They come fast along the sidewalk. Even their voices are taking up space. They walk abreast, talking volubly, and pretending they don’t notice those who must shift aside to let them pass.
His daughter does not shift. She keeps to the center of the sidewalk, and he holds her arm with his left hand, while gripping his white cane with his right. The two separate to either side. Part of his brain perceives this as a threat, dialing up old neuropathways, like heavy lines on a road map that lead to remembered responses.
These are the bullies he has known, mostly in school decades before, the ones who need to occupy movable sections of the world, owning and defending it like territory. These are the ones who make fun of him in the hallways, who tease the blind kid—grabbing his cane, stepping in front of him so he crashes into the walls or lockers, yelling at him to watch out when nothing is there.
They teased him before he lost his sight, but it’s different now—coming back to this school for grade seven, a year after the car accident that shattered his life and his face, leaving him blind, visibly scarred, and desperately wanting to fit in.
Several play the game of tease-the-blind-kid, but none is worse than Ricky Ferrell. Ricky has his own style. Ricky crashes into him in the hall, only to apologize, then turning to shove him hard into someone else. Ricky takes his socks and shoes after gym class and throws them across the locker-room. Sometimes, he comes silently up beside him, only to yell in his ear.
He puts up with Ricky; what else is he to do? He is trapped inside a body that can’t fight back, and Ricky is elusive, always just slightly out of reach.
Now Ricky is following him up the stairs, yanking at the straps of his backpack, “How’s it going today, Blinky? Nice backpack. Wish I had one. It’s the color of puke, you know. Or didn’t your mommy tell you?”
He pauses on the stairs, just long enough to get his footing, then he kicks back his right foot hard. He learns later, from Ricky himself, that he has kicked Ricky down the stairs, “You could have killed me, you know,” Ricky says in the hallway, days later; “I could have died, and it would be your fault.” But he knows it isn’t true; and amazingly, wonderfully, Ricky leaves him alone—leaves him alone after that, just like everyone else.
The memory comes as a flash of feeling, a prickle through his gut, making his heart pound and ears ring as he struggles to maintain his sense of the present.
But they aren’t really a threat, these two idiots who take up the sidewalk. They just want the world to know they are there, loud, brash, and adolescent—striding balls first into life. His daughter doesn’t flinch. She walks arrow straight between them, not losing a step, and saying something normal about the place they are heading for dinner. He murmurs a reply, pulling himself back to the present—something he does, over and over again, never understanding why his past is so goddam intrusive, hating the overlay between then and now, but powerless to control the sickening anticipation of harm in the face of such half-imagined threats. The voices retreat down the street, and he works hard to focus on the dinner they will eat together, once again stuffing down these old responses where they will lie quiescent—until the next time.