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Breath & Shadow

Spring 2019 - Vol. 16, Issue 2

"Through A Glass Darkly"

written by

Glynis Scrivens

Jane wasn’t religious, but even she kept feeling this was a miracle. Only yesterday her world was dark and unfocussed. Now, lying in the recovery area of the eye hospital, she had glimpses of a crystal clear, lighter world. One she’d lost sight of several years ago, so gradually that she hadn’t been aware how significant the changes had become. 

How blue the sky now looked--Not the dark grey-blue of yesterday, but a lighter, more cheerful shade. A summer blue, full of promise and hope. 


Her left eye was covered by a clear plastic protective shield, attached to her face by white taping. It was in the spaces between this taping that she could see a new world.

Thomas would be waiting outside for her, in the sitting room where patients were taken. At least, she hoped he’d be there. He hadn’t been too good this morning when he’d brought her here. Down in the mouth, his eyes with that so-familiar dull darkness. He’d lost his cheerfulness over recent years just as she’d lost her vision. 


Two of a kind, she thought. Then immediately dismissed the thought. She’d never experienced the kind of internal battles he was experiencing and didn’t really understand them. How could he be depressed when he had everything he’d always wanted? A good job, a lovely home, two vibrant, grown-up children with children of their own, and even a small cottage by the sea where they could go fishing and have holidays. How could he not be happy when he possessed so much? But unhappy he clearly was, and he didn’t show any signs of doing anything to improve his state of mind.


Never mind Thomas, she’d just enjoy these glimpses of blue sky that heralded a promise of things to come. She smiled in anticipation at the delights in store for her as she rediscovered the beauties of the world. She’d be back here in a fortnight’s time to have the cataract removed from her right eye. After that, there’d be no stopping her.


Would she stay with Thomas if he continued to be like this? The thought of leaving him had crossed her mind more than once, especially at those times when he’d been adamant that he didn’t need any help. Where was the happy, loving man she’d married? 

How did his work colleagues cope with him? Then again, they didn’t see him at his worst, did they? He seemed to unravel when it was just the two of them, shrugging off the veneer of fake cheerfulness he assumed when he was socializing. It was unconvincing, but preferable to the blackness of his mood on those days when he’d lie in bed, curtains drawn, not speaking. Then she’d feel sucked into the despair he was suffering, as though he was a vacuum of misery drawing her towards the abyss where his soul dwelt.


Far better to enjoy these glimpses of clear blue sky and think about the joys of summer. She’d already planned a holiday by the beach when her young grandchildren would be staying with them. She could almost smell the warm salty sea air and feel the sand underneath her feet. They’d build sandcastles and eat fish and chips for dinner. She had no idea how long she lay there, wondering at the glimpses of lightness and thinking about Thomas’s darkness. Her mind drifted as it emerged from the anesthetic, surfacing for a while then slipping back into a dream state.


She became aware of a nurse beside her stretcher, measuring her blood pressure. She had a vague memory that this had happened a few times. There was something familiar about it. But this time the nurse noticed she was more alert and spoke to her.


“Are you ready for a cup of tea or coffee?” she asked. 


Jane nodded and allowed the nurse to help her off the stretcher. They made their way slowly to the sitting area where she was assisted into a big, comfortable armchair. 


“Coffee would be lovely,” she said. Adding that she liked milk and one teaspoon of sugar. She didn’t normally have sugar, but today it wouldn’t go astray.


She rested against the comfort of the supportive chair and looked around. The woman sitting opposite her was eating a sandwich. Like her, she had a plastic shield over one eye. Jane was surprised how young she looked. She’d always associated cataracts with older people. The attentive young man by her side reminded her of how solicitous Thomas used to be.  


The nurse returned with a mug of coffee. To Jane’s surprise, it was good percolated coffee, café standard. For some reason she’d expected instant coffee. Her spirits rose. And there was a plate of cheese and lettuce sandwiches. 


As she took a first grateful sip of the coffee, she heard the nurse speaking over the phone to Thomas, letting him know it was time for him to collect her. The coffee tasted wonderful, all the more so because she’d been fasting before the procedure. 

She was finishing the last mouthful of sandwich when her husband arrived. She could immediately tell he was making an effort to sound cheerful. It was a good sign, but what would he be like when they were home again, just the two of them?


He sat down in an armchair beside her. The nurse came over. How thoughtful, Jane thought, as more coffee arrived. She didn’t feel quite ready to go back to the domestic situation which faced her. Better to linger here a while longer until she felt her strength returning.


Thomas was curious to hear about her experience. As they drove home and he asked question after question, she was surprised how animated he was. 


Was this a good time to raise the difficult issue of his own health problem? Or should she just enjoy the change in his manner while it lasted?


