Describe it to Me, by Douglas Seacat

     "You sure there's nothing else I can do for you?" Mark asked, his tone cautious, gentle. As if he would break something by speaking harsh.
     It was all just too much. I didn't want to deal with this right now, with the sympathy, the effort to help the poor blind man. Mark was a good friend, but he was too nice. I didn't need nice.
     I sat there, feeling helpless, trapped, and wanted to scream. Instead, my mind grabbed on the first thing I could think of. "Hey, yeah, there's something."
     "Anything to help, man, I'm serious. Just ask."
     "I know there's a pet shop downstairs, right on this block, around the corner. Find me the number in the yellow pages."
     There was a hesitation, and I could hear him shifting in his chair, letting that sink in. Granted, it was a pretty random request. I was pleased by his confusion, in a perverse way, but didn't smile like I wanted to.
     "Er, sure." I heard him get up, and then there was a pause, and later a thunk as he put something heavy down on a table. I imagined the book, could think of the exact thickness, the color, the words across the top. He was a good friend. He followed the instructions. I could hear the pages turning.
     "Hey, John, what do you want with a pet store anyhow?"
     Even that question didn't sound normal. Cautious, as if he feared to upset me, but couldn't hold his curiosity. He was really annoying me. "I don't know." I tried to examine my own mixed feelings, "I want something normal here. My folks have been through, setting everything up, making sure it was safe. I don't even feel like I live here anymore. I don't know. I think an animal might help. The thought just occurred to me."
     "Yeah, that sounds good." He was quick to agree, quick to take any explanation that might fit.
     Not that I'd lied, but it was jarring to me to know I could read him so well, read his discomfort with the entire situation.
     "Here we go, I'll write it down..." He paused again, "Or, I guess I'll just tell you the number, huh? Will you remember it? I can call it for you, if you want."
     "Just tell me the number, thanks." I felt so formal, like I was talking with one of those nurses or something. I shouldn't be talking with Mark like that, but I couldn't help it. "I'll call it myself."
     I asked him to repeat it again, and focused hard. He told me again, and then paused uncomfortably, "You were right, it's practically right downstairs."
     He waited again, and I imagined him standing there, looking at me, a worried confused expression on his face. What color was his hair? Could I have lost it so fast? No, brown, it was brown, I remembered. I saw him moving to catch a frisbee, his brown hair dark in the bright sun. But even that had taken on a haze of unreality, more like something I'd dreamed than a real memory.
     He was waiting for something, and not feeling comfortable. I could tell since he was shifting in his seat. He even stood up, and brought the phone over to me, and then waited again.
     "Hey, dude, you don't have to watch over me like a sick bird or something." I chuckled a little forcefully, "I can take it from here, trust me."
     "I'm sorry. Didn't know I was being so obnoxious."
     I sighed, "It's alright. I've been having so much attention lately, I'm going out of my head. I had mom and dad here, setting up the furniture. Then Rachel called me, if you can believe that. I haven't heard from her in about a year, and she calls when she hears about the accident. I just need time to myself. To do some things for myself, you know?"
     "I can understand." He was all for understanding, you could hear it in his tone. There was relief there too, and I could sympathize. He didn't need to be spending all his time over here, helping out his blind friend. Still, he wanted so much to help, "But is there anything else? You want me to lead you to the pet shop? Wouldn't be any problem."
     "Don't worry about it, alright? I've lived in this place for over a year; I can find my way around the corner. Just get outta here, and I'll call you if I need anything."
     "Sure, sure. Don't hesitate to call, even if it's late or anything. I'll talk with you later." He stood up, his footsteps went to the door, which opened directly afterward.
     It was funny, sitting there, thinking about the entire thing. Mark had really been annoying me, bothering me so much I could barely hold it back. But he was there for me, and it felt pretty damned good. I didn't want him there now, though, didn't want him there at all. But, I had to give him credit; most people wouldn't do what he'd done.
     "Hey, Mark," I said, as I heard the door about to close. "Thanks a lot. You've been a big help, really. I couldn't have made it without you, man." And the door closed, after he made some self depreciating remark.
