When we were 11 I held a fragment of smoked glass up to the eclipsed Sun. The moon moved, and the sun’s bright edge was revealed.
Light burned through a scratch in the sooty film and coagulated my retina. I didn’t look away immediately because I thought the glare was normal, what we were meant to see.
I was fascinated by the shape, the curve, the intensity. The pain came later. I didn’t tell my parents at first, because we had been told not to look. On no account should you look. But a group of us, an informal gang of boys and girls, snuck out to a crop field.
Then my eye swelled.
Since that day, I have not seen a human face.
When I look at people there is a smudge, neither dark nor light. An absence of sense. It extends from the forehead to the base of the neck. It is in the shape of a calligraphic comma; the same elegant curve that beguiled me.
Instead of faces I see truth, an ability that developed within a few months of the accident.
When I met people – the tutor who taught me how to read in other ways, the children who tolerated me even though I was different – I understood them completely. I could tell what they really meant, beyond the words they spoke. Although their expressions were hidden from me, my perception pierced the skin.
Yesterday, Beth, I met you in the mall. You were with friends, I was with mine. Boys and girls, all of 15 now.
Possibilities enveloped us, a charged pheremonal cloud. Flicking my eyes to the side, I could delineate the outline of your once familiar face. But whenever there was an opportunity to speak to me, you slid away. You engineered the conversation so that our groups went different ways. You needed to get away.
Confident in my ability, I hurried through a clothes store and cut you off on the other side. You froze when I called out your name. Your friends whispered and moved to the margins, as though expecting a crisis. You started to walk away, but duty (I felt it) drew you back.
You know me? I said
You were in my class.
You gave me the glass.
I pause now Beth. You need space. You will fill it words and explanation.
I smoked it, with a cigarette lighter. But I scratched something onto it, with a fingernail. A heart. A love-heart. I wanted you to see it, as a surprise. I… liked you.
That’s good. Carry on Beth.
But it was only half a heart. The moon was moving. I couldn’t finish it. You reached out impatiently, I put it in your hand.
Where did you go Beth? Steady voice. The trauma is long past. I am what I am.
They took me away, because… I had blinded you. We weren’t supposed to be there. Another school… I’m so sorry, I didn’t…
Philip Berry lives in London. His short fiction and speculative poetry have been published with Liar’s League, Ellipsiszine, Hypnopomp, Daily Science Fiction, Metaphorosis, Nebula Rift, Headstuff, Chrome Baby and 365 Tomorrows, among others.