TO GLIMPSE THE WIND
The afternoon sun shone directly onto the upturned face of a young man leaning far back on the park bench, his eyes open and staring. Although he felt the heat, Tim Boyd saw not the faintest hint of light and dissatisfaction spread through him like a malaise, pushing back the surge of wellbeing the sunlight had initiated. He sat just inside the park entrance, in his Tuesday spot, feeling bored, and now he felt irritated too. Idly he slouched even lower on the bench, stretching out his arms to discourage others from sharing his seat. The fingers of his extended left hand encountered something flat and metallic. It was warm from the heat of the afternoon, or maybe it had recently been in someone’s hand. Absently he explored the object, turning it in his fingers.
A coin. An unfamiliar one.
He knew the contours of nickels, dimes and quarters intimately, and this wasn’t any of those. It wasn’t a dollar coin either. He knew those too. Something foreign. Exotic. On a whim, he slipped it into his pocket. It was his now, and maybe it was lucky. His lucky coin. God knew he was due for a change, so how about now?
He missed the excitement of his old life as an engineer at the Honeoye Falls test facility. Loved the rush of testing new components, pushing them to the limit and beyond, his daily routine like the thrill of a roller coaster until that early June day six years ago, when an exploding gasket shot a shower of hot metal shards into his face. They told him he was lucky none of those fragments reached his brain. He just wished they had. Years of extensive plastic surgery gave him back a semblance of his face but not his eyes. Those were gone forever, blinded by minute heated metal knives that shredded them beyond repair. The compensation settlement was more than generous. He would never want materially for the rest of his life, but it did nothing for him on the inside, couldn’t give him his old life back. He was a blind man.
He always knew. Instantly. The point at which people learned his disability. Their voices changed; a mixture of sympathy and a generous serving of pity, unsuccessfully hidden. Most people thought that because he couldn’t see them, he couldn’t read their expressions, but Tim became adept at sorting out the nuances in the human voice. He knew when people were sorry for him and he knew when his appearance repulsed them. In the early days, his anger burning magnesium bright at the injustice that had left him incapacitated at twenty-three, he took to walking about hatless, his scarred and battered face in plain view, unmitigated by shadow or hair. Later, as his anger cooled and he acknowledged his situation, he accepted the painful rounds of surgery that slowly re-constructed his features so that today the only external reminders of that horrific time were the scars above his eyebrows and on his cheekbones and jaw. These were what people noticed first. Some never ever realized that he had two glass eyes.
His mother said his scars gave him a rakish appearance, but her opinion didn’t really count. She was his mother. Patricia’s opinion might have counted. A lot. But Pat was gone. He had driven her away. She left within three months, unable to take his fits of depression and violent mood swings. He wanted her gone. She reminded him of the earlier days. So he deliberately hurt her, not physically, but emotionally, battering down her defenses and leaving her in tears, screaming at him, asking him what he wanted from her. Tim could not tell her, He didn’t know either. He just needed to lash out, hurt someone else; make them share his own consuming pain.
In half a year, he managed to alienate all of his close friends. They tried their best to tolerate his outbursts, then came around less frequently, and eventually stopped visiting altogether. By then, he had come to hate the Honeoye Falls house anyway. Built at the end of a tony cul-de-sac named Bridlewood Trail, he had designed it to fit his attitude and social lifestyle, and its sunken levels and open spaces became a nightmare of obstacles. He fell constantly, skinned his knees and elbows, screamed abuse at an endless stream of attendants, disobeyed their instructions and was so thoroughly miserable that when his mother proposed he come and live with her, he agreed, relishing the prospect of a new victim for his vitriol.
Like all mothers, she was over protective and his abuse rolled off her like raindrops on a newly waxed car. Eventually they established an uneasy camaraderie. He submitted to the therapists and others who molded and shaped him into a new Tim Boyd. Not improved, just different. He came to terms with his handicap too, learning to use his ears and nose in place of his eyes. He learned Braille, devoured audio books of all kinds, fiction, non-fiction, languages, philosophy, things he would not have dreamed of reading in his previous life. He learned to use a cane and stopped bumping into things. He learned to go outside and cross a street, to order food from a street vendor, making the correct payment with bills folded in different ways to identify them, dollar bills unfolded, fives folded in half, tens folded lengthwise, twenties with a corner bent down. Of course he had no way of knowing if the bills he received in return were the right denominations and it galled him that he needed to have his mother fold and categorize them for him when he got home.
