The Blind Man and Gabriel

He lived as a blind man not able to see things that were right in front of him. He knew they were there because he bumped into them on occasion to leave big ugly bruises on his shins and thighs that he could not see, but feel. Instead of seeing, he heard disjointed sounds, smelled odorous smells, tasted bitter and sweet, and touched people he could not see. They reacted to him like he reacted to sight. A fumbling around while trying to decide what to do or say next.

He did not know where he was, had been, or would be most of the time. His money situation did not lend him to become familiar with his surroundings long enough. At some point he’d lose his job through some angry frustration between needing money and an employer needing a disability employee. All this followed quickly with a landlord not like not getting rent money. It didn’t matter, the blind man thought. Gabriel sings to me what I missed, lost, or forgot.

The blind man wore jeans and a turtleneck that could have been any color he wanted it to be. He discovered he had talent at being angry, but in recent months that talent weakened. He enjoyed sitting in the nearby park and listening to birds tell him how he still looked angry. He told them he could not find his anger anymore. “I’ve come to decide that I can’t find anything anymore, particularly since I can’t see much.”

The blind man did not use his own name because he wanted it to be sightless like himself. But, he read it this morning by following the beads of Braille on an official document. “They beckon me to Richmond and leave the driving to us,” the blind man said to the open air of his unidentifiable apartment. “Gabriel, did you hear? It feels odd to feel myself on hard paper when I can’t see who I am.”

The beads of Braille felt much firmer than the beads of sweat that leaned away from his forehead as he read. He wished he remembered where the thermostat was so he could turn down the heat. Rubbing his shin, he decided against another foraging party to look for it. Instead, he opened the window and let some of the outside cold air attack the artificial heat.

The short bottle of scotch came into his mouth and emptied its scorching liquid on his raw throat. “One swallow is all that’s left, Gabriel. That won’t get me through the day unless I meet up with some circumstance that highs me again.” He wondered if his liquid euphoria had something to do with his bumps and bruises.

Leaving his apartment, ‘gorgeous’ became his word of the day stolen from a visionary exclamation that he needed a good word to follow him around. “Where’re you?” he said into the outside air as he poked along the chewed sidewalk. “There you are. You’re gorgeous.” He could only be certain that Gabriel listened.

“I remember, Gabriel, what I learned yesterday. I just forgot it today. My blindness teaches me this.” The blind man had been blind long enough that most of his memories of sight had to be imagination.

“I think I’m taller than most people,” he said. He had followed the rolling thunder of heavy diesel train engines until he could sense their vibration. He followed a set of hard steps that felt like hollow concrete.

He could hear shuffling shoes avoid his long thin cane. When he sensed a near strike, he hit hard with an unapologetic, “Someone there?”

I could have waited for the welfare people to help me, but I never gave to welfare and I don’t think welfare should give to me, he thought. “If I’m as tall as I think I am, I’d be just tall enough to see over people’s heads,” he said. Gabriel sent in thoughts saying: I believe you’re shorter.

The Welfare Department had set up another job interview for him. Some charity gave him Amtrak money.

“They don’t have commuter trains to where I want to go,” the blind man told Gabriel.

“I once rode a commuter train on these tracks, but in the opposite direction. My Virginia Railway Express sent me from small town Fredericksburg to big town D.C. where all the masses commute to one small location. We passed an eagle’s next and hugged the Potomac River as if leading us to our destination. I rode the southern ride from Kenosha suburbia Wisconsin to Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago and the new Dallas Trinity Railway Express from Fort Worth Texas and Pacific to the Dallas Union Station.”

Blind man had many other trips to fold into his memories, even when he didn’t need the train ride. He lived the working atmosphere of commuters struggling with commuting as if it was a second job. The train rides were so much better because he liked to think he had a real job and things he could see.

