Authors: Sean Costello
It was pure chance that Danny Dolan caught the press conference on TV. He had been about to go out rodding in his rust-pocked Charger when his mother hollered, "Danny, come look at this!" and then dashed to the phone to alert the countryside.
The doctor doing most of the talking was not the one who had called Karen earlier that morning. This guy had an accent, like the Krauts in the war movies. Half of what he was saying made little sense to Danny, but the gist of it came through toward the end of the clip, when the surgeon summed up.
"The procedure went well," he said into a cluster of microphones, which to Danny looked like penises. Based on my experience in Europe, I have every reason to believe this girl will see. It will be a joyous experience for her, I am sure."
Danny saw Karen's father sitting next to the surgeon, all weepy-eyed and grinning, and felt an odd thrill when the old man got up to the podium to babble his thanks.
Then it was over.
A cold feeling swept through Danny as the anchorman switched topics. He couldn't imagine a worse situation.
If Karen got her sight.
He pushed to his feet, trying to shirk the thought. The operation wouldn't work. It was never meant to work.
Yet more than anything, he feared, that it would.
He made his way out to the porch, where he sat like a man with a sick bowel. His eyes, hot bearings in their sockets, were closed, viewing a screen with Karen at its midpoint, approaching him slowly across an autumn meadow. . .but brown-eyed, and walking blind.
He watched until tears rained her image out, and the nausea creeping through him forced him to lift his head, open his eyes, and breathe.
Then he dropped his head again, and saw her. . .
But now she was running away.
And Karen's first sinking thought was that the surgery had failed.
But then her hands came up to her face and she felt the snug-fitting eye pads that were taped there.
The bandages. . . of course. They had told her it would be at least three weeks before the bandages came off. She lay still a moment longer, listening to the droning clockwork of the hospital around her.
Moving slowly, testing her limits, Karen groped the edges of the bed in search of the call button. She found only bedsides. She cleared her throat, meaning to call out more loudly this time. . . but when she did, pain seared like heat-whitened pokers through her eyes.
The thought chopped through the pain and made it unimportant.
It was true. She was lying in a bed in a big city hospital and she had someone else's eyes in her sockets.
Knowing she shouldn't, Karen moved them beneath their dressings, ever so slightly, biting her lip against the pain the act caused her.
Had she considered this before? she asked herself now.
Really, seriously thought about it? Sifted it through the grid of her own moral makeup?
No, she realized with a sobering jolt. She hadn't. The prospect of seeing after a lifetime of darkness had eclipsed this fundamental truth. Even in her pre-op discussions with the doctors the donor's eyes had always been referred to as "grafts."
But they were not grafts. They were a dead man's eyes.
She decided not to think about it. Sure it felt strange, having parts of another human being inside of you. . . like some twisted form of intimacy. But it was a wonderful gift, too, and she tried to focus on that. Were this sort of thing not possible, then death would endure as the pointless end to life it had always been. Death would, as always, be the hands-down winner.
But her mind kept drifting back to the man whose eyes she now bore, and, God willing, whose sight she would soon enjoy.
Who had he been? She had asked Dr. Burkowitz prior to the surgery, but his answer had served only to fuel her curiosity. The parents wish to remain anonymous, he had told her. And there was nothing she could do about that. Still the question burned. Who was he? What he had seen through these eyes, his private peepholes onto the world? What sort of man?
Gingerly, Karen turned her head to the sound. "Dad?"
"Oh, honey, you're awake!"
His rough, farmer's hand touched her face.
"Yeah," she said, taking his hand in her own. "Still groggy, though. Is Uncle Ike with you?"
"Nope. He wanted to come by, but I made him stay home." Albert was rooming in with his brother Ike while Karen was in the hospital. He had left a hired hand to take care of things on the farm. "He's still a tad tipsy after his hear attack. And can you believe it? He's still smokin' them damned coffin nails."
"No one ever got a Lockhart to change," Karen said wryly. "You know that, Dad."
