Stories on the edge of familiarity

Glass

Isabelle took off her glasses, squinting in an attempt to see the hand she held outstretched in front of her face. All that her eyes showed was a great blur. Frustrated, she returned the glasses to their accustomed place and stared at her fingers thoughtfully.

‘How could you think they are artist’s hands?’ her mother’s voice echoed through her mind. ‘It is quite obvious that they are a pianist’s hands. Anyone could see that.’

‘It’s true,’ Isabelle’s father had agreed, adjusting his glasses. ‘No-one could mistake it.’

“Well, I obviously could.” Isabelle grumbled to herself. “Why can’t they see what I see?” Sighing, she picked up her pencil, began to draw.

In the town of Un Vue, named so because the view from the nearby hill, while not as great as the town of La Vue, was still somewhat spectacular, each and every person wore glasses. Upon the week of their first spoken sentence, every child would receive brand-new glasses and, upon the day of their death, those glasses would be buried with them. As if to mediocritize everything more, all of the glasses were the same, from colour to shape, not a single thing differed among them. Because of this universal similarity, not a single person noticed the presence of their glasses in any particular way, just as no-one would really notice that another person had two eyes. It was the way everyone was, from generation to generation.

Now, Isabelle was slightly unique among the rest of the town. She did not begin to speak at all for the longest time and so, unlike anyone else, could remember slightly what it was like not to wear glasses. Therefore, this particular instance of her taking them off in order to see differently could occur within the realm of possibility. She never did so in public, however, where the absence of glasses would be noticed like the loss of a limb. No-one would understand because no-one could remember that there had been another way of seeing things. But Isabelle could no longer see in that way. The blur in front of her face was evidence of that.

Then why? She thought. Why do my parents and I see so differently? All I want to be is an artist, but no matter how well I can draw, no matter what kind of art I create, Mama always frowns upon it. She thinks it’s stupid, and she doesn’t care if I know. The only thing she has wanted from me is that I become a pianist, just like her. Never mind the fact that I can barely tell one note from another, or the concept that black dots on a page somehow mean music is completely beyond my understanding. Isabelle drew angrily, having to stop and erase each time she accidentally made a line that was too dark or too thick. The slowly developing image on her page was that of a girl sitting in a dark room, her head flowering, glowing with ideas and impressions.

You can’t make me, Mama, she told herself fiercely. You can’t make me.

‘They are pianist’s hands,’ repeated her mother, followed again by her father’s affirmation.

No! Isabelle threw her pencil onto her desk with such vigour that it nearly broke. Unable to focus, she stood, running her fingers through her hair, repositioning her glasses. Why can’t they see what I see?

Outside Isabelle’s window, a gentle sunset delicately painted the sky a pink that was slowly deepening to purple, then to black. It mocked her with its very tranquility. She made a face at it and turned away. Everyone else in her family had gone to sleep earlier, and Isabelle wondered if she should do the same. Staying awake was accomplishing nothing here, only frustration.

Why can’t they see what I see? For some irrational reason, Isabelle felt she would be unable to go to sleep unless she was able to answer that question. “Go away,” she told it, hoping that, by doing so, she could ignore the problem. She tried to turn her mind to sleep, to her drawing, to something that would not take a hold of her mind in the way this question was. Instead, Isabelle found those seven small words growing in her mind, disturbing her attempted self-distraction. It seemed incomprehensible that her she and her mother could look at the very same thing, yet see it in two completely different ways. They both had eyes that worked, they both wore the same kind of glasses, the world should look no different to them. Even if they switched glasses –

A sudden wild thought entered Isabelle’s mind. Without a word, without even another thought, she left her room, stepping quickly and quietly down the hall to her parent’s bedroom. Easing the door open, she slipped in, her eyes scanning the room for her mother’s glasses. She spotted them quickly and nimbly picked them up, lifting them in such a careful manner as to not make the slightest sound.

This is preposterous! Her mind cried indignantly. Looking through her glasses won’t change things in the least! You idiot, they’re exactly the same! 

Nevertheless, Isabelle returned to her room with the glasses, almost proud at they way she had been able to move so silently.

“Okay,” she breathed, “Now.” With a swift motion, Isabelle removed her glasses and put her mother’s on. Immediately, she noticed a change in the room. All the things her mother had scorned now seemed scornful. Isabelle’s most cherished drawings were now colourless, insipid, worthless. She looked down at her hands, now hanging nearly lifelessly at the shock of what her eyes were showing her. Pianist’s hands, to be sure. Her very fingers seemed able to conjure beauty out of even the most out of tune upright.

Slowly, Isabelle replaced her mother’s glasses with her own and sat down at her desk. Picking up her pencil, she continued to draw until the picture was completed, returned her mother’s glasses, changed, and went to bed. The drawing still showed the girl sitting, the same thoughts growing out of her mind.

But she wore no glasses.


This story was originally published in Dreaming of Her and Other Stories, and first appeared free on the web on The Twins of Darkness and Good, where Liana Brooks, Amy Laurens, and I post short, unedited, mostly-weekly fiction.

Amy Laurens is currently running a serial story called The League of Absolutely Ordinary Superheroes. There are six parts so far and the latest one involves the main character being an idiot with girls.

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