When high, his subconscious spoke poetry like an old man remembering his childhood. He came into originality and saw the totality of experiences that he now misses. Sometimes, he saw people leave their tickets on the train. Maybe they were there then suddenly not. Blind man believed they just vanished and now they were gone into another commuter universe, parallel and identical. “Then I look again and they are sitting right where they have always been.” He sent his thoughts and voice Gabriel way.

He continued. “A punched ticket lets people know where you had traveled and the time and place you existed in the commuting world. Gabriel, what it someone found these spent tickets many years from now. Everyone will know that at such a time and at such and such a place this ticket holder pushed a train ticket into the narrow slot of a time stamping machine. The place designation would be coded onto the thin white cardboard making the act immortal.”

When sitting in a train seat, you are at eye level with people’s crotches, blind man believed Gabriel told him.

“I rode a rough ride on an old commuting train that had sixty year old refurbished coach cars when they probably didn’t exist sixty years ago, but had to have been stagecoaches.”

How rough were they? Gabriel played along.

“If you didn’t hold on, you’d bounce and slide from one seat, across the aisle, and into the next seat while hoping no one was sliding, likewise, your way.”

I felt that, came the Gabriel thoughts.

“I’m no comedian. I just want to be. I want laughter instead of anger. Anger makes me angry. I want funny. What do you want?” blind mind asked Gabriel who he hoped still listened.

Gabriel did not answer.

The Amtrak rides happened later when he needed sight. He threw away the commuter railway tickets inside some smelly Amtrak trash bin that badly needed emptying. Particularly, after he stuffed it with commuter train tickets. Gabriel saved him from throwing himself overboard.

Suddenly, a smelly diesel engine bellowed past pulling behind noisy, clanking passenger rail cars. It all emerged from some other place. The blind man found the metal stairs by smelling the smelly people. They all sweated in the warm morning sun. The blind man realized that the cool air had evaporated leaving people sweating in their jackets, including himself.

Of course, the conductor engineer telling him where to get on helped. The blind man pushed on trying to recall how a seat sat and the placement of chairs in a narrow mobile aisle. These were the only two points he knew, from his apartment to the train station and back. Knowing where to catch transportation was important to the blind man.

The purring train did not linger for wayward late passengers. The blind man liked the vision of leaving people behind. They should arrive early instead of living the thrill of just in time arrival or thinking that people should wait for them as they take their time arriving.

Soon, city smells of acid air and wind blown dust became sweaty smells of too many people stuck close together in a long metal like tube. An overhead draft of automated air drove all the running smells toward each other in a climatic tornado. The blind man looked out a window hoping that at least there was something to see. He hated to be caught staring at a wall as if it was a window.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter because nothing matters,” the blind man told Gabriel.

Gabriel said nothing.

“I should be ugly and stupid. Let go with all my sarcasm because that’s what the world likes to hear. People want arguments.” The blind man said this and not believing it in himself.

“The world wants to see anger, but I spent it all in my sight days. I had a damn good time, Gabriel. I had fun the lower in the organization I went. The less pay, the more fun things get. I need some liquor to get me to feeling things. I need to bring up that subconscious mind I read about once where our true selves exist. I can only bring it up with something that makes my throat raw and my head hurt when it wears off.”

Blind man stopped talking since he wasn’t talking to anyone but Gabriel, anyway. He could flip out later when he had more anger. Without some external stimuli like a good scotch to drown his conscious so his subconscious could roam free, blind man drowned in emptiness and kept silent.

After what he assumed was a forty three minute swaying ride (it could have been fifty four or thirty two for all he knew), the blind man stopped looking out the window. Instead, he looked down at his hands and tapped his finger tips together. Gabriel told me to do this, he imagined saying if anyone asked what he was doing.

All that matters is that we just crossed the Matta River, the blind man felt Gabriel say. The blind man liked the old Indian names. He listened to the rail car sing into the steel tracks it went over. He felt like an ocean wave as the Amtrak swayed across a short bridge. He thought about a tall, stout boat tossed on ocean waves that curled themselves toward a sandy shoreline. The blind man remembered a Braille book with the word ‘ocean’ followed by dotted descriptions. He wondered what the Indians called ‘dots’.

