Kevin waited with the bandages over his eyes as his doctor came forward. At age fifty, the operation to remove Kevin’s cataracts was an extremely rare medical accomplishment – for himself and his doctors. Small children and babies were the usually the main demographic who were healthy enough to regain their sight. Both barely remember the few months they spent in darkness with four out of their five senses. Kevin Johnson, however, had many years of darkness behind him as he slowly came into the light.
“All right, Kevin,” his doctor said. “Take a look around the room. Say hello to the world.”
As soon as Kevin opened his eyes, he shut them again. He pulled the blanket of the bed close to his body and tried to block out the light.
The first hour went on much like this. Kevin had never seen what faces looked like, who people really were. He knew the voices and the contours of their skin, but that would not prepare him for the grotesque beings that greeted him on the other side. In spite of probes from his doctors, Kevin kept his eyes closed. He tried to believe that he had never been taken in for the elective surgery; never been dazzled by the promise of new life’s meaning and purpose.
When the nurses came into the room the next day, Kevin’s eyes were still closed.
“Are you all right Mr. Johnson?”
“Yes, yes. I can see fine.”
“So why don’t you open your eyes? Are you in pain?”
Kevin opened his mouth, only to close it again. Pain, he had learned over the years, was always subjective. Pain could rebel against memory itself. As the nurse told him the benefits of the procedure he had just undergone and the wonderful world that awaited him, Kevin forgot the first horror of sight. But only for a small second. As soon as he allowed himself another quick blink at the world, he ran and hid again.
“It’s okay, Mr. Johnson,” the nurse said. She gave him a sleeping mask made of velvet and something else very soft for his eyes. “This may take a while. Rest and try again tomorrow.”
But the days got worse. He shut his eyes and tried to get used to the voices.
“How are you feeling today, Kevin?”
“Would you like to go for a walk?”
“This was what life was about, Mr. Johnson. You cannot live it in bed anymore. You must come down and see the world.”
When Kevin finally got the nerve to stand, he became aware of height. As he moved a step forward, he became aware of perspective. As the people at the back of the hospital’s long hallways began to shrink in size with each step Kevin took forward, his heart rate grew. The machine he kept close to his body let off a sound that scared him when paired up with the blinking lights. He took off his heart monitor. The noise grew worse as the machine flat lined. He did not have time to understand the colours and the meaning behind “code blue” until the nurses showed up again with their too-big teeth and strapped him in again.
“He’s a difficult one,” a nurse said to the doctor. Kevin kept his eyes shut inside his room. They talked so loud around the corner, as if Kevin was deaf as well.
“What do you think will happen to him?”
“You can bring a horse to water but you cannot make him drink,” the doctor said with a sigh. “We can give him sight, but he has to see. Leave him for now; he’ll be discharged soon enough.”
When Kevin awoke the next morning, he moved down the hallway and towards the exit with his eyes closed. By the time he was in the stairwell, the announcement that a patient had escaped had already reached his ears. Kevin did not let the noise get to him. He was almost there. Gripping the railing, he got off on floor seven: the psych ward.
Most of the people here had what Kevin thought of as perception issues. They saw things that weren’t really there. They heard things that weren’t really there. Kevin knew that his own lack of sight had landed him in the floor above the psych ward merely because he had something physically wrong with him. Now that he was a healthy man according to the doctors, he was going to have to start seeing the world as it was presented to him. But that world was strange and unfamiliar. As crazy as crazy could be.
Kevin walked out into the psych ward lobby, eyes open and wide, and declared he what he saw.
“Scary faces. Masks and devils. Fairies, too!”
The doctors and the nurses grabbed his arms. They did more tests. They got him a room with a bed and some pills to take. Kevin only opened his eyes when he heard their feet inside the room. He made up more things that he could not really see.
“What do we do?” Kevin heard the doctors and the nurses talk in the next room. “There’s nothing physically wrong with him, but he keeps having hallucinations. No medication seems to work. We can’t let him go now.”
“Maybe it’s better for everyone if he stay here a while longer. Under observation.”
Kevin smiled as he heard the steady thud-thud of the doctor and the squeak-squeak of the nurses’ shoes as they walked away. For the next couple weeks, Kevin hid amongst the other patients in the psych ward as the blind man who could see.
“How are you today, Kevin?” a new nurse asked.
“Good,” he answered. “I’ve been outside.”
“How nice! Bring me a flower?”
Kevin smiled. He leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes, and returned to the world he knew best.
Evelyn Deshane's work has appeared in The Fieldstone Review, Hyacinth Noir, Black Treacle, and Iris New Fiction. She is the poetry editor for Prosaic Magazine and a regular contributor to Absynthe Magazine. She lives in Canada. Find her full list of publications and upcoming book information at: http://paintitback.tumblr.com/