Darkness has never terrified me. After all, it’s all I’ve ever known. My world is a vast eternity of sensation devoid of light, but rich in texture and sound and scents. I can feel you enter the room, I can hear your breath, that surprised intake you make when you first see me. I can only assume that I am somehow different from what you expected.
“Mr. Jeremy Blake?” The tentative question ricochets through the room. I hide the grimace that threatens to twist my face. How absurd, as if there was any need for you to ask. How many blind men are there in the vicinity? In fact, I am perfectly aware that, other than the two of us, the room is empty. Empty rooms feel different, sound different, even smell different.
I stand and extend my hand, gesturing to the vacant chair that I know is opposite mine. “Miss Kipling, please have a seat.” I wait to hear your firmly weighted footsteps cross the floor and I register the sound of the springs in the cushioning of the chair groaning as you settle in. I can tell that you are not a wispy, modern woman.
I sit and listen, you can tell much from a person just by listening. You are nervous, your breathing is fast and light and I can hear you fidget with something, perhaps your clothing or a purse or bag. If you have one of those, it is on your lap, as you have not set it down on the floor or on the seat beside you.
“Miss Kipling, I have been informed that you have something of value that you wish for me to examine.”
“Yes, thank you for seeing… I mean… meeting with me.” Ah, you are uncomfortable with my perceived disability. I don’t see myself as disabled. I am perfectly able and it always shocks me to realise that others see me as less.
“You are welcome.” I have become an expert at brushing over the discomfort. I am no longer amused or offended by the prejudices of the sighted people around me. They can’t help who they are, how they perceive the world, so my becoming upset or offended achieves nothing. “May I see the object?”
I hear the bag on your lap open, a click and a slither of fabric as the fastener gives way. I reach my hand out and a small, heavy object is carefully deposited in my palm. You are exceedingly cautious with it. Your movements tell me that you do not trust that I am able to treat the object with the requisite care and respect. You are, of course, so very wrong, but I don’t say anything.
I close my fingers over the object, a locket on a delicate but strong chain. It is smooth, with slightly raised sections and indents making a strange pattern around the circumference. I run my fingers over the markings as I turn the locket in my hands, tracing the pattern from its beginning to its end.
The last time my fingers had seen one of these was at my grandmother’s bedside. I hadn’t seen it since her funeral.
“The picture within the locket, is it a relative of yours?” I ask and I hear the rustling of fabric as you respond. I wait. I need your verbal affirmation because I can’t interpret your body’s response by sound alone. You may have nodded your head, but it also may have been a shake.
You must realise your mistake, because you hurry to respond. “It is of my aunt.”
I run my hands along the rim of the locket. It is hard to tell what is here. The Peripheral Neuropathy that is attacking my hands has caused blind spots. Once my fingers could sense the slightest, most subtle difference in texture, could distinguish a name engraved on the back of a medallion with almost total accuracy. As I aged, and the disease progressed, the accuracy has become less, and I fear the day when I will be truly blind.
“This locket is similar to one I have seen before,” I say, and you don’t seem surprised. “My grandmother had one, but hers had a trail of roses and thorns around the outside and an inscription on the back. I am afraid it is not the same locket.”
“Mr. Blake, there are roses on the frame, and if you turn over, you will see that it is indeed inscribed.” Your words are a breathy rush, an urgency about them that makes me pause and examine the locket again. My fingers stumble over the surface, but can’t seem to identify any flowers. There are markings, but they are foreign and blurred. And as for an inscription, the back of the locket seems smooth.
“I am unable to make out an inscription,” I say.
“It reads, ‘To Bunny with love, Antoine’, I would like to know who Bunny was. My aunt’s name was Penelope.”
Was it a pet name? Did my grandfather refer to my grandmother as Bunny?
“My grandmother’s name was Bonnie.” I grudgingly divulge this fact to you.
You seem honest. Your voice doesn’t waver with any detectable lie, but I have been besieged by con-artists. People claiming relationship with me, ready to take from me everything that I have. I must seem like an easy target. A blind old man, searching for lost kin. I can tell you, I am not so easily duped.
The lack of inscription under my finger disturbs me for more reasons that you can possibly know, and my fingers slide repeatedly over the back of the locket, searching for those elusive marks. I can’t feel them, but you say that they are there. I use my nail to scrape over the surface, trying to discover any engraved mark, and sure enough, just as you said, my nail catches in a groove. Urgently, I rub my finger over the spot, and change fingers, swap hands, anything to try to feel what was there. It is as if my fingers are covered in a thin layer of wax. They can’t detect the fine detail in the metal. My heart lurches to a stop before stammering back to life. This is the beginning of the end. How will I see without the sensitivity of my fingers?
I turn the locket over and press my fingers against the ridges along the edge. Perhaps the bumps are flowers. They don’t have the detail that I recall, the distinct petals and leaves of my memory are blurred into lumpy blobs. Are they rose shaped blobs?
“I am sorry, Miss Kipling,” I say, ever so politely, because that is how I was raised. “I am unable to verify that the locket belongs to my grandmother. There has never been anyone in my family called Penelope.”
I pass the locket back and you take it carefully. I can hear the genuine disappointment in your tone as you thank me for my time and stand to leave. I have been raised a gentleman and I stand when you do. Your footsteps tap to the door, but pause before opening it. I can hear you turn to look back at me.
“Goodbye Mr Blake.” Your voice is soft and sad. “I just wanted to say that I was quite shocked to see your face this afternoon. You are the spitting image of my uncle Antony, the same striking profile. It’s the nose, you see. Like a hawk, my father used to say. He was glad that it skipped him. My uncle was not so lucky. Nor was I.”
My fingers fly to my nose. It is a prominent feature. My grandmother had the same profile. She said that on a man it was a noble nose, but as a woman it was a curse to bear. Before I can say a word, the door opens and you step through, stepping out of my life with a solid click as the door latches closed once again. I sink back into my chair.
Could those three things be the missing link? If only my fingers could see, then I would know for sure.
For the first time, I thought of the darkness with fear. I couldn’t trust my fingers anymore, they were blinded by this disease. I call your name, begging you to come back, but you are gone. I realise in that moment that I am alone and it is getting darker.