Jamie lay by the little brook listening to the small swirls of turbulence as the water rushed over and around the rocks. After the dry summer, the previous night’s rain had the creek singing once more. Jamie had an extraordinary gift of listening. The sounds naturally blended to his ear like a symphony. Sound was his medium. With sound he could paint the wind bending the grass, blend in the color of rustling leaves, and accent the little creatures that scurry along the forest floor.
A variety of birds found their way into his masterpiece, and he identified each by their unique song. He claimed that his hearing was not so much better than others; it was just that he heard more out of the sounds, the details that normally went unnoticed.
Jamie also had an acute sense of touch. He could feel the wind on his face and tell and what direction it was blowing from and whether it held the promise of rain. And he possessed an uncanny gift for identifying things with his hands. But most of all he loved the feel of the sun on his face.
Lying on his back with his hands behind his head he allowed the full brightness of the mid-day sun to bathe his youthful countenance. Staring up at the sky, on a bright sunny day, Jamie could just barely detect a hint of light, his only moments of respite from a world of darkness.
Blind since birth, Jamie met the exigencies of life with resolve. His sovereignty in everyday life skills was owed to his parents, who disallowed any pity or indulgence. His constant companion and best friend, Pal, gave him the eyes that nature had deprived. Pal was a Yellow Lab, and like most of his breed, was a devout anthromorph. Endowed with human-like sensibility, he shared Jamie’s quiet times lying close beside him and laying his paw across the boy’s lap. And like the time Jamie’s mother passed, a shy whimper might escape his throat. He would even sit and listen, tilting his head side to side, straining to comprehend the stories Jamie’s grandfather would tell on Saturday nights. The boy and the dog went everywhere together, roaming the fields of the farm and the backwoods along the creek.
This place was a favorite destination, a long walk down an abandoned farm road where it crossed the little brook over an old culvert. Here Jamie spent many quiet times musing over the sounds of the surrounding woods, the loss of his mother, or his imminent future as a blind adult. He often confided in the loyal canine, which would sit and listen and gaze upon the boy like a Sunday worshipper. But presently Pal was off terrorizing a rabbit that had dared to venture into the clearing while the vigilant canine was on watch.
As the dog emerged from the brush he detected a distant sound. Then Jamie heard it, a vehicle bouncing down the old farm road. It was an old pickup truck, Jamie knew from the sound of rusted springs, and the rattling of body in the process of separating from it’s frame, an all too common occurrence in this farm country, which was rife with old pickups. Pal sat, ears erect and squared the way Labs do, hyper-vigilant to the approaching noise. It was rare to see a vehicle on this old road, but it was early in the hunting season and it might be someone after squirrel or rabbit; it was much too early for deer. Jamie and the dog listened as the noisy vehicle came closer.
Finally the truck bounced over the culvert and slowed to a stop. Jamie heard the creak of old hinges and the rattled closing of an elderly truck door. Pal stiffened and a low growl emerged from deep in his throat.
“Hello there, seen any rabbits?” A friendly voice rang out.
Jamie had guessed the truck most likely carried one of the locals. But he did not recognize the voice. “Well, I can’t see anything, but I think my dog was chasing one around a while ago,” Jamie offered.
The stranger was carrying a shotgun over his shoulder. He walked closer to Jamie. His head thrust forward and a quizzical look came to his eyes, “Excuse me, but are you blind, young man?”
“Yes, all my life.” Jamie noted a sympathetic tone in the stranger’s voice that put him more at ease.
“Well how in the world did you get way out here in these woods?” The stranger asked.
“Its my dog, Pal, he helps me, he knows every inch of these woods, he’s my eyes.” Jamie proudly proclaimed.
“Well he is a real good lookin’ dog, I gotta say.”
“Thanks mister, you can pet him if you want,” Jamie offered.
“Oh, no thanks,” the stranger waved the offer off, “I like dogs but I was bit one time so now I’m careful about dogs.”
“Well, Pal would never hurt anyone, but I understand how you feel, that’s fine. My name is Jamie, are you from around here?”
“No, my name is Nem, I live in the city. I was just driving around and saw this old road and it looked like a good place to hunt.”