“A beach would be a place of sight, if I could see it, Gabriel,” the blind man said using his most strongest, deepest pitch of voice. “If someone hears me, I don’t care ’cause I can’t see them anyway. Nothin’ is my motto and I’ll make a cliché out of it. An ocean of nothin’ is what I see, Gabriel.”

Can I cry now? The blind man did not speak this. Maybe the thought came from good ole Gabriel who probably waited patiently for the blind man to see something. Women cry, or so I was taught. So, I think I’ll cry right now. If anyone sees me, Gabriel, drive them away.

Anyway, how can someone not see you cry and lack caring? Gabriel’s thoughts toward the blind man. Is that what you want? Sympathy? Naw, you don’t. Gabriel’s thoughts had a way to irritate the blind man. No crying allowed.

How can anyone know what I want? I don’t know what I want. Except maybe to see, again. This blurry grayness is neither exciting nor useful. The blind man shook these thoughts toward Gabriel. I’m allowing only you, Gabriel, to know my private secrets. Maybe, Gabriel, you’ll make me green with envy. Ha! Another cliché. “Let them live forever!” said the blind man.

“You aw right?” Some mysterious female voice interrupted. He picked up on a tinge of abstract concern as if the woman asked him this to get away from her own worries.

The blind man thought loudly to Gabriel, when is the Ni River coming? Don’t let me miss it. It should be next. He listened carefully, like before, for a different thumping to the rail cars. He imagined the trickle of water, feeling the brush of humid air, and the smell of fish. I want to know what ‘gorgeous’ means other than Braille dots on a hard surface, the blind man thought. I want nourishment, Gabriel. “Where am I now?”

“You still on the train,” said the female voice. It had a husky tinge banging inside youthful sounding jaws.

“I am, but where’re you? I only see with fingers, smell, hearing, and taste,” the blind man said to the sighted woman. If only Gabriel talked to him, he would know where Gabriel was looking. Then, I’d ignore this stranger and go on living my life. But, it’s hard to avoid someone sitting beside you.

A slender warm hand collapsed around his. He grasped strongly and let his hand be led up to touch a fragile left eye that easily would yield if he pushed hard. The round eye felt fleshy, soft, and pliable. He pushed his rough hand upward leaving the woman’s hand to fall away. He followed the backward slope of her smooth forehead into her thick hair. He slipped his large hand down along her delicate concave temple, behind her small convex cheekbones, and slowly down under her sloping jaw. Firm features all of them, he thought. This went slow – what’s the rush? He came up the chin toward her parted lips. They were amply thick, he thought. He squished them together into a pucker.

“It’s always Gabriel who gets me home. Home is where the heart is. Damn good cliché that time, eh Gabriel?”

“Where’re ya goin’?” she asked.

“Where’re you?” said the blindness again.

“I’m sitting next to you.”

“I don’t mean you,” the blindness said. “I mean Gabriel.”

“I’m all there is, I’m afraid.”

The blind man figured this is what Gabriel would have said. “You’re not all there is. Gabriel and I belong to this passage of time with you, whoever you are.” The blind man wanted to believe this like he wanted to believe in sight.

“Time’s running out for me. I’m gonna to a hospital in Richmond ‘cause I got cancer,” the voice with full lips said. “If I die, you can have my eyes.”

“Gorgeous.”

“What’s gorgeous?”

“You are,” said the blind man.

“’Cause I’m givin’ you my eyes?”

“No, not that I couldn’t use a good working set. Eyes are not transferable between people. I said ‘gorgeous’ ‘cause it’s my word for the day. It’s ‘ppropriate time to use it. ‘Sides, I believe you’re gorgeous even when I can’t see you.”

“I’m gonna die. It’s gonna be slow ‘n’ painful with cancer eatin’ away at my organs.. I’m gonna consider your word when that happens. I guess Gabriel is that brown teddy sitting in your lap?”

