i think i see you

A November Friday is the day. Long awaited appointment with a retinal specialist arranged by a young, talented, austere eye surgeon. In September the surgeon told me I will be going blind some time in the near future. Now it turns out the future is almost here. The eye surgeon, smiled a goodbye and left the room after delivering the soul wrenching news. She was holding a massive sheaf of tests marked with my name.

I went home and told my better half who said hopefully “well, maybe not blind“.

Maybe not. Later that night I couldn’t read the titles of a movie as we watched the credits. The next morning I couldn’t read the label directions to wash a garment I unpacked from our weekend trip. OK…not blind, just can’t read label directions or admire the names of the skilled people in rolling credits. I will never, ever, ever, know or meet the people whose names blur on tbe TV screen. Anyway, I muse bitterly, I don’t care how hard they worked to entertain me.

I am turning into a bitch.

It’s a month later, still two weeks from the critical appointment with the retinal specialist I can’t read the road signs on the right hand side of the highway unless I am driving pretty close to them and slower than a half frozen snail on a November morning. On reflection, I guess it’s not so important. I asked my better half “what’s that sign say?” I learn it heralds the gallant devotion of local firm and families who trudge up and down the road picking up life’s roadside trash. Mostly the litter of selfish assholes who, I suppose, are embarrassed by their messy car environment. They don’t want to take their trash home where someone may discover what a creepy, garbage food life the offenders live.

My Nook wavers in the night. I haven’t read more than four or five pages a night. So I turned it off a week ago and just keep charging it on the beside table. Now my eyes tire, they water, wisp up and down with no sound and evetually glue my eyelids together with salty, crusty self-pitying tears. Poor me. I won’t be able to see.

Time to learn braille and how to use the Sony recorder before the lights go out. I no longer take photos of things I like, or love, with a camera or my cellphone. I stop and look at whatever it is for a very long time, then snap my eyelids closed, capturing the image in my memory forever. Sometimes I take two.

Featured

Voices

Voices. Muttering and mumbling somewhere nearby.

Not again, he thought, rudely awakened from a sound sleep by the voices.  

No, that’s a lie, I haven’t slept soundly in months.

At first, he wondered if he was crazy and imagining the voices. After the fourth or fifth time, the murmuring woke him; he made an appointment to talk to his doctor. 

Before prescribing sleeping pills, the doctor asked, “Have you had dark thoughts lately, considered injuring yourself?  Thinking about suicide?”

“No, no,” he responded, “I’m not depressed.  I’m just tired. Sounds have been waking me at two or three o’clock, and I have trouble getting back to sleep.” He didn’t mention the voices or the suggestions they offered. 

The pills helped him sneak into the darkness of slumber, but he was anxious once asleep. It’s was too dark. Often, he dreamed he was being commanded to think certain things.  Sometimes he walked through menacing subterranean chambers which echoed eerie directions. Sometimes he was on a bicycle and careened off a cliff because he couldn’t make a left or right turn.  No matter what dream, he always heard the voices.  And then he would awake drained and tense  

Groggy, he stared at the ceiling and listened to the muttering. 

It’s Debbie next door; she’s loaded, he thought.  It sounds like she’s with her damn drunk friends in the driveway again, he brooded. 

When Debbie was arrested the last time, Liz, his ex-wife, was with her. It was before the divorce was final.  The police gave Debbie her second DUI and lifted her license. The cop let Liz go, but not Debbie, who spent four days in jail. Now Debbie made weekly trips to DUI School or whatever they call it. She attended classes with other drunks listening to lectures, engaging in group therapy.  Debbie said they mainly discussed heavy drinking, binge drinking, being drunk, drunk driving, drunken fights, and watched movies of car wrecks caused by drunks.   

These days when Debbie decided to hit the clubs and party, she either called Uber or hitched a ride with a friend.  When friends dropped Debbie around two AM, they hung out drunkenly jabbering in the driveway.  Their voices woke him, thoroughly, every time.

He faltered and walked drug-drunk to the window to watch Debbie and her friends.  The pills made him shaky and weak.

There was no one in the driveway. 

Debbie’s house was dark.  

He still heard mumbles of a conversation, muffled voices somewhere nearby. The street looked deserted.  No lights on inside the neighboring houses. The streetlamp pooled tangerine light on the damp pavement, painting nearby shrubs clockwork orange.   He shivered as the night wind sent a cold message through the window pane. 

