A very well-known and good short story by one of my favorite short story writers, Cathedral by Raymond Carver. Since you might have more time to read stuff on the weekend- AF
This blind man, an old friend of my wifeâs, he was on his way to spend the night. His wife had died. So he was visiting the dead wifeâs relatives in Connecticut. He called my wife from his in-lawâs. Arrangements were made. He would come by train, a five-hour trip, and my wife would meet him at the station. She hadnât seen him since she worked for him one summer in Seattle ten years ago. But she and the blind man had kept in touch. They made tapes and mailed them back and forth. I wasnât enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.
That summer in Seattle she had needed a job. She didnât have any money. The man she was going to marry at the end of the summer was in officersâ training school. He didnât have any money, either. But she was in love with the guy, and he was in love with her, etc. Sheâd seen something in the paper: HELP WANTEDâReading to Blind Man, and a telephone number. She phoned and went over, was hired on the spot. She worked with this blind man all summer. She read stuff to him, case studies, reports, that sort of thing. She helped him organize his little office in the county social-service department. Theyâd become good friends, my wife and the blind man. On her last day in the office, the blind man asked if he could touch her face. She agreed to this. She told me he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her noseâeven her neck! She never forgot it. She even tried to write a poem about it. She was always trying to write a poem. She wrote a poem or two every year, usually after something really important had happened to her.
When we first started going out together, she showed me the poem. In the poem, she recalled his fingers and the way they had moved around over her face. In the poem, she talked about what she had felt at the time, about what went through her mind when the blind man touched her nose and lips. I can remember I didnât think much of the poem. Of course, I didnât tell her that. Maybe I just donât understand poetry. I admit itâs not the first thing I reach for when I pick up something to read.
Anyway, this man whoâd first enjoyed her favors, this officer-to-be, heâd been her childhood sweetheart. So okay. Iâm saying that at the end of the summer she let the blind man run his hands over her face, said good-bye to him, married her childhood etc., who was now a commissioned officer, and she moved away from Seattle. But theyâd keep in touch, she and the blind man. She made the first contact after a year or so. She called him up one night from an Air Force base in Alabama. She wanted to talk. They talked. He asked her to send him a tape and tell him about her life. She did this. She sent the tape. On the tape, she told the blind man she loved her husband but she didnât like it where they lived and she didnât like it that he was a part of the military-industrial thing. She told the blind man sheâd written a poem and he was in it. She told him that she was writing a poem about what it was like to be an Air Force officerâs wife. The poem wasnât finished yet. She was still writing it. The blind man made a tape. He sent her the tape. She made a tape. This went on for years. My wifeâs officer was posted to one base and then another. She sent tapes from Moody AFB, McGuire, McConnell, and finally Travis, near Sacramento, where one night she got to feeling lonely and cut off from people she kept losing in that moving-around life. She got to feeling she couldnât go it another step. She went in and swallowed all the pills and capsules in the medicine chest and washed them down with a bottle of gin. Then she got into a hot bath and passed out.
But instead of dying, she got sick. She threw up. Her officerâwhy should he have a name? he was the childhood sweetheart, and what more does he want?âcame home from somewhere, found her, and called the ambulance. In time, she put it all on tape and sent the tape to the blind man. Over the years, she put all kinds of stuff on tapes and sent the tapes off lickety-split. Next to writing a poem every year, I think it was her chief means of recreation. On one tape, she told the blind man sheâd decided to live away from her officer for a time. On another tape, she told him about her divorce. She and I began going out, and of course she told her blind man about it. She told him everything, or so it seemed to me. Once she asked me if Iâd like to hear the latest tape from the blind man. This was a year ago. I was on the tape, she said. So I said okay, Iâd listen to it. I got us drinks and we settled down in the living room. We made ready to listen. First she inserted the tape into the player and adjusted a couple of dials. Then she pushed a lever. The tape squeaked and someone began to talk in this loud voice. She lowered the volume. After a few minutes of harmless chitchat, I heard my own name in the mouth of this stranger, this blind man I didnât even know! And then this: âFrom all youâve said about him, I can only concludeââ But we were interrupted, a knock at the door, something, and we didnât ever get back to the tape. Maybe it was just as well. Iâd heard all I wanted to.