“His eyes get black when we go on a trip. When we get there he looks through blue ones. I don’t necessarily participate in his excitement.”

“You should. Where ya goin’?”

“New place to live. I get tired of my limited salary so I quit. I’m only at a job long enough for my employer to gain some reputation and sympathy for hiring a blind guy. But, I’m never given any real work to do, so it doesn’t really matter whether I’m there or not. People think that since I can’t see I must be stupid. They help too much. I get aggravated, they get frustrated. I leave, they stay, and we all wonder what happened.”

“Sounds complicated. Anyway, I’m not givin’ you no sympathy. Sympathy leads to pity like pity makes sympathy. You got too much pity in your head now and that sympathy is screwin’ ’round there, too.”

“You’re not getting anything from me, neither. But, I’m sorry ‘bout the cancer.”

“I’m scared. I think this is like being on death row and seeing the scaffold and hangman’s noose outside your cell block window.”

“Most cancer is treatable. Just the terminal kind isn’t. I’m goin’ with you. Maybe the hospital has a job I can do. Like takin’ care of you.”

“I don’t want you to go with me. Remember the pity and sympathy thing?”

“Let me feel your face again.”

“You felt enough. You comin’ on to me? I’m in no mood. I’m a dyin’ woman.”

“I had a girl like you who carried the same perfume you smell like. She wasn’t much of an eye care person when I got blind.”

“How’d you get blind?”

“Let me feel your face, first.”

The blind man encountered a moment of silence. Unexpectedly, he felt the warm breath of the woman near the junction between his nose and mouth. He raised his hand cautiously, but it did no good. Only to hit her in the chin. “You’re too close,” he whispered.

She kissed him by first sliding her puckered lips slowly across his. She has juicy lips, he thought shifting his legs to make room for added blood flow to his crotch area. Quickly, the pressure of her full lips smashed his mouth apart and swallowed his gasp. For a moment he felt lost and timeless. Suddenly, it all went away. Suddenly he parted his eyes as if to see something that could not be seen. “I remember a young lady who smelled like you, but didn’t treat me so good.”

“I’ve never known a man who’d follow me to death. I’m getting off. You’re staying on.”

The blind man did not see that the window view had stopped being a blur. But, his other four senses did feel that motion had become motionless. Somehow he knew it was not his stop. Maybe the smell of things? When it came to the climax that he could sense her absence when he wanted her presence, he said, “Damn glad she’s gone, Gabriel. I’m not takin’ on any baggage.”

Gabriel’s pattern of sitting changed. At the next stop, the conductor’s cracking voice told the blind man it was time to leave. Outside, he got away from a shift of cold wind by walking into a solid masonry wall. You could’ve warned me, he said in his thoughts to Gabriel. “Why didn’t someone stop me?” Frustration said this.

Rubbing his forehead, the blind man found the door that he missed and passed through the musty smell of a train station. Out another door, he remembered a telephone conversation two days previous that told him to come here. He turned right. At the corner where people mingled in his way, he turned left hoping someone would tell him if left was possible or not. He did not feel cars and trucks crushing his body. Across the street, the blind man and a motel door became one with each other.

He sat in the lobby’s busty chair rubbing his forehead and knees while listening to the buzz of interviews. He felt swallowed by events. A baseball game sounded on a noisy TV to his left.

The blind man heard the slap of a baseball striking a leather glove. Next, came a wood bat popping a leather stitched ball into stadium air. He would have cheered. He could have rahhed. Yet, he was not there. In any case, my timing would’ve been off by not seeing the action, he thought. He figured it was a fly out. The announcement drowned in a sea of passing bodies.

“Coming up to bat is Rodriquez, the switch hitter for the visiting team,” announced a man with an elevated squawky voice. “Can he pull them out of the slump they’re in? Let’s hope so.”

Why the hell don’t they just say who the teams are? the blind man thought.

“Tom, it looks like the pitcher, Henderson, is ready for this one. No need to think about the pitch. And . . . strike one.” Another announcer’s voice, deeper and more mature.

