Day 1. Justine says, “Lean back.” Justin obediently pushes back on the arms of the leather recliner. She places damp gauze pads on her husband’s eyes and says, “Here. Hold these in place.” She gently drapes a bag of frozen peas across his eyes and forehead and sets the kitchen timer for thirty minutes.
He says, “Thank you, my dear.”
She says, “You’re welcome,” and squeezes his shoulder before she moves to answer the phone. “…It went well. He’s still kind of out of it from the anesthesia—incoherent, sluggish— but comfortable, very little swelling, and no bruising to speak of… Oh, the usual: cold compresses for at least thirty minutes out of every hour for the first forty-eight hours; no activity; stay reclining but not flat… Just to eat and go to the bathroom… Not much. Extra strength acetaminophen as needed, oral antibiotics for a week, and antibacterial ointment applied topically… Yeah, I’ll keep you posted. He’s seeing Dr. Ferguson again on Friday. She’s going to unstitch his eyelids then.”
She sets a glass of juice with a sippy straw on the table at Justin’s elbow. “Remind me to call your sister after we see Dr. Ferguson.”
When the timer dings Justin says, “My dear, are you here? Would you help me into the bathroom?” He holds hard to her shoulder and shuffles when he walks. When Justin is resettled in the recliner, Justine tucks a fleece blanket around his feet.
Day 3. When it’s time to switch from cold compresses to warm ones, Justine heats a sock full of raw rice in the microwave for forty seconds. Justin holds dry gauze pads in place while she adjusts the sock across his eyes and forehead and sets the timer for ten minutes. She says, “It’s harder to keep a regular schedule when it’s every two to three hours rather than every hour. I start doing other things and lose track.”
Justin says, “It’s not crucial.”
The bandage is off his forehead, and the little Steri-Strips that held the forehead incision closed have started to drop off. Justine dabs ointment onto the incision and onto his cross-stitched eyelids. Justin says, “How do I look?”
Justine says, “Fine—knock wood.” She raps her knuckles on the revolving bookcase beside his chair. “No swelling. No bleeding to speak of.”
Day 7. Dr. Ferguson draws the stitches and looks closely at Justin’s eyes before turning on the lighted eye chart. “What is the bottom line you can read?”
Justin says, “I can’t read any of the lines.”
The doctor peers into Justin’s eyes and tells him to follow the moving penlight, which he does. She says, “The surgery was fine and everything is healing nicely. I don’t know what’s going on here. Most likely, whatever this is, it’s temporary. Continue the ointment and the warm compresses. Come back in a week. If your vision hasn’t cleared up by then, we’ll run some tests.”
Climbing the stairs to their house, Justin leans heavily on Justine’s arm. He says, “The top of my head is numb. Dr. Ferguson warned me that might happen. It’s probably not important. But my vision…” He sighs. “Would you get a glass of ice water for me? And maybe put on a Beethoven CD?”
When he naps in his recliner, Justin’s eyelids cover only the pupils of his eyes, leaving semicircles of milky blue exposed. He looks like someone having a fit or something. Justine shudders and wonders when his eyelids will relax enough to completely close again.
Day 47. When his sister calls Justin says, “No, I’m not seeing better. Worse, actually. But Justine’s taking good care of me. I’m glad she doesn’t have to do as much as she used to. I can move around the house pretty well, feed myself for the most part, get dressed. Of course, she has to cook and cut up my food, drive me everywhere. And now she has to do my old chores too. Right now she’s mowing the lawn, and tomorrow she has to get the car serviced. I think she’s tired. She isn’t talking much these days.”
When Justine lays the rice bag on Justin’s eyes and forehead, it’s lopsided. She pulls it to the left. He says, “Ouch.”
She says, “Sorry.”
Day 90. Justine calls her sister. “The doctor says he might get his sight back eventually, but she doubts it after all this time… Nobody has any idea. The tests didn’t turn up anything… Yeah, I know it could be worse. But sometimes I feel like it is worse. It’s creepy. Sometimes I feel like he’s looking right into me—like he can see my heart and my thoughts… Well it doesn’t feel like a love story to me! It feels—threatening. Would you want Mike to know your every thought and feeling? And I don’t think having the same birthday and matching names is as romantic as I once did either! Sometimes I feel like I’m disappearing, like I’m no longer a separate person. From now on, call me Tina.”
They’ve stopped the antibacterial ointment and switched to Vitamin E oil to minimize scarring. Today when Tina applies Vitamin E oil to his scars, Justin says, “Treating the external wounds is pretty ironic, when you think about it. Why bother?”
Tina says, “Doctor’s orders. We have to do everything we can.” She does not look directly at him as she works. His sightless eyes seem to follow her every waking minute of the day. When she gives him a bowl of ice cream for dessert, she stirs in a pulverized sleeping pill.
Day 183. Justin says, “I know you’re there. Why are you creeping around like that? You’re always coming up behind me or sideways.”
Tina says, “I don’t want you looking at me.”
