When I close my eyes, bad things happen. For this reason I stay indoors. For this reason I stare at the door as the doorbell rings to the tune of The Platters' Only You. In my head I sing the words:
|It is those children playing tricks. I run, if running is what you'd call a crumbling man's stride, to open the door. I don't catch them. I never do.
Only you can make this world seem right…
I sing along because it is my wife Susana's favorite song. I sing but I do not move towards the door.
It can't be Billy, the man who delivers my meals on wheels, for he already came today. Through closed doors he announced my meal and through closed doors I thanked him for it. Billy knows better than to ring and expect a welcome. He knows to leave my food on the porch each day.
The doorbell rings again and this time, I hear giggles. It is those children playing tricks. I run, if running is what you'd call a crumbling man's stride, to open the door. I don't catch them. I never do. I watch them run towards the field where I used to pick the ears of corn that I farmed with my own hands.
"Don't ever come back!" I yell after them. "For your own good, don't ever come back!"
I know they think that I am a crabby, old man, but my warnings are not threats. I do not wish to harm the young ones any more than I wish to harm nice Billy.
Just as I am about to turn, I see my next-door neighbor Melanie wave. I try to close the door before she reaches me, but fail. She smiles and between deep breaths she says, "Good morning, Mr. Cruz. Good to see you."
"Yes, well--" I stammer when I'm nervous. It is hard to think of words when one has to focus on keeping one's eyes open. "--just leave my mail on the porch."
She steps closer to me. "Why don't I hand them to you for a change?" She smiles wider and reaches out.
I try not to blink for I truly like Melanie. If I were a young man instead of 70, I would help with her mail too. I would carry groceries for her. My Susana always said that a gentleman offers to carry a lady's load, be the load a pile of books, a bag of groceries or bucketsful of horse feed.
I reach for my mail and suddenly, a bee buzzes in front of me! In my surprise, I blink.
In the moment of darkness, I see the bee sting Melanie.
"Forgive me!" I say and shut the door.
|I imagine the bags under my eyes shaking like soup does on the spoon before it reaches my mouth. I still don't blink. I tell myself I can make it. I've kept my eyes open for longer periods than this.
I stumble towards the couch and think of what to do. Melanie will have an allergic reaction, of this I am sure, so I pick up the phone to call for help. I listen to the monotone. It rings loud in my ears and pierces a hole through my brain. I try to dial 9-11 but the sound is just too much. I put the phone down and wait for the sirens instead.
My hearing is not what it used to be, and I suspect that's why I missed the sound of the ambulance taking Melanie away. It is morning now; the rooster tells me so. I did not sleep all night.
I walk to the window and look out. Through the white doily drapes that Susana made, I see the mailman. He comes in early everyday, and I pray for God to bless his soul. I see him put some envelopes in and leave.
I stand still for two minutes, maybe ten. Melanie is in the hospital so I must get the mail myself. I know that I should not go out, but if I don’t, then those kids will steal my letters. I make up my mind and grab my handy cane. I use my left hand because my right just isn't good these days. Too much writing, my Susana used to say.
I take one step out. The sun hits my eyes like burning needles, but I do not blink. I walk straight and focus on my target: a little, green mailbox door that reads Rt 4020. From the corner of one eye I see the trees that hold a hammock. I do not use the hammock anymore and quite likely, it is molded. I resist the urge to turn my head and look.
My eyes tear and I feel my lids quiver. I imagine the bags under my eyes shaking like soup does on the spoon before it reaches my mouth. I still don't blink. I tell myself I can make it. I've kept my eyes open for longer periods than this.
Suddenly, a shout: "On your left! On your left!"
It is a man on a bicycle. I flee to the right. I try not to make contact and I don't. Pride takes over me and I smile. "This old man still has the limber," I say. I reach for the mail and the wind blows in my eyes.
I blink. Or, as Susana would've put it, my lids made a-flutter when the south breeze hit my cornea.
At the split second when I could not see, the poor man crashes into the trees! When I open my eyes again, I see that he is riding away, pretending to be unharmed. I know that he is not really riding away. I know that he crashed into the trees. I know because I saw it happen when I closed my eyes.
|I feel my lids get heavy and I fight the urge to sleep. I've seen this happen before, I remind myself. I should not sleep. I should not sleep.
I stagger back to the house and shut the door behind me. I collapse and sit on the floor for hours. I hear footsteps on the porch. I hear a knock.
"Mr. Cruz?" a voice like Melanie's says. "You don't have mail today. I'll be back tomorrow."
The footsteps again, and then the silence.
I struggle to get up and walk to the window. I see Melanie slip through her door and I'm convinced that my eyes are playing tricks on me. I hear lack of sleep does that to men.
I walk to my couch and turn on the television to pass the time. I resolve never to take a chance outdoors again. It is safer here where I cannot spread bad luck to others.
I stare at the moving pictures and I begin to dream.
Susana is knitting on the porch, making doily drapes for our window. The Platters' Only You plays in the background from a phonograph that I still own. I watch Susana from my hammock, and she looks at me.
"I'll be done in an hour," she says. "Then we can go to the flea market."
"Hmm," I say.
"I want to get a rickety chair."
I laugh. "You are getting old," I tease. "Didn't we say we'd never own a rocking chair? I swear that was in our wedding vows."
She smiles but her face is solemn. "I think I'm ready to be old."
"No, you're not," I say. "You look as young as the day I met you."
She laughs and I know what she will say. She will say, "I hope I didn't look this old back then!"
But I don't hear her speak because I feel sleepiness come over me. The warmth of the sun on my face soothes me, and the hammock's gentle rocking cradles me. I feel my lids get heavy and I fight the urge to sleep. I've seen this happen before, I remind myself. I should not sleep. I should not sleep.
But I do.
When I wake up, I see Susana resting on her chair, her knitting needles and the finished drapes lying on the floor. I tell myself she sleeps, but I know this is a lie. I see the truth in her limp hands, and the blank expression on her face. My Susana is dead.
I run to her but I see that she is drifting far. I cry out her name, "Susana!"
"I'm hoooome!" Ricky says on the television. I wake up and think how much I love this show. This one is when Lucy and Ricky divide the house in two: Lucy's side and Ricky's side. Ricky keeps his side a mess and Lucy keeps hers clean. I chuckle. I remember Susana and I having the same kind of fights.
The thought reminds me of some dream that's now just starting to fade. It is a dream of the day the curse began, the day I closed my eyes.
I hear a high-pitched tone on the television. The old re-run of "I Love Lucy" is interrupted by a message: "This is a test of the Emergency Alert System." My eyes widen as I realize what I had done. I dreamt, which means I slept. I turn off the television. I know the message lies; it is not a simple test.
I lean back on the couch and weep. "Forgive me," I say. "Forgive me."
© Zarina N. Docken
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