Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | October 2, 2009

Too-dark World

New York City. Summer 2004.

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Elsie stands with her back to the window. The pane of glass is larger than she is, at least six Elsies wide and one and a half tall, with not a single scratch or smudge to prove that she can’t fall through.

She leans back against the glass, until the skin on the back of her arms sticks and her knees shake. She half expects the window to disappear. Then she will fall spiraling from this too-small tenth floor apartment–but she will not die. No, she will simply float down to a ground that isn’t city. A ground that is soft and alive and filled with wildflowers of all colors, welcoming her home.

“Elsie?” her father’s voice is too-loud like always. “What are you doing standing against the glass like that? Isn’t it cold?”

She shakes her head. No, not cold.

“Talk to me, Els. Come on.”

She’d been silent for two days now, and if she were able to explain, she’d tell him about the lights, and how they still dance across her vision through the ever-darkening haze. Green lights are her favorite, and she wishes he wouldn’t zoom through them as soon as they change. She wants to watch them hanging there, full of color that will soon be gone.

Her dad comes to stand next to her, places his own back against the too-large window–three Dads wide by one Dad tall. “You know I would do anything to give back your sight,” he says.

It’s not gone. Not yet. Elsie almost speaks, but bites her tongue. She made a deal with herself. If she doesn’t speak for a month, she’ll get back one color. Two months, another. If she keeps it up for a whole year, she’ll be able to see again as clearly as she could two years ago.

She knows it’s ridiculous. But what if it works? What do all those doctors know about her own eyes, anyway? Why shouldn’t she be able to trade silence for sight?

She hears Dad move away–sees only a glint of light off his wristwatch. “What do you want for dinner?”

I want spaghetti carbonara with bacon, she thinks, stomach rumbling. But she’s not allowed to say.

“How about Campbell’s soup? That ok?”

Easiest thing to cook, that’s what it is. She leaves the window and marches toward the kitchen, following the nightlights placed at every corner. Her elbows and toes are covered with bumps and scrapes from these mad marches, but she refuses to move slowly through her haze.

First she grabs the cookbook from its usual spot on the shelf, but of course she can’t see the pages. So she starts tearing through the cupboards. Spaghetti noodle–must be in this long box here. White cheese sauce–could be in any of these. They’re all the same shape. Probably most are marinara. Open the fridge–everything so cold, so dark, with that one light at the top staring at her.

Ten minutes later, her hands freezing. There’s no bacon.

“You want spaghetti and sauce? With what else? Come on, what’s missing, Els? You can tell me, you know, instead of throwing food all over the house. There’s nothing wrong with your vocal cords.”

Tears run down her cheeks, and she writes in the air. Soon there is a pen and paper in her hands, and she writes the word as best she can. Bacon.

“Oh. I can go pick some up, but we’ll be eating kind of late. That ok?”

Elsie shrugs. None of this is ok. Not the too-small apartment or the too-large window or Dad’s too-loud voice. Worst of all is the too-dark world. Her world. The world that will only get darker.

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