This is a short story which won third place in the March 2008 running of The Mystery Prompt competition on writing.com I have made some changes to it based on the comments I received from the WDC judge, and post it here for you to read now. Enjoy!
“But that is still a long way off yet.” The optician spoke as if that were the brightest news ever spoken by Man. You are going blind. Eventually you will not be able to see, but you are not blind yet. Louisa wasn’t sure whether that made it a death sentence or a life sentence; neither sounded particularly comforting to her.
Six months ago Louisa had not had a worry in the world. Pretty, intelligent and doing the job she loved; she felt at the top of her game. Then, one ordinary morning, she noticed an odd bloodspot in her eye: as if someone had dabbed a finger into the not quite dry paint of her portrait and smeared the iris into the white. Brown iris, white white, a rusty coloured smear of colour from tear duct to pupil, Louisa thought nothing of it: simply tiredness and perhaps the stresses of her new job. She promised herself she’d get it checked when next she had space in her multicoloured planner for an appointment with the GP: and promptly forgot all about it.
Over time the smear deepened in colour and both eyes became decidedly bloodshot. Louisa began to worry, but never enough to see the GP; continuing to put the cause down to stress-inducing busyness at work and to too little sleep and too much caffeine. But now she was seeing blurring, like looking through a rain-splattered windscreen. She made the appointment with the GP, she was referred on to her optometrist and finally to a specialist optician who had delivered the cheerful news: she was going blind, but only slowly. Like pace mattered.
Paul knew something was wrong. He’d known Louisa for over a year and at last he had managed to convince her to spend some time in his company. He had noticed that Louisa had loads of friends; whereas Paul, whilst not a loner, seemed to enjoy the pleasure of his own company above too much social kerfuffle. On that darkening afternoon in Moss Park he saw her and decided she needed a friend, and with a deep breath he offered himself into the role.Louisa did not understand at the time why she had chosen to confide in Paul. A voice and a face from home, he like her was Trowennan and they had been contemporaries at the University; but she hardly knew him. Indeed to say she knew “of him” was possibly even an exaggeration; but still she shared, and he came through for her. Paul asked all the right questions, left all the right pauses, and like the girl in the apocryphal story of the late returning daughter he “helped her to cry”. Paul could not change Louisa’s medical prognosis, but she knew that with him about she would have support.
“Miss, what do you want with them books? They’re for grannies!” Louisa looked around with a start. It was not often she was stopped by the sound of one of her pupils’ voices at home, since she lived two towns across from the school where she taught. Louisa caught herself and offered her warmest smile.
“Perhaps this is for my granny, Elizabeth; I’m not too old to still have a nana.”
“Oh, okay Miss. Have a lovely day with her.”
The girl walked off, pausing only later to remember that Miss Davidson’s family all lived in far distant Trowenna.
Louisa tuned back to the shelves and felt the welling of a tear in her “good eye”. Large Print books were indeed for grannies, that’s why the covers were in such bold secondary colours and the pages smelled of old saliva. In truth she’d only stopped to see if there was a large print edition of a novel she wanted as the regular print, paperback edition was already out on loan. It had not occurred to her until then that one day she would only be reading large print, and then… And then, well “and then” was still a long way off yet. Paul had just that morning teased her, as her friends often did, that the notoriously clumsy Louisa parked her car “by Braille”. It didn’t bear thinking about. In the mean time there was another appointment with the optician.
Paul looked up as Louisa entered the restaurant. Dusk had overtaken the daylight outside; ensconced in the brightness of the booth Paul hadn’t noticed the gathering darkness. Louisa gently placed her book on the table and waited for Paul to embrace her.
“How are you?”
“How do I look?”
“Ta.” Louisa sat and idly fingered the wineglass in front of her. She sighed and smiled. “At least I can still touch and taste…restaurants are so wonderful. Ooh and hear, what lovely music this is.”
“And smell,” added Paul. “You smell too.”
“True story.” Louisa flashed her wicked grin.
The dark had completely overcome the day when they left to walk home, Paul via Louisa’s. The light of the half moon above them lit the path, but it was a familiar walk which either could have made with their eyes shut. Louisa tried to do so and promptly walked herself into a rubbish bin.
“Ouch! What’s the point of walking with you if you let me bash my legs on bins?”
“What’s the point of walking at all if you’re gonna close your eyes and hope for the best? Do not rely on what you think you know but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”
“I acknowledge he let me walk into a bin.”
“I wasn’t talking about me; now, take my hand.”
The brilliance of seven spotlights lit the room as Louisa idly flicked the switch and kicked off her boots in the one coordinated movement. The room was warm and Louisa realised that she had left the heater on again. She paused to smile at herself in the mirror; eyes red where they should be white she did look “stoned” as Paul had said. Louisa dropped her shoulders and exhaled the stress: deliberately relaxing herself she consciously thought “smile” and allowed her face to follow the thought. She looked into the mirror again and saw that she did indeed look beautiful, relaxed and happy. The red in her eyes was uniform in distribution, the original incursion into her iris had gone and she was responding well to treatment. The optician’s prognosis has not been the best, but it had been better than the original: she was not going blind but she was losing the ability to see in colour. “Quite simply”, she had been told, “your eyesight will diminish to black and white.” Louisa looked across at the painting on her wall, W.C. Piguenit’s Mount King William from Lake George, Tasmania. Black and white, yet almost photographic in its quality, Louisa allowed her gaze to pass through it: it would be okay after all. Dull: but then all life is dull. It would be up to her to fill the colour in, and Paul would provide a start.