A/N: Because I believe that in a world where a brain in a jar is possible, there is a cure / reconstructive surgery for glaucoma.
A happy, faith-in-humanity fic starring Raphael and the woefully underdeveloped Mrs. Morrison from the episode Touch & Go. Enjoy!
Warnings: One curse word.
(Bear in mind English isn't my mother language, so please notify me of any grammar or spelling mistakes. Spell check said everything is okay, but you know how reliable those are.)
I haven't always been blind, though blindness does run in the family. I was just unlucky enough to develop a sudden case of glaucoma, or as the ophthalmologist had called it, a closed angle glaucoma. At the tender age of 64 I was left with no husband, a worn-down house in New York and very little money. At least I could still distinguish light from dark, though even that was a hard-won victory. Every day I have to take these pills to keep the glaucoma from robbing me of my last sight, or however you'd call the ability to know if the sun was up or down. It's not sight anymore if you can't watch the red roses bloom.
But soon after all the medical fuss was over, I started to adapt. I learned to read the markings on dimes and quarters, I got around with my long cane and was not ashamed anymore to ask strangers for help, or offer them my hand so they could lead me around.
My blindness-anniversary was coming up when a knock on my door alerted me to a visitor. The rest is, as they say, history. The young man had introduced himself as Raphael and helped me get my possessions ready for moving out.
And he was also the one who gave me close to three hundred thousand dollars. I don't know where he got that kind of money, though he assured me he had found it on my doorstep. I may be old, but I'm not naïve or senile. I had dropped the issue to confront him at a later date, if there would be a later date.
I was awakened from my musings when there was a knock on the door. Two taps instead of the usual three, which probably meant…
"Hey, Mrs. M!"
It was Raphael. I walked towards the door as fast as I could, which is surprisingly fast. When you're blind, you learn to rely on muscle memory and knowledge of the position of the furniture.
"Come on in, dear."
I said as I opened the door for him. I could see his blobby form silhouetted in my porch light as I stepped aside.
"How're you, Mrs. M?"
He asked as he was lovingly assaulted by Lucy, my alley cat. The young man was always so painfully polite, as if he did something wrong, I would kick him out of my house.
"I'm fine, Raphael, how are you?"
"Fine as well. Anything I can help you with today?"
I closed the door and listened to his feet going 'pat-pat' on the floor. This way I knew where he was, so I wouldn't run into him.
"You don't always have to do chores when you're here, Raphael."
"I know, but I like helping you out."
Lucy made herself known by loudly mewing and demanding attention from the young man. At first I thought Raphael was one of mister Rosetti's, a kind man down the street. But when I ran into mister Rosetti (literally, the man wasn't paying attention), it turned out Raphael wasn't one of his sons.
But the young man could be trusted. I checked what little jewelry I had left the first times Raphael came over, but they were always still there. No other possessions had gone missing, and I wasn't receiving any strange checks on my name or anything of that sort.
So his desire to help a blind old woman was genuine. A rare sentiment in this hard city, but I welcomed it with open arms.
"You can help me with collecting the empty bottles in that cardboard box, so I can take them to the recycling bin."
Raphael'd do some small chores, and I'd reward him with some tea and biscuits. And, more importantly, some company. I didn't feel so lonely when the young man told stories of the events around the neighborhood.
Though, if everything played out well, I'd be able to participate in those events again soon.
"Sure thing, Mrs. M. Anything else?"
"No, nothing for now, Raphael, I'll go make you some tea. I've got orange-flavor, herbal and some green tea."
"Green tea as always, please."
I don't know why I even bothered to ask which flavor, the young man remained true to his preferences. His feet went pat-pat against the floor as he set about the chore I'd given him. I don't know if he was wearing flip-flops or if he went barefoot, but I hope the former. Going barefoot in this city wasn't such a smart idea, no matter how fit the owner of the feet.
Turn left, three steps, reach up and open the cabinet. I had done it so many times I knew every square inch of this cabinet. The green tea was in the smooth metal canister with a dent in its lid, right next to the small porcelain teapot I had inherited from my mother.
The scrape of the carton and clinking of the bottles meant that Raphael was almost ready, and I hurried my preparations. Good thing I had managed to get that water heater last year, just before I got blind, because with my previous kettle I'd die of old age before the water was boiling.
"I can put these in the recycling bin on my way home, Mrs. M, and save you the trip."
Raphael offered when his pat-pat returned to the kitchen.
"That won't be a problem, to be honest I like the trip. Gives me a reason to feel the smog of New York."
I answered, and I could imagine the young man's grin. I think he has a brown buzz cut, and I know he has a rather unique sense of humor. A bit crude to my taste, but it grows on you. I even catch myself saying Raphael-like things, like the bit about the smog of New York.
