” . . Put your hands on your hips / And draw your knees up tight”--Let’s do the Time Warp Again
Dancing With A Blind Girl
by Troy Seate
Bodies whirled and twisted on the dance floor to the booming beat of "Play That Funky Music, White Boy." The blind girl sat at a table with a girlfriend and her seeing-eye dog, tapping her foot to the rhythm.
"Would you like to dance?" I asked.
She looked in the direction of my voice. A smile crept across her face, an honest good-natured smile that more than offset her unfocused gaze.
She didn't know whether I was short, fat or ugly. All she knew was someone had asked her to dance.
"Go ahead. I'll watch Bandit," her friend told her.
Some inflection in her friend's voice must have told the girl I was presentable, but I don't think it mattered. Her Golden Retriever lay patiently under her table, out of the way. His soulful brown eyes looked unsurely at the stranger who'd asked to borrow his mistress. The blind girl patted the dog's head and I led her toward the small square of hardwood on the lounge's dance floor.
"I'm not very good," she said.
"Neither am I. What's your name?"
"Beth. What's yours?"
The pounding beat ricocheted off the walls. Most everyone in the lounge was up, their feet gyrating in personal, frenzied interpretations of a fertility dance.
"I think we have a little room to maneuver here," I shouted.
She smiled trustingly and began her own variation of booty shaking. With her arms raised above her head, she resembled a Spanish Contessa clicking castanets, enjoying the freedom of her own space.
"You move beautifully," I told her.
She didn't answer. She was caught up in the rhythm of the song, appearing "normal." Her enthusiasm was contagious. I moved as sexily as I knew how, forgetting my efforts were lost on my partner.
Finally, the white boy was no longer playing the funky music.
"Thank you, Spence." She reached out and touched my arm to show her appreciation and to give me the opportunity to lead her back to Bandit.
A slow song wafted from the speakers-Unforgettable.
"Are you all right with one more?" I asked.
"A tummy tickler? Sure I am."
She melted against me the way every man hungers for, clinging like a vine long familiar with the stone it intertwines. Her head against my shoulder, she hummed along with the music.
Other couples swayed languidly. In that moment of closeness, I considered how attuned her remaining senses must be without sight. When the song ended, I guided her back to her brown-eyed boy who waited expectantly, his muzzle resting on his paws.
"Thanks again," Beth said.
Her friend gave me a curt smile as I ambled back to a corner of the bar feeling I'd done my good deed for the evening.
Beth and her girlfriend finished their drinks and left. I would never see her again but I often thought of how adept she'd been at making the most of her situation, how her blindness didn't interfere with many of life's pleasures. It was an important and ironic lesson because within a few days, I would be as blind as she.
It started for all of us on August 3, 2005. My alarm sounded at 6:45. I slapped it off and kept my eyes tightly shut, seeking a few more precious moments of quiet, holding a job I'd grown tired of at bay.
But the world wouldn't wait forever. I rolled over expecting to witness the sunlight streaming through my bedroom window.
Nothing but darkness, not even a shadow, as if our sun had abandoned the galaxy, the thick blackness of the darkest night imaginable. I closed my eyes tightly and then rubbed them with the heels of my hands.
I opened them again. No reassuring golden glow, only the gloomy nothingness of a coal mine deep in the bowels of the earth. My hands reached out with fingers curled into claws, as if I could pull away a black shroud of extreme night and reveal the familiar world of light and images. I grasped only air.
Then I panicked. My hands waved wildly, knocking a picture of Mary Ann from my nightstand. I heard the glass crack as it hit the floor.
I flailed in the emptiness, not knowing what to do next. Then I fumbled for the telephone next to where Mary Ann's picture had been. I felt for the numbers and dialed 911.
I tried Mary Ann's number. Only her recording answered.
My emotions warped beyond panic to a deeper plane of terror. Was I in some kind of limbo, perhaps dead, where darkness was a perpetual companion? "It must be a nightmare, has to be," I said, willing my words to be true.
I would have screamed if someone on the street hadn't beaten me to it. The piercing squeal came from somewhere beyond my realm of imploding anxiety.
Banging my shin on a piece of furniture, I felt my way from bedroom to hallway, my arms extended like Frankenstein's monster. I realized I was crying. What kind of cruel joke was Mother Nature playing?
I thought of the blind girl I'd danced with . . .Beth. I pictured her poise and grace. For her, just another day was beginning. For me, my life could be altered forever. Today could be the precursor to the end of the world.
My blind journey continued, as I stumbled through a house no longer familiar toward my front door. I negotiated the passageway with a spastic dance step of my own, trying to think positive. Maybe this is just some freak, temporary thing?
Then I heard another scream. "I'm blind. Oh God, someone help me," a woman cried from somewhere.
Had a mad scientist gone Stephen King's "super flu" one better? Had some third-world demigod released a poison agent that first stole your sight and then took your life? Blindness might just be the start. My thoughts were racing helter-skelter, out of control. Something had gone hideously wrong and thrown my world into the blackness of sight and mind.
I felt for the bolt on my front door and forced it open. The earth had turned toward the morning sun after all. Although I couldn't see, its resplendent rays warmed my face and the deep blackness lightened a shade to dark gray. "Thank God for the sun." I began to have hope, thinking this condition might be improving.