     I was feeling emotional, pretty worked up, everything was suddenly heavy on my heart. It was one of those times when you know you're alone, and you're glad you're alone, but you feel overcome with emotion. Everything was hitting me at once.
     I hate that feeling, so I picked up the phone. "Levar's Pet Supplies, this is Samantha." she answered, with a very pretty voice, clear and bright.
     It was just the sound I needed. That voice was happy, and it didn't have any problems at the moment. It cheered me up immediately. "Uh, yeah, hi. I was just wondering, do you sell dogs?"
     "We sure do. At the moment we're low on stock; we're a fairly small operation. Mostly, we just sell supplies for your pets, but we do have a few animals for sale. If you're really looking for a good variety, you should check out Pet City, or the pound. We do have a large variety of canaries, however."
     I'm sure I was imagining it, but it sounded like she was depressed when she suggested the other places. It was probably my own wishes, but it seemed she didn't want me to go to those other places.
     "Oh, I live right in the neighborhood, so I wouldn't want to go somewhere far."
     "Oh, good! A local customer. Maybe we can find something for you," her voice was warming to me, and it felt good. It was just a hint of playfulness, a vocal flirtation.
     Again, my paranoia insisted I imagined it, but her voice was so pretty, and she seemed quite helpful. "Hey, how about if you describe one of them to me?"
     "Excuse me?"
     "Well, I'm sure you've got a favorite, of the dogs you have there in the store. Please, describe it to me, your favorite."
     "Well, we aren't supposed to play favorites, but..." she was definitely warming up to me, even if just on the phone. My mind insisted: Good Salesmanship, but I found myself smiling to myself, holding the phone to my ear as she continued. "There's this one little Shetland Sheepdog. That's a miniature Collie, that is quite intelligent. It's a small little dog, about a foot long, with very warm brown coloring. It has white feet, and tufts of black along its nose. It's hardly more than a puppy, but it has very striking expressions. It's an adorable dog, but also clever, as I said. And, it was the runt of the litter, so it won't grow up too large, in case you're worried about that."
     "Sounds perfect. I do live in an apartment, so I wouldn't want a large dog."
     "I think we've found a match. You should come down here and look at all the dogs. We've got three other ones, two spaniels, and a doberman pup. They're all good dogs, and I wouldn't want to prejudice you. Why don't you come down here and see for yourself?"
     I felt a thrill at that, nervous and scared, "I might just do that. Say, are you there all day today?"
     "I'll be here until five. As I said, my name's Samantha, and I wear a name tag. You can't miss me. If you're in the neighborhood, you ought to come down right now."
     "I think I just might. I ought to get a dog as soon as possible. Thanks, Samantha, you've been very helpful. I'll see you in a little bit."
     It's absolutely terrifying to go outside. I'd forgotten. Until now, I'd always had my folks, or one of my friends with me whenever I'd go somewhere. It was hard enough just staying on the sidewalk, waving that damned cane around. I felt like an idiot, and imagined I looked absolutely pitiful, staring off into space, tapping the ground. Typical fucking handicapped freak.
     And the thing is, what if someone was coming down the sidewalk? I wouldn't want to smack them with the cane, and they'd probably just go around me, out of fear of an embarrassing incident. They'd either walk on the grass or just cross to the other side of the street.
     I was like a walking hazard. Corners were a major pain in the ass. The curb caught me off guard, and I had to backtrack back and find the turn. Then there was the alleyway which I'd forgotten about; for a second I panicked and thought I'd ended up in the street.
     I wonder how many people were watching me flailing around out there. I suppose I'll get used to it, but right now it just freaked me out. It was enough that I wanted to turn around, go home, and hide.
     I would have, too, if it was really home I'd be going back to, but it hardly seemed like my apartment any more. I didn't feel comfortable there, so I might as well just keep walking, hoping I'd find the shop soon.
     The hardest part, it turned out, was finding out where exactly the pet shop was. Once I was sure I was in the general area, I just stood there, feeling stupid, and waited for the sounds of a person nearby. They were overly polite, and completely helpful. In a different mood it might have given me a new outlook on the human race. As it was, I just felt embarrassed.
     The little bell rang, and in I was, in a pet shop. I could hear the animals, especially the birds, which talked to each other nonstop. Again, I just kinda stood there, and waited, hoping humanity would toss me a line.
