I must be led by what was given to me
I had this apartment.
The apartment was all I had, really. I thought of it as the first thing I had ever owned, separate from anyone else, mine alone. The fact that I didn’t actually own the apartment wasn’t important. I lived there; I got to decide what got put into it, and how hot or cool it was.
I wanted to know everything in this apartment, to memorize it.
This was how I began to discover what was really there: in darkness. Every night I turned off the lights and explored the room without being able to see. I found new objects in it every time I did this. At first it was only the walls I found, my head bumping rudely against the cheap plaster. Then I could discern subtle lumps in the paint. Then, after a few weeks, I found cushiony places in the furniture I owned and had sat on thoughtlessly. I pushed my hands into the curves of the sofa pillows. I felt the way they reacted when ground into the floor. I explored the carpet, its grainy expanse, the way the stuff felt like fur if you ruffled it. I felt and felt that I had finally earned my ownership of these things.
There came a point, a few weeks after this started, that I turned off the lights, fell on the floor and started feeling around, and everything I touched was familiar. It was less interesting to find that the chair leg had a hollow up the middle. It was the same as every other time I’d touched it. Likewise, I was no longer amazed by the expanse contained between floor and ceiling, which had before felt like such a generous emptiness.
When I touched the things I already knew they got smaller, withered a little, moved a little into the past.
They died a little from being touched.
At the coffee shop I frequented since I’d moved into town, I saw, among the job ads, a very strange request. Though it began in a normal way, giving the name of the store as well as the contact information, the specifics of the job requirement were what caught my attention.
We are looking for someone with a good eye, who is good at seeing.
The first part, “a good eye,” seemed like it could be relevant enough; it could mean they wanted someone with good design or arrangement skills. But what did “good at seeing” mean? I called the number and made an appointment.
The next day, I came to the appointment and looked around at the store. Indeed, it was in need of a good interior decorator; the signs advertising where certain products were had been hung haphazardly, with one even hung upside down. I passed all this and went into the office, as I had been instructed.
The owners were a couple who did not look at me as they shook my hand, though they smiled. They were blind.
“We’re very good at running this store,” they said. “But no one wants to shop in a place that doesn’t look good.”
“I understand,” I said.
The man leaned toward me. He was older, though his face was cheerful. “Do you have a good eye? Do you enjoy aesthetics? Do you treasure the pure appearance of things?”
I thought of the nights I had spent on my floor, feeling the things in my apartment.
“Yes, I do,” I said.
The blind couple had not always been blind. They had run this store for years before the accident happened. They would not tell me what the accident was, and I didn’t want to ask. I went around the store, looking at objects and itemizing and describing them. Usually once I got started they would know what I meant, or be able to finish the description for me, but they needed me to pick up the object and tell them basically what it was. Then I wrote lists, long lists of items and their characteristics, translating each object into words. The lists were so we could decide how to arrange the objects later. Meanwhile, there were other people, of course, working; teenagers at the cash registers, thick-bodied men who dropped off more boxes of things.
The owners liked me. They told me one day to pick out something, anything, from the store, as a gift from them.
I went up and down the aisles, looking for something. I couldn’t find anything. I thought I’d know the thing I wanted when I saw it, but I didn’t know what it was.
I went back to the owners and apologized for not knowing.
When I went back to the apartment one night I saw something in the middle of the room.
The thing was coming up from the floor, growing right through the carpet. The floor around it had peeled away a little, not wanting to crowd it. The rest of the room had clearly made room for this thing.
It looked like a tiny green arm.
I was afraid to touch it. I left it alone, thinking that if I ignored it, it might go away. I went to sleep in the other room, where all the things I knew were.
When I woke up it had gotten a little bigger.
At work I told the owners I was going to take home something that killed weeds. I took home a bottle of chemicals to pour on the thing in my apartment.
When I got home, the little green thing coming up had sprouted a couple of leaves. I stood there for a long time with the weed killer, and then, not knowing what else to do, I poured it all over the plant. Nothing happened except that the plant dripped with the stuff.
At night, I couldn’t sleep. I went into the room with the plant and as soon as I entered it shot up a few more inches, developing a texture along its sides.
After this, I couldn’t go back to bed. I sat next to the plant, which seemed to lean a little bit toward me. I knew better than to touch it. Instead, I examined the floor around it, where it had peeled away a little, exposing the material under the carpet. I poked at the material with a pen, and a little bit of liquid bled out, forming a small pool.
The next day, the owners could sense how tired I was, and they asked me what was wrong. I told them I had probably just caught something going around, and coughed, to make it sound like I was sick. I felt a little bit guilty because I knew they couldn’t see me, and they couldn’t see the truth, that I was walking around with a distance in front of me.
They said, “Our son is sick. He’s been sick since before our accident.”
I asked, “Sick how?”
They shrugged. “Sick. Not well.”
I asked, “Is he better now?”
They said they didn’t know.
“Well, can’t you find out? Where is he? Is someone taking care of him?”
“We did our best. He’s an adult. He lives by himself.”
When I got home, I was so distracted by thoughts of the sick son that I almost didn’t notice the thing in the living room. It had grown, and acquired new parts. The parts were less like leaves or stems than something made of those things, pasted together in a shape. It was not quite a shape yet, but I could tell that it wanted to be one. It was sitting on the middle of the floor, still tied to the floor with a little green arm.
I sat there all night and watched it, wanting to touch it, but thinking it would die as soon as I did.
I asked the owners again about the son, because I couldn’t help myself.
“How long has it been since you’ve seen him? I mean, does he even know that you’re both blind now?”