"I guess I do, pumpkin. I guess I do." He leaned over the bed and kissed her forehead. He smelled of dill and, more faintly, of the farm. "How're you feelin'?"
"Okay, I guess. Sore. . . it hurts to move or talk too loud. And it's still dark out there. But otherwise okay." She tried on a smile.
"You're tough stuff, kid."
Someone in crepe-soled shoes squeaked into the room. From the swish of panty hose and whiff of antiseptic soap, Karen guessed it was a nurse.
"Time for your pain medication," came a pleasant voice.
Vague associations formed in Karen's mind: that swishing sound, the antiseptic whiff, that voice she'd been through all this before. Several times.
"What time is it, Dad?"
The reek of alcohol permeated the air. A wet swab touched her thigh, then rubbed in tight, cool circles.
"In the morning. . . Wednesday morning, the sixth."
"Say ouch," the nurse warned.
A needle broke Karen's skin. "Oww!" she cried too loudly and pain lanced through her eyes again. "Wednesday! You mean. . . I've been asleep for two whole days?"
"Heavily sedated," the nurse offered. "The doctors want you quiet for the first few days, until the grafts have time to heal."
Grafts, Karen thought. There's that word again.
"Well I don't want any more of it," she said shortly. "I don't like. . . losing control like that. I can stay quiet on my own." Her tone was petulant, but it frightened, her that two days had slipped her by unheeded.
"Your doctor knows what's best," the nurse replied, her voice oozing that patronizing undertone Karen knew so well—the one reserved for the disabled.
I'm not a child, she wanted to shout, ready to take up the battle she'd been fighting all her life. I can take care of myself! But in this case, instinct told her the nurse was right and. . . her father's tightening grip on her hand told her that he thought so, too.
"But you can discuss it with him later," the nurse added, as if sensing she'd overstepped some boundary. "Perhaps the dosage could be adjusted downward a little."
"Thanks," Karen said, really meaning it. "I'll do that."
With a smile, the nurse turned and squeak-swished out of the room.
"Nope," Albert remarked with a chuckle. There's no changin' a Lockhart." He patted her head affectionately. "Hey! Did you know you're a star?"
"What do you mean?"
"Your name's everywhere, hon. . . in the papers, on the TV and the radio. And they tell me it'll be in the magazines, too: Time, Newsweek, MacLean's, important ones like that" He patted the top of her head again, something he hadn't done since she was a kid. "You're big news. 'The First Whole-Eye Transplant in North America!' They held a press conference downstairs here just yesterday, after your doctor came out of surgery. Why, I was on the tube myself, answering questions. And my picture was on the front page of the Citizen. I'm gonna start keeping a scrapbook."
"Sounds like you're the star," Karen quipped, and she could almost feel the heat of her father's blushing.
He shifted. "I thieved your uncle's radio-alarm." He took her hand and placed it on the bedside table, then atop the compact radio. "It's a Sony, same as yours up home." He clicked it on. "Maybe we can catch somethin' on the eleven o'clock news."
There was the tag end of a weather report, then Crystal Gayle's "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" swelled over the airwaves.
"You planned that," Karen accused playfully, the injection beginning to work on her.
"What?" her father said, missing the joke.
Karen reached out, found the radio and turned it down. "Never mind," she said. Then something dawned. "Oh, my, I'll have to call Jack Dent and let him know I'm in hospital!" Dent was her literary agent. "He'll be up a tree. . . another delay with the manuscript."
"Already done," Albert said. "I called and told him yesterday. He sounded very excited for you. . . about the surgery, I mean."
"Yeah, I bet. He's probably worried that once I can see, my books won't sell anymore."