     "Can I help you sir?" It was the voice, Samantha, but wavering, uncertain. God, I felt like shit right there, knowing I was an imposition. To hear that voice quaver with uncertainty, it just made my hands shake.
     "Uh, yeah." I decided to be brave, and I walked forward, moving toward that voice. I was careful, though, wary of unseen counters, and didn't move too far. "Are you Samantha? I called a little while ago, about a dog."
     "Oh, was that you?" Her voice was back, and I almost sighed at the sound of it, the amused tone. She moved around, standing closer to me. "What, were you playing a little prank on me? Asking me to describe a dog? Making fun of the storekeeper, eh?"
     Her voice was so damned beautiful, with all that amusement, that the meaning caught me off guard. "Hm? No! I wasn't playing a joke or anything. I wanted to hear you describe the dog." It was a relief, in a weird way, that she wasn't being delicate with me. I hadn't expected that. She wasn't talking to me like I was about to shatter before her. I almost fell in love with her on the spot, just because of that.
     "Sure, I'll bet." I imagined her smiling to me, and I wanted so badly to see that smile. I smiled back, just in case.
     "You were sitting there thinking, 'Ah, let's hear the stupid sighted person spend all her time describing a dog I can't even see.' I know, I can see how you operate."
     "Oh, a cynic." I chuckled, "No, really. It wasn't like that at all. The truth is, I've only been blind for a short time, so I wanted to imagine a dog, and I thought it'd be nice if you'd describe one to me." Somewhere in there, I guess my voice lost its humor, and I was speaking earnestly. I don't know why it happened, just that I wanted someone, her especially, to understand.
     "Oh, I guess I'll forgive you then. It must be hard, if you haven't been blind for long. I can see how you'd want something like that." She had gotten serious too, which made me nervous at first, but she still hadn't gotten that tone in her voice: the tone Mark had, which drove me insane.
     "Can you bring me the dog? The one you described? I really do want a dog." I felt nervous, with this strong woman who didn't mind my blindness. What was she like? I already felt so attracted to her, it was intense. I wanted to see her, to know what she looked like, to look into her eyes.
     She left to get the dog, leaving me with my thoughts. What a new experience, to feel so attracted to a woman, without knowing if I was really attracted to her. And what did it mean to be attracted to a woman anymore? Did it really matter what she looked like? Wasn't her voice enough? Of course, I didn't even know if she was fat, or if she had nice legs, or how her breasts were shaped. How strange.
     "Here we go," came her voice, and something soft was moved into me, surprising me. I brought my hands up, letting my cane fall to the strap about my wrist, and held the dog, a moving living soft bunch of fur. A wet tongue left a smelly trail across my nose, and I struggled with the little creature, finally getting it comfortable in my arms. It was funny, and I was smiling before I knew it, holding a dog for the first time in a long while.
     "I think he likes you," she said, standing very close to me, perhaps worried about the dog, perhaps not. It was then, while holding the dog, that I was so overcome with desire for this woman, so full of curiosity. I just wanted to reach out, touch her, find out everything I couldn't know. But that was impossible.
     It was so strange, to think of a relationship with her. She was only a voice to me, a friendly helpful voice that brought me a dog. Even if I dated her, how long would it be before I knew anything about her body, her face? How could I stand to just know a woman by her voice? I was standing there, getting to know this dog, whose image I had in Samantha's voice. The whole time I was vividly aware of how close she was to me, the height of her lips, from which her voice emerged. Was her hair long? Was it tied back in a cute little pony-tail?
     How old was she, anyhow? She seemed of complimentary age, still young, but how could I be sure? Perhaps she was far too young. How would her humorous, sensitive personality respond if a blind man asked her on a date?
     "Now, I want you to know, it's not easy keeping a dog, especially in an apartment. You should only buy him if you're ready for something like that."
     "I've had a dog before, when I was just a little kid, and I handled it alright then." I scratched behind his ear, wondering what his name should be. I already wanted him, liked the feel of his fur on my fingers.
     "Maybe, but it won't be so easy now, especially if you have a job, and live alone." There was the hint of question there.