Now this same blind man was coming over to sleep in my house.
âMaybe I could take him bowling,â I said to my wife. She was at the draining board doing scalloped potatoes. She put down the knife she was using and turned around.
âIf you love me,â she said, âyou can do this for me. If you donât love me, okay. But if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit, Iâd make him feel comfortable.â She wiped her hands with the dish towel.
âI donât have any blind friends,â I said.
âYou donât have any friends,â she said. âPeriod. Besides,â she said, âgoddamn it, his wifeâs just died! Donât you understand that? The manâs lost his wife!â
I didnât answer. Sheâd told me a little about the blind manâs wife. Her name was Beulah. Beulah! Thatâs a name for a colored woman.
âWas his wife a Negro?â I asked.
âAre you crazy?â my wife said. âHave you just flipped or something?â She picked up a potato. I saw it hit the floor, then roll under the stove. âWhatâs wrong with you?â she said. âAre you drunk?â
âIâm just asking,â I said.
Right then my wife filled me in with more detail than I cared to know. I made a drink and sat at the kitchen table to listen. Pieces of the story began to fall into place.
Beaulah had gone to work for the blind man the summer after my wife had stopped working for him. Pretty soon Beulah and the blind man had themselves a church wedding. It was a little weddingâwhoâd want to go to such a wedding in the first place?âjust the two of them, plus the minister and the ministerâs wife. But it was a church wedding just the same. It was what Beulah had wanted, heâd said. But even then Beulah must have beenÂ carrying the cancer in her glands. After they had been inseparable for eight yearsâmy wifeâs word, inseparableâBeulahâs health went into a rapid decline. She died in a Seattle hospital room, the blind man sitting beside the bed and holding on to her hand. Theyâd married, lived and worked together, slept togetherâhad sex, sureâand then the blind man had to bury her. All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like. It was beyond my understanding. Hearing this, I felt sorry for the blind man for a little bit. And then I found myself thinking what a pitiful life this woman must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one. A woman who could go on day after day and never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved. A woman whose husband could never read the expression on her face, be it misery or something better. Someone who could wear makeup or notâwhat difference to him? She could if she wanted, wear green eye-shadow around one eye, a straight pin in her nostril, yellow slacks, and purple shoes, no matter. And then to slip off into death, the blind manâs hand on her hand, his blind eyes streaming tearsâIâm imagining nowâher last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave. Robert was left with a small insurance policy and half of a twenty-peso Mexican coin. The other half of the coin went into the box with her. Pathetic.
So when the time rolled around, my wife went to the depot to pick him up. With nothing to do but waitâsure, I blamed him for thatâI was having a drink and watching the TV when I heard the car pull into the drive. I got up from the sofa with my drink and went to the window to have a look.
I saw my wife laughing as she parked the car. I saw her get out of the car and shut the door. She was still wearing a smile. Just amazing. She went around to the other side of the car to where the blind man was already starting to get out. This blind man, feature this, he was wearing a full beard! A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say. The blind man reached into the backseat and dragged out a suitcase. My wife took his arm, shut the car door, and, talking all the way, moved him down the drive and then up the steps to the front porch. I turned off the TV. I finished my drink, rinsed the glass, dried my hands. Then I went to the door.
My wife said, âI want you to meet Robert. Robert, this is my husband. Iâve told you all about him.â She was beaming. She had this blind man by his coat sleeve.
The blind man let go of his suitcase and up came his hand.
I took it. He squeezed hard, held my hand, and then he let it go.
âI feel like weâve already met,â he boomed.
