“It’s ok Billy.” Billy did not resettle himself at Jeannette’s feet. Instead, he leaned against her right leg. She held his leash, not his harness, so he was not “working,” in the parlance of service animals. Jeannette breathed in the loamy scent of his fur, still damp from the rain shower that had escorted them to the Library as they disembarked from the bus. She loved the smell. It irritated her when strangers, not intending any offense, sniffed, and laughingly announced that Billy smelled like a wet dog. She never got used to it. In the voice of a sarcastic child, she repeated the phrase back at them, “he smells like a wet dog.” And then she stomped off, ignoring the volley of apologies that fell like shed fur behind her. So many irritations to endure in an average day.
“Oh my god!” Carrie shook Jeannette’s shoulders as if to wake her.
“Oh my god, is right, Carrie. That was loud. Probably Mitch is dialing 911.”
“How is that possible, Jeannette? Your own mother!”
How was anything possible? The world was full of lunatics like her mother. Jeannette sensed a hush fall over the Reading Area. In the thirty years since the event, she had told only two others the truth. At least once a month someone on the bus, the supermarket, a convenience store asked: Where you born blind? What happened to you? or her favorite: Why do your eyes look like that? She delighted in their embarrassment. Like what? I can’t see them, what do they look like? Followed by the stuttering apologies. She knew exactly how her eyes appeared. Her grandmother had described to her the gray white film, like a cataract but ridged, tiny hills and valleys, where the cornea had been burned away, the aqueous humor drained, where a green iris and a pupil should be, but weren’t. Sighted friends at school had sometimes remarked on long, beautiful eyelashes. Get lost, she’d replied. They did, and she was left alone.
Jeannette squeezed the leather of Billy’s leash, it was slack, and Billy stayed put.
“My mother was under the spell of her religion. She believed society was degrading, and soon the decadence would rival Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Carrie sighed into Jeannette’s hair. Jeannette savored the warmth.
Carrie tightened her grip on Jeannette’s shoulders, “Christ, Jeannette, I can’t imagine. I have goose bumps all over my body.”
“My mother felt it was her duty to save me from the corruption. She didn’t want me to see the filth on TV, or in magazines, even cereal boxes.” Jeannette’s shoulders ached from Carrie’s grip. Carefully she pried them loose. With a gentle squeeze of a hand she released them. She listened to the rustle of crisp cotton as Carrie folded her arms across her chest.
“So young,” Carrie squeaked.
“My grandmother, my mother’s mother raised me. She told me the story over and over. More times than I cared to hear it, actually.” Jeannette smiled, of all things, and tilted her face up to Carrie, an offering. Why did she smile? Why tell her any of this?
“Jeannette, I don’t know what to say.” Jeannette detected Carrie’s fight to hold back tears.
Extending a hand she discovered that Carrie was hunched over as if in pain. She rubbed Carrie’s left arm and wondered what color blouse she wore.
“I should be comforting you,” Carrie whispered, “not the other way around.”
“I think sometimes, though less frequently now, about my four years with sight. I remember color, the pink blanket with white stars. And a blue unicorn that I carried everywhere. I would wrap the blue unicorn in the pink blanket so that only his head was visible. I’d carry him around like my mother had carried me. And I remember Delilah, my dog. She was a stray who wandered into our house one day, and decided to stay. She adopted us. She was a black and white collie, like the kind that herd sheep. I can see her clearly in my mind.” Jeannette shifted her weight. Billy raised his head.
“It’s okay, Billy, good boy.” She bent to caress the side of his face, and he lowered to the floor resting his chin on her foot.
“What made you tell me this now?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Jeannette paused, lowered her clouded eyes as if to look at Billy.
“I know what you call me, Mad Dog, and I guess I wanted someone to know. It’s not an excuse. You’re the only one I can talk to.”
“Oh shit,” Carrie moaned. “How did you know?”
“Voices carry.” Jeannette shrugged.
Part 2 of Jeannette… one more part will follow as her introduction to the story.
Thanks for reading!