     "Yeah, I live alone, but my work is only part-time. I'm a student, so I've got a good amount of free time. I think I could give him the time he needs."
     Her hand patted the dog's head, and I just got the edge of it, the slight feel of her skin against mine. Not enough to base anything on, but enough to send another thrill through me. "I'm glad you think about it like that. I'd feel much better about you having a dog if you're worried about giving it attention. But, you said you haven't been blind for long." She was up front, I had to give her that, "Are you sure you want another responsibility on top of that?"
     It was a very personal question, but I didn't mind at all. Suddenly I didn't even know if anyone else even existed in the shop, it was just me, her, and the dog in my arms. Nothing else mattered. "I think I need it right now. My house is so damned empty. I need something to take my mind off things. Taking care of a dog might do me good."
     "I think you might be right. Okay, you've passed the test. You can have him," the humor was back in her voice, a warm current of life, "But I'll hear about it if you don't treat him well. You'd better come in here if you need any advice."
     "I'll make sure of that, don't you worry."
     "Say, you can't even use your cane holding him like that. Do you want me to come with you, to bring the dog over to your apartment?"
     What was she doing? I felt another surge of panic, mixed with doubt and uncertainty. Of course, it was just concern for the dog, I figured, she just didn't want the dog getting hurt. "Hey, that's not necessary. I wouldn't want you leaving the shop and everything."
     "No, really, it's no problem. Lilly's in back; I'll just get her to cover for me until we get back. You said you were right in the neighborhood, after all."
     I hardly remember the rest of the transaction, except I left with many more dog-items than I would ever have thought of on my own. As we walked out the door, she let me take her hand so she could help lead me, and it seemed all my attention focused there, to that one place of contact.
     We talked some on the way home, and she continued to surprise me with her frankness. We didn't speak of much, it wasn't all that far to go, mainly my accident and how I'd ended up this way. It was amazing how up front she was, and the fact that she didn't mind what I was saying allowed me to speak about the things that hurt worst.
     Before I even expected it, we were back. I was kinda surprised I didn't just keep walking, but I knew the area just a little too well for that. I'd already started working my mind on two levels: imagining the world I moved in, while talking and thinking at the same time.
     We stood there for a little while, right before the steps, and I assured her I'd be alright. When I was about to leave, I wanted so badly to ask her out, to ask her to come upstairs.
     It would have worked, I knew it would have worked. It's easy to take advantage of people when you're handicapped. People want to help you, and I could have let her help me. At least to talk with her more, to ask her if she had a boyfriend, if she wanted to go to dinner. A thousand possibilities went through my mind.
     But in the end I couldn't do it. It was just too scary. I couldn't handle not knowing. Not knowing what she looked like, if she was just a voice and nothing else. I just wanted to get my dog home, and forget the frightening world of women I couldn't see.
     When I was safely back inside, her voice echoed in my ears, in my memory. All I could think of was the sound of that voice, the nearness of her body, the warmth of her hand. Immediately, I berated myself for not asking her out. I couldn't believe I hadn't asked her on a date. Hadn't she seemed interested? Or at least friendly. Even in rejection, she would have been gentle.
     Suddenly I stopped trying to imagine what she looked like. The voice was enough, the voice and the humor it held. But I imagined that humor turned on me, and laughing at me, or simply quavering again, not wanting to hurt me as she told me "No."
     A feeling of dread sunk coldly to my stomach, and I found myself hunkering down somewhat in the chair, holding a squirming dog that wanted to be free. I let him down carefully on the floor, immediately despairing of ever finding him again.
     The world outside was a scary place, and I could hardly imagine going out there again. Perhaps it was better to hide, better to stop pretending I wasn't about to shatter under a tough blow. From somewhere outside came the song of birds. I considered how those birds weren't in cages, waiting to be sold. But the free ones didn't hear that beautiful voice every day. How terrible to be imprisoned in a cage and still unable to hear that voice.
     I stayed feeling sorry for myself for just a little while, but then picked up the phone. I couldn't remember the number for a few seconds, but it came back to me. After two rings, her voice touched me. "Samantha? Hi...Yeah, it's me. Hm? Oh, he's doing just fine." I had to take a second to collect myself, "Hey, can you describe yourself to me?"

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