"Well, you ain't missing much. It's still as smoggy, dark and damp as ever. Why do we even live in this du- place?"
Raphael was quick to answer with a laugh in his voice, and I turned to the now-boiling water. I made the tea while Raphael fetched the biscuits from the upper-left cabinet. It gave me time to think of my answer, but I knew there was only one right answer to that question.
"Because it's our home."
"Amen, Mrs. M."
After that, our small talk drifted towards the neighborhood, the young man's life and family, but somehow never the weather. It occurred to me one night that Raphael never mentioned the weather, save for extreme conditions like snow and storm. Maybe because he was a city-young man and in the city, it didn't matter all that much what weather it was, there always was something to do, some place to go, no matter if it rained or if the tarmac was melting.
At least, that's what I assumed, but you know what they say when you assume too much.
After we ate our biscuits and drank our tea, a content silence drifted over the table. The young man wasn't eager to leave, nor wanted I that he left, so we just sat there. I imagine his green eyes wandered over my sparsely decorated kitchen, taking in the sights. I played with my cup, waiting for the right moment to tell him the news. It'd mean a huge change in my life, and I didn't know if I wanted to tell him yet. He might not come over anymore after all was said and done, and I had grown attached to his crude humor.
For you see, not all the money I had received was spent on my house. I had enough left to go to the hospital, where they told me some wonderful news.
"Raphael, the doctors said they could cure my blindness."
There, I had said it. After the surgery the young man wouldn't have a reason to come visit me anymore, he wouldn't have to put the bottles in the cardboard box or any of the chores he so gallantly took care of.
"That's great news!"
They say that when you're blind, your other senses become enhanced. In this case, I could clearly hear the faked enthusiasm in Raphael's voice.
"Dear, please don't lie to me, I deserve better than that. I like having you around, and I hope you like coming here, but when I can once again see, I can take care of my own bottles. I know that you know that, but I want to know why you fake enthusiasm. You know you can talk to me."
"Yeah, I like being around. It's just that… When you can see me, you won't want to. Trust me."
Such bitterness coming from such a young man was shocking, even for this New Yorker.
"Why would I not want to see you?"
It was silent for a full minute. I could hear the seconds tick away on the old oak clock. The clinking sounds indicated that Raphael was also toying with his cup. I was afraid he'd get up and never answer my question, he had a big enough temper for that and could hold a grudge. It'd mean he'd never pet Lucy again, if he got up now. Thankfully, he opened his mouth and talked.
"Mrs. M, what do you think I look like?"
"I don't know. You never described yourself, so I have no idea."
"Bullshit," spat Raphael, along with a muttered "sorry". He continued.
"I don't believe you. You must have an image in your mind of me, it's just human nature. So tell me. What do you think I look like?"
I was almost too embarrassed to tell, knowing I'd have it all wrong. But he wanted to know, so I told him.
"In my mind you have brown, buzz-cut hair and green eyes. You're a small, but tough young man and you've got the scars to prove it."
Raphael remained silent for a few seconds, but when he inevitably talked, I could hear the grin in his voice.
"Well, you're right about the small and green part. And I'm pretty sure I've got scars everywhere, but I ain't got no brown hair. Or any hair, period."
"What do you look like then?"
All of a sudden, I was desperate to know. Most of the people I meet regularly since I've become blind have provided me with a basic description of themselves, or let me run my hands over their body so I can form an image of the face I was talking to. But never Raphael. It hadn't really bothered me, I have a vivid imagination and I pride myself on that I can form an accurate image based on the person's voice and silhouette. But in this case, I suppose I was dead wrong. I wanted to know so bad, but Raphael kept playing Twenty Questions.
"Did you watch… hear the news last night? On channel 6?"
"Raphael, why do you want to know-"
"Just humor me, okay?"
The politeness he had so often displayed was gone, and I felt like I got a glimpse of the real Raphael that evening. It had taken a long while, but I had peeled layer by layer off, until at last I met the core of the young man.
"Yes, I've heard the news."
"That part about the mutant monsters roaming in parts of the sewers… What did you think of that?"
Well, that certainly was a whole different subject. I still answered his question, though, I owed him that much.
"It's rather frightening to think that there might be monsters below our feet, but I trust the government is taking care of it. I just hope no one gets hurt."
"Do you think that mutants are automatically monsters?"
Something dawned on me the moment the young man asked his question, but I denied it. Or rather, I ignored it, and I just focused on the question. I'd find out soon enough whether what I had realized was true. Besides, it was a doozy of a question. I answered his question hesitantly, and while speaking I realized what my feelings were on that subject.
