"Who Dresses You?"
Gabriel lifted his glass, offered a birthday toast, and leaned closer to kiss me, whispering something in my ear that was as dirty as his martini. The innuendo raised my eye brows and the corners of my mouth, and as the server returned, my blush lingered.
"It looks like the two of you are having a good time in the Keys," she teased.
Under the table, Gabriel ran a finger beneath the hem of my skirt, painting my face a deeper shade of crimson. He smiled at the amused waitress and replied, "Yes, we're having quite a good time." She took our dinner order and suggested we slide to the other side of the table, as the sun was beginning to set and we would not want to miss the brilliant light show. When I stood, revealing my white cane, she grew embarrassed and apologized for some insensitivity she thought she had committed. No longer the one blushing, I assured her that she had not offended me and that my companion gave great descriptive detail, but she didn't seem convinced. I guessed her comfort level with randy tourists dropped considerably when one half of the cuddling couple couldn't, at least with the eye, enjoy the rooftop patio's tropical vista.
The summer before my freshman year at the University of Iowa, before my eye sight had begun to deteriorate, I, too, had worked at a popular tourist eatery near the shores of Big Spirit Lake, and understood how much a waitress relies on her tips, how much an etiquette faux pas can hurt that extra cash income. One evening, while waiting on a pair of vacationers with a baby, I commented on the cuteness of their little boy. The mother's face pinched as if someone was working it over from the other side with a plunger.
"Girl," she said, annunciating the sound of each letter.
I apologized profusely, and their drinks refilled without charge, their bread basket never emptied, and their teething boy/girl had an ample supply of crackers to keep him/her quiet. At the end of the horrifying experience, I did receive a gratuity and if it had been 1888, rather than 1988, the amount would have indicated their complete forgiveness.
With this in mind, I waited, wondering what compensatory card our waitress would play to sweeten her tip.
"I love that sweater," she said, "The colors are so vibrant. It's perfect for Florida."
"Nicely played," I thought as I touched the loose weave of the crocheted cotton, and fought the urge to resort to a mischievous melodrama.
"Yes," I would say with wistful longing, "the colors are wonderful. If only I could see them!"
But rather than messing with the already flustered girl, I just thanked her and sipped my martini as the sun sank behind a thin cluster of clouds, dying them to match the pastel pink and orange sherbet shades of my retro garment. When the waitress retreated, Gabriel draped his arm around my shoulders.
"I like it, too," he said, tracing the tip of one finger on the bare skin showing through a loop of lavender yarn, "It reminds me of salt water taffy."
“Have a sweet tooth?"
"Can't get enough."
Tilting my lips to his ear, I planted the seed for after dinner plans. This time, he blushed.
When we had finished, the waitress left the check and Gabriel laid his credit card on the tray with our bill. She took it up to the bar tender.
"Leave her a nice tip," I said, feeling it necessary to prove to her that she hadn't said or done anything worthy of ticking off the average blind patron...that is to say, at least not yet.
She reappeared minutes later with the card, the slip, and a loaded tray of drinks for a large group at the other end of the patio. Eager to get back to the rented house boat for the "dessert" I had promised, Gabriel jotted in a generous gratuity and we prepared to leave, but as we made our way through the crowded tables, the waitress, her tray now empty, hurried up behind us.
Pausing, we wondered what might have accidentally been left behind at the table. Sunglasses? Gabe's wallet? Car keys? But after a split-second mental inventory, we realized we had everything.
"I'm just curious," the waitress began, lowering her voice as if what she was about to ask might be too personal for others to hear, others who had not brought us rib eye and coconut shrimp, therefore not having earned, like she felt she had, the right to satisfy a curiosity.
Gabriel and I moved closer to one another, bracing for whichever one of us was about to get hit with the kind of question that, nine out of ten times, seemed more than a bit intrusive. Would she ask about his long braided hair? Would she pass further beyond the polite perimeters and actually touch it? Would the "Native American" and the "tribe" questions follow?? Would she ask me if I am Indian, too?
Would she then comment that my skin is lighter than his? Gabriel and I had been together for almost a year and had heard this line of inquiry on a weekly basis. But, of course, there existed the other source of endless curiosity; my blindness. Not having a clue as to what might follow this particular, "I'm just curious", we both waited, smiled, gritted our teeth, and formulated possible responses.
Who dresses you?" she asked.
Knowing that this one was mine to field, I rolled her odd choice of words around in my brain, an image floating to the surface. It jarred laughter loose, which, try as I might, I could not suppress. I had translated her query into one of the most common questions and would have explained the methods I employ to match my clothing, shoes, and jewelry. I would have mentioned Braille tags pinned in colors, separate pieces of an outfit hung on one hanger, tactile recognition and my avoidance of purchasing different colors of the same item, but I couldn't get passed the hidden comedy of it all, wondering if my companion had caught on yet.
Prior to dinner, as Gabriel had lounged in our room on the house boat, I, freshly showered and wrapped in a towel, pulled the short black skirt and crocheted sweater from my bag. As I unfolded a camisole and started to dress, he called from where he reclined on the queen-size bed.
"Come here for a minute."
I ventured over. He tugged my towel off and tossed it across the room. Laughing devilishly at my feigned indignation, he pulled me towards him.
Later, with one appetite satisfied and another beckoning, he suggested we go for dinner and grabbed my skirt, offering to help. He slid it up my legs and began to zip it in the front like a pair of jeans, until I giggled and swatted him away.
"Thanks for the help," I mocked, twisting the waist band around until the zipper lay at the rear.
High on sensual giddiness, I let him give the sweater a try. He managed not only to get it on backwards, but inside out as well. He forgot the camisole all together. Without it, the sweater's extremely wide weave left nothing to the imagination. I posed, hands on hips, and grinned.
"Don't you think this is a bit revealing, dear?"
"No, He said, "It's the tropics. It's hot! I love it!"
I rolled my eyes.
"You sighted guys are all alike," I had scolded, as I took the sweater off, and put the camisole on.
The waitress, not sure what to make of my laughter, began to back away as Gabriel, hip to the inside joke, snuck his hand beneath the sweater's hem and tugged playfully at the skirt's zipper.
"He does," I finally said, the martini exacerbating my giggles.
Then, we departed, two happy lovers on holiday, a very befuddled waitress in our wake, the raucous peels of laughing gulls echoing over the water.
As we walked up the gang plank onto the house boat and Gabriel slipped the key into the lock, he turned.
"Excuse me. I'm Curious."
"Yes," I said, batting my lashes.
"Who undresses you?”
Amy Krout-Horn worked as the first blind teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota's American Indian Studies program. Interviews with her have been featured on Radio for Peace International. Krout-Horn is a regular contributor to Slate and Style magazine and, in 2008, was awarded their top fiction prize for War Pony. She, with the contributions of her life partner, Gabriel Horn, co-authored the novella, Transcendence (All Things That Matter Press, 2009.)
A staunch advocate for social and environmental justice, she writes and lectures on native history and culture, diabetes and disability, and humanity's connection and commitment to the natural world. For more information, visit her web site at: http://www.nativeearthwords.com/.