by Angela Readman
My mother had eyestrain. She said the end part like it was something thick clogging a sieve. She made her eyes small as half moons, crunched up till I could only see slits. The optician did extensive tests. He darkened the room and showed her letters through a kaleidoscope; she said she could feel his breath on her face, that if he’d got any closer she could have felt his nasal hairs on her cheek. It was weird she said to her sister, having a stranger so close to her she could smell the onions he had at lunch and the mints he’d popped in to cover them up. Then it was odd when he’d been so close but she left without knowing his name. The optician said there was nothing wrong with her eyes, maybe a minor weakness in one compared to the other, but not great enough to have glasses anyway. My mother was glad because I needed new shoes and she knew frames didn’t come cheap. She was also sad, or something like it, maybe hopeless, because her eyes continued to ache so much and there was no easy fix.
Sometimes I could see it, before she even knew it, I could see a tiny pulse at the corner of her eyes like a miniature camera lens opening and closing. It twitched so fast it looked like an insect with its legs pulled off lying on its back. Half an hour later she’d complain about her eye strain and had to turn the news off. She spent along time looking in her eyes and pulling the lids wide, trying to see the grit left in her eye by a chat show or a minute speck of dirt left from watching a soap. The eye strain was so bad her head ached and she had to go to bed with a wet tea towel folded across her eye like a woman about to walk a gang plank. Sooner or later there’d be too much to do and she’d have open her eyes again.
Then she’d get up. The TV got covered with a cloth like it was a veil over its watchful face. The date shows, the talk shows of feuding families or obese babies, the news of wars and bombers all flew into silver parts from the screen and left silver shrapnel in her eye she couldn’t flush out. That tiny twitch would come on her way home from the shops as she passed old men asking for change or skinny cats meyowling outside houses with their curtains closed. The twitch came on whenever anyone knocked on the door after dark like a warning to tell her there wasn’t anything else in the day she should see. In the morning she’d wince in the light, at the mess in the kitchen, at the dust flying through the air like a projector lighting the living room. She’d pick up the gas bill and hold her hands to her eyes, feeling their coolness on her lids. I tried to bring bouquets of dandelions or little ladybirds in matchboxes for her to look at, anything it wouldn’t strain her eyes to see. I hid my school reports when they were too many Cs and tried to smile even when my ribs were aching from being pushed against the concrete by Pig Boy. I never told her about that or about sports day, because she might have come, her eyes maybe shining to see me racing in my new silk shorts with an egg balanced on a spoon, then the twitch returning and her sunglasses going on when I didn’t win.
Angela Readman‘s poetry has been published by Mslexia, The Tims, Iota and Ambit etc. Her poetry collection Strip, was published by Salt Publishing, but this is her first flash fiction publication.