âLikewise,â I said. I didnât know what else to say. Then I said, âWelcome. Iâve heard a lot about you.â We began to move then, a little group, from the porch into the living room, my wife guiding him by the arm. The blind man was carrying his suitcase in his other hand. My wife said things like, âTo your left here, Robert. Thatâs right. Now watch it, thereâs a chair. Thatâs it. Sit down right here. This is the sofa. We just bought this sofa two weeks ago.â
I started to say something about the old sofa. Iâd liked that old sofa. But I didnât say anything. Then I wanted to say something else, small-talk, about the scenic ride along the Hudson. How going to New York, you should sit on the right-hand side of the train, and coming from New York, the left-hand side.
âDid you have a good train ride?â I said. âWhich side of the train did you sit on, by the way?â
âWhat a question, which side!â my wife said. âWhatâs it matter which side?â she said.
âI just asked,â I said.
âRight side,â the blind man said. âI hadnât been on a train in nearly forty years. Not since I was a kid. With my folks. Thatâs been a long time. Iâd nearly forgotten the sensation. I have winter in my beard now, â he said. âSo Iâve been told, anyway. Do I look distinguished, my dear?â the blind man said to my wife.
âYou look distinguished, Robert,â she said. âRobert,â she said. âRobert, itâs just so good to see you.â
My wife finally took her eyes off the blind man and looked at me. I had the feeling she didnât like what she saw. I shrugged.
Iâve never met, or personally known, anyone who was blind. This blind man was late forties, a heavy-set, balding man with stooped shoulders, as if he carried a great weight there. He wore brown slacks, brown shoes, a light-brown shirt, a tie, a sports coat. Spiffy. He also had this full beard. But he didnât use a cane and he didnât wear dark glasses. Iâd always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind. Fact was, I wish he had a pair. At first glance, his eyes looked like anyone elseâs eyes. But if you looked close, there was something different about them. Too much white in the iris, for one thing, and the pupils seemed to move around in the sockets without his knowing it or being able to stop it. Creepy. As I stared at his face, I saw the left pupil turn in toward his nose while the other made an effort to keep in one place. But it was only an effort, for that one eye was on the roam without his knowing it or wanting it to be.
I said, âLet me get you a drink. Whatâs your pleasure? We have a little bit of everything. Itâs one of our pastimes.â
âBub, Iâm a Scotch man myself,â he said fast enough in this big voice.
âRight,â I said. Bub! âSure you are. I knew it.â
He let his fingers touch his suitcase, which was sitting alongside the sofa. He was taking his bearings. I didnât blame him for that.
âIâll move that up to your room,â my wife said.
âNo, thatâs fine,â the blind man said loudly. âIt can go up when I go up.â
âA little water with the Scotch?â I said.
âVery little,â he said.
âI knew it, â I said.
He said, âJust a tad. The Irish actor, Barry Fitzgerald? Iâm like that fellow. When I drink water, Fitzgerald said, I drink water. When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey.â My wife laughed. The blind man brought his hand up under his beard. He lifted his beard slowly and let it drop.
I did the drinks, three big glasses of Scotch with a splash of water in each. Then we made ourselves comfortable and talked about Robertâs travels. First the long flight from the West Coast to Connecticut, we covered that. Then from Connecticut up here by train. We had another drink concerning that leg of the trip.
I remembered having read somewhere that the blind didnât smoke because, as speculation had it, they couldnât see the smoke they exhaled. I though I knew that much and that much only about blind people. But this blind man smoked his cigarette down to the nubbin and then lit another one. This blind man filled his ashtray and my wife emptied it.
When we sat down at the table for dinner, we had another drink. M wife heaped Robertâs plate with cube steak, scalloped potatoes, green beans. I buttered him up two slices of bread. I said, âHereâs bread and butter for you.â I swallowed some of my drink. âNow let us pray,â I said, and the blind man lowered his head. My wife looked at me, her mouth agape. âPray the phone wonât ring and the food doesnât get cold,â I said.