The woman's voice again, screaming. It sounded like she had stopped in my front yard. It could be my neighbor, Emily, the one who likes to play the Blues on hot summer nights.
"Who's there?" I called out.
"Spence? I'm blind."
The most ludicrous thing I could've said would be, "so am I." It was too insane, too impossible. "Talk to me," I said. "Let me come to the sound of your voice."
This horrendous phenomena wasn't mine alone to bear and I took a measure of comfort in that. I wasn't isolated. Feeling for the woman, my arms moved to the right and left as I slowly approached. I ran into something and almost stumbled. It was the woman, kneeling in my driveway.
I dropped to a knee and put my arm around her. "It's all right," I said ludicrously. "I have you."
"I can't see!" she wailed.
Her warm tears fell on my knee. I was as naked as a frequent dream. I'd have a jolly time explaining this to the cops if they showed up. But my thoughts were in terms of a normal world.
"Is it you, Emily?"
"Yes," she said. "Can't you see me?"
"No, I'm afraid I can't."
"What's happening? Is everyone in this town blind?" she screamed.
"Let's go inside. I'm squatting here in my birthday suit. I'll try to call someone."
She reached out and touched my bare chest to confirm my statement. We stood and I found my way back to my front door with Emily in tow.
Another person yelled from down the street. At first I thought he'd seen me in the buff and threatening to call the police. Then, I realized his wails entreated anyone to call the police, as his eyesight had abandoned him.
I ignored his shouts and led Emily to my sofa. Feeling around and finding the telephone I knew to be in the kitchen, I tried 911 again.
I'm sorry. We are unable to connect your call at this time. Please try again.
Trying to put the phone in the pocket of my nonexistent robe, it only slid against my tingling thigh.
"What has happened?" Emily asked for the second time between gasps for air.
"I don't have a clue." I dialed Mary Ann's number once more and this time she picked up. "Mary Ann. Are you all right?"
"You mean, can I see?" She hesitated then added, "Have you turned on a TV or radio?" Her voice was strangely calm, frighteningly so. "It's worldwide. The whole world has gone blind, Spencer. The entire world."
Then the madness began-the madness of a world thrown into darkness. Life as I knew it had ended in the blink of an eye, so to speak. Fashion, sport, traditional warfare and commerce . . . all vanished in an instant. The scientists squabbled and tried to find the mysterious genetic code that had swept across the face of the earth, but to no avail. The teeming masses, now in a world where prestige, power and appearance no longer mattered, prayed for salvation. Those who were blind before the apocalypse became the gurus of the future. And life went on.
It took a while, a great while, but eventually seeds were harvested and distributed to all who could find their way to the distribution centers-all those who had weathered the necessary adjustments and had chosen to keep living.
Existence had become basic and unfettered. My former manicured yard became home to a patch of earth that contained carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and onions just for fun. Things I could feel. Things for Beth and me survive on.
As I said, I never saw Beth again but I did find her. She'd been helping out at one of the indoctrination centers. Believe it or not, she recognized my voice. By some twisted quirk of marvelous fate I'll always be thankful for, we became a couple.
All of us still had music stations and talk radio but I didn't listen much, except when someone came on to tell us how to do something, the blind way, to make life a little easier. But I had what I needed . . . all there was to have.
Beth put a Blues ballad on the music machine and returned to the porch next to Bandit and me. I'd become fascinated by the heartfelt lyrics and liquid rhythms of the songs. I have poor Emily to thank for my learning the meanings behind the music. She'd just disappeared one day like so many others had. Lost, dead, or just moved on, who's to say?
My relationship with Mary Ann had shattered as thoroughly as her picture on my nightstand. Much about her had been based on appearances. I hoped she could find a way to live with the new reality of "being."
"Have you heard what they're saying about the latest vaccine?" Beth asked me. "Early tests have shown slight movement can be seen for up to twenty minutes with each dose."
"Where have I heard that before? Stay tuned," I replied as I found her hand and brought it to my lips, kissing it tenderly. "Did I ever tell you about the time I danced with a blind girl, before all of this? She was happier than me when I could see. Now I understand what blindness strips your life down to: the awe and wonder of someone's kind word or touch, without barriers. I guess the word is dignity. That's what she had-personal dignity."
I could sense Beth blushing as she nestled into the space between my arm and chest. "When I first lost my sight, I cursed when I dropped something," she said. "Then I learned to rejoice when I accomplished some little task." She turned her head and kissed my neck. "It doesn't really matter whether you see again does it? Not really?"
"We always want what we can't obtain. That's civilization's way. If suddenly there's a serum, I'll be the first to get in line. But I can tell you that for the first time in my life I'm content with who I am and what I have."
"Me too," Beth replied as unseen twinkling stars gathered overhead, their pinpoints of light beaming from suns burned out millions of years before.
I looked into the heavens. Even though I couldn't see the stars, I knew they were there. I still felt their magic and wonder even though I could only imagine them. I thought about my fellow humans feeling their way along, looking for meaning in their forever altered lives. "Here we are on this blue bauble in a sea of night," I said to Beth. "It still turns as it always has and the universe doesn't care if its creatures have eyes or wings or dreams. Everything just is."
This was the first of the “can’t miss” stories I received this year. I knew I would buy it as soon as I read it. Others followed, but I have to admit this one’s a favorite of mine. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Let me know on the BBS, please.