Darrin Doyle


As the bandages were removed from her eyes, she woke into light and shadow.
She saw her fiancé for the first time. A dim room, a face. She saw his features and felt nauseous. His roundness, his cleft chin, his crooked nose and thick eyebrows—why did she want to rip it all to pieces with her fingernails?
Tears spilling, he said, “My baby. Does it hurt?”
Her whole life, all twenty-eight years since congenital cataracts robbed her sight, she had remembered images from those precious sixteen months: Three images: A silver wristwatch glinting in the sunlight; a stack of alphabet blocks; a blue jay on a windowsill. She had never known if they were real, the memories.
Her body accepted the transplanted eyes. She found herself staring at lawns and telephone wires. She watched the legs of children swinging in the park. A trance fell upon her. She forgot time until her fiancé whispered, “We should go.”
For his birthday, she gave him a silver wristwatch. They ate lunch on the patio. The sun struck the watch face and caused a bright flash. She set down her napkin and, not letting her fiancé see her tears, went inside.
He didn’t know about the images. She wanted to tell him, but she knew it would be a mistake. Hiding the truth was the natural thing.
When she purchased a tin of children’s blocks, she said it was to learn the alphabet.
It was true. She still used Braille. Reading was one of many commonplaces she would have to master: primping before a mirror; driving a car; looking into her fiancé’s eyes. “Give it time,” he said. “I don’t mind.”
While he was at work, she built a tower of blocks in the living room.
Moments later, she boarded a bus to the library and abandoned the tin on a table in the children’s area.
She couldn’t explain her reactions to the spark of light, the innocent column—but in both cases, her throat seized. Her chest panicked.
And still, she sought out the final image.
On the internet, she found a photograph of a blue jay. It had no effect.
Mornings, sipping coffee, she stood in slippers on the back lawn. Once, she saw a blue jay on the low branch of a tree. It screamed at her and flapped away.
As months passed, she saw hundreds. Never on a windowsill. Through binoculars she peered at neighbors’ homes. She watched nature shows. She hung birdfeeders outside the kitchen, the bedroom.
She tried to swallow life with her eyes, but it felt like the opposite.
One day she married, and another day, she bore a baby boy.
And sometimes, in the gray light, she studied her husband as he slept, loving him for what he would never know.


There’s a mouth in my closet, the boy said.
Don’t be silly. You mean monster.
No, kiddo. There’s never a monster.
It’s a certain kind of monster.
The mother laughed. I’ve known monsters like that.
The lamp clicked. Black detour.
It’s grainy, the boy said. It fills up the whole closet. He thought, Don’t leave. Don’t do
anything where I can’t smell your dress.
Grainy. I think you’re asleep, kiddo.
I meant bumpy. It told me to climb on its tongue.
And let me guess. You did.
She covered him.
You’re shivering.
I’m not cold.
Would you like me to open the closet and show you?
The boy didn’t answer.
I’ll get another blanket. She slapped her arms. Your father needs to look at that heater.
The mouth never closes, the boy whispered.
Sounds like a dependable mouth, the mother said.
Her face defied the darkness, a lacework of treed moonlight.
She arrived at the closet. She turned the handle.
To the boy, the mouth had called itself Miss Begotten, Miss Shapen.
But it was not a woman, exactly. Full of teeth large as heads.


He: I’m a sick man. A sinner. I’ve hurt so many. I deserve this, Lord, but please make my suffering stop.
She: carried a bowl of water. She stood at a distance and watched by lantern light as her father yelled into the black shroud of trees.
She: didn’t want to go near him even though he needed to drink. His neck as fat and round as durian. His face all sweat and distortion.
His lungs: crackled like the power lines in the village. He was finally asleep. The girl set the bowl on the grass and ran back to the tent.
Her mother: didn’t look up when the girl came in. Zip it, she hissed.
The young brother: was also feverish, but his neck was not swollen. The mother held a damp cloth to his forehead.
The jungle: buzzed and screamed.
The daughter: settled into the sleeping bag. I put the water by his cot, she said. She expected her mother to scold her for not making him drink.
The mother: hummed a melody that reminded the daughter of the house in Cleveland.
The daughter: closed her eyes and saw her old bed. Could smell the clean sheets. Could see the checkered quilt, the lime-green walls, the lamp on her dresser shaped like a bouquet of balloons. These pictures overtook her mind and left her breathless. Eleven months in the jungle now. She remembered her Ohio friends. Brynn, Zachary, Winnie. Names only, not faces. Their faces were gone no matter how hard she tried. She would be ten tomorrow.
Did Dad hurt someone?
The mother: stopped humming. Your father is a Christian.
He said he hurt so many.
The mother: He’s burning with fever. Say your prayers and go to sleep.
Is he going to die?
The mother: extinguished the lantern.
The young boy’s nose: whistled.
The mother: lay atop her sleeping bag in the dark. Her eyes were open. We’re all going to die someday, she said.
Some of the parishioners: had called her father a cuentero.
The daughter: wondered if her father had tried to swallow his lies, but the lies had gotten stuck in his throat and gathered there, day after day, filling him until his neck became a ball. She wondered if she and her brother and her mother would go home.
The daughter: slept deeply and dreamt of needles popping balloons.

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