Angels of Purgatory 

by Chris Panatier

The doctor says it’s something called retinitis pigmentosa and there’s nothing he can do, nothing anyone can do. He’s yammering about how gene therapy is still years off, says the bright side is that other senses may sharpen. Through the window, I can see my car in the parking lot, though it’s no more than a blurry teal jellybean. I know I’ll have to quit driving soon.

Back home, I cry over a photograph of Samantha like always. She was seven, just starting to make the world feel her. Now she’s fuzzy around the edges. The day’s coming that I’ll go to look and not recognize. At some point after that, I won’t see anything. If I can’t see her, will I forget?

I’m cramming to learn braille before the lights go out, trying to find a voice recognition software that knows legalese so I can keep my job. Honestly, though, I don’t care. Sometimes I wish I were my eyesight’s companion, fading then gone. Blip.

Time passes more slowly when you dread. I see blobs. Light and dark. I stopped going to the office last week. Groceries are delivered now. I filled a glass with vinegar when I thought I was pouring juice and now everything has its place. I hold Samantha but can no longer see her.

Inevitably, one morning the sun fails to rise. I sit on my couch like a statue, the lone occupant in a world of darkness. My fingers clutch a picture frame, but I can’t be sure if it’s her. I rage at my idiocy for not placing it away from the other photographs in anticipation of my blindness. It matters that I hold the right picture.

It matters.

I exist in a world between. A haunt in my old life, an alien in the new, fully in neither. Senses do sparkle some. With repetition, my fingers map and remember. Scents become rich and complex—loaded with information that I can’t decode. I am surprised by my ears’ burgeoning sensitivity. They tell me distance, mass, even material—how sound bounces from a painted wall as opposed to the wooden floor. A cluster of leaves drops into the grass to tell me that autumn has come.

October ends with children at my door. I offer the bowl forward. They dig for what they want with tiny hands that are not hers.

I wake one night to a roar and spring from my bed, rushing to the window as if I can still see through it. The sound is deafening, like a dump truck emptying gravel. I ask my digital assistant if there is a storm. There isn’t. I pace my room hoping it will pass. It doesn’t. I brave the front door, the porch. I enter the sound and experience what I imagine it’s like at the mouth of a cave with bats streaking by. 

I hear the friction of one thing giving way to another, the violence of molecules buffeted. And I realize what I am hearing. It is the leaves themselves, their edges cutting the air. I hear them together at first, swarming like starlings, but with some concentration I can discern the individuals spinning to the ground. At this, the roar subsides. I push my senses outward. I hear the gentle unclasping of their stems from the limb and the thunder of their collisions with the earth. From where they come, to the place they rest, they paint a picture.

In the coming days, I learn the sounds of blood pushing through veins, spiders spinning out silk, blooms on the knockout roses closing. Rays of sunlight warming the carpet.

I hear it all.

And amid the noise, there are contours of another place—a landscape somewhere just out of reach—emerging. There are voices, muffled and whispering, puckish. They gallop, hand-in-hand, little herds.

I cry out—ask who they are, where they are, where they are going. Is Samantha with them? Some slow at my voice, stop and gaze about, but continue on. I listen, mapping the place where they run.

Early in the morning, I wake and roll upright on the couch. When I project into the other place, there are no more whispers, no more galloping herds. Across what sounds like a sun-drenched meadow, there is a small group gathered and waiting. I reach for them. Walk in their direction. They shuffle to one side. I alter my course in turn.

In the living room, my body bumps the shelf, and I hear the clap of a picture frame fallen forward. I snatch it up.

The group disperses. Tiny heads bounce into the setting sun as they make for meadow’s edge. The landscape in dusk recedes beyond the reach of my hearing.

One after another, each ear adjusts—the faint pop that comes with a change in pressure. Sounds no longer pierce and boom. Sitting with Samantha, the world is quiet again.

Chris’ short fiction has appeared in Ghost Parachute, The Ginger Collect, and others. As an artist, he draws album covers for tiny metal bands. Plays himself on twitter @chrisjpanatier.
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