The two fell into a talk about hunting. Jamie related something his father had told him about rabbit hunting; that you needed a good dog to get rabbits these days. Pal was a good dog, but he was not the right dog, what was needed was a good beagle, a beagle will chase a rabbit and bring him right back to you. The hunter was only a little older than Jamie, perhaps eighteen, and had not been hunting long. He admitted that he had yet to shoot anything. It was mid-day, the sun was high and bright, and the hunting would not be very good. So the two young men sat on the bank and talked of things, as young men will. The dog lay down a few feet away and slept in the warm September sun.
“You must go to school don’t you?” The hunter asked.
“Of course, I get by ok, and there is an aide that helps me with the visual stuff, and special ed classes, I like school,” Jamie said.
Nem picked a long weed and stuck it between his teeth, “I kinda miss school, there were lots of girls. Not that it did me any good,” he confessed.
“Why?” Jamie probed.
“Oh, mostly because of this scar, that’s where that dog got me, in my face, and it ain’t too pretty…” Nem’s voice trailed off.
“Man, is it really bad? I can’t see of course.”
“Here, feel it,” The hunter took Jamie’s hand and placed it on his face.
Jamie had never seen a face, but as a very young child he would caress his mother’s. And he was let to explore others; like his father’s, and his grandmother’s. He knew what a human face felt like, and had formed a clear image of what it should look like.
The deep and jagged scar traveled across the hunter’s nose and down through his upper and then lower lip. It was a deep and horrible disfigurement. Jamie was shaken, the scar was bad, but Jamie would not say anything, he would avoid making the hunter feel any worse than he most likely already felt. But the hunter saw his look, the same look he saw in everyone’s face that met him, or walked by him on the street. It was something he had to live with. People would stare, then catch themselves and look away, but their eyes would ultimately be drawn back. It is human nature. The children would stare, as there is an inherent honesty in childhood, if you want to know what people think, watch the children.
“Oh I don’t blame the dog any. You know dogs get scared and they’ll snap at you. It’s just natural for them I guess. You can’t blame dogs, I guess,” the hunter attempted to reconcile himself to his deformity.
“I guess we all got something we have to deal with, whether a person can’t see, or a person has scars, we all got something,” Jamie said.
“I suppose it’s the scars you can’t see that go the deepest,” Nem declared in a more distant voice.
Jamie said nothing. But he had felt those scars also, those scars unseen that no surgery could ameliorate, the irretractable loss, the forsaken gifts of life that everyone else takes for granted, that are forever lost to a person who is different, a person with scars on his face, or a person who can not see. He had felt it in school, and he felt in on the hunter’s face, the perpetual state of grief; and the constant and ever-present tinge of exclusion.
“Well, I better get going back home, I don’t feel much like hunting anyway,” Nem rose to his feet and spat the blade of grass he had been chewing.
“It was good talking to you, I usually have no one but old Pal to talk to,” Jamie said.
“I’ll say goodbye to your dog then too.”
Jamie was still lying in the grass when the thunderous explosion occurred. The sound was so close, so terrifying that he reflexively uttered an indiscernible roar and grabbed his head and curled into a fetal position. There he froze for a few seconds, his sensitive ears taking time to recover, his face buried in the grass.
Terrified, Jamie called out, “What was that? Pal where are you? Pal!”
He heard the truck door slam; he heard the engine start; the truck shifted into gear and drove away. Still protectively curled in the grass, the sounds began to return; the rushing water, the leaves of the trees; his own breathing. But one sound was conspicuously absent, a sound that you would expect after such a violent encounter, a sound that Jamie wanted and needed to hear, the sound of his dog barking.
“Pal?” Jamie called softly.
Suddenly, a pang of horror seized him, more visceral than cerebral. Alternating flashes of denial and terror ran through his brain. For a moment he was frozen, and a bitter nausea welled deep in his throat.
“Pal!” The call became frantic. Jamie crawled through the grass like a madman, grasping in every direction. He found the still, wet warmth that was only moments ago his companion, his closest friend. Jamie collapsed on the dead animal and pressed his body into it as if to give it life. To lose his eyes twice in one life was too great a loss.