We dug in. We ate everything there was to eat on the table. We ate like there was no tomorrow. We didnât talk. We ate. We scarfed. We grazed the table. We were into serious eating. The blind man had right away located his foods, he knew just where everything was on his plate. I watched with admiration as he used his knife and fork on the meat. Heâd cut two pieces of the meat, fork the meat into his mouth, and then go all out for the scalloped potatoes, the beans next, and then heâd tear off a hunk of buttered bread and eat that. Heâd follow this up with a big drink of milk. It didnât seem to bother him to use his fingers once in a while, either.
We finished everything, including half a strawberry pie. For a few moments, we sat as if stunned. Swear beaded on our faces. Finally, we got up from the table and left the dirty plates. We didnât look back. We took ourselves into the living room and sank into our places again. Robert and my wife sat on the sofa. I took the big chair. We had us two or three more drinks while they talked about the major things that had come to pass for them in the past ten years. For the most part, I just listened. Now and then I joined in. I didnât want him to think Iâd left the room, and I didnât want her to think I was feeling left out. They talked of things that had happened to themâto them!âthese past ten years. I waited in vain to hear my name on my wifeâs sweet lips: âAnd then my dear husband came into my lifeââsomething like that. But I heard nothing of the sort. More talk of Robert. Robert had done a little of everything, it seemed, a regular blind jack-of-all-trades. But most recently he and his wife had had an Amway distributorship, from which, I gathered, theyâd earned a living, such as it was. The blind man was also a ham radio operator. He talked in his loud voice about conversations heâd had with fellow operators in Guam, in the Philippines, in Alaska, and even in Tahiti. He said heâd have a lot of friends there if her ever wanted to go visit those places. From time to time, heâd turn his blind face toward me, put his hand under his beard, ask me something. How long had I been in my present position? (Three years.) Did I like my work? (I didnât.) Was I going to stay with it? (What were the options?) Finally, when I thought he was beginning to run down, I got up and turned on the TV.
My wife looked at me with irritation. She was heading toward a boil. Then she looked at the blind man and said, âRobert, do you have a TV?â
The blind man said, âMy dear, I have two TVs. I have a color set and a black-and-white thing, an old relic. Itâs funny, but if I turn the TV on, and Iâm always turning it on, I turn on the color set. Itâs funny, donât you think?â
I didnât know what to say to that. I had absolutely nothing to say to that. No opinion. So I watched the news program and tried to listen to what the announcer was saying.
âThis is a color TV,â the blind man said. âDonât ask me how, but I can tell.â
âWe traded up a while ago,â I said.
The blind man had another taste of his drink. He lifted his beard, sniffed it, and let it fall. He leaned forward on the sofa. He positioned his ashtray on the coffee table, then put the lighter to his cigarette. He leaned back on the sofa and crossed his legs at the ankles.
My wife covered her mouth, and then she yawned. She stretched. She said, âI think Iâll go upstairs and put on my robe. I think Iâll change into something else. Robert, you make yourself comfortable,â she said.
âIâm comfortable,â the blind man said.
âI want you to feel comfortable in this house,â she said.
âI am comfortable,â the blind man said.
After sheâd left the room, he and I listened to the weather report and then to the sports roundup. By that time, sheâd been gone so long I didnât know if she was going to come back. I thought she might have gone to bed. I wished sheâd come back downstairs. I didnât want to be left alone with a blind man. I asked him if he wanted another drink, and he said sure. Then I asked if he wanted to smoke some dope with me. I said Iâd just rolled a number. I hadnât, but I planned to do so in about two shakes.
âIâll try some with you,â he said.
âDamn right,â I said. âThatâs the stuff.â
I got our drinks and sat down on the sofa with him. Then I rolled us two fat numbers. I lit one and passed it. I brought it to his fingers. He took it and inhaled.
âHold it as long as you can,â I said. I could tell he didnât know the first thing.
My wife came back downstairs wearing her pink robe and her pink slippers.
âWhat do I smell?â she said.
âWe thought weâd have us some cannabis,â I said.
