"For those who love
live under private skies
where stars have mouths
and even stones have eyes." From Even Stones Have Eyes.
Buz had spent more days than he cared to count in darkness. He had never seen this place that he was now living in. Never seen the faces of the people who taught him and helped him and sheltered him. Never seen the trees that he heard shimmering in the wind or the buildings he used everyday.
The last thing he remembered seeing was a flash of the sky filling his vision, and the sun up there, dazzling his eyes. That was it. He didn't remember being hit and he didn't remember falling, although Tod had told him that he had fallen and had grabbed onto a girder and had slipped out of consciousness only when he was being hauled up out of that empty lift shaft. If he had been knocked out instantly he would have been dead.
May as well be dead… That thought still slipped through his mind sometimes, in the morning when he opened his eyes to a dark that was identical to the night before, when he tripped or knocked his shins on unexpected obstacles, when he tried and tried at some task and just couldn't do it. The fear and the anger and frustration cascaded through him sometimes when he was least expecting it. The only thing that really took his mind away from it all were those times with Celia when he let himself feel the blood racing through his veins and the physicality of his body, and her words and touch erased the darkness around him.
That, and talking to Tod. He spoke to him often – perhaps too often. He didn't know. He always felt brightened by hearing Tod's voice on the other end of the telephone. He closed his eyes and sat on the padded chair by the phone and tilted his head back and listened and talked and listened again. Tod told him about everything he had been doing, the places he had travelled to, the girls he had seen. He had promised not to stick around on account of Buz, but he had. He travelled, but he always stayed close.
But last night had been different.
'Hey, buddy,' Tod had said through the receiver. 'Are you free tomorrow? I can be in the neighbourhood, and I'd like to see you, see how you're getting on. How about it, tiger?'
Buz had smiled and thought and then said, 'Yeah, I'm free. It's Saturday tomorrow, isn't it? I'm free all day.'
And that had been that.
Buz sat in a chair near the door of the Administration Building with his hands about the crooked handle of his cane, waiting for Tod to arrive. Tod had said eleven, and the clock had struck just a few minutes ago, but he couldn't hear the car yet. He rubbed his hand over his wrist where his watch still sat, ticking but useless. He needed to get one like Celia's, one where he could open the front and feel the hands. It drove him crazy not being able to tell the time.
He stood up and paced a little, confident in his surroundings. He wondered what the time was now and if he should go ask one of the secretaries in the office. They were always glad to help. But he didn't go. He just walked up and down a little more, listening to his own footsteps and the way they echoed against hard walls, feeling the heat of sun magnified by glass as he passed the window and feeling it fade away again as he walked back toward the door.
He couldn't work out quite why he was so nervous, but he knew that seeing Tod would be strange. It was not that this place was a prison – far from it – but he hadn't seen anyone in the past few weeks who was not from the Lions Camp, who wasn't part of that elite social clique made up of the blind and those used to working with the blind. He hadn't been face to face with Tod since that awkward goodbye when he had first come to this place.
The horn from outside was a sudden sound, jolting him back into awareness. He had been so lost in himself that he hadn't even heard the engine or the soft sound of wheels on the road. He was in no doubt that it was Tod, though – not just that the sound had been the Corvette's horn, but that it had been sounded just as Tod would sound it.
He went to the door, standing for a moment on the sill, his ear cocked toward the road. Just as he caught the creak of the seat Tod called out, 'Hey, buddy!'
A sudden feeling of warmth surged over him. Speaking to Tod on the phone wasn't the same as seeing him in person. It had been too long.
Buz lifted his hand in greeting and began to make his way down the path. Instantly there was a scramble. The car door opened and slammed and he heard Tod running toward him.
'Hey, wait, let me – '
He held up his hand again as Tod reached him at a jog. 'They teach us these things here, you know,' he said, tapping the cane on the ground. 'I'm all right. I know the path and I know where you're parked.'
'All right,' Tod said. Buz could feel the moment of awkwardness before Tod decided to clap a hand to his friend's arm. 'It's good to see you, tiger. How're you making out?'
'Oh, fine,' Buz said.
He wasn't sure what else to say. He could say that sometimes he lay awake at nights with his eyes wide open and the urge to cry swelling in his throat. He could say that he was learning to decipher the textured world of Braille and he could navigate most of the more familiar paths here. He could say that he was still afraid of what would happen to his life now, afraid of leaving the safety of this place, afraid of clinging to it for too long. He could list the things that he missed so hard it felt like a knife pushing into his chest, or list the sounds and smells and tactile sensations that he had slowly learnt to appreciate. He could say he felt like he was walking on the moon, but he wasn't sure if Tod would understand.
