Esther Herdman

A Good Eye

Richard closed the cottage’s solid wood door with muted chirr, “Hello?” he called out. The thud of a thumb tossed marble answered him, rolling along the slope of the uneven floor. From the bedroom, a small glass ball turned until it hit the tip of his brown leather loafer, an eye, staring up at him. The retina was a hand-painted hazel with streaks of sunny gold. He reached down and picked it up. The hickory floorboards creaked beneath his steps as he retraced where it had come from.

He walked through the darkened bedroom and into the bathroom, still warm and wet from the shower. Caroline searched under the vanity, around the toilet, along the edge of the room, moving her head one way and the other to see with her good eye. The floral fragrance of soap hung in the humidity. Her hair was towel-dried, her face moisturized but otherwise bare, “Here, Caroline?” Richard startled her. He reached out his hand, holding her eye between his finger and thumb. She turned, clasping her hand against her empty socket, fumbling to explain that it was new and slippery, that she hadn’t gotten good at getting it in yet.

A first date. Caroline looked just like her picture, warm as August’s garden soil. Richard had spent the drive practicing his introduction to evade his nervousness. He’d gotten his shoes shined and his haircut.

He excused himself from the bathroom to wait for her in the kitchen. He heard the eye drop and roll in the sink basin, fall to the floor, ding against the toilet, Caroline’s soft curses following. He walked back to the bathroom and wiped the eye clean with his folded handkerchief, “May I?” He slipped her glass eye into place like a Cinderella shoe, “A perfect fit.”

What an incredible love, to see through the dark space of someone and love them immediately. They were married within a month. Richard sold his condo, fully furnished, to live with Caroline in the little cottage that lent itself to so easily be described as charming; it’s dark woods and hand thrown potteries, it’s wildflower garden and ivies, it’s resident sunbathing cat, and wind chimes.

For a while, Caroline slept in her eye, not wanting to be seen hollow socketed. But eventually, she took it out after brushing her teeth and fell asleep with her lids sunken like the lips of a toothless mouth. In less than a year, she and Richard had a baby, a miracle baby her physician said from a mother of advanced maternal age. The first trimester had been mistaken for menopause. Caroline could think only of the word joy when she found out it was actually motherhood.

The night he was born, the cottage smelled of cloves from the herb soak simmering on the stove. A midwife caught him and placed his bloodied body against Caroline’s chest, ensuring she put him on her good eye side. The kind of care one could only receive from a woman.

When Warner began to crawl, Caroline was struck by an unshakable fear that he’d get her eye and choke on it. She bought a lockbox with a key, and when it wasn’t in her, she’d place it in a velvet bag inside a jewelry box and lock it away as one would if it were ammunition or narcotics.

When they went out as a family to parks and sandy lakes, people assumed they were young grandparents, Richard with his grey hair and Caroline with her softened skin. They coated Warner with goopy, white-streaked sunscreen, made him wear sunhats that covered his ears and neck, hammered umbrellas into whatever earth was there. They seemed keen to follow rules they had heard of good parenting but were oblivious to others.

Since Warner was a week old, the cat slept next to him in his cot. She licked her paws and rolled onto her back to purr to sleep in his ear. Caroline found it endearing, and soon Warner couldn’t sleep without her. His first word was “mo-oh,” trying to mimic the cat’s mews in the morning.

A late walker, Richard took Warner outside to fall the soft grass. The cat pawed at ants as they came across the sidewalk, and Warner used his pincer fingers to eat them. Caroline pulled weeds and trimmed the hedges, her sunhat large enough to shelter her shoulders. The sweet-smelling blooms of the mimosa trees filled the yard before giving way to the late blooming bergamot and coneflowers.

Nearing winter, the morning sun was low and bright through the cottage windows. Warner climbed up Caroline’s leg in warrior pose, rode on her back in cat-cow, clung to her neck and chest in down dog. Richard sat at the kitchen table reading the newspaper, turning the page, and fanning out the crinkles. From the other room, he heard the familiar thud of a thumb tossed marble hit and roll across the floor. It traveled over the hardwoods from the living room and into the kitchen until it landed at the tip of his slipper, staring up at him. He picked it up to walk it back to Caroline. She was seated crossed-legged, and Warner lay in the hollow her legs made. He chewed on his right thumb and touched her empty eye with his other hand. From the doorway, Richard watched their tender love and placed the prosthetic in the pocket of his robe, seeing that she didn’t need it.

Esther Herdman lives in the Virginia mountains with her husband and two children. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and her previous work can be found in No Tokens literary journal. She is currently working on a novel.