Below is Part 3 of 16 monthly installments for Visitant.
Camo Stripes: Arcus Eyes
On time for the eye doctor, I pen DOT MOTLEY on the lined sign-in sheet. The waiting room is cold as a meat locker, but my brain is thinking green isle in grey lagoon. My subtopic dots turns over a subtropical leaf of the corner rubber plant. Stomata, pores on the underside, breathe against my palm like tiny mouths. They’re cold, too. Always something crying out.
Because I’m on well water, lime deposits are irritating my conjectiva sac, or so the doctor told me.
Dots on the outer cornea.
Ouch! Who knew a woman my age stashes calcium in all the wrong places. Like that old pop song, Looking for love…
I like this doctor, nice-looking with an easy glide. A square-dancing champ, I later learn from Frances, his long-time receptionist and payment cop.
Here is the backstory. I was being tested at the cardiac clinic in same huge medical plaza as the eye doctor. My heart throbbed fine. So did my right eye, tearing like crazy. Between sessions on the treadmill, I bolted across the parking lot in a hospital gown and foamies—those disposable slippers with a no-skid sanitary interface. With Velcro dots and wires stuck on with slime around my heart, I could have passed for an extra in a low-budget sci-fi flick. Only an hour to spare, but eye doc agreed to take me as a walk-in and remove the calcium deposits.
Yikes! He came at my eye with a long needle. I suppressed a well-placed kick.
Experienced with such reflexes, eye doc wisely stood back before he stabbed. I didn’t feel a thing. Front-desk Frances touched her little cross and offered to drive me back to the heart clinic.
Thanks, I said, but I prefer to walk.
Outside, I hurried across blue, red, and yellow parking zones. Inside cars, kids ate moon pies, bickered, and smeared the window glass. One child pointed a large dill pickle at me like a ray gun. He was reading the parking signs out loud, puzzling out the rules for the different color zones. So was I.
This county health center is a last resort for the rural poor. Bad teeth, gimpy gait, sallow skin keep company with burn scars, survivor legs, junk-food jaundice. I’m the lucky one. Oh, sure, on occasion, I see stars, but what is the right parking zone for abject poverty?
Today, at my appointment, I almost forget to tell the eye doc of the light blue band around each iris.
Arcus senilis, he informs me.
Am I turning blue-eyed? I ask, feigning deafness about the senilis innuendo. In my family, I’m the only person with eyes the color of cooking chocolate—dark, bittersweet, sultry. Now, I fear, my eyes are turning wishy-washy, like water for chocolate.
The aging eye, doc says, stores cholesterol in a circular arcus, a harmless recourse.
More stuff in the wrong places. After my great-grandmother’s eyes changed from hazel to blue, we kids gave her an azure cardigan for Christmas. If I broadcast my arcus senilis in the Mister Potato set, this old auntie knows what to expect under the tree.
Twelve months slog by before I need a new scrip for my left eye. For this appointment, I dress in keeping with the office square-dance motif—puffy white blouse, cinched-in wide gingham skirt, kerchief with polka dots. I slip on clogs and drive across the county. Crap. Heavy rain hammers rafts of leaves across the highway. The lights of oncoming rigs cast harsh slants.
I arrive on time. So as not to drip, I shake my Macintosh over the potted plant in the waiting room. The water skitters along the thick rubbery leaves. On the walls hang posters showing the human eye, dissected, dead, but wildly colored, vampire vibrant. I blink.
What a wonder is the living eye—size of a small hard-boiled egg yolk with cornea, iris, pupil, sclera, choroid, optic nerve, rods and cones, lens, retina, plus a host of tiny muscles. Yes, vision as a physical activity like push-ups or treadmill.
Saintly Frances, the receptionist, still wears her cross out of respect, I guess, for eyes as windows on the soul. Nice she cares about communal grace. At Thanksgiving, my great-grandmother always mixed cranberry sauce with her rice. The magenta stain was her idea of grace, with or without a blessing.
Today, pious Frances sports a mid-size sienna beehive hairdo. A wig? Has she had chemo? Or, has her halo sprouted fur in empathy for animals? I later learn she is honoring the pumpkin, one of the world’s largest domesticated berries.
Since my last visit, Faye, the tall office manager in pantsuit has lost a lot of weight. Good for her. She, too, has new hair, a bubble bob atop darker neck feathers. Bending from the waist, not the knees, she shows off a comely rump as she stabs the office plant with fertilizer spikes. Motionless in mousse, her neck feathers don’t fledge.
As for doc, same hair, but new cowboy boots with small roper spurs, learner size. Are he and pantsuit having a kick-up-your-heels affair? Maybe, but any sexual tension is tamped down by nonstop piped-in praise band music—Christian youth tunes sounding, my story, the glory.
Pantsuit escorts me to an examination room. New tech Dianna (pronounced Dee-anna) is not fat, the shaming F-word we’re not supposed to use. She’s obese. Her glory is her hair, which hangs in stripes—green, gold, and ash blonde with movable silver sideburns. No, not grey. Real metallic silver, flashing lunar possibilities.
