“What If…” by John McIlveen

We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. This week, we have a contemplation on the nature and value of sight.

Please enjoy our Feature Story: “What If…” by John McIlveen:

“I am not handicapped!”

Mother would often speak these words, and to us, her children, they were true.  Blindness may have been a lifelong companion for Louise Cormier, but she had never allowed it to be a barrier.  Even in our childhood, my sister Anna and I never considered Mother as such, and we were often offended by those who did.

I‘ve often wondered, what if Mother had not been born blind?  Would she have been less than the remarkable woman she was?

Her infectious personality and stalwart self-confidence betrayed her blindness, and her pride was even stronger.  Beware those who would attempt to sympathize or pamper her – they would be excused with a brisk wave and with a polite ‘No thank you.’  Friends and family, in contrast, whom she figured should know better, would receive impetuous and often witty rebukes, like on the day of my sister’s wedding.  While walking across the reception hall, flanked by my father on her right and my cousin Peter on her left, Mother had stumbled on a seam in the carpet.  Peter, whose penchant for hard drink – much to Mother’s chagrin – was of some notoriety, looped his arm within hers.  Mother coolly removed her arm from Peter’s and responded, “Thank you Peter, but I stumble fine without your help.”

Such comments would often startle people to an amused silence, or stop them in their tracks.  My father, on the other hand, would glow with a jovial pride, and at other times, roar with laughter.

“Thomas, stop your gloating!” we’d often hear Mother say after one of her rebukes, for Mother knew it was this part of her that he admired most.  That is… except for her eyes.

Mother had the most wonderful and unusual eyes.  Father described them as the perfect paradox; though they were sightless and of no benefit to her, they offered others a flourish of beauty, clear windows to her character, and thermometers to her temperament, or sometimes, more aptly, warning beacons.

They were the most stunning bouquet of blues. By this, I mean that they would change hue with her moods, from the radiance a cloudless summer sky, as comforting and warm as any blanket, to a near transparency, like ice that could cause a soul to tremble. The very eyes that revealed nothing to her showed volumes to everyone else.

So unusual were they, we would often speculate whether her eyes were a result of her condition… or maybe her condition a result of her unique eyes.

Those eyes so enraptured my father that he endured two years of undeviating refusals before Mother finally accepted his proposal for marriage.  This was a feat, he alleged, that ranked with the conquering of Everest.

Again, I wonder.  What if Mother had not been blind?  Would she have been so alluring to Thomas Cormier?  Would they have married?

Even the words we used, Mother included, contradicted her affliction.  Comments like; “I’d love to see the children,” “could you watch Bobby for a while,” and “see you later,” were commonly and instinctively used.  I never really noticed the extent this until Anna was married and had mothered three children.

Mother’s love for her grandsons was unlimited.  She would sit on the porch glider for hours, telling them flamboyant tales, or simply listening to them play.  At times she would even join them, chasing their laughter and footsteps around the yard with delighted passion.  The joy of these times was memorable and infectious.

When it came to ‘watching’ the children, Mother’s acute hearing was far more reliable than Anna’s and my eyes and ears combined.  Anna would depend on presumption to figure if it was Mike, Robby or David who called Ma.  Mother computed sounds with uncanny accuracy.  Simple footsteps or breathing could spawn remarks like, “Robby, please don’t run on the porch,” and “If it’s cookies you’re looking for, David, ask, don’t sneak.”  So often I wished Mother would be granted sight, if only for a moment, so she could see the children that brought her so much joy.

Again, what if she had been able to see?  Would things have been different?  Would sight have made her a less loyal grandmother?

When I graduated college I was pushing thirty, and Mother was quite worried about my lack of romantic involvement.

“You’ve finished school,” she would say. “You’re now a certified surgeon, Stephen, and we’re very proud of you.  Now, how about finding yourself a nice little French woman and making us a granddaughter?”

To this I habitually replied, “There is no such thing as a ‘little’ French woman, Mom.”

My parents, to some extent, accepted that my career held little time for romance, so one could imagine their delight when I brought Carol home to meet them, or their ecstatic joy two years later when we told them we would be marrying.  However, none of that could compare to Mother’s nearly manic delight when Carol’s pregnancy test proved positive.  Her vibrant blue eyes practically burned with life-fire, reflecting joyous tears.

By this time I was thirty-six.  Mother was sixty-seven and Anna’s oldest son, Mike, was twenty-two and engaged.  At least Mother could no longer joke about becoming a great-grandmother before I became a father.

A little over seven months later, the awaited day arrived.  We had a daughter four hours after Carol went into labor.  The beautiful granddaughter my parents so longed for.  I rushed to the telephone and called them immediately after her birth.

“A daughter!” my father trumpeted.  “You finally gave us our granddaughter!”

“You bet, and a beauty at that!”  I replied, thinking of Mother.  How those eyes would shine when she finally held little Renée.  I believe I hung up on my father in my haste to see my daughter again.

That day, three years ago, was the most emotional day in my life.  Mother never got the chance to hold her granddaughter.  I was to learn later that evening that a sudden heart attack took her while Carol was in labor.  I had telephoned as father was leaving for the hospital.  For this reason, Renée has become twice as special to me.  She is a memorial to my mother, especially with those fascinating blue eyes that change with her moods.  The way they glow contentment with the warmth of a summer sky, or shine ice-fire in moments of anger; exactly like Mother’s.

When I look at my daughter, I again find myself wondering…

What if…

What if Mother can finally see?


John McIlveen has written numerous stories, poems, and articles about numerous things (primarily in the technical venue) and has authored too many technical guides and manuals to count. He has also had stories published in fiction markets such as Twisted Magazine, Deathrealm Magazine, Borderlands 5 (a.k.a. From The Borderlands2006 Warner), The Monster’s Corner (2011 St. Martins) ed. Christopher Golden, Epitaths (2011 Shroud), Under The Bed (2012 Sirens Call), and forthcoming in 21st Century Dead (2012 St. Martin’s), Buzzymag (2012 Buzzy). He exists in multiple realms, as the father of five gorgeous daughters, an engineer at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, a writer, and a publisher. At times, he is very tired.

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