By Mahalia Gaff
It happened so many years ago that people don’t talk about it anymore. Yeah, yeah, we can’t see anymore, but who cares? What matters is what we’re doing now, without our sight, not how to get it back, because let’s be real: we can’t. If we could, we would have. The way I see it, all possibilities have happened, there is nothing new under the sun. This is the same sun which we assume took our sight away. We can’t really know. But there was a flash. Brighter than anything anyone would ever see again, and that was it. End of story. This is our reality, and this is all that matters now.
I pause. I’ve been trying to record the same damn podcast for weeks now. My job as a journalist has changed drastically since everything happened (some call it the flare, but I refuse to consider myself as living within a young adult dystopian novel). But maybe I am. Printing everything in braille is so much more difficult than recording. The company I worked for moved entirely to audio production, which is part of why I quit back in March. The other reason is because everything that I began to record was a word for word script of things they told me I had to say, and I was not putting up with that bullshit. So now, instead of reading off a script how scientists are on the brink of something great, so close to the next breakthrough, I talk about what we know: we cannot see, we have stumbled around in darkness for years to make our fractured society stable again, and our lives will never be “normal” again, unless we choose to see this present reality as normal. Because it is now. At least, it has to be.
It’s a funny thing, remembering. How we can actually have any semblance of normal when we can all still see the images and memories of our lives before swimming inside of our minds is absolutely beside me. In order to keep going, I have to accept this as normal now. But I also talk about something else on my podcast. Something I haven’t released yet. I have wondered, and bear with me, I know it might sound crazy, if some people can see. I know this is absurd. If people could see, they would tell everyone, and make every effort to make it possible for the rest of us to see as well. But there have been three occurrences over the last three weeks that have led me to discuss this theory, here, now, with myself and my recording equipment.
The first instance—
Location: in line at the grocery store.
Time: early May.
Narrative: I felt the line along the wall, indicating that I was still in line, but this time as I followed it, my fingers suddenly met another’s hand. This is, of course, not uncommon, but this hand did not pull away as hands normally do, as hands expectedly and appropriately should. It felt like they were waiting. It felt how I remember it feeling when you used to know someone was looking at you. But how could their eyes peer into me like that? How could it actually feel like that?
Location: at my gym
Narrative: I attend here regularly, but this particular day, I stepped on a treadmill that I don’t think I had been on before. It felt older, different. I worried that it would take me a while to find the right settings. I pushed a couple of buttons, listening to the voice commands, when suddenly a lady was beside me. “Need some help?” she asked warmly. I paused—remember, this was after the grocery store incident—and turned to the sound, nodding my head, waiting to see what she would do. There was an even longer pause, as I stared at who-knows-what, and she also stared at who-knows-what, trying to give her enough time to respond. She coughed, pressed two buttons, and said I should be good before I heard her tripping over her feet as she hurried away. But nobody races away like that, unless they’re looking to run into a cement beam. How could she run? Did she see my nod?
Time: just yesterday, late May.
Narrative: I received a call from my old boss at the news station. When I picked up on the third ring, he nervously asked, without any explanation, “What do you record now? I mean—” His voice was rather unsure of himself, stuttering and stumbling over his words, sounding almost breathless and famished. “What do you say, now, that we wouldn’t let you say when you worked for us? This is important.” His voice sounded urgent and fearful. His voice cracked. Was that desperation? I responded slowly, “I talk about what I think is important, and I don’t think that giving people false hope that we might ever have any reality other than this one, where nobody can see, is important.” There was a long pause, before he whispered, “I see,” speaking slowly, his tone still fearful. “I have to go.” He hurriedly hung up. My phone quickly spit back at me, call ended, eight-oh-seven, p.m.