"Mutants are often so… savage. At least, that's what I hear on the news. But then again, I'd be frightened too if suddenly my body wasn't my body anymore. But humans use the word 'monster' for things they don't understand, and mutants fall under that category. So in that sense, mutants are monsters."
I fell silent, but after a few seconds it became obvious Raphael wasn't going to say anything. I felt like I had to expand on my answer, there were still some things left unsaid.
"But if you ask me by 'monster' you mean 'evil', then my answer is no. Not all mutants are inherently evil. They have the capability to be destructive, but most mutants are just frightened animals lashing out at threatening things. You can't blame a cat for clawing you in self-defense."
I allowed the silence that followed my statement to stretch its legs, for I had said all I wanted to. It was up to Raphael now to make the next move. If what I had realized was true, I was going to brush with a whole different world. But the young man could lack the courage to tell me, or maybe he thought I wasn't trustworthy.
Or I could be plain dead wrong. Unconsciously I held my breath as I awaited Raphael's next move.
"Mrs. M, give me your hand."
I slowly let out my breath as I let my left hand creep across the table, unsure what the young man was going to do (and where exactly he was). The chair screeched on the floor as Raphael got up and gently grabbed my hand. I felt him move closer, and finally he laid my hand on something smooth and grooved. It was a bit oily, with lots of dents and rough patches on it.
"This," Raphael said, paused, swallowed and continued, "is my shell."
I repeated blankly, not believing what I just heard. So my realization was true. Raphael was a mutant. One with a shell, apparently. Still, I had to ask to make sure. Assuming things can quickly escalate situations.
"So… What are you, Raphael?"
"Basically, a turtle. A giant, mutant turtle."
I left it at that as I let my curious hand wander over his shell, taking it all in. There were a lot of rough patches on it, as if he regularly put sandpaper to it. I felt the pattern of grooves on his shell, hills and valleys where it felt more oily and smooth as opposed to the flat areas. My hand had reached the left edge when he spoke again, in a misleadingly pleasant tone. But I heard the underlying edge. I blame my enhanced senses for that.
"Most people scream when they see me, y'know."
I reached for his arm, and when I found it I firmly grasped it. Like I thought, the young (turtle) man was standing with his back to me, because I could feel his elbow. I spun him around and focused on where I thought his eyes were. Dear Lord, he had tough skin.
"I can't see, Raphael, that's the difference. What I see, is a young man who has helped me out a lot of times. I observe a gentle man who pets my cat and keeps an old lady company. I watch as he gives me enough money to keep my house and cure my blindness. The way I see it, I have gazed upon a guardian angel."
"I… Thanks, Mrs. M."
Raphael said softly after a short silence. I can only hope my little speech had driven my point home.
"Now then, dear, please tell me what you really look like."
I was startled when instead of talking, the young man grabbed my hand and once again laid it on his shell. Did he have a shell on his front as well? How did he move like that? If I recall correctly, turtles are slow creatures because of their shells. So how did this one move about so quick? He interrupted my jumbled thoughts when he spoke.
"How's about I show you? I ain't that good with words."
I nodded and Raphael took charge of the situation. As he spoke, he gently moved my hand over his body.
"This here is my plastron, as Donnie calls it. It's a dark yellow."
His plastron had the same texture as his… what was that word for the back part of a turtle's shell again… I'm sure I'll remember it tonight when I least expect it. Raphael moved my hand to a rougher texture, a bit like dried up leather with creases.
"My skin tone is dark green, by the way. This is the bridge connecting my plastron to my carapace."
That's the word I was looking for. The young man had just spared me a trip to the Braille encyclopedia belonging to the library. He let me feel the edge of his carapace, and moved on to his head. His weird and definitely bald skull had the same tough skin as his arm. He said he was wearing a red mask, along with elbow- and kneepads. And an utility belt, strangely enough. Though if you wore no clothes, I suppose you had to keep your things somewhere.
"As you probably noticed by now, I got three fingers and two toes. Let's see, what else.. Oh, right, I carry two sai with me at all times, so don't go grabbing me at random or you might get stabbed."
As he let go of my hand, I stared at where I knew his (dark green, rather flat) head was. I might get stabbed? What exactly was this young man carrying around?
"What are these 'sai'?"
I heard him slide two metal things from his belt, and the slight displacement of air as he did something with them. Twirling them?
"Three-pronged blades. Here, I'll let you feel them. But they're very sharp, so don't do anything weird. Please."
He added as an afterthought. I noticed he was talking a lot less polite, but I found it very hard to care. He had told me his secret, and he had told it willingly. More and more of the real Raphael was shining through, and I found it intoxicating that he was placing his trust in me.
