret grimaced.
“No, his patient, Gabriel?”
“Ohhh, um, hmm, no, I don’t think so.” The receptionists voice grew softer and Margaret could hear the smile on her face.
“Well, could you do me a favor and give him this when he comes out?” Margaret slid a card out from inside of her checkbook and handed it though the window. The receptionist looked it over and nodded. Margaret Chancler, it said in a tight cursive, next to her phone number and email address.
“Sure, no problem,” she said, placing the card on her desk. The receptionist watched Lilly walk Margaret to the door and her hand slowly wandered back to the card in front of her.
I should get some of these, she thought.
Gabber291: so when are you finally going through with it?
Maggieskies: not sure. I was supposed to call by now, but I’m scared 🙁
Gabber291: nothing to it. Sizzle, sizzle 2020!
Maggieskies: suuure, you say that now but what happens when they burn my eyes out?
Gabber291: lol, I bet ur still just as pretty with no eyes.
It was six weeks since the office visit and Margaret was no closer to making her final appointment for the lasik procedure. Gabriel had told her it was easy a hundred times over, but still, she was afraid. What if something did go wrong? What would she do? Who would take care of her?
Maggieskies: haha. seriously. what if I go blind?
Gabber291: I guess I’ll have to guide you around then, won’t I?
Maggieskies: very funny. we haven’t even had lunch yet! you’ll have a hard time leading me around when you don’t even know where I live, lol.
Margaret jumped up out of her chair and ran to the bathroom while she had the chance. She had been holding it in for the better part of an hour, but didn’t want to relay that to Gabriel. She had grown very fond of him in their emails and instant messages, and the hope that they might go out in person one day made her coy about her bathroom habits. As she washed her hands, the phone rang in the kitchen. Margaret peeked in at the computer, and saw no response from Gabriel. She ran to the kitchen, and caught the phone on the fourth ring.
“God, Mags, I thought I missed you.”
“No, I was just in the bathroom.”
“Uh huh, hey, can I use your car tomorrow?”
“What happened to yours?”
“It’s dead. Well, for tomorrow anyway. Pleeease? I have a show to go to!”
“You want to take my car to the city? Come on! What if I need it?”
“For what? A date?”
“Maybe, I don’t know yet!” Margaret took the phone with her back into the bedroom. There was still no message from Gabriel.
“Look, Lilly, I have to run, Gabriel is going to be back soon.”
“The funny looking guy from the lasik place?”
“Yes, well, no, I mean, he’s not funny looking!”
“Mags, you didn’t see him, trust me, he’s funny looking.”
“He’s sweet and intelligent and funny, Lilly, what the hell is your problem?
“That might be true, but it doesn’t mean he’s not funny looking. Whatever. You guys are hanging out, finally?”
“No, we’re talking online and I have to go, now.”
Lilly, of course, thought that Margaret was being ridiculous, and mentioned this to her on the phone at least twice a week.
“Are you guys retarded or something? Why don’t you just go out like normal human beings? He’s turning you into a dork like him!” Lilly could go no like this for several minutes at a time, seemingly without pausing for a breath.
“Maybe we’ll go out tomorrow, in my car, how about that?”
“Ahh, fuck, Mags, come on.” Lilly sounded defeated.
“Ok, fine, whatever. When do you need it?”
“The show’s tomorrow night, and, uh, can you come bring it by?”
“Excuse me?” Margaret was exasperated. “Lilly, I have to run. If you want the car, it’s here. Otherwise, walk.” She hung up the phone and sat back in her chair. She fixed her hair and sat in front of the computer, waiting for Gabriel. He had gone idle.
It’s not that silly. Is it?
As a child, Margaret once had a pen pal for many months. She had met the girl in day camp and they wrote each other long letters back and forth. It felt very mature at the time, the exchange of missives. It had only been after 6 months of writing that her mother had suggested they meet in person. This had not even occurred to Margaret, who, unable to drive, had no concept of how far, or close, her friend lived. At her mother’s prompting she asked the girl for her phone number in the next outgoing letter and they had remained good friends, in person and on paper, for many years thereafter. Margaret found herself wondering what had become of her friend.
There was a ping from her computer. She had received a message.
Gabber291: well, what about it?
Margaret had no idea what he was talking about. She scrolled up in the message window.
Maggieskies: what if I go blind?
Gabber291: no, what if we have lunch?
Margaret’s cheeks filled with blood and she was suddenly too warm. She cleared her throat and the sound startled her.
Maggieskies: it’s a little late for lunch, isn’t it?
Gabber291: 🙂 Well, yeah, today, but what about tomorrow?
Margaret pulled up her calendar. Thursday was a sea of white with a tiny little “twelve” anchored in the corner. It had been ten seconds since her last IM. She ground her teeth and tapped her feet on the floor. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and stretched. She opened them again. It had been 26 seconds since her last IM.
She held down the spacebar so he would see that she was typing and in her mind, she heard Lilly’s mocking little giggle. She erased the spaces she had made.
Maggieskies: Sorry! I was just checking the calander
Gabber291: busy girl, heh. thought I lost you for a minute
Maggieskies: nah, not me.
Gabber291: hold up lady, don’t get too excited, you’ll catch fire there!
Maggieskies: lol, no. I mean, I’m sorry, just a little nervous. been a while since I’ve lunched, lol
Gabber291: well then, you must be hungry!
Gabber291: so, where do you want to go?
Maggieskies: hmm, italian?
Gabber291: sounds good to me, you wanna meet at francescos? it’s off market place?