And then, the next morning, when I pressed play on my inbox for my daily emails and news, the fourth recording monotonously sputtered, “John Kendall, of the City Gazette, was found dead in his apartment this morning at 7:08a.m. An autopsy is scheduled for later this afternoon.” My old boss was dead. His fear wasn’t misplaced. Despite whatever that autopsy finds, I suspect John died for something big, something that was not accidental. What had led him to ask those questions? Questions that he was possibly willing to die for?
~ ~ ~
At the beginning of June, I started to notice these odd behaviors in people more often, seemingly all over the place. Perhaps it was nothing, but if it was something…I had to find out. I found myself more ballsy in my responses to these odd interactions. I would joke with the barista who spilled my coffee when she bumped into my hand that I should’ve seen that coming, or with the mail man when a letter fell to the ground, oh I should’ve caught that. I started to create these uncomfortable situations, allowing long pauses, on the line of pretending that I could see. I didn’t really know what my goal was with this. I just needed more evidence, more exposure, more time to construct a working theory.
One morning, I went out to meet the mailman as I usually did, my alarm set promptly thirty seconds before he usually comes around. When I opened my door, he shouted hello, his voice sounding a bit off, different than his usually unconcerned tone. He seemed anxious, a common thread in these odd interactions, so I prepared myself to push him. He met me, as he always did, halfway up my stoop, but this time, instead of handing me my mail, he pressed it firmly into my grasp, positioning my fingers over a seal I had never felt before, impressed with the words “that we may see.” I assumed it was some sort of propaganda junk mail from the political parties so adamant that we will one day be able to see, but my mailman, whose face I hadn’t seen in years, made me hold my mail as if it were a lifeline. There was an awkward pause. He let his fingers rest on mine, still atop the seal, far longer than necessary. Finally lifting his hand, he broke the tension and walked away, barely whispering, “See you tomorrow.” I quickly sucked in my breath. My mailman, in all my years of knowing him, vision or no vision, had never said, “See you tomorrow.”
I raced inside, remembering the letter, eager to open what felt so important. Though I had no inclination as to why, it felt like a piece to the puzzle I was just beginning to realize I was putting together. I found my kitchen table, let my fingers feel their way around the letter. No braille address, no name, no return address, no postage stamp, simply the seal which read, “That we may see.” I briefly considered throwing it away, before tearing it open, ever so carefully, of course. My fingers raced to meet each word, equally confused yet finding understanding with each word. It made sense in a way I couldn’t describe. I didn’t understand what it could actually mean, and yet, it made sense. The last words read, “You will see, and when you do, may you find the power in you to share the gifts of sight with all of those too blind to even try to see in a world so dark, so hopeless.”
I meandered throughout the rest of my day. That line in the letter, on the seal, on repeat in my mind. Like a prayer I couldn’t quite figure out why I was praying. That we may see. That we may see. That we may see. Was it propaganda? Going to sleep that night I lay awake for a long time, my mind blank, unable to even formulate questions, but still feeling like the letter was something. It will mean something, I thought as I drifted off to sleep, it has to.
My mornings usually begin slowly. Twenty minutes in bed after my alarm, five minutes of stretching, opening the curtains—though I cannot see the sun streaming in, I can feel the warmth—and then I make a pot of coffee. But this morning was unlike any that I had had in years. I slammed my alarm with my hand, eyes still closed. Exhausted from the night of overthinking. One snooze is ten minutes. The alarm blared again. Second snooze, ten more minutes, my eyes still squeezed tightly shut. It’s a weird thing, not being able to see when you wake up, going from the vivid dreams and the colors of my mind, to the void of the real world, dark and empty.
But this morning, this morning I awoke, and when I opened my eyes, I saw.