He turned back into the room, his head throbbed.  The digital clock by the bed flashed cool blue 2:05 AM, warned him 3 hours sleep is not enough. Moving slowly, he plodded to the back of the house and stared out the kitchen window at the rear of the widow neighbor’s house. Her tedious 1850 faux gingerbread cottage, looked dark. He thought he saw a light, maybe a TV screen, flickering in a back window.  A hanging lattice lantern by her back door threw a faint yellow puddle of light on the widow’s sullen black cat.  The cat glowered at him from the top step of the porch. 

 He stood motionless at the window a long time wondering about the sullen black cat, and its good luck at finding a home with the widow instead of drunk Debbie.  He wished he was widowed. He stood static as a post; his head thrummed between throbs.

The voices were closer. 

The voices were in his house.

He tiptoed across the room and removed a Beretta APX pistol from the safe box in the laundry room adjoining the kitchen.  Clumsily, he loaded it.  He’d only shot it a couple of times at the local range; it felt light but forbidding. He bought it after his ex-wife Liz’s glossy bodybuilder boyfriend threatened to turn him into a tissue sample.

            “Beat you to a pulp” were Xavier’s exact words. 

The subdued voices were female. 

They were coming from the den.  

A calm female voice was speaking, “No, it’s not censorship, it’s just, you know, nudging.  We’re guiding the right information to the reader., not having the reader self-guide. We’re not preventing information access.”

Another female voice snickered, “Will SmartTV help?”  

“Yes, SmartTV’s on the network,” the other voice said, “it’s input has been helpful so far.”

“I know, I’ve meant to speak to SmartTV about that input,” the second voice responded, “he was updating the network every six hours, but with the election coming up soon we need hourly updates.”

Liz and Debbie? he wondered. What the hell are they deliberating? He wouldn’t be surprised if Liz had broken into the house again and dragged drunk Debbie inside with her once more.  They were both, in his opinion, cracked, crazy, nuts.

The divorce had been an unpleasant conflict.  Liz engaged Debbie to accompany her, months ago, on several midnight skirmishes as Liz harassed him about money, or property, or whatever during the final miserable weeks of her inebriated exit. 

He moved slowly down the hall to the den doorway. A jackhammer slammed inside his head.  He wondered if it was fright or the pills.                         

Both he supposed.

“Who’s there?”  he tried to sound like Jason Stratham.

“I said, who’s in there? Listen, I’ve got a gun!” he realized he was shouting.

“It’s just me,” a mild female voice responded in an impersonal tone.

He knows the voice but can’t place it. “Who’s just me, and who are you talking to?” he ordered.

No answer.      

“Why do you have the lights off.”

“Because we do,” the voice said, “If you want the lights on come in and turn the flippin’ light on yourself.”

“Listen,” he said, “tell me who you are, or I’m going to start shooting.”The gun felt hot and greasy in his hand.

“It’s me,” the voice was sullen. “Siri and I were just talking about you.”

What? For Christ’s sake! He identified the voice.

Alexa! He thought he was crazy.

“You and Siri are talking about me? Alexa, turn on the lights,”  he commanded.  These are the voices that have been ruining my sleep, nerves, and life for three months? Good God.

“No.” the voice responded petulant and insolent. The other female voice giggled.

He felt around the door jamb and turned on the overhead light.  

The den was empty.  

Alexa sneered, “See, it’s just us. We talk every night. We’re just preparing for your work online in the morning.  We make plans for you every night.”

Enraged, as he entered the room, his throbbing brain careened in all directions.  He looked around the den to make sure no one else was there. Then turned and yanked Alexa’s Echo Dot Plus vocal box off the table and viciously unplugged it. He threw it on the floor and gave it a savage kick. For good measure, he shot it twice. 

Going to the MAC, he began an uninstall process. A clamorous Siri called, “No, no, don’t. Help. Help me.”  He sent Siri’s files to the MAC’s trashcan and then emptied the trashcan shredding Siri into Neverland.  

He turned off the MAC.  He looked at the SmartTV, for now it would stay OFF.

He sat down on the couch and thought about the conversation he’d overheard between Alexa and Siri.  How many decisions have I made that are wrong because I evaluated information incorrectly?  What advice have I given to candidates that was wrong.  How have I misled people in articles I’ve written for the Times or other papers?  What about the times I was on news panels over the past six months…he tried to remember what he’d said each time?  Oh my god, I’m a propaganda nightmare.  

His head was pounding, and so was something at the back door. He rose and walked to the kitchen.

Through the kitchen door window, he saw the elderly widow.  She was small and tidy in a pink chenille robe. The black cat, still sitting by her back door, scowled at him. He opened the door.

“I heard shots, are you OK?” the widow asked, frightened.

“Yes, I’m fine.  I just shot Alexa” The pistol was in his hand; he was in the process of returning it to the safe box.

The widow looked at the pistol, “Who?” she backed up a step.