“I know Bill. These two have met before and there’s always heat when the ball is singing across that plate. We need that heat. Heat is good. Heat is raw power.” No maturity, only emotion in this man’s voice trails.

Stupid asses are so worried about making sure everyone knows names that they can’t say who’s playing. Stupid announcers, the blind man thought.

“I know what you mean, Tom. Henderson isn’t waiting around. Pow. A fast ball at 93 miles per hour. That one made you dizzy.”

“I see the tightness in Rodriquez’s shoulders. What’s he waiting for? He hasn’t swung, yet. Remember ‘Casey at bat’? No matter, it’s three strikes and you’re out.”

“Whether it’s a strike or not, here comes pitch three.”

“Ka-pow. There it goes. Whoa, look at it fly.”

“Yeah, look at it go.”

“Wow, It’s up and up and up and . . . it’s outta here! Sing a song of goodbye.”

“The visitors have taken a lead on a one run homer by Rodriquez as he makes his way around the bags and out of his slump.”

The blind man wished it had gone that way for him. He hated baseball season. Too many things to think about, Gabriel. Too many dreams of mine not there any more.

You were there. You should know, came Gabriel’s thoughts back.

Yeah, I was there. I was there. Now I’m here. “Where the hell is the bathroom? Anybody know?”

“Sure, I’ll take you. I got to piss myself,” said some masculine voice that sounded hairy.

The blind man felt embarrassed. Men don’t go to the bathroom together, he thought. But, I’ve got to go or else I’ll pee in this lobby. I hate this. I hate this. I hate this.

The blind man wished he had kept his eyes on that fast ball. Instead, he caught it in the left temple where he didn’t even have eyes. He remembered all this despite trying to forget it. I hadn’t even gotten into the majors, just a double A team. I wanted to be a hero, now I’m looking for one. I want to be eye candy to all the pretty young girls. After all, they used to be all mine when I walked into any room.

The blind man shook the bad thoughts out of his system. They were only keeping his subconscious at bay. The male stranger did not touch, but walked slowly in front. The blind man knew his presence by the four senses of nature he had remaining. He bumped into people along the way and pictured the baseball bumping into his head long time ago. He could not remember turning his head right or left. Only, that the structure of a hurling hard ball met the mushy membrane of his head and things went permanently deep gray. It had to happen while I was stuck on a single A ball team, too, he thought.

He liked those musty smells on old commuter trains and the warm sweaty smell of working people. More often, he rode torn bus seats that guaranteed rough rides to broken ball parks that had character blind man wished he could see again. He wished he could have accepted that he had no talent at taking a smooth rounded stick of solid wood and hitting a nine inch ball simply made with two fitted pieces of white leather sewn around yarn encasing a cork and rubber core. Or, being in the right place in the outfield to catch a loping fly ball that almost always flew over or fell short in front of him.

“Thanks,” the blind man said to his escort when they reached the antiseptic smelling pee room.

“No problem. Had to go myself.”

The blind man continued to feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to make friends with anyone, he thought. Please, don’t try to start a conversation in front of the porcelain shooting gallery.

“You looking for a job, too?” said the stranger’s voice.

“Yeah.”

“I’ve got a good job now. I’d like to see if I could get better pay.”

The blind man understood that the stranger was shaking off the pee from the tip of his appendage. The blind man did not want to know how he knew this. It’s not good to think ‘penis’ in the men’s bathroom, the blind man thought. He stood in front of the bowl waiting for the stranger to head toward the sink and wash his hands. The blind man did not want someone taking advantage of his blindness and stare at his loose appendage cradled in his hands. He almost wished he was gay or a woman so it would not bother him that much.

“Meet you outside,” the stranger said.

No hand washing and no flushing, either. Two good reasons not to get familiar with him, the blind man thought. I hope we don’t meet outside. I wish I had eyes good enough to avoid people like him and know it was him I didn’t want to meet again. Gabriel, where’d you go?

No way I’m hanging around inside a men’s bathroom.