It happened so suddenly, as fast as the speed of light I suppose. The moment my eyelids began to flutter, suddenly fully opened, I screamed, pulling my hands up to my mouth. I scrunched my eyes closed as they began to tear up. I had forgotten to close my curtains the night before and fresh, bright sunlight was streaming through. My eyes still squeezed together, I was now fully awake and counting to ten before slowly opening them again. It burned, it burned, and I felt it, staring straight ahead out my east-facing window as the sun rose. I raced there quickly, nearly falling on my face, pressing my fingers to the glass as my eyes stared into the brightest ball of fire I never thought I would see again. Dear sun, how I missed your beauty. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I scrambled to the kitchen, searching for the letter, for some answer. It was unfathomable, and yet, in all of my searching over the last few weeks, no matter how much I had tried to accept reality, it suddenly made sense that I could see. For a second I almost forgot that I could ever not see.
Gripping the letter with two hands, holding no answers, I closed my eyes and let the familiar darkness wash over me. So comfortable after living within its grasp for so long. I could hear my alarm faintly blaring in my room, reminding me as it did every day: the mailman was here. I choked back a sob as I moved towards the front door. Pulling back the curtain to see him waltzing up to the stoop. He looked anxious. I didn’t have to hear it in his voice or sense it, he looked anxious. I didn’t know how I would tell him, but I pulled open my door, beginning to walk towards him when suddenly, our eyes met and locked. I stopped dead in my tracks. How…I wondered…how does this feel like he is staring back at me? How does this feel like he is looking at me? HOW does this feel like he can see me?
I began to back away, terrified at the intimacy of eye contact that I had gone so long without, when unexpectedly, he jerked his hands into the air. I opened my mouth to yell something unintelligible, and he suddenly, violently, pointed to the side of my house, like his life depended on me looking. To the side of my house? I continued to stare at him, closing my mouth, but also suddenly not trusting the man who had handed me my mail for all of the years I had lived here. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me, and I looked:
Don’t tell them you can see.
Spray-painted across my siding. I gawked and then slowly began to look around at the other buildings that surrounded my apartment complex. It was everywhere: Don’t tell them you can see, written on the shutters, the sidewalks, the windows. Nothing more.
Don’t tell them you can see.
I went to ask a question, but my mailman held his finger to his mouth, handing me my mail in the same manner as yesterday. He pressed a letter with a now-familiar seal into my hands, and then, he was gone. I watched him until I could no longer see him. Walking effortlessly and comfortably on an empty street in a world full of people who aren’t supposed to be able to see. Hell, I shouldn’t be able to see. How the fuck can I see!?
I carried the letter inside, slid into a kitchen chair, and read:
~ ~ ~
You’re one of the few. Smart enough to begin to figure out that all of the world is not blind. The world was living in darkness long before everyone lost their sight. Humanity was failing and something had to be done. People didn’t see each other anymore, so, we took away their vision. Now, more and more are finding their way to exactly where you are. Stumbling upon moments of humanity in your jokes, your apologies, your intentionality, your kindness, your curiosity, and your integrity. You can now see because you had begun to see a world with people in it, long before we gave you your vision back.
Now, though you can never tell a soul that you can see, and you are to continue living as though you are blind, you are a part of the hope of restoring humanity. Let yourself linger in conversation and touch. Depart from agendas and the bustling of life that choked out our society years ago. Being unable to see slows people down, shows them how to see now that they don’t have the convenience of sight. Don’t let them miss their chance, show them you can see, but never tell them. Let them find their sight on their own. Only be human as you are.
—The Last Hope of Humanity
~ ~ ~
I move to my desk. The one I have been recording fervently at for weeks. Messy compilations of each encounter I’ve had, each question I’ve asked, each point of possibility I have wondered at. I take a deep breath, hit record, stare into the blinking red light for a moment, and once again, I talk about what I know:
I can see. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but I can. There are others too, but something is keeping them, us, from saying what we know, and I am going to figure out why.
There is a knock on my door. Could my mailman be back? I wonder. I make my way to the door, acting normally, as if I can’t see. Who is it? I ask. The door slams suddenly in my face.
~ ~ ~
Test subject 807 failure. Terminated. Gather all evidence. Prepare the scene for an alleged suicide. Finish writing the story for records. Secure the premises and report back to post.