A short story based on the prompt from Reedsy: Write a story based in a city that suddenly loses power.
I am blind. But I am not blind.
The mirror reveals too much, doesn’t it? We are vulnerable in its sight, a too clear reflection of what I cannot see. You can see the blemishes on my face? I cannot, but they taunt me with their sting, threatening to pull attention. You see my hair, wild and dry? You see my crooked teeth? I see nothing. What is mine is a mystery to me.
The needles of my brush pull at my hair, demanding obedience. I look at the mirror, searching it as the sighted might, a habit not yet broken. Nothing but my eyes are broken.
I live by myself, in an apartment on the second floor. They offered me the first floor. They not so subtly suggested a pet, a roommate, a crutch. I denied all three. I demanded the second floor and I got the second floor.
Yes, I am not alone. But I am not alone.
I run the brush through my hair. Again, until I’m certain it holds. Again, for good measure. Again and again, until there is no question. I am in control.
But I am not in control.
Finally, I run my fingers through my hair, feeling for knots and insubordination. It feels smooth. Controlled.
I reach out to the mirror, forcing confidence I don’t feel, pretending I can see through my fingertips. My light is on. Another habit. My sight is gone. But I can still see.
I pass a child in the hallway. I hear the scuffling of his feet as he crawls out of my way.
“‘Scuse me,” he mumbles.
I can hear the fear in his voice. What stories might he have heard about the lonely neighbor that cannot see?
“You are perfectly fine,” I say softly, forcing a smile to my lips. “Thank you for clearing a path for me.”
I hear nothing. I imagine he is nodding in reply.
It’s another morning in which I stare into the empty mirror. My hand trembles as it reaches for my hair, so I let it rest on the counter instead. I will not reach for the carton. I will not take another drag.
I do. And I do.
I am strong. But I am not strong.
“‘Scuse me,” The boy says as I pass him in the hall.
He shuffles to the side to let me through. It sounds like he’s crawling. It sounds like he’s not so afraid.
“Thank you, young man!” I say, smiling in his general direction.
“You welcome,” he replies. He sounds timid, but I can hear the interest in his voice.
My hand drags along the opposite wall, eager to show the boy that it’s not so scary to be blind. That I’m just another normal human being with friends and a family like anyone else. I don’t have to be scary. I don’t have to be weak.
I throw my cigarettes in the trash that night.
I dig them out in the morning.
“‘Scuse me!” My heart flutters a little at his voice. It sounds almost as if he is glad to see me, but I don’t hear the boy’s feet. He does not move out of the way.
“You are perfectly excused!” I say, a smile playing on my lips, but I hesitate to move forward.
“‘Scuse me, miss… um, lady?”
“Can you help me?”
My breath catches, lips trembling as I realize the significance of his request. I had not dreamed anyone would ever again ask for my help. No matter how small. “Of course,” I say heavily.
My mouth is suddenly dry. “How do you mean?”
“I can’t see,” the boy cries, letting out a sniffle. “It went dark!”
My fingers twitch, instinctively reaching out to feel the darkness. I want to tell the difference. I want to say I knew the lights went out. But I could say no such thing. I could only say, “really?”
The boy doesn’t speak, but I assume another nod.
“Okay, don’t worry, just stay where you are.” I feel the wall beside me, dragging my hand down it as I kneel on the floor. I am strong. I am crawling. I am vulnerable, but the world is blind. “Can you talk for me, sweetheart? So I can tell where you are?”
Another sniffle. “I want mommy,” he says, his voice a mixture of distress and control.
“Yeah?” I say encouragingly as I shuffle toward his voice. “Do you know where she is?”
He gives no response, but I have the right heading, slowly feeling my way across the floor. “What about daddy?”
Still no response, but my hand feels a shoe. Suddenly, the shoe pulls away as the boy letting out a muffled cry.
“It’s okay,” I say. “It’s me, I’m just trying to find your hand.”
The shoe doesn’t return, but my hand stays where it is, palm open. “We’re going to be okay. You’re safe here.”
“I want mommy.”
“She’s okay too,” I say, my voice barely more than a whisper. “She’s going to find you soon, alright? As soon as the lights come back on she’ll come for you.”
“She’s at work.”
“Then we’ll wait for her to get back. Is anyone else home?”
I pull myself against the wall, careful to leave my hand where it is. “I’m going to see if anyone else is home,” I say, using my other hand to knock against the wall. “Is this your home?”
Again, no response. I have to stop using ‘yes or no’ questions.
“Where is your home?” I ask instead.
“Like right here next to us?”
No response from the boy nor the apartment on the other side of the wall.
“I’ll protect you either way.”
“Thank you,” the boy says, his voice wavering. And then I feel something in my hand. Small fingers clutching mine. I am not strong.
“You’re very welcome,” I choke back.
“You’re very nice,” the boy sniffles more gently.
“So are you.” I am not alone. “What’s your name?”
“Clive,” he says. I can hear his smile. “What’s yours?”
The boy squeezes my hand tighter.
I am blind. But I am not blind.