My wife gave me a savage look. Then she looked at the blind man and said, âRobert, I didnât know you smoked.â
He said, âI do now, my dear. Thereâs a first time for everything. But I donât feel anything yet.â
âThis stuff is pretty mellow,â I said. âThis stuff is mild. Itâs dope you can reason with,â I said. âIt doesnât mess you up.â
âNot much it doesnât, bub,â he said, and laughed.
My wife sat on the sofa between the blind man and me. I passed her the number. She took it and toked and then passed it back to me. âWhich way is this going?â she said. Then she said, âI shouldnât be smoking this. I can hardly keep my eyes open as it is. That dinner did me in. I shouldnât have eaten so much.â
âIt was the strawberry pie,â the blind man said. âThatâs what did it,â he said, and he laughed his big laugh. Then he shook his head.
âThereâs more strawberry pie,â I said.
âDo you want some more, Robert?â my wife said.
âMaybe in a little while,â he said.
We gave our attention to the TV. My wife yawned again. She said, âYour bed is made up when you feel like going to bed, Robert. I know you must have had a long day. When youâre ready to go to bed, say so.â
She pulled his arm. âRobert?â
He came to and said, âIâve had a real nice time. This beats tapes, doesnât it?â
I said, âComing at you,â and I put the number between his fingers. He inhaled, held the smoke, and then let it go. It was like heâd been doing this since he was nine years old.
âThanks, bub,â he said. âBut I think this is all for me. I think Iâm beginning to feel it,â he said. He held the burning roach out for my wife.
âSame here,â she said. âDitto. Me, too.â She took the roach and passed it to me. âI may just sit here for a while between you two guys with my eyes closed. But donât let me bother you, okay? Either one of you. If it bothers you, say so. Otherwise, I may just sit here with my eyes closed until youâre ready to go to bed,â she said. âYour bedâs made up, Robert, when youâre ready. Itâs right next to our room at the top of the stairs. Weâll show you up when youâre ready. You wake me up now, you guys, if I fall asleep.â She said that and then she closed her eyes and went to sleep.
The news program ended. I got up and changed the channel. I sat back down on the sofa. I wished my wife hadnât pooped out. Her head lay across the back of the sofa, her mouth open. Sheâd turned so that he robe had slipped away from her legs, exposing a juicy thigh. I reached to draw her robe back over her, and it was then that I glanced at the blind man. What the hell! I flipped the robe open again.
âYou say you when you want some strawberry pie,â I said.
âI will,â he said.
I said, âAre you tired? Do you want me to take you up to your bed? Are you ready to hit the hay?â
âNot yet,â he said. âNo, Iâll stay up with you, bub. If thatâs all right. Iâll stay up until youâre ready to turn in. We havenât had a chance to talk. Know what I mean? I feel like me and her monopolized the evening. â He lifted his beard and he let it fall. He picked up his cigarettes and his lighter.
âThatâs all right,â I said. Then I said, âIâm glad for the company.â
And I guess I was. Every night I smoked dope and stayed up as long as I could before I fell asleep. My wife and I hardly ever went to bed at the same time. When I did go to sleep, I had these dreams. Sometimes Iâd wake up from one of them, my heart going crazy.
Something about the church and the Middle Ages was on the TV. Not your run-of-the-mill TV fare. I wanted to watch something else. I turned to the other channels. But there was nothing on them, either. So I turned back to the first channel and apologized.
âBub, itâs all right,â the blind man said. âItâs fine with me. Whatever you want to watch is okay. Iâm always learning something. Learning never ends. It wonât hurt me to learn something tonight. I got ears,â he said.
We didnât say anything for a time. He was leaning forward with his head turned at me, his right ear aimed in the direction of the set. Very disconcerting. Now and then his eyelids drooped and then they snapped open again. Now and then he put his fingers into his beard and tugged, like he was thinking about something he was hearing on the television.
On the screen, a group of men wearing cowls was being set upon and tormented by men dressed in skeleton costumes and men dressed as devils. The men dressed as devils wore devil masks, horns, and long tails. This pageant was part of a procession. The Englishman who was narrating the thing said it took place in Spain once a year. I tried to explain to the blind man what was happening.
