For about a month last summer—all of August, in fact—my brother-in-law made claims of going blind. He couldn’t drive, couldn’t use the microwave, took stairs by hand and foot, like something on four legs. It had been only two months since my sister, Claire, had passed away during childbirth, the baby gone with her, and afterward Simon had become silent and not much else. He wouldn’t take my family’s calls, left plates of food dropped off by friends to rot on the porch, picked apart by nocturnes. In some ways, the blindness was a relief, that predictable confession of a person needing help but not being able to say so. Abby, our other sister, my now only sister, didn’t agree with me. Though I suppose that’s the way doctors can be.
“This isn’t natural—he needs to talk to someone. You can’t keep going over there and giving in,” she told me.
“But at least he’s reaching out,” I said. “And besides, maybe there’s some truth to it. I’ve seen him walk cold into walls, Ab.”
“You’re only building reliance. This is crazy behavior.”
“It’s said grief can bring on symptoms no one can understand,” I told her. “Medically speaking even, it changes a person.”
“Yes, I realize that—” she said.
“Then it’s possible. It’s possible he’s going blind.”
By September, shapes began to rematerialize, colors filled back in, Simon’s house became slowly cleaner, livable. Over Christmas, he and I took our annual camping trip down to Tennessee; we slept on the chilled overhangs of rock, and we took in the matte of long, silent nights. Nothing above or below but pinpricks of stars, the shadowed ends of nature making us feel like we had flattened into two dimensions while everything around us bubbled with shape. We drove back north on New Year’s Day, and Simon returned to work.
We arrive to this august, and Simon has called me over to his house, informing me not to knock, but to meet him around back. I follow his instructions, thinking little, and then there he is: sitting in a piece of patio furniture, a baby cradled asleep at his shoulder. Simon raises a finger, indicating for me to remain quiet, a look on his face like you-have-no-idea-what-it-took-to-get-here.
I sit down across from him. Between us are a half-dozen cardboard boxes: high chair, playpen, some apparatus you bungee between the frame of a door, like he’s robbed a Toys “R” Us. Simon smiles at me, softly pouting his lips to make a sound like TV static. He pushes his neck my way, and whispers.
“It’s said this sound recreates what was heard in the womb. It calms the child.”
I lean forward, and with my palm facing him, fingers fanned apart, I wave my hand in front of his eyes.
“I can see just fine, Marty.”
For the next fifteen minutes, we sit. Simon cooing away like a brook, his eyes also closed, and me sitting opposite wondering about how long I can put off telling Abby. I think of her shaking her head, repeating how I should have listened to her—that this behavior had a future she understood all along. And then the baby wakes.
Simon pats his, or maybe her, back and lifts the child above his eye line, like he’s clueing into the biology of foundling thoughts.
“Will you take her a minute? She’s probably hungry.”
“Simon,” I say.
“When I come back out with the formula, I’ll explain everything.”
He hands her off, and I take her in by the armpits. Simon goes inside, and I raise her up until her eyes meet mine: two, red fruit-fly bulbs that appear incapable of blinking, that seem to be hesitating even more in the sun. I bring her back to my shoulder, and look at the magnolia tree in Simon’s backyard. A waxen display of curling petals with a thousand tentacles up and down, all on plates of leaves, like they’re serving their bloom. This time of year it always smells like the after-spray of the perfume counters downtown.
When Claire told me I was going to be an uncle, she could barely get the words out. For three years she and Simon had tried everything, with unwanted and explicit detail. Her ovulation schedule was drawn like a blueprint on poster board, with stick figure diagrams alongside that indicated the positions they’d been making love.
“They say it’s partly about variety—because of the entry route,” Simon told me years earlier, during our first winter excursion into Tennessee, his hand pinched like a duck bill as if to demonstrate entry route.
“That makes sense,” I said, intending to conclude any thoughts of he and my big sister conceiving.
“But Claire doesn’t really like all the positions. Is it a family thing, do you have positions you don’t like?”
When it finally happened, the two of them had waited until Claire was fifteen weeks to announce anything, so afraid to risk hope.
Simon comes back out of the house, and is shaking sweat off a bottle of formula. He tips the nipple and drops a spot onto his forearm.
“Perfect,” he says, and removes the baby from my hold, returning to his patio seat. Like a pro, like he’s done it before, he wedges the bottle under her lip, and the baby begins to suckle. It’s like seeing the universe move.
“Okay. The whole story,” he begins.
• • •
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SCOTT GLODEN was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. His stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, The Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Awards, and The Masters Review. He holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University, and lives in New Orleans.