The cane warned him of the change from path to grass and then the slight kerb before the drive. The car was only a few steps on from there. The cane clattered into it first and he pulled back, afraid of scratching the paint. He reached out his hand instead and found the hood, still warm under his palm. Tod moved beside him like his shadow, so close he might as well be touching him.
He slipped his hand along to the handle and opened the door and dropped himself into the firm seat, casting the cane into the opposite footwell.
'Er, Buz – ' Tod began as he lifted his hands to the steering wheel.
'Relax, buddy. I'm not gonna drive it. I just want to feel it,' he said, resting his feet onto the pedals and feeling the slight give in them.
He brushed his hand past the ignition and the keys jangled against his skin. He turned them and felt the engine roar into life.
'Buz,' Tod said, more panic in his voice now.
'I'm not gonna drive it, Tod,' Buz assured him. 'I don't want to crash and burn, believe me.'
Tod didn't answer. Buz thought of that moment in their rooms just after coming back from the hospital, when all he had been able to think of was destroying his useless shell of a body, and Tod had pressed that razorblade into his hand. He hadn't known what to think then, but he had known he didn't want to die. He had wanted to hurt and to cry and to scream and to do anything to distract himself from the fact that his eyes didn't – wouldn't – work, but he had known that he didn't want to die.
'I just want to feel it, okay,' he repeated. 'That's all.'
'Okay,' Tod said softly, trusting him enough to just stay beside the car while Buz sat there.
Buz inhaled the scent of exhaust that was building, and the subtle scent of the warm seats. He let his fingers trace over the curve of the steering wheel, feeling the vibration that pushed through the circle of metal. He dropped his hand through and touched the glass of the dials, the hard trim, the slight roughness of the vinyl and the smooth polish of paint.
'I never realised it felt so much,' he said. 'I never knew the hundred different feelings that could slip under your fingers, you know? All those sensations this baby's made of. I just saw a big fibreglass shell with an engine in it.'
'Well, how about you slip over and I see how this big fibreglass shell drives?' Tod asked acerbically. Buz could hear the anxiety laced through his voice. He was still worrying that Buz was going to slip the car into gear and let her go.
Buz turned off the ignition and pushed across the car into his old seat. The contours fit him better there. The seat had moulded itself to his shape. Tod always drove this bird more than he did and the seats knew it. The driver's seat wouldn't get a chance to adapt to him any more now because he would never get to drive this car again, or any car.
'Forward, Commodore,' he said, dropping into a polished English accent to cover the frustrated feelings that were beginning to start in his chest. He pulled the cane out of the footwell and gestured ahead with it as if it were a staff. 'We'll see what those tricky blighters in the village think of great-box-on-wheels-that-roars-like-tiger.'
Tod laughed. He started up the engine again and the car purred forward. Buz closed his eyes, leaning back into the seat and letting the wind start to touch at his hair. He had missed that feeling.
'So, where are we heading, Lieutenant?' Tod asked finally, mimicking Buz's uppercrust accent.
The car swung in a wide curve. Buz could hear traffic now – they must have turned onto the highway.
'I'm afraid I haven't carried out a preliminary sortie, Commodore,' he said. 'It's your call, sir.'
'I passed a good looking diner on the way in,' Tod said, dropping back into his normal accent. 'I'll stand you to lunch.'
'Sure,' Buz said, suddenly feeling awkward.
He had a small amount of money in his pocket – bills and coins that he had worked hard to be able to identify. The coins weren't too hard, but the bills were all the same size and he had to have someone else identify them and then fold them in different ways to tell them apart. But it was only a little money. He didn't get much of a pension to live on. He had never felt so poor and so unable to do anything about it.
'Look, Tod,' he said abruptly. 'Have you thought any more what you're going to do once my training's over? I mean, I've told you what you need to do, but – '
'Drop you like yesterday's paper and move on?' Tod asked. 'Yeah, you've told me that. What would you do, Buz? You'd stick by me – not from a misplaced sense of guilt or loyalty, not from pity. You'd stick by me because you're my buddy and we take care of each other. I don't care if you carry that cane or have twenty-twenty vision. We stick together. Whether that means carrying on travelling round or putting down roots somewhere, we'll do what it takes. You always wanted a mailbox with your name on it, anyway.'
'I didn't see it happening just yet,' Buz said quietly. 'Not like this, not with letters I can't read, posted by a mailman I can't see.'
'Yeah.' There was a brief pause, and then he felt Tod's hand on his arm, warm and lingering for a moment. 'You know, Buz, if I could do anything,' he began.
'You'd give me one of your eyes,' Buz nodded. 'Yeah, I know.'
