I'm never happy; I don't know why I even live. As another miserable day ends in this lonely, tactile prison, I try to remember the last time I saw the sun shine. Rubbing my eyes, I listen to the quiet chorus of crickets outside my window. They sound so happy. Feeling the blank canvas before me, I sigh. Could it be that I have painted all my memories? I attempt to recollect something—anything—but nothing comes.
I could easily paint what I see; it would make no difference to me. Colors, no matter the hue, all have the same brush strokes. I could paint a sunset, or a flower—all I need is black.
The phone rings, and I answer passively.
"Mr. Skotos?"a voice greets.
"I've been doing some research, and you'd be perfect for a new procedure I've discovered. How would you like to see again?"
I start from my seat. "You're lying."
"I appreciate your skepticism, but this is not a lie."
"Who are you then?"
"I am Dr. Renfield—a stranger—but I've set up an appointment for you in my Bank Street office tomorrow at noon. Can I expect you?"
The answer comes automatically. "Yes."
"Good. I will be waiting."
I hang-up. Twenty-five years of blindness, with nothing but the ghostly memories of childhood to keep me company—and suddenly this stranger calls. Who is he? Nothing but a nonsense name. I've seen countless doctors without success—the best doctors in the world. Can he honestly expect me to believe him? Yet, I have no choice, and clearly, I have nothing to lose. I will call a taxi tomorrow.
. . .
At noon I exit the taxi for my appointment, and a firm hand greets me.
"Mr. Skotos I presume."
"No, he's inside, but he told me to pay your fare." I nod in thanks and he pays. "Come with me." He begins to pull.
Upon entering the building I notice the common sounds of a waiting room—an occasional cough, the sound of orderlies rushing to and fro, etc.
"Are these other patients?"
"Yes. Dr. Renfield runs a practice for the poor who can't afford the usual fees.
"Here we are." The assistant shows me to an office. "Dr. Renfield will be with you in a moment." I thank the cordial voice, and he exits.
I spread my arms out like the antennae of some blind insect, and feeling a worn leather chair, I sit. Shortly after, someone enters with a cautious tread.
"Yes, Mr. Skotos, sorry to keep you waiting. I'm glad you've come; I had some doubts."
"Why's that?" I attempt to face him.
"The obvious: a stranger calls a blind man, saying that he can make him see again. We no longer live in a time of miracles. Anyone would doubt."
"But I've come."
"Mr. Skotos, I'll cut to the chase. I've developed an experimental treatment for extremely specific cases of blindness. You fit the criteria."
I say nothing.
"It involves surgery and medication, both of which are untested and potentially dangerous. As a scientist I assure you—"
"Dr. Renfield, skeptic or not I would sooner die than live like this any longer. If you can do what you say, than you better well do it."
A long pause ensues, broken by the doctor's voice. "I cannot with good conscience operate on you without warning." I sigh. "However," he continues, "tomorrow we'll have a briefing for the procedure, and if you don't change your mind, the surgery will follow."
I rise. "I look forward to seeing you soon."
. . .
I awake five days later, surrounded by the whirring and humming of the operating room. The operation has concluded, but the world remains cast in peerless darkness. As I feel my face with anemic limbs, my fingers meet the rough contours of bandages barring my vision.
"He's awake," I hear. A female voice. "Let's take these off." Shortly afterwards, I feel the cool touch of latex gloves against my face, as they peal back the bandages.
"I'm here," Renfield bustles in. Fighting against the lingering residue, my lids slowly creep open. The blinding light forces them shut again, and I scream with an odd timbre, not entirely of fear, not entirely of joy. Could it be?
"Are you alright?" Renfield rushes over.
I open my eyes again. Against the brilliant light, a creamy hospital wall begins to form, decorated with paintings of surreal sunlight and childhood games. Their colors—all colors—seem alien, but the paintings seem vaguely familiar. Blinking excessively, eyes half-closed, I survey the room. Orderlies, clad in the white and grey of the institution litter it. They stare wide-eyed with disbelief, frozen in their movements. Engrossed in this sight, I do not hear a sound, until I see Renfield's face.