His settlement secured them an apartment on the second floor at the corner of Central Park East and he quickly learned to make it across the corner plaza into the park. He loved the park. Loved walking in it, feeling the air on his face, enjoying the sounds of birds and insects as he sat on the park benches listening to the conversations of passersby. Sometimes they greeted him and he responded, but it was ephemeral contact and he yearned for something more tangible. He had lost touch with the baggage of his earlier life and he was lonely. He avoided the other blind people in the park. He suspected they avoided him too. A mutual unspoken agreement to stay out of each other’s way. They reminded each other of themselves, and Tim didn’t need reminding.
He felt around on the bench until he located his cane, then stood up and walked across the grass to the paved walkway, heading north, further into the park, feeling for the verge with his cane. His ears tuned in the different sounds of various passersby; the regular scrunch of purposeful feet, probably someone in the park for lunch and headed back to work, the soft whirr of an approaching bicycle, the stuttering buzz of the occasional skateboard. Tim knew them all, just as he knew most of the paths and byways in the park by now. Just ahead, a right turn onto a gravel path would take him up a small hill overlooking the conservatory water. There, a park bench faced west over the treetops, perfectly situated to catch the setting sun. He was still a few hours away from sunset however, and he planned to sit awhile and listen to the sound of the summer crickets and the chatter of birds arriving by the water below him.
The hill was steep but he took it briskly, anticipating the solitude at the top, striding out purposefully across the grass to where he knew the seat was located. Very few people came here. In all the time since finding this secluded nook, he had only encountered a couple of people, and they arrived to find him already established in the spot. From their voices, he figured they were couples looking for a hiding place. They were always surprised to see him, then apologetic when they noticed his cane. They always backed away, apologizing profusely, and Tim understood exactly why they were apologizing. He stayed silent, letting them retreat from the clearing and down the hill, leaving him alone with his thoughts and his little victory.
Today, his cane encountered something foreign as he felt for the edge of the seat. It felt soft and he rapped it harder with his cane, hearing a soft gasp in response.
A voice said, “Excuse me.”
There was someone already seated here. On his bench. He was confused and a little irritated. This had never happened before. “I beg your pardon,” he said, scrambling to regain his dignity. Then, with a note of exasperation in his voice, “You should have said something, you know. I can’t see you.”
“I know. I’m so sorry.” The voice was feminine. Youthful and vibrant, with a hint of humor. “I was so taken up with the way you came up the hill without using your cane that I forgot to make myself known. I do apologize.”
“That’s ok,” he said, although he didn’t feel okay. “It’s a great spot, and the setting sun is just perfect from here. Enjoy the view. I’ll be going now.”
“Oh, don’t go,” she was contrite now. “Please stay. You can share the seat with me.”
Tim hesitated. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist these days, but the voice intrigued him, and besides, he needed to stake his claim to the bench. This place. Otherwise, she might make it hers. “All right,” he said, feeling opposite her voice for the other end of the park bench.
Her sudden touch on his hand surprised him. Her grasp was gentle but firm and her touch tingled.
“Here, let me help you,” she said, guiding him with her hand on his arm.
He felt her other hand at his back, helping him to settle down in the corner of the seat. Her touch was comfortable, almost intimate and he felt regretful as she withdrew her hands and sat down opposite him. Nobody had touched him in a long while. Not like that anyway.
Get a grip, Tim, he thought as he struggled to compose himself. She was just being polite.
He shifted his position so that he was half facing her, or where he presumed she must be, and made an effort to be polite too.
It was no trouble at all.
