It was October the thirty-first, and the US invasion had finally reached deepest Somerset. In the small market town of Langport, at the quiet end of a cul-de-sac, a small boy dressed in a sheet with two holes cut to see through rang a door bell. Just beneath it, a small plaque read 'Tim and Laurie' followed by a tiny heart symbol.
After a long delay the door opened, resulting in a chorused sharp intake of breath. The six foot adult framed in the doorway certainly looked scary, with his frown and his aggressive stance, but with those milky-white eyes he looked creepy too. People have brown eyes, or blue, or green, and whatever the colour, there should be a black dot in the middle. Everyone knows that. Only the outer part should be white. But this man had eyes that were opaque white on the outside and milky white in the middle.
The young ghost, the designated spokesman of the group, concluded that the householder was entering into the spirit of the evening in a big way, and forestalled his curiosity over how the adult had managed the ghoulish eyes by calling out in a slightly wavery treble:
“Trick or treat, mister?”
He didn't get the response he was expecting.
“Bugger off, what do you take me for? Ridiculous rigmarole, meritless rubbish. Now, get you gone before I set the dog on you.” - and the arm that wasn't holding the door swung out towards the children in a gesture that might have been threatening or might merely have been intended to point them their way.
Thoroughly frightened, the two witches, the warlock, the skeleton and the two ghosts turned tail and ran. The householder slammed the door on their retreat, muttering under his breath as he did: “It's not even a British tradition.”
He had, perhaps, some excuse for his behaviour. All was not well in the Tim and Laurie household. Tim of the milky eyes had earlier in the evening had a big row with his lover and Laurie had left the house and was no doubt preparing to spend the night on the sofa at the home of one or other of their friends.
Laurie had asked Tim to marry him and had been refused. This being the third time of asking, Tim had been firm about refusing. He saw no future in committing to a relationship, because of his blindness. The relationship could not, he had explained, be an equal partnership. Laurie had pleaded with him, the same argument he'd used previously, that Tim's useless eyes did not affect the way he felt about him, that he couldn't have loved him more sighted than than he did blind, but Tim had ended the discussion by stating bluntly:
“When I can see you I will marry you.”
And now it appeared their relationship might be over. No wonder he was grumpy. Did the circumstance excuse his abusive behaviour to the trick-or-treaters, though?
– 0 –
A year passed. The doorbell rang, this time a little later in the evening. The plaque below the bell-push now read 'Timothy Atkins' and the little heart was no more.
The door opened on a group of costumed children a few years older than the previous year's batch. Perhaps British parents were getting up to speed on the imported festival and recognising that children out after dark unsupervised and knocking on strangers' doors ought to be old enough to deal with at least the more likely challenges that they might face.
These older celebrants, in rather more inventive costumes including two very bloody zombies, were no less taken aback by the sight of the householder. This time, however, their shock was ameliorated when Tim meekly handed out bags of sweets to each of them and sent them on their way with a cheery wave.
Why the change of attitude? Laurie had not considered their row a year previously as final, had eventually returned, had stayed, deciding, perhaps, that any relationship with Tim was better than none. He had come home and announced an item of news that he was excited about. There had been a medical breakthrough, and Tim might one day recover his sight. It had taken Tim a while to come to terms with this, but once it had sunk in he found he could be hopeful. Laurie's excitement overwhelmed him and carried him along tsunami-like. Tim could not be grumpy even with a group of kids in silly costumes aping an American tradition in Britain.
– 0 –
Another year passed.
The doorbell rang, but this time there was no answer. The group of children, smaller ones again this time, stood for a while, perhaps uncertain of procedure. An adult, who had been hovering inconspicuously in the background, eventually intervened.
“There's no-one home here, let's try next door.” - and the ghouls shuffled awkwardly on to the next house.
Where was the householder? In hospital, recovering from an operation intended to restore his sight. Laurie had been at his bedside every day for the last month and today the bandages were to be removed. Tim would know whether the procedure had been a success.
Corneal transplants had been available for some years, but in Tim's case disease had damaged not only his corneas but also the lens beneath. And there had been up to now no way to transplant a lens.
The breakthrough involved microsurgery, and the use of fibrin glue similar to that used to close surgical wounds. The surgeon had explained the procedure to Tim and Laurie, who sat in the office holding hands and listening intently. The operation would depend on finding suitable donor eyes, which might or might not be possible. Once found, the operation would be scheduled, and the donor eyes and Tim's eyes would be worked on simultaneously. The difficulty was to replace Tim's lenses with the donor lenses, and get the new lenses connected to the muscles that would flex the lens to focus it. A high precision laser would cut away a tiny scale of Tim's lens at each point where it attached to the controlling muscle and the resulting pad would be glued to the donor lens. If all went well the lens would focus in response to Tim's optical muscles and in combination with new corneas Tim would be able to see for the first time in ten years.
Tim's hands shook with anxiety as the nurse unwound the bandage from his head. Laurie took and held both his hands in support. When the bandage was gone there were still pads of gauze over each eye and when those were removed Tim swung an arm up to shield his eyes from the bright light, although the room lights had been set deliberately soft and dim in anticipation of this.
After a few seconds he lowered his arm slowly. Just as slowly, a smile spread across his face and he turned to the surgeon and said: “I can see!”
The surgeon carried out a few tests and then left the couple alone, after instructing them that after ten minutes Tim must rest, with his eyes closed.
As soon as they were alone, Laurie said “We can get married now, no?”
Tim turned, smiling, to meet his lover's eyes, but his smile faltered.
“Laurie? What's wrong with your eyes?”
“My eyes, Tim?”
“Your eyes. Yes, your eyes. You're blind, aren't you?”
His voice strengthened and rose in pitch, on the edge of hysteria. “You're blind and I was blind, and in three years I never knew. You never told me. Why would you do that? Why didn't you say, Laurie?”
Laurie reached forwards, found Tim's arms, ran his hands down and took his lover's hands in his again. “I'm blind, yes. Your blindness never mattered to me, and mine doesn't matter to me either. What matters is love. You always said when you could see me you would marry me, and now you can see me. Let's get married, Tim?”
Timothy stood, pulled his hands out of Laurie's grasp. “No, no, no! It's no good! It'll never work.”
He threw his hands up in a futile gesture of frustration, before continuing in a calmer voice.
“Yes, I can see but you can't! We could never have a proper relationship. It's over, Laurie. It's over, it has to be. It has to. I'm sorry.”
With his newly restored vision, Tim could see the tears running down Laurie's face, past unseeing glass eyes. Laurie turned to face Timothy, to face him though not to see him. He spoke very quietly, almost a whisper.
“Yes, I see how it is. I do understand. I'm sorry.” His voice cracked. “Goodbye, then. Take care of yourself, and of my eyes...”
© Bruin Fisher October 2015