Smiling through tears, he laughs, showing a row of bad teeth, and a face worn with care. Gesturing at the paintings he calls out, "Do you recognize them?"
They bring one over, and I run my hand over it—my own. I gaze back at Renfield, but he can only smile and laugh, crying all the while. I can see again.
. . .
Renfield has decided to keep me here to continue the medication and maintain the tests, checking in each time he can. I talk to him often, despite his busy. Every time he comes, he always looks tired, but I've never seen an unhappy phrase pass his lips. Perhaps a little of his hope and joy has brushed off on me.
Yet, despite my joys I cannot help but feel great sorrow at times. Whenever I gaze out my window I see destitution—caricatures of suffering. Their weary glances and embittered glares glint nothing at all like the eyes I remember, bringing a darkness all their own. A few of the figures argue and point, and I look away from their cold eyes.
A nurse enters.
"Madam, could you please close my window?"
"But the flowers are blooming."
"Please, the sun hurts my eyes."
She complies and I try to paint away the sorrows.
. . .
The days pass and misery haunts me everywhere. Everyday the same destitution and dreary faces cycle outside the window, and from within the hospital, they pass by like wraiths. I keep both door and window closed, making the room shadowed, but as I turn on the television, the news shows the same sorrows across the globe. I cannot escape it. When did innocence fall away to this? Some days pass when I barely notice it, but they grow fewer and weaker.
"Come in," I yell. Renfield cautiously opens the door. Will I tell him my feelings? No, as I gaze at his face, he appears terribly—and unusually—dejected.
"What's wrong," I ask.
"Just a patient. I can't say much. Just between you and me I believe he's addicted to some medication."
"Don't worry. Life tests us all." He leaves, and I paint quietly.
. . .
Tomorrow comes. As I gaze out the window, Renfield enters.
"Mr. Skotos, how are you today?"
I listen to the rain outside.
"Ah, you've finished your next painting!" Renfield rushes over, but a pensive frown soon replaces his smile. The canvas leaves black ink on his hands as he sets it down.
"Mr. Skotos, I'm sure you've had enough hospital food. I know a perfect restaurant." He smiles. "Think of it as a check up."
"That sounds wonderful, and there's something I want to aks you." I sit up.
"Yes?" A distant nurse calls him. "I'll be back in a minute. It's probably nothing."
Renfield gives me hope. As long as men like him live, life can't be all bad.
Suddenly, a commotion sounds in the next room. I hear shouting through the wall.
"Oxycotton, now!" The patient.
"Alex, you know you can't have more." Renfield's voice! I hear orderlies running down the hall. "Why don't you put the gun down, so we can work this out."
"First the Oxycotton."
"Fine, but promise me you'll put the gun down." I stand and approach the door, peeking out. Seeing nothing, I continue towards the room as orderlies gather.
"I know, we have to get the medicine from the pharmacy."
"There's no other way."
"God dammit, I'm not going to—
"Alex, put the gun down. Alex!"
Suddenly police storm down the hall, and burst into the room. The orderlies retreat, knocking me to the ground.
"Alex, Don't do anything foolish!" Amongst the commotion of footfalls, shouting, screams, and moving bodies, I hear a gunshot shatter the air. Then another.
A body staggers out, and I see it fall. With gasps of orderlies, and shouts of police, I add my own cries. Before me, level with my own, Renfield's body topples over, crimson oozing from his chest into a growing pool upon the floor.
. . .
As the pallbearers escort the casket, I keep track of their position by listening to their footfalls, measured and heavy like the plodding chords of the organ. I want to burrow away. With so much life on this earth, why does He choose to let it suffer. How does He stand by as we murder our own saviors, and how do we just let them die.
I will no longer take that infernal medication. Remembering Renfield's face alive and dead forever, that is enough. It cannot be buried as easily as his body, though I wish it could. I wish it all could—all the suffering, all the darkness, all the age and illness. But it can't.