âSkeletons,â he said. âI know about skeletons,â he said, and he nodded.
The TV showed this one cathedral. Then there was a long, slow look at another one. Finally, the picture switched to the famous one in Paris, with its flying buttresses and its spires reaching up to the clouds. The camera pulled away to show the whole of the cathedral rising above the skyline.
There were times when the Englishman who was telling the thing would shut up, would simply let the camera move around over the cathedrals. Or else the camera would tour the countryside, men in fields walking behind oxen. I waited as long as I could. Then I felt I had to say something. I said, âTheyâre showing the outside of this cathedral now. Gargoyles. Little statues carved to look like monsters. Now I guess theyâre in Italy. Yeah, theyâre in Italy. Thereâs paintings on the walls of this one church.â
âAre those fresco painting, bub?â he asked, and he sipped from his drink.
I reached for my glass. But it was empty. I tried to remember what I could remember. âYouâre asking me are those frescoes?â I said. âThatâs a good question. I donât know.â
The camera moved to a cathedral outside Lisbon. The difference in the Portugese cathedral compared with the French and Italian were not that great. But they were there. Mostly the interior stuff. Then something occurred to me, and I said, âSomething has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what theyâre talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?â
He let the smoke dribble from his mouth. âI know they took hundreds of workers fifty or a hundred years to build,â he said. âI just heard the man say that, of course. I know generations of the same families worked on a cathedral. I heard him say that, too. The men who began their lifeâs work on them, they never lived to see the completion of their work. In that wise, bub, theyâre no different from the rest of us, right?â He laughed. Then his eyelids drooped again. His head nodded. He seemed to be snoozing. Maybe he was imagining himself in Portugal. The TV was showing another cathedral now. This one was in Germany. The Englishmanâs voice droned on. âCathedrals,â the blind man said. He sat up and rolled his head back and forth. âIf you want the truth, bub, thatâs about all I know. What I just said. What I heard him say. But maybe you could describe one to me? I wish youâd do it. Iâd like that. If you want to know, I really donât have a good idea.â
I stared hard at the shot of the cathedral on the TV. How could I even begin to describe it? But say my life depended on it. Say my life was being threatened by an insane guy who said I had to do it or else.
I stared some more at the cathedral before the picture flipped off into the countryside. There was no use. I turned to the blind man and said, âTo begin with, theyâre very tall.â I was looking around the room for clues. âThey reach way up. Up and up. Toward the sky. Theyâre so big, some of them, they have to have these supports. To help hold them up, so to speak. These supports are called buttresses. They remind of viaducts, for some reason.Â But maybe you donât know viaducts, either? Sometimes the cathedrals have devils and such carved into the front. Sometimes lords and ladies. Donât ask me why this is,â I said.
He was nodding. The whole upper part of his body seemed to be moving back and forth.
âIâm not doing so good, am I?â I said.
He stopped nodding and leaned forward on the edge of the sofa. As he listened to me, he was running his fingers through his beard. I wasnât getting through to him, I could see that. But he waited for me to go on just the same. He nodded, like he was trying to encourage me. I tried to think what else to say. âTheyâre really big,â I said. Theyâre massive. Theyâre built of stone. Marble, too, sometimes. In those olden days, when they built cathedrals, men wanted to be close to God. In those olden days, God was an important part of everyoneâs life. You could tell this from their cathedral-building. Iâm sorry,â I said, âbut it looks like thatâs the best I can do for you. Iâm just no good at it.â
âThatâs all right, bub,â the blind man said. âHey, listen. I hope you donât mind my asking you. Can I ask you something? Let me ask you a simple question, yes or no. Iâm just curious and thereâs no offense. Youâre my host. But let me ask if you are in any way religious? You donât mind my asking?â
I shook my head. He couldnât see that, though. A wink is the same as a nod to a blind man. âI guess I donât believe in it. In anything. Sometimes itâs hard. You know what Iâm saying?â
âSure, I do,â he said.
