Mr Michaels’ blindness was absolute. Born sighted, it had been 20 years before the cataracts had begun to form from the kiss of sunlight.
It happened so slowly at first, like a fog creeping in on cat’s paws. Every month the dull haze thickened, coalesced just a little more. It was so gradual that he never even realized his sight was being stolen from him until it was gone. It was as if his sight was a stone and the sun was the sea, washing it away to nothingness, no trace of it ever having been there.
It was nothing to Mr Michaels. His sight had gone so gradually that he’d forgotten he’d ever had vision. Just like that sea-stone, all evidence of its existence was erased. Just as slowly and just as insistently, his memory of sight had dissolved as well. He could no longer remember his mother’s face or the color of the sky in early November, could no longer even remember that he had ever known these things.
He didn’t think of his blindness as an absence. He didn’t think of it at all.
All his life he had worked outside. Perhaps it was an undiagnosed case of claustrophobia. Perhaps he was just set in his ways. His first job had been in landscaping, and every one after that had been related. Grounds crew for a municipal park, another one helping harvest apples, it was all the same to him, as long as he was outside.
His father never knew if he’d ever tried for anything more advanced. He never asked, but he’d been tempted to often. He wanted to encourage him to be his best rather than settle, but he remembered his own father doing the same to him and he still resented him for it. Perhaps this was his best? Perhaps he led a simple life because he was simple? Best not to dig too deeply.
Mr Michael’s hands became his eyes, showing him the size of the bulb or seed that he held. He then knew how far down to dig to plant it. His hands told him where the weeds were to pluck, told him what apples were ready to harvest and which ones were best left for the birds. His feet told him how far the flower bed was from the orchard, how far from the stables. His nose told him whether the horses were sick or scared. His ears told him whether a storm was coming, and whether it was going to be strong enough to warrant bringing the animals in early.
Watching him work, you’d never know he was blind. By tacit agreement, all the other workers on the farm kept everything where it had always been. That one incident with the misplaced hay bale had been enough to convince them.
It was only when you looked directly into his eyes that you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was blind. Very few people were brave enough to do this more than once. Looking into his milky eyes was like looking into a pair of mirrors set just opposite each other. All you could see was yourself, all of yourself, unto eternity, ever diminishing into meaninglessness. It was overwhelming and humbling. You could see all of your strengths and all of your faults, unvarnished, untampered by the usual lies you told yourself. This alone was unsettling, but the additional feature of his gaze was to leave you with an overwhelming sense of your utter insignificance.
Mr Michaels was completely unaware of this. He wasn’t bothered in the slightest that people tended to leave him alone. It meant he had time for his own amusements. That suited him just fine.