She was still undecided when they arrived back home. Thomas parked in the garage and came around to her side of the car to help her. Leaning on him, she walked back inside.


It was such a relief to have the operation behind her. To know everything had gone well. 


“I think I’ll lie down for a while,” she told him.


This was a turnaround. Usually it was Jane bustling around the house while Thomas lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling.


Where would he lie today if he felt unwell, she thought? Hopefully not here, beside her. She needed to recuperate, not be dragged down.

Today was all about recovering from the darkness that had been clouding her vision. There was no room for anyone else’s darkness. But there was a gentleness in his manner that she hadn’t felt for a while. A look of genuine concern in his blue eyes. They weren’t inward-looking at the moment. It made a nice change.


“How do you feel?” he asked. “You’re pale.”


“Sleepy,” she said. Adding “but also excited.”


He placed a warm wrap over her and quietly withdrew. She could hear him in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher. The next sound she was aware of was the kettle coming to the boil. She opened her eyes. How long had she been asleep? She reached over to her bedside table until she found her alarm clock. It was already four o’clock. She must’ve been asleep for three hours. No wonder she felt hungry.


“I thought I heard you stirring.” Thomas stood in the doorway with two cups of tea. 


Even Thomas looked different, though not so dramatically different as the sky had been. The blue checked shirt he was wearing made him seem lighter than usual. As though the clear blue of the sky had pierced his darkness. Could they both put their yesterdays behind them now?


He put the tea down and arranged pillows behind her back. It does him good to focus on someone else’s needs, she thought. It brought out a different side to his personality.

Even more surprising was the chocolate gingerbread muffin he brought her a few moments later. “I made these myself,” he said, a tone of pride in his voice. Usually Jane did all the cooking. This was a new recipe. Had he found it on one of those cooking websites? 


She bit into the muffin, aware of him watching her. “It’s absolutely delicious,” she said. 

The muffin was still warm. She tried to guess which spices he’d used. There was definitely a lot of cinnamon and ginger, and another flavor. Was it cardamom? She was impressed. 


“We’ll have to keep this recipe,” she told him.


And maybe I’ll keep you as well, she couldn’t help thinking.


After the tea and muffin, it was time to take off the shield and apply eye drops. A loud gasp escaped her lips as she saw the room properly for the first time. The curtains, such a lovely sage green. The wooden frames around the windows, a lighter and gentler shade of brown than she was accustomed to seeing. The embroidery threads in her mother’s framed tapestry on the wall were subtle and clear. Everything fresh and transformed.


“It’s a new world,” she said happily. 


“I wish I could see a new world,” Thomas blurted out. Reverting to his usual “I” sentences where everything was about him.


“Maybe you could?” she said softly, taking his hand in hers. “We could find someone who might be able to help you?”


He took a deep breath. She was expecting him to say something else, but he didn’t. He didn’t look glum, either. That was a good sign.


“I’m not sure anyone could help me,” he said after a pause. 


“You won’t know until you try.” She pressed his hand. “It’d be hard to ask for help, I know. I’d come with you to the appointment, if that’d help.”


He sipped his tea, staring out the window, lost in thought. 


“Anything’s worth a try,” she persisted. 


Now they’d actually begun this difficult conversation, she wanted it to lead to something positive. At least an acknowledgement on his part that his state of mind needed to change. Either through his own efforts or with assistance from an expert in the field.

Quietly he ate his muffin, ignoring the crumbs that fell onto his shirt. 


Jane had noticed the way the muffins were a bit too crumbly. She’d find a way to adjust the recipe. Maybe adding an extra egg would help? She was good at adapting things. And good at adapting to situations, she realized. She’d adapted to the way her eyesight had gradually deteriorated. And she’d adapted to the way Thomas’s moods had changed.


Could she help him adapt to change? Or was this something that had to come from within? 


“You won’t know until you try,” she repeated. 


His eyes flickered as he turned towards her. “Do you really think so?” he said.

It wasn’t the no she’d been half expecting.


“I’m going through these operations so I can have my sight restored,” she said. “Why don’t you try to have your way of seeing restored as well?”


He breathed out deeply. “And you’d come with me?”


She nodded.


He gave a small smile. “So you think I have emotional cataracts? Ones that darken how I feel?”


“We both know it’s true,” she said. “Let’s not shut our eyes to your problems. That won’t solve anything.”


“Well, you’ve set me a good example,” he said. “I know you were worried about today even though you tried to hide it.”


While he finished his muffin, Jane lay down again and inserted the eye drops. The first one stung her eye. She wasn’t looking forward to doing this for the next four weeks. Change came at a price. And maybe she’d been underestimating Thomas’s feelings about therapy?


But they’d both made a good start on the road to recovery. 

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