The conversation flowed easily. He felt mesmerized, lulled by the sound of her voice, almost as if he was outside his body, observing himself in conversation with this stranger. Their conversation covered diverse topics, veering from the weather in New York to automobiles to travel to exploring and even horseback riding, which he had loved to do back at Honeoye Falls. The breadth of their shared interests seemed astounding and Tim, nowadays taciturn by nature, found himself animatedly discussing the merits of different kinds of honey in a slowly growing bubble of contentment, like drowning in a pool of molasses. For a while, he struggled to keep his head above the surface, but his charming companion seemed to know exactly what to say at exactly the right moment, and he gave up the effort to stay detached and went with the flow.
She was utterly enjoyable on so many different levels. Her voice, attentive, with a hint of laughter behind it, captivated him entirely. But he was also aware of her presence, the subtle perfume that she wore, a mixture of flowers and grasses perfectly appropriate to the setting and the time of year. And her touch. She kept touching his arm with her fingers to make a point, slim sensitive fingers that never pressed down or grasped, just brushed his forearm, almost accidentally. He found himself looking forward to those moments, leaning towards her to facilitate the contact.
In those times, he could feel her breath on his face, peppermint sweet, as if she had just finished a stick of gum. Maybe she had. Tim wanted to comment on how nice her breath smelled but thought it inappropriate. He wondered what she looked like. Wished he could see her, see what she was wearing, and for a while, the old anger at his injury flared up, but she blithely turned away his looming discontent, unaware she was doing so. It must have shown on his face. She commented on how expressive he was, and how his features changed when he became excited or involved with what he was saying or what she was saying. He didn’t realize the sun had sunk below the treetops until she shivered audibly and said it was getting cold. The hill was somewhat exposed and the wind off the water made the evenings sometimes chilly.
“I’m so sorry if I’ve kept you past your time in the park.” He mentally kicked himself for not being more attentive to the time and place, but he didn’t want this to end. Didn’t want the moment to end.
“Oh that’s no problem,” she said, “I live on the West side, and it’s just a short walk.” Her laughter was infectious. “Besides, there’s still enough light. Can you feel it?”
Tim could not, but he didn’t deny it. “Let me walk you to the park entrance,” he said, getting to his feet, hoping he’d bump into her by accident.
“That’s not necessary,” she protested. “I can find my way out of here easily. Let me get you down to the path.”
He insisted. It would be a long walk back through the park, but the thought of the imminent parting was suddenly painful. Surprisingly, she didn’t demur. She took his arm, slipping her hand between his elbow and his side in a gesture that seemed perfectly natural yet unbearably intimate. Tim was sublimely aware of her presence as they walked back down the hill together. She kept talking, describing little details for him as they went, their bodies leaning together, steps synchronized like old friends. They reached the West Gate far too quickly.
“Thank you,” he whispered as she disengaged her arm from his. “I enjoyed that very much.”
“Me too,” she said, then leaned closer and pressed her lips to his cheek. “Goodnight,” she whispered in his ear, then turned away.
He stood there a long time, listening to her receding footsteps, feeling like a ship adrift from its moorings. Before the sound faded entirely, he lifted his free hand and waved, hoping she had looked back. He didn’t know if she waved back. Then the sound of her was gone. Only the silence remained, rushing in to fill the void that she had occupied both physically and emotionally. The street sounds came back, the clip clop of horse’s hooves, a carriage passing by, going back to the stands on Central Park south. The blare of horns announced the impatience of drivers in a hurry to get home. He realized he needed to go home too.
He took the major park thoroughfare on his way back, walking briskly, replaying the past hours in his mind. He savored the best moments, luxuriating in the surfeit of his senses until he realized he didn’t have her name. He didn’t know who she was or if she would be back. Cursing himself, he turned around, walking a few paces before he realized the futility of his actions. He had no idea where she lived, or which way she had gone after she had left him, no idea if she came to the park frequently, no idea if he would ever see her again. The thought leeched all the good feeling out of him, and he walked the rest of the way home in a foul mood, cutting savagely at the edges of the road with his cane.
Waiting to cross the street back to his apartment, he put his hand into his pocket and discovered the coin he had found earlier was missing. It must have fallen out of his pocket on the hill. He felt irrationally disappointed by the loss and it soured him completely. He drank a fifth of scotch before going to bed but it did nothing for the hollow feeling in his stomach, and the gnawing thought that he had lost something precious.
That night the nightmares returned.
Bryan Knower 2014