Dianna is a harvest moon too heavy to rise with all that camouflage hair. Bow-and-arrow season is almost upon us, not to mention the black bear hunt the governor recently approved. Let’s hope Dianna’s stripes hide her she-bear in the forest. In this office harem, an angry patient with a gun could make a bad mistake.
Seated in the big chair, I listen to piped-in praise band fill the room with my story, hear me, the glory. Is this the soul’s First Amendment refrain?
Dianna squats on an adjustable stool with a clipboard and softly taps her foot and lip-syncs my story, my story, hear me.
She can sing and write different words at the same time. Amazing. I tell her my birthday and address haven’t changed.
She circles a diagram of my left eyeball and exits with my glasses on the end word, glory. My story, my story goes round and round the room like a big swing skirt. In an instant, I move close to the wall and memorize the eye chart. I hear clicking—metal taps on the doctor’s new dress cowboy boots. I hurry to sit down before he enters the examination room.
I read the big E easy as pie and the second line, C N D W S Z. The next line down, O T
M L E Y, is my last name in jumble, the story of my life. So far, so good. I’m high on eye chart as memory test until the bottom line. G O R Y L A or L O R Y G A? G O R I L L A or L O R C A? There is only one L, I say in defeat, and settle for G L O R I A in subliminal vibe from the praise band.
This up/down eyeball climb is same-old Jack and Jill hill. Without the bucket.
The good news, my left eye is not astigmatic. The bad news is the cataracts.
No big deal, says doc, rocking back on his cowboy heels. You’re a 3 or 4. Stage 12 is operation time. You may never get there.
Meaning before I die. Or, become senile. What a wait!
My father, I tell him, near-sighted since childhood, threw down his glasses in old age.
Cataracts blended his near and far vision, the doctor says. Your dad was blessed.
Like he should know.
Now, I’m humming the ear virus my story, hear me, the glory. I tell the doctor cataracts blinded my great-grandmother, the one with the arcus eyes. On walks, she tapped-tapped her cane on an uneven slate sidewalk. At age 103, she had an operation and regained 20:20 vision.
Eye doctor looks amazed. Good for her, he says.
He doesn’t believe a word. Never mind. Patients fib. Speaking of pouring on the sugar, there used to be a big bowl of wrapped candy at the cashier station.
Saintly Frances explains a dentist came in for an eye exam and told them to quit abetting galloping carries. But feel free to pet the pumpkin, Frances says, meaning the big carved berry on the counter. Not her hairdo.
I reconsider the office hair. What happens to the pouf when the praise band stops? Does front-desk Frances take off her wig and frighten children? Does pantsuit dump out dirt from the indoor planter? Might Dianna of the silver sideburns levitate?
And the eye doc. Will he do-si-do down the hall on the tips of those dress cowboy boots?
Snobby me classifies square dance with annual reenactments of the Battle of Northern Aggression. In case war goes away. Spectators have to imagine blood and stench—boys, dead from yellow fever and gangrene, stand-ins for wealthy men, landholders, cotton kings.
What caused war? Famous writer Virginia Woolf was amazed a man would phrase this question in the past tense. As if the cause and effect was story-glory over and done. Like the Age of Dinosaurs.
Exiting via the waiting room, I see a young mother amusing her son with soap bubbles. One, two, three, the little boy sings. The big bubbles bounce on the carpet. With newfound power, he stomps them.
I hate his foot dance. Pudgy brat, he’s Wednesday’s child full of woe, the bully who rubs out moths and leafhoppers with his new shoes. When he’s older, he’ll punch the office pumpkin, poke fat Dianna, play war.
Boys will be boys, his mother’s eyes flash. Like a patient my age, eyes blurry with drops, will duke it out over soap bubbles.
Better to feed the brat candy. So what if his teeth rot? My soul windows value the insect kingdom. I adjust the sun-shades on my glasses and head for home.
What I didn’t say about my great-grandmother was her glory. After her cataract operation, she counted the stars and frowned at the odd stitch in a poorly finished hem.
Coming through Ellis Island before the Great War, she declared January 1 to be her birthday. In the Old Country, she told us, your Baptismal Day served as your birth date. A priest made an annual round of the villages, so all the kids of a certain age had the same birthday. No special party, no fun, but this is America, she said, blowing out the candles on her New Year’s cake.
At her advanced age, you might ask what she wished for.
The summer I planned to teach her, she passed over. I have her arcus and, I hope, her eye.
Darn age. As the crow flies, distance bends roadside trees. Driving home, I kill more insects on my windshield than Wednesday’s brat stomps on a month-long rampage.
Breezes sway boughs, twigs break. Shadows pattern doubts in high-beam. Should I be behind the wheel?
In dour light, I risk hitting wayside dreams, roadkill run-over again.
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