Karen had begun writing at the age of nine, first by dictating her thoughts to her mother, and later, after her mother died, by hammering away at an old Perkins brailler her father had dug up for her someplace. Her mother, a storyteller in her own right, had constantly encouraged Karen to develop her imagination, perhaps realizing that a child growing up blind in the country was more likely than not to be friendless. Every night her mother had read to her, often for hours at a time. By the age of six, Karen knew most of the fairy tales by heart. The brain children of the Brothers Grimm became her playmates. Her mother created elaborately detailed dolls of Karen's favorites, and Karen surrounded herself in these, reliving the stories and creating new ones of her own. She never dreamed any of her stuff could sell; the idea of trying hadn't even occurred to her. But then her friend Cass got some of it translated by the local chapter of the CNIB—the Canadian National Institute for the Blind—and after reading it, encouraged Karen to send it out. To Karen's delighted surprise, her stories impressed an editor at Fox paperbacks enough for him to buy three of her novels, which were marketed under the Fantasy label and aimed at a youthful audience. Her current effort would be her fourth. . . if she ever finished it. She'd packed its knobby bulk into her suitcase before leaving home. If nothing else, she could do some of the rereads while she was here. . .
Not unpleasantly, Karen felt herself drifting off. "Who else did you call?" she asked dreamily.
"I called your Aunt Bunnie in Toronto. She'll be up later today." He chuckled. "Cripes, I called everyone I could think of. Some I haven't spoke to in years. I called Cass's folks and they called her. I expect she'll be in touch by phone real soon. I called the lady at the CNIB office up home told her you wouldn't be teaching the kids for a while. And I called. . ."
Soothed by her father's voice, Karen slipped into a deep, drug-induced sleep, missing her name on the radio by only minutes.
The balance of that day was a patchwork of partially grasped perceptions and half-remembered events.
At four o'clock that afternoon she was awakened and speared with another injection. Three hours later, although the following day she would have no recollection of it, she awoke without urging and shared a meal with her father. That night, before receiving the injection that would keep her down until early the following morning, she got a phone call from Cass.
Karen and Cass had met the same year Karen's mother had died. At the time, Cass had been doing some volunteer work for the CNIB. She and Karen had clicked almost instantly, and despite their age difference became fast and true friends. Cass would be forty on her next birthday, which was less than two months away. To Karen's lasting regret, Cass had run off to Grand Prairie, Alberta, a year ago with a fellow she'd met in Ottawa. She'd fallen hard for this guy, as she usually did, left a good job and a close circle of friends to follow his dream. And although Cass claimed differently, Karen had the sinking feeling he'd proved him another in a long line of losers.
"Cass?” Karen said happily. They hadn't spoken in weeks, though Cass had known Karen was on a transplant waiting-list. "Is that you?"
"You were expecting maybe Lady Di?" Loud music thrummed in the background—as always, fifties rock and roll. "How's my little pal? Oh, Christ, this is so exciting! Why, didn't you call me? When will you know if it's gonna work? Are you all right? Jesus, I. . . I wish I was there. . . And Karen knew that her friend was crying.
"Are you okay?"
"Shit, yes," Cass said. "Of course I'm okay. You're the patient, not me. I'm just happy for you, that's all."
Karen started to ask how things were going for Cass. . . but wound up letting her fear out instead. The old molds were hard to break.
"Don't get too excited," she said. "There's no telling whether it's going to work or—"
"Can that shit right now," Cass cut in with mock ferocity. "It'll work. Just wait and see."
"Will you be coming down?" Karen asked, wishing Cass were already here.
There was a pause. In the background, The Chiffons sang "He's So Fine."
"I. . . I'd like to," Cass stammered. "You know that. But. . . things are a little tight just now."
"I could send you the airfare," Karen offered, realizing only as she said it that her earlier suspicions were accurate—things were not working out for Cass and her beau.
"It's not the money so much, kid. It's just that. . . well, I can't get away right now. But I'll come see you. Real soon. You can count on it."
Later, half asleep, Karen got a visit from Dr. Hanussen. She recognized the smooth feel of his hand on her forehead.
"How is my pretty patient tonight?" he asked in that lulling voice.
Karen felt her face flush; because she had never actually seen herself, compliments tended to irk her. "Like a junkie," she told him.
"Yes," he said almost deferentially. "The day nurse has informed me. I have reduced the dosage of your sedation, but I must impress upon you the importance of rest, at least until the end of the week."
Karen nodded sleepily. His voice was a soothing lullaby.