He put his hand out into the slipstream, let the air catch in his palm and buffet his hand backwards. It was a powerful feeling, pushing through the air like this, moving at speed. He didn't want to give up travelling from place to place with Tod, even if he couldn't see the new places they came to. He wanted to smell the different plants, the changing soil and dust, feel the southern sun on his face and the cold touch of a northern snowstorm. He thought of snowflakes melting on his cheek, and smiled. Celia would like that, he thought.
'You gotta learn to dig what you can see without your eyes,' he said reflectively. 'I mean, I can see the wind hitting the car – I mean really see it, just by listening. All those curves and ribbons of air. And the wind in the top of the trees. Birds you'd never see because they're hiding in the leaves. Tod, have you ever closed your eyes and really felt and listened?'
'I can't say I have,' Tod said doubtfully.
'You think I'm saying all that to prove I'm all right,' Buz said. He rested back in the seat, moved his palm over the smooth curve of the handle of his cane. 'I'm not all right, Tod. I hate it. I hate this,' he said, lifting the cane and tapping it back down against the floor of the car. 'I hate all the things I can't do any more. I hate the darkness that's in front of me every way I turn. But I'm doing what I can about it. I'm working hard. Celia's showing me – '
He broke off self-consciously, and Tod repeated, 'Celia's showing me? Celia. She's that cute thing that came out with you when I first brought you here, isn't she? You spoke about her on the phone.'
'I wouldn't know if she's a cute thing,' Buz said. He was thinking of the feeling of her features under his fingers, sharp and delicate like a bird. He remembered kissing her for the first time on the steps of the amphitheatre, and that strange melting feeling that had washed over him. He had cried afterwards, and he hadn't known why.
'She's a cute thing,' Tod said firmly. 'Trust me.'
'I always trust you, buddy,' Buz said, but he was thinking of the feeling of Celia's mouth under his and the odd confusion that had overcome him. He didn't know what to think or what to do about that. There was something in him that was urging him to let himself fall deep and hard. Perhaps it was a way of reasserting his masculinity, the wounded tiger stalking close to his females. Perhaps it was a need to reach out to someone who understood in some way how he felt, someone who could reassure him that it would be all right, that his life was not over. Perhaps it was the need for someone to look after him, to hold his arm and guide him, or the need for him to feel that he could still protect and provide. He didn't know what to think.
He threw his head back and breathed out hard. He wanted to stand up in his seat and let the wind catch him full in the face, not be protected by a glass windshield. Tod would think he was mad – but Tod probably already thought he was a little crazy.
'I want to catch the wind, see,' he said, as if he had said all those things aloud to Tod. 'I want to feel free.'
'You want to feel free, huh?' Tod echoed. He was silent for a moment, then he said, 'Hold tight.'
But he heard the surge in engine noise as he asked the question, and felt the sudden push backwards as the Corvette accelerated.
'How fast's this baby going?' he asked as the speed levelled out. He could almost feel the scenery screaming by – the dull whush of trees and walls and openness coming and going like waves.
'I reserve the right not to answer that question,' Tod replied. He was shouting now, the blustering of the wind against the car threatening to steal his words. 'It's a good, straight, empty road for the next three miles.'
Buz grinned. And then he stood up, pressing his hands hard over the top of the windshield and letting the wind stream against his skin. He opened his mouth and let the air billow in, let it hit his wide-open eyes in tear-provoking blows. He shook his head and felt the fingers of air push channels through his hair. He shouted with all the force of his lungs and the air streamed over his clenched fists and into his sleeves and up his arms and about his body like caressing hands.
'Are you crazy?' Tod's voice cracked in the wind, his hand grabbed at Buz's jacket, the speed of the car dropping rapidly. 'Buz, are you crazy? I mean – '
'I've done that before,' Buz said as he dropped back into his seat. His hands were stinging and his face was stinging and his eyes were streaming with tears. 'Do you remember outside of Reno, that night when it looked like the stars were almost touching the earth and you got this thing up to a hundred nearly and I thought I could catch the sky in my hands?'
'I know, but you're – ' Tod cut himself off before he could say the word blind, but Buz could hear it there, lingering on his tongue.
'Tod, I was drunk as a skid row bum that night,' Buz reminded him. 'I thought I could fly. And you didn't worry about me falling out of the car then.'
'Well, I was pretty far gone too that night,' Tod admitted. 'I shouldn't even have been driving. If I'd been a bit less drunk I would have thought I was too drunk to drive.'
'Yeah, those were fun times,' Buz said.
He smiled, but the smile stayed too long on his face, fixed as if it had been forgotten. He felt that curious emptiness that usually came after laughing long and hard at a joke, when the laughter stopped and you couldn't remember what was funny any more. This felt like an echo of something that had passed away – sitting here in the car, speeding along an open road. It felt like something he had left behind long ago.