“He knows, but he can’t do anything about it,” they said.
I didn’t really have a response to this.
I don’t know what made the shape grow, but it did. I came in one night and it was a sort of cube, made of the green stuff. I opened the blinds so that the moonlight would fall on it, and sat there, watching it change. The sides bulged a little, the corners curved.
It was no longer a cube, it was…
It sat there on the carpet, round as a sun. I leaned back and remembered that ball was the first word I ever learned.
I asked the owners how far away the son lived.
“A hundred or so miles to the east,” they said. “But we’ve never been there. We’ve only had him come here. And he’s not well enough to travel anymore.”
I knew I was annoying them, but I couldn’t stop. I said, “What if I went and got him, would you like that?”
They said, “That’s kind of you, but he won’t. He’s not well enough.”
In my living room, the shape had changed again. This didn’t surprise me anymore; I actually expected it by now. It had grown another part, so that it wasn’t just a ball. There was some kind of appendage poking out from it.
I was talking to it by now. I said, “Now what is this?”
When it changed, which wasn’t every day, I had to stay up all night watching it. Something compelled me to do this. It was on one of those nights when, exhausted and not really thinking, I reached over and touched it.
Something went off in my brain. It felt like a pain that feels good. It was so good that I was afraid, thinking that I missed something, that I wasn’t supposed to feel this good. I thought about the son who was not well, and the owners who hadn’t even seen him for years, and felt guilty. I felt like a parasite who deserves nothing, who through some perverse accident has been given safety and comfort.
I wanted to touch it again, but I didn’t. I couldn’t, that wasn’t what it was for.
I said, at work the next day, “Let me mail him something.”
The owners looked at each other, even though they could not see each other, but out of habit.
They said, “Look, we hired you to work for us. That’s what we pay you for, and you’re good at it. Don’t feel like you have to do more than that. You make our lives easier already.”
I said, “But you don’t understand. It doesn’t cost me anything. I just have something to send, that’s all. I already have it.”
The couple looked hard at me with their blind eyes.
“Don’t pity us.”
This scared me, for some reason. I backed away, and for the rest of the day was quiet. When I went home, the shape had grown taller, sprouted appendages. It was beginning to look like a little man.
“What are you good for?” I asked the shape, which did not respond.
The shape continued to grow, steadily, even though I no longer knew what to do with it. It grew to be the size of a man, but it did not move. It was a standing, green man, made of plant material. For days I ignored it. I went to work every day and arranged objects by sight, touching them only briefly, never feeling them. I left the apartment more and more often, to see friends I had made in the city, or just to go for walks by myself, to be away from the green shape for a while, and forget that it was standing emptily in my living room.
The shape became so large that it took up most of the living room. I wove through the gaps it left, passing from one room to the next. I did not want to touch it.
One day, when the shape began pressing itself against the window, I opened the sliding glass door and let it out. It moved slowly, very unnaturally, but it slid out the door somehow, and turned back toward me for more direction.
“Just start walking,” I commanded. “Just go.”
But the thing wouldn’t move. I swore at it.
“Fine,” I said, and walked ahead of it a few steps, demonstrating. The shape followed. I walked a few more steps, and it followed. But when I tried to go back in my apartment, it followed me there.
“For fuck’s sake,” I said. I thought for a moment, looking at the shape – it was a splendid green, like deep water – then grabbed my keys.
“Let’s go,” I said, and began walking.
We went down a back road, in no particular direction, simply away from my house. I kept looking back at it, and it was always there, walking carefully, deliberately, but with a pretty good pace. Once in a while a car would pass and there would be a look of fear, as though the driver seeing it had committed a crime. The car would speed busily on. I wondered what, exactly, they were seeing.
We reached a point where space began to feel odd. To the left was a field, since we were out in the country, where people still farmed. On the right side of the field there was an arrangement of trees in a row, like a wall, and on the left side was a small hill. As I saw it from this spot, it reminded me of something, the arrangement of things. I felt like I was asleep, like something impossible had happened and space had forgotten about me and I’d slipped through some kind of loophole. The scene before me looked essentially like the inside of my apartment, the room where the shape had grown up. If I walked forward I’d be in the center of the room.
I walked forward, into the street. The shape stood behind me, facing me, and though it had no eyes I felt its glance.
Then there was, in one exploding second, the noise of a horn and the feeling first of impact and then of flying, briefly, toward the field. I was on my back. I could feel nothing except a small, growing pain in my spine.
I heard the car speed on past us, someone yelling out the window, a panicked, terrified yell. I laid my head back. The shape was to my right, now. I reached for it.
“You’re mine,” I said, though I realized that the reverse was probably true. “You have to do what I say.” The pain in my back was getting to be bad now.
The shape came toward me. I was planning to touch it, to make the pain I was feeling feel good.
I thought of the couple telling me not to pity them. I thought, they can’t say I’m pitying them if I’m just as damaged as they are.
So I put my hand down, and said to the shape, “Go away. Go find him. I can’t give you directions, but you have to find him.”
The shape stood there, and for a moment I thought it would never move unless I did, but then it raised its head, and began walking, in the direction we had been heading before. I thought, as it receded and my back hurt more and more, of how stupidly this had turned out; at the least I could have given it directions to the store where I worked, so it could find the blind couple. But I hadn’t thought of that in time. I had to consider how incredibly unlikely it was that the shape would find the son, just one person in miles and miles of space. I saw that I had no choice, that it could get lost no matter what I did. There was very little I could do. A breeze blew over the field that looked like my apartment, and it felt pleasant.