A small weight was pressed in my left hand, and my fingers automatically curled around a worn handle. With my other hand I explored the alien sai. This actually was the first time in my life I ever touched a genuine bit of steel that was forged to be a weapon. Careful not to cut myself I let my fingers slide over the short bits and finally the long point, constructing a mental image of the weapon.
"The handle is red, like my mask."
Raphael helpfully supplied, and took the weapon back when I held it up to him, done exploring it.
I now had an idea of what he looked like, though I'm sure I got some details wrong. I'd find out soon enough after the surgery. There were still some things I wanted to know, though. But first…
"Do you want some more tea, dear? I still have some questions I'd like to ask you. I won't keep you long, it is a school night after… all…"
It was my standard reason for sending the young man home when I felt it was getting too late for him, but I now realized the silliness of it.
"Though I suspect you don't go to school at all, do you?"
"Home schooled all the way, by my father."
"That's what I wanted to ask you about, but first things first. Tea?"
"Sure. But let me get that for you."
Raphael made his way to the counter and busied himself with making a fresh cup of tea. While he was doing that, he said:
"Go ahead and ask your questions, Mrs. M."
The polite thing to do was wait until the tea was done and he was once again seated at the table, but the questions burned on the tip of my tongue and I needed the answers so bad, it was like wanting a glass of water in the Sahara.
"Are indeed all turtles as well. My father is a 4 foot tall grey rat who calls us 'my sons' and who raised us."
"Where do you-"
"We live in the sewers, in an area we call the Lair."
It seemed Raphael had fielded these questions before, he had so expertly anticipated them. I wanted to make my next question count, so I spoke rather quick.
"How did you come into existence?"
A teacup was placed in front of me and I sought it with my hand, careful not to burn myself. Raphael sighed softly as he let himself fall in the other chair. Sitting in a rigid wooden chair can't be comfortable with a giant carapace (love that word now).
"In a nutshell, no pun intended, we're the happy accidental byproduct of an alien's homesickness."
The young man spun a short science-fiction-like tale about aliens and ooze which I struggled to believe. Then again, I was talking to a turtle, so they had to originate somewhere. I found some comfort in the idea that humans weren't responsible for creating this ooze. Imagine if all the animals transformed into intelligent beings. Humans had enough trouble respecting each other, imagine if cows started going on strike if they didn't get better food. It'd be the end of civilization as we knew it.
Now that I had received the mutant 101, my head felt like it'd explode if any more surprises and information entered it. I was relieved when Raphael used the silence to ask some questions of his own.
"When's the surgery for your glau… glaucombi… blindness?"
"In two weeks. My vision should return in the two to three weeks after the surgery, though I likely need glasses, because my eyes won't function like they used to."
"Just getting your sight back is awesome, I think, needing glasses or not."
I nodded, smiling at the fierceness in the young man's tone. He could be so passionate about things, he was so… alive. I could only hope my life would once again see brighter days, filled with interesting events, instead of a walk to the grocery store being the highlight of my day. I bet his life was so much more interesting than mine, and now he could tell me the true stories, instead of the censured ones.
But, like I had said before, it was getting late, and the young man likely had places to be. No time for stories now. Visiting an old lady shouldn't take priority over his no doubt much more interesting activities. I told him as such, but he just went on the defensive.
"No way! I like coming here! Why else do you think I keep coming back?"
"Because I treat you without prejudice based on how you look?"
I said deadpan. This old lady still had some sharpness left in her, and I was feeling like a recently made razor tonight.
"True that, Mrs. M."
The silence lasted longer than usual, and I sensed all was said what needed to be said for this evening. I still had a lot more questions, but they could wait. Apparently, Raphael sensed it as well, because his chair screeched one last time as he got up. He gathered the empty teacups and placed them in the sink, judging by the clinking and the clanging.
"But I won't keep you up any longer. My bro's are probably wondering if I'm lying dead in a gutter somewhere. I'll pop by sometime next week, if that's alright with you."
"Of course Raphael, you know you're always welcome here. And I'd love to hear some stories about your adventures next time."
I got up as well and made my way to the door, holding it open for him. The young man paused before stepping outside and muttered:
"Thanks, Mrs. M."
Before I could reply he was gone with nary a sound, dissolved in the dead-ended alley where my front door was located. I don't know what exactly he thanked me for, for believing him, for not freaking out, for accepting him for what he was, or maybe for all three.
I let the door click shut and locked it up for the night. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep that night, but my heart was overflowing with joy that the young man had trusted me. My first brush with this strange new world had gone well, and I hoped it would remain that way in the future.