Maggieskies: oh! I know that place. I had dinner there once with my mother, it’s really good.
Gabber291: excellent! francescos it is! how’s 2?
Maggieskies: sounds perfect.
Maggieskies: this sounds silly, but how will I know you?
Gabber291: hmmm. I’ll be wearing a blue sweater, and jeans.
Maggieskies: great 🙂
Maggieskies: I’ll see you and your sweater tomorrow then!
And the monster can come and get the car when I’m good and fucking done with it.
Margaret sat in her car staring at the door of the restaurant. It was two o’clock, and there had been no sign of Gabriel.
Did I miss him? Is he already inside?
She did not want to be the first inside. It wouldn’t be fair. He had seen her on that first day. He’d even mentioned the color of her shirt in their first email, but she had not seen him, and it hardly seemed fair. She wanted at least a moment to reconcile her online friend with a stranger’s face before moving on to
Our first date.
lunching, or hanging out, or, whatever it was they were doing. She found that her fingers were in her mouth; she had been biting her nails. The polish she’d put on just before leaving, was ruined.
God damn it.
It was ten after. If he was inside, she was being rude. If he wasn’t, he was, but she had no way of knowing without going in. She gathered her bag and her coat and, locking the car, she walked inside.
He was funny looking. There was absolutely no way around it. Gabriel sat toward the back of the restaurant, alone at a table for two. Margaret wasn’t exactly sure what was so unsettling about him, but something was not right. His hair was too long. He was reading a book while he waited and he kept pushing loose locks out of his eyes. Stray pieces stood up in awkward cowlicks.
Just like the nutty professor.
He reached for his water glass and she saw that his deep navy sweater fell to his second knuckle. He was swimming in the sweater, which looked more like a choir robe than a dapper accoutrement. The glasses were gone, Lilly would be glad to hear, but his naked face revealed his one immutable flaw. His nose was terribly wrong. It was too low, or too large, perhaps it was too thin? It was too something, and terribly so. Margaret began to panic.
I’ll stare! I’ll just stare at it the whole time and I’ll never get through this meal. Oh, God, I’m a monster. This is awful! Lilly was right!
She ducked around the corner and leaned against the wall.
“Can I help you?” A tiny waitress in black pants and a white shirt stood before her.
“Oh, no! I mean, um, I’m meeting someone, but I just need a moment, I think I may have left my cell phone in my car.”
“Ok, just let me know.” The waitress pulled a pad and pen from her pocket and walked back around the corner and into the dining room.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. What am I going to do?
She checked her watch; it was twenty after two. Her heart began to pound. She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, carefully avoiding her eyeliner. Holding her glasses in her hand, she peeked back around the corner. He was still there. The blue blur of his sweater was unmistakable against the yellow wall of the restaurant. It seemed less offensive without her glasses, and when he checked his watch, she could not tell what expression came over his face. It was a soft smudge, a tanned oval broken by the dark of eyes and a mouth. The stray tufts of hair were gone now, as was his nose. Erased in a myopic magic trick, he was as anonymous now, as he had been online, and on the phone.
“Margaret!” Gabriel’s voice came from the back of the room. He had spotted her, and she raised up her hand and waived. She took a deep breath, and walked toward the table, shoving her glasses into her pocket. She smiled as she reached the table.
He stood up as she approached and pulled out her chair.
“I was worried that something had happened to you, I was getting a little nervous that you might not show.”
“Oh, no, not me,” she said, as she sat down. He pushed in her chair and then sat in his own. “I just got a stuck in a little bit of traffic on 28.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re here now, and I’m glad you’re ok.” He smiled at her. She could see the general shape of his smile, and that he smiled with his eyes, but his nose was still gone in the haze. His hair seemed less a mess now; a soft flop of pale brown mane that reminded her more of a pony than anything else.
“I’m glad I’m here too.” She was reaching for her napkin when her cell phone rang.
“Oh, God. Gabriel, I swear to you that I am not one of these people, but that’s my sister and she’s having car trouble, let me just tell her I can’t talk or she’ll keep calling the whole time.” She pulled out the phone and checked the number. It was, of course, Lilly.
“I’m at lunch, Lilly, and I can’t talk right now.” She smiled at Gabriel.
“With who? I’m here with mom.”
“I’m with Gabriel, Lilly, and I’m being rude, so what do you want?
“Oh my god! Ha ha! Isn’t it awful? Isn’t he just the most funny looking man you ever saw?” She laughed her snorty laugh into the phone, and Margaret glanced over at Gabriel. He was beaming at her. His chin was resting in one hand, and the smile had not yet left his face. Margaret was suddenly enraged.
“Ok, Lilly, I’m going to go.”
“No! Wait! The car? Can I have it?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Lilly, I forgot all about it. You’ll have to ask mom for hers.” She pointed at the phone and made a chatty hand puppet for Gabriel. He chuckled in quiet amusement. “I think I’ll be needing it tonight. I’ll talk to you later though. Have fun at the show.” She hung up the phone and turned it off before snapping it shut and shoving it deep into her bag, just under her glasses.
“Alrighty. I’m sorry about that, Gabriel. My sister is a bit of a nuisance sometimes.”
“Well, we all have our flaws, that’s what makes us people.” He put his own napkin on his lap and spread it flat to his knees.
“Hey, I just noticed, no glasses!” He looked at her quizzically.
“Oh, yeah.” She pressed her lips together and swallowed hard.
“I decided to wear my contacts today.”