SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
July 27, 2014

The One-Eyed Woman with the Growing Brain

 

I was sitting on a sidewalk bench made of black metal slats. You find benches like that every fifteen yards or so up and down Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. I’ve always appreciated that. It was a convenient place to sit and have a smoke or two while waiting for Morgan to come out of a store. I’d been there a few minutes when I felt someone lower him or herself onto the far end of the bench. She muttered something, but I ignored her, preoccupied as I was pondering something I’d seen earlier that afternoon:  A man holding a clipboard and claiming to be a doctor had set himself up on the sidewalk outside a drug store, offering to give passers by a free spinal exam. The whole thing struck me as very odd and unwholesome. Nope, it just wasn’t a good idea at all.

            “Excuse me?” she repeated loudly, more clearly directing the question at me.

            “Hmm?”

            “You mind I sit here?” She had a heavy Cuban accent. (I only say “Cuban” because a friend in high school had a mother who was Cuban, and this woman sounded like her.)

            “Fine by me,” I replied with a small sweep of the hand holding the cigarette.

            “Thank you. Some people get very upset if you sit on the same bench. they get nervous and then they go away.”

            If she didn’t start shutting up soon I could understand why. “Yeah, well, it’s fine. I’m just waiting for my wife.”

            She was quiet for a moment, then started in with the inevitable. “You have lost your sight?”

            “Yup.” If the damn bench hadn’t been in the shade, I think I would’ve stood up and left at that point, but since it was I was hopelessly trapped. Too bright and hot a day to be fleeing chatty Cubans.

            “I lost my sight too. In my right eye.”

            “Really.” If I had to guess I would’ve put her in her early fifties. She seemed harmless enough, but still.

            “I was at the Columbia Hospital. My brain was growing and it pushed in on my optic nerve. So to find out what was wrong they had to cut out a piece of my optic nerve and that made me blind in my right eye. But at the Columbia Hospital they are treating it with medicines.”

            It was all getting a little confusing. I wasn’t even sure if she meant Columbia Presbyterian Hospital here in New York, or some ramshackle hospital in Columbia, or some fly by night storefront operation in the Bronx calling itself the Columbia Hospital. All pretty much the same, I guess.

            “So . . . you got some sight back in that eye?”

            “Oh no, no. They cut the optic nerve.”

            “Oh. Sorry to hear that.”

            “It is all right. I have learn to live with it. We must deal with things. I have wonderful husband and live day by day here on earth.”

            “Uh-huh. That’s super.”

            “But my brain is still growing, and they do not know why. At the Columbia Hospital they are treating me like guinea pig.”

            “Sure.”

            She didn’t sound like a crazy person, but sometimes it’s hard to tell at first. The giveaway would come if she started expanding on the guinea pig idea, or told me the doctors were tracking her with microwaves. That “growing brain” business was kind of intriguing, though. I imagined she looked like one of those fifties-style Martians, the kind with the tiny narrow faces, the buggy eyes, and the heads gone all bulbous given their brains had outgrown their skulls.

            “So you have no sight?” she ventured.

            “Nope.” Figuring this was her way of politely angling into it, I gave her a brief explanation of just what the hell went wrong with me. “But I’m fine,” I told her when I was finished. “It’s no big deal.”

            “Yes, we must all deal with what we have every day.”

            “Yup.” I was tempted to ask her if that growing brain gave her super psychic powers. I was also beginning to wonder what was taking Morgan so long.

            “Just because we cannot see, we must not let that stop us.”

            “Sure.”

            If there was one thing worse than dealing with another blindo, it was dealing with one of these half-blind poseurs. I bet she wore an eye patch. I hate those fucking show-offs who wear eye patches. Think they’re so goddamn tough. Still, idiot that I am, even as I was waiting for her to get into the God pitch or hit me up for money, I made the mistake of mentioning that I still worked, sort of.

            “Oh? What do you do?”

            It was my own damn fault. “Yeah, well, I guess I’m a writer.”

            “Oh! I think that is just so wonderful! It must be so very exciting.”

            “Has its moments, I guess.”

            “I still love reading books and stories. They are very important to me.”

            “It’s good to know there’s at least one of you left.”

            “I think that is wonderful that you do this.”

            Fortunately at that moment Morgan came out of the store. Unfortunately it was only to retrieve her bank card, which I was holding for her. Still, the interruption was enough to break the one-eyed woman’s concentration. I wasn’t about to remind her what we were talking about. We were both silent for a long time, and I lit another cigarette.

            “Do you believe in God?” she asked.

            Oh, here we go now. It was no surprise. Only thing that surprised me was that she hadn’t brought it up sooner.

            “Nope.”

            “I believe there is a God in the universe, but that we made all things here on earth.”

            “That’s fine.” I wasn’t about to stupidly push this one any further. It would’ve been easier if she’d hit me up for money using that one-eyed, growing brain business as a sales pitch.

            “Well,” she said finally, maybe sensing that the introduction of God into the conversation had sapped the air out of everything. Probably happens to her a lot. “I must go meet my husband now.”

            “Okay.”

            “But it has been a pleasure speaking with you. What is your name?”

            I need to be much lighter on my feet when that question comes up, tell them something like “Bill Styron” or “Maya Angelou.” Instead I stupidly gave my real name and she wrote it down. This has happened before in similar situations. They always write the name down, and I never hear from them again. Way I imagine it, they go home, look up a few titles, and are mortified. Better to spare them the shame of having spoken with me. Especially those God people. All for the best, I guess, since I never wanted to hear from them in the first place.

            “I wish you the best of luck with the sales of your books,” she said as she shook my hand.

            “And I wish you all the luck with your growing brain,” I told her before she walked away to meet her husband.

 

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