Justin snorts. “If I can’t see, I certainly can’t look at you. And what if I could? What difference would it make?”
Tina shifts from foot to foot but remains behind his shoulder. “It feels like you see me— into me, through me.”
Tina calls her sister and says, “I need the spell book… No, no, I want to read it. Send the translation… You know, I never really believed much in the Evil Eye. But maybe Gran was right and all people have the potential… No, no, I’m not saying he means to, but it would be only natural for him to envy my eyesight, to resent his dependence, to be jealous of my freedom. I want to see what the book says, that’s all—just in case I need to protect myself.”
Day 227. Justin is no longer seeing the eye specialists. He and Tina seldom leave the house except to take short walks in the backyard. Weeks go by without visits from friends or family. Tina phones in the grocery order to a store that delivers. Most other shopping, banking, and bill paying she does online.
While Justin sleeps Tina studies his face, trying to determine whether one eye sits higher than the other. She tries to remember whether he used to have a slight squint. But there is no doubt that his eyebrows join on the bridge of his nose. Just to be on the safe side, she wears all red. In her left pocket she carries a black marble for night protection, and in the right pocket a white one for daytime insurance.
Day 364. Justin wakes from an evening nap in his recliner. He says, “I don’t understand why I’m so sleepy all the time.”
Tina says, “It’s probably just that you had a big dinner and all the blood is in your stomach, digesting. Here, eat your ice cream.” As she bends to hand him the bowl, dangly earrings—pink-and-green iridescent eyes—brush her cheeks. An eye-shaped glass amulet swings forward on its silk cord. Her swishing skirts are spangled with downward-facing triangles to protect her female parts from Justin’s all-seeing blindness. She never told him about that long-ago illegal abortion—or about the affair that led to the necessity for it. She never told him why she is sterile. He mustn’t read her body now.
Day 390. The house is mostly silent now, except for the low notes of classical music on the radio, or the false urgency of crime dramas on TV. Rummaging through her jewelry box, Tina finds a plastic broach: a white eye shape with an iridescent blue iris and black pupil, four thick, black lashes at the top. She vaguely remembers picking it up at a garage sale years ago. She can’t remember ever wearing it. But finding it now feels like a sign. She pins it onto her blouse. For additional protection she sews cowry shells and blue eye beads onto a snakeskin and wears it as a belt.
Whenever Justin turns his eyes in her direction, Tina bears his sightless gaze in silence. Maybe he’s just reproachful. Nevertheless, just for luck, she makes a fig hand, her thumb poking between the first two fingers, or a mano cornuto, a horned hand. She wears sprigs of dill and rue in her hair to ward off the Evil Eye too, but it doesn’t feel effective. To confuse and misdirect the Eye, she creates a papier-mâché helmet with an elaborately drawn face on the back. She wears this helmet when Justin is awake and tries to keep her back to him whenever they are in the same room. He must not read her thoughts.
When Justin is in bed for the night, Tina sprinkles water on all the places he walked that day to turn the Evil Eye back where it came from. Lying in her own bed in what used to be the guest room, Tina worries that she may have sprinkled water on her own footprints as well, turning the Eye back in her direction. She worries that Justin will know what she has done and think that she is trying to put a spell on him. She worries about what his retaliation might be. The gaze of his milky blue eyes haunts her dreams.
Day 411. Tina says, “Dr. Ferguson called today. She says there’s a new study out. She wants to stitch your eyelids together again—to try to make your corneas and retinas regenerate.”
Justin says, “Really? Maybe there’s hope after all.”
That night Tina puts an extra dose of sedative in Justin’s ice cream, and when he falls asleep, she threads a slender needle with fine, black silk thread and stitches his eyelids together.
When Justin wakes in the morning, he touches his eyelids tentatively, gently. His voice edges toward panic when he says, “What? What’s happened?”
Tina says, “What do you mean?” She keeps her tone flat.
He says, “What’s happened to me?”
Tina says, “Don’t you remember? Dr. Ferguson came by last night. She said it’s only for a little time.”
Day 666. Justin’s sister calls. Tina says, “Actually, this isn’t a good time… No, he isn’t even up to a phone call. He’s just really low-energy. I’ll let you know when he’s up to a visit.”
Justin’s eyelids have grown together, leaving blank, translucent ovals. But he sees even more than before. Tina knows it. She is hollow-eyed. She has studied Evil Eye Removal Spells from around the world and has tried as many as she can manage. Mostly they involve holding something magnetic and absorbent in her hand and passing it three times around Justin’s head while he sleeps. The substance is supposed to pull the Evil Eye off him and absorb it, to carry it into the flames, where it is destroyed. She lays a fire in the fireplace for the purpose. She has made spells using alum, black cumin, date leaves, egg and oil, iron, salt, or three hot peppers. She has bathed in holy water, Notre Dame water, and other formula waters to repel the Eye. Nothing gives her peace or sleep.
She stalks the kitchen at midnight, piercing a lemon with iron nails as the book directs. She visualizes piercing the Evil Eye.