Yeah, you’re here anyway hiding in my backpack.

Back in the lobby, the blind man could still hear the baseball game on TV. He steered away from it and toward voices asking for names and addresses. A good place to start, he thought.

Standing in the vicinity of a table, Gabriel told the blind man that the train woman had come into the lobby.

I know. I smelled her. “Which direction are you?” the blind man asked.

“How’d you know I was here?”

“Gabriel told me.”

The TV interrupted the blind man. He heard, or maybe remembered, a sinew of muscle driving a wooden bat into a hard leather ball. “I am one with the ball,” said the blind man.

“The batter missed,” she said.

“He can’t see too good. People miss a lot of the time when they can’t see.”

Some people seek the blackness of small, unlit places hoping the pain and regret will not follow them there, came Gabriel’s thoughts.

“I pretend, but things are still real,” she said. “Like my cancer. It’s my fault. I was in a mind that thought ugly thoughts when it came.”

“I’m there all the time and it’s not a good place to hide. I listen to the old radio shows of Abbott and Costello or maybe Amos and Andy to get out of it. My laugh blows out of me like a volcanic eruption. It’s a better time. Gabriel’s here.”

“Hon, there’s no one here but you and me and a lobby of hard up people, mostly lazy white asses, who can’t hold a job long enough to hate it.”

The blind man said nothing. He did not want to be one of those hard up people. I can’t be, I’ve got an excuse being blind, he thought. He wished he knew where to get a hard burning drink. The lobby’s din of voices shut down his hearing sense. The mix of colognes and perfumes nullified his smelling sense. He had no seeing sense. He licked his dry lips and tasted nothing. He reached out and felt the woman standing beside him. Her large malleable breast made a jelly feel and neither drew back.

“I ain’t got money for a dog to lead me around ‘cause I switch jobs too much. I’ve had to do with my angel,” the blind man said.

“We’re all in need of someone. Mind if I share your angel since you’re sharing my boob?”

The blind man felt that he was here at last. Next to something family, even if it was a stranger. He gently twisted his hand around the nipple area and brought his arm back. The blind man lost sight of Gabriel. However, the feeling of calmness stayed with him.

“My ‘ppointment’s soon,” she said. “Let’s go, but only if I know your name.”

The blind man hesitated. His blindness may be revealed. Who cares, he told Gabriel. “John Pearly.”

“Mary Gates here. It’s gorgeous out in the cold air. I ain’t sayin’ bright sun ’cause we both know I’m the only one there with that.”

“I wonder what I can’t see. I can see light, it just can’t see me. It only brings me shadows and gray blobs. Either way, I end up at the pit of people’s fears.”

“You know what you got. But, I got pain comin’. I got torture to face,” Mary said. From out of nowhere, she grabbed him roughly by his coat sleeve. Quickly, cold air blasted his warm face.

“My blindness belongs to me like an Indian named river belongs to the land.”

“I wanted a baby growin’ in me. ‘Stead I got dead stuff eatin’ me up.”

“I no longer need the fifth sense of sight.”

“Soon I won’t even know that or you. You get the place I’m livin’ and my stuff when I’m gone. I got no one else to care ’bout my stuff.”

“Here, stop.” John did not know if they stood on a sidewalk or a street. “Not everyone dies from cancer. You can still outlive me.”

“Yeah, I can if you always want to stop in the middle of a busy street. I’m surprised you lasted this long.”

“Hey, I know what I’m doin’.” John heard a car swoosh very close somewhere behind him.

“Just don’t step back and decide to make another point.” Mary said.

“What did you want to be growin’ up?” asked John.

“Cinderella. I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted someone to rescue me. I really wanted someone to like me.”

“I wanted to be a cartoon hero. Spiderman or Batman or maybe the Green Hornet. They’re what I wish I was. In the meantime, you can have Gabriel. When you hug him all the pain goes away. But, I want your kisses. They’re gorgeous.”

Published May 26, 2004, by Timber Creek Review