âRight,â I said.
The Englishman was still holding forth. My wife sighed in her sleep. She drew a long breath and went on with her sleeping.
âYouâll have to forgive me,â I said. âBut I canât tell you what a cathedral looks like. It just isnât in me to do it. I canât do any more than Iâve done.â
The blind man sat very still, his head down, as he listened to me.
I said, âThe truth is, cathedrals donât mean anything special to me. Nothing. Cathedrals. Theyâre something to look at on late-night TV. Thatâs all they are.â
It was then that the blind man cleared his throat. He brought something up. He took a handkerchief from his back pocket. Then he said, âI get it, bub. Itâs okay. It happens. Donât worry about it,â he said. âHey, listen to me. Will you do me a favor? I got an idea. Why donât you find us some heavy paper? And a pen. Weâll do something. Weâll draw one together. Get us a pen and some heavy paper. Go on, bub, get the stuff,â he said.
So I went upstairs. My legs felt like they didnât have any strength in them. They felt like they did after Iâd done some running. In my wifeâs room, I looked around. I found some ballpoints in a little basket on her table. And then I tried to think where to look for the kind of paper he was talking about.
Downstairs, in the kitchen, I found a shopping bag with onion skins in the bottom of the bag. I emptied the bag and shook it. I brought it into the living room and sat down with it near his legs. I moved some things, smoothed the wrinkles from the bag, spread it out on the coffee table.
The blind man got down from the sofa and sat next to me on the carpet.
He ran his fingers over the paper. He went up and down the sides of the paper. The edges, even the edges. He fingered the corners.
âAll right,â he said. âAll right, letâs do her.â
He found my hand, the hand with the pen. He closed his hand over my hand. âGo ahead, bub, draw,â he said. âDraw. Youâll see. Iâll follow along with you. Itâll be okay. Just begin now like Iâm telling you. Youâll see. Draw,â the blind man said.
So I began. First I drew a box that looked like a hose. It could have been the house I lived in. Then I put a roof on it. At either end of the roof, I drew spires. Crazy.
âSwell,â he said. âTerrific. Youâre doing fine,â he said. âNever thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime, did you, bub? Well, itâs a strange life, we all know that. Go on now. Keep it up.â
I put in windows with arches. I drew flying buttresses. I hung great doors. I couldnât stop. The TV station went off the air. I put down the pen and closed and opened my fingers. The blind man felt around over the paper. He moved the tips of the fingers over the paper, all over what I had drawn, and he nodded.
âDoing fine,â the blind man said.
I took up the pen again, and he found my hand. I kept at it. Iâm no artist. But I kept drawing just the same.
My wife opened up her eyes and gazed at us. She sat up on the sofa, her robe hanging open. She said, âWhat are you doing? Tell me, I want to know.â
I didnât answer her.
The blind man said, âWeâre drawing a cathedral. Me and him are working on it. Press hard,â he said to me. âThatâs right. Thatâs good,â he said. âSure. You got it, bub. I can tell. You didnât think you could. But you can, canât you? Youâre cooking with gas now. You know what Iâm saying? Weâre going to really have us something here in a minute. Howâs the old arm?â he said. âPut some people in there now. Whatâs a cathedral without people?â
My wife said, âWhatâs going on? Robert, what are you doing? Whatâs going on?â
âItâs all right,â he said to her. âClose your eyes now,â the blind man said to me.
I did it. I closed them just like he said.
âAre they closed?â he said. âDonât fudge.â
âTheyâre closed,â I said.
âKeep them that way,â he said. He said, âDonât stop now. Draw.â
So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now.
Then he said, âI think thatâs it. I think you got it,â he said. âTake a look. What do you think?â
But I had my eyes closed. I thought Iâd keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do.
âWell?â he said. âAre you looking?â
My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didnât feel like I was inside anything.
âItâs really something,â I said.
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