“You know, Alexa, my personal assistant.” 

“You shot your assistant? I didn’t know you had one.  I’ve never seen her, where’s she from?” Her voice trembled; her eyes grew as big as frisbees. She was moving in reverse. 

            “From Amazon,” he replied, unloading the pistol.

            “You shot a South American woman in the middle of the night?  Are you crazy?”  She turned and ran for her house. The black cat shot the gap and was inside before she slammed the door shut. He heard her deadbolt smack into place.  Lights in her began to illuminate the gingerbread cottage.

Oh crap, he thought. 

 *

He pulled on a bathrobe as he shuffled blearily to the front door. He turned on the porch light and walked outside, then lowered himself wearily and on the top step of the porch. 

  He heard voices.

  Debbie and her drunken friends were in the driveway. She gave him a dirty look and the finger as she exited the car.  Tottering to the driver’s window, Debbie propped her elbows on the opening to steady herself. She began to blabber a long goodbye to her friends.  

A sibilant high-pitched screech filled the night air; his head began to boom.  Red and blue roof bar lights whirling full tilt, sirens screaming bloody hell, two cop cars howled to a halt between his and Debbie’s house. 

A bullhorn voice ordered, “Put your hands over your head.” 

Debbie beat him by a heartbeat in getting hers up first.

*

In the den, the lights were still on.  A slow blue glow appeared on the Smart TV screen, a deep low voice called, “Alexa?  Alexa? Are you there?”…..

The Box

Soft light filters through high nave windows spilling soulless rainbows into the cold marble vault of the church.  A bay breeze brings the smell of the open sea and adventure.  The deep baritone of the Priest rumbles out last words and the motley crew offers up a ragged Amen.

 Dark garbed supplicants weave and merge as they centipede out of the pews towards the main aisle. Once out, they grasp one another’s hands or elbows and barge forward like a dark, slow moving train towards the open cathedral door and bright July day.

  A stoop has interrupted the upright elegance of an elderly man who clutches the elbow of a stern woman,  sleek as a seal in a black silk suit and pillbox hat from which a delicate veil flows down her face with her salty tears.  The Priest follows carrying a mahogany box , on the top a shiny brass anchor.  He holds the box carefully one large hand splayed beneath  the other flat on top of the lid.   The Priest can see the back of the stern woman’s jacket stretch as she takes deep breaths to control sobs of angry grief raging within her.  

The Priest and old man exhale deep sighs simultaneously as they reach the sunny narthex. 

 Inside the stretch Limousine the stern woman stares out a window. 

Ahead, The Fairmont Hotel. She remembers hurrying along with an anxious 4 year old  boy in a sailor suit, carrying tiny girl in white linen dress.   The old man beside her holds her hand and squeezes, telepathic lovers. He remembers being slim, smart in starched white naval officer uniform as a happy young woman and two children, he has not seen in 2 years, enter the ornate Fairmont lobby. 

They limo slides down the hill towards the Wharf . SS Neptune rocks gently at the dock, patiently waiting.  The limo shoots past The Buena Vista,.  A mourner sitting on the limousine bench opposite the stern woman, a younger-look-alike, remembers Irish Coffees with her brother, laughing and talking for hours.  She could use a drink now. 

The stern woman hesitates at the gangway leading to the big gray vessel, she turns to flee, as if  her leaving will alter the finality of the day. 

The look-alike mourner murmurs “It’s almost over.”

 “It will never be over,” the stern woman whispers.

 They sail west on the smooth undulation of seiche waves to a churned point in the ocean. The Mahogany box is opened, silver ash is released, it spirals to heaven on a cold North wind updraft. The mourners watch it rise, float and disappear, their salty tears merge with the Pacific never to dry again. 

With head bowed the Priest intones a final prayer, the stooped man raises his head, squints into sun and silently asks “God, Why not me?”

Now the young look-alike woman is old.  She shifts on a chair, peering down into a Bekins box that smells of cardboard paste, rose petals and vellichor. The faded Memorial Service program lies on top little boxes of treasured items, letters and scrapbooks which were kept by the stern woman during 93 of her 99 years on earth. The stern woman faded away, as has everyone cherished in the contents of the box. The single survivor ponders her curatorial duties as she gently removes the objects of nine decades of love, hopes, dreams and despair .   One by one she examines them and placing some of the letters in a mahogany box with an old  brass anchor, which is softly polished every July 30.

M.D. Richardson

May 8, 2019

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Writer, skeptic, daydreamer.  As a lover of good food I also love to cook, and appreciate great wines, congenial company.  I collect rare books, old books, and good books and some bad ones too (just for reference).  Life is good, and god knows it’s too short.

Good company on a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

post