Now that she’s had them a long time, Mama appreciates her second set of eyes. But twenty years ago when it first happened, Mama didn’t like the new eyes in the back of her head, not one bit. She had always said she needed them, so I thought she’d be happy that I used my one-and-only wish for her. But, Mama never liked anything I did, even when I was trying to be good, trying to be nice.
Looking back as an adult, I suppose I can understand why she reacted the way she did. Having to get two sets of glasses, standing still as she tried to figure out if she was coming or going, seeing the previously obscured expressions of those behind her must have been initially disconcerting, to say the least. But that was no reason for her to stop functioning completely. Even as a four year old, I could see so many possibilities – driving the car in reverse without turning around, watching her daily soaps while ironing, standing in the middle of the super-market aisles and seeing all of the signs without turning around. But Mama was overwhelmed initially, unable to process what had happened. When they first grew, it was like she didn’t see at all. I can still picture her blank glare…
“Maaaaa-ma. Mama. Mom-mom. Mama! It’s me, Janie.”
I wave my hand at her face and then at the back of her head. She almost looks at me both times, but she doesn’t see me, I guess. “I wannet ta help, Mama,” I whisper, tugging on her shirt hem with one hand and running the other hand up my snotty button nose. My peach eyelet halter top is sweaty, the fabric by the armpits a brownish-gold color. The denim shorts I’m wearing are too small, and the waistband cuts into my tummy. My purple jelly sandals are caked with grime that matches the sludge under my toenails. The ponytail I wrestled my stringy blonde hair into this morning is falling out, as I can’t properly fasten a butterfly hair-tie.
I crane my neck to one side, then the other, trying to get her to notice me. But Mama won’t look at me – not with either set. She just stares into the dining room mirror and at the television in the family room. Doesn’t seem like she sees anything, though. She just sits and watches, not really watching. Her tulip house dress – the same one she’s worn all week –makes her collarbone look like a wire hanger. She has a moccasin on one foot and her other foot is bare, revealing chipping fuchsia paint on her toe nails. Her skin is grayish, and reminds me of a dolphin I saw last summer at the “quarum,” as I call it. Mama’s hair is dark and oily and matted to the sides of her head and face, with twisted tendrils running down her cheeks like party streamers.
Four days have passed already and she still won’t leave the kitchen barstool, other than to schlump over to the bathroom occasionally, or shuffle over to the sink for a sip of water. No food; just water. Pa is due back from his business trip any minute, and I can’t help but think he is going to be mad. Real mad.
The house is a mess, with bowls from the cereal I ate for the first couple days and cups from Mama’s slim-quick shakes that I’ve drank the last couple days piled in the sink. Two days ago, the bathroom toilet clogged and spilled over onto the floor, the water making a flowery stain on the hardwood outside the bathroom where I put Mama’s good towels down to sop it up. I always use too much paper to wipe, which Mama tells me not to do, but I don’t listen – and she isn’t reminding me now. Not knowing where to go, I’ve been doing numbers one and two in the bathtub. Mama has been, too, since she’s not thinking right. The living area smells like the bathrooms at the beach. It’s hot inside, too. A layer of dust that Mama has never before allowed coats her knickknacks, tables, and fixtures. The house looks like no one cares, no one tries. But I do care. I did try. I tried to help Mama.
The car engine sputters to silence in the garage and my stomach feels funny, achy and tickly all together. Mama stays put, still looking at the mirror and TV. I hear Pa singing a tune – Alexander’s Rag Time Band – and I suddenly can’t wait to give him a big hug; I’ve missed him so.
The kitchen door opens and Pa comes bounding through, briefcase in one hand, newspaper in the other, and his eyeglasses still dark from being in the sun. His wavy, sandy-colored hair has been mussed by the wind, his face is reddish and shiny, and his shirtsleeves are rolled up, revealing tan and hairy forearms. He sees me and flashes a sparkling smile.
“Hey Peanut,” he shouts, dropping his briefcase and the newspaper by the door and extending his arms to me.
I run toward him, but he pulls his arms to his chest and stands straight up.
Running into his legs, I grip and hug him, and clamp my eyes shut.
“Jesus Christ. Oh Jesus. Oh God, Annie,” he whimpers. I feel his legs shimmy.
I peek over at Mama. She doesn’t move; she doesn’t look at him – not with either set.
Pa pushes me to the side and walks up to Mama and stares at her head, looking into her eyes and then around and into her other eyes.
“What ha—,” Pa chokes and turns to me, kneeling down in front of me and grabbing my arms hard. His smoky glasses are beginning to fade clear. “How… what… how?”
The tears feel hot running down my cheeks, and my neck is on fire. Pa grips my arms so tight they felt tingly. The words burst out of me. “I din’t mean it, I wannet to help! The man say I get a wish!”
Pa rips his glasses off and throws them; they clack against the wall. “What? What man, what wish,” he growls, shaking me, hurting my arms.
“The big man,” I cry, afraid of Pa’s red eyes and hot breath. My words speed up as I go on, “He gave a wish for me, say I was good girl. I wish to give Mama somethin’ but I donno what. The man say, ‘what she say she aways need?’ I say, ‘eyes in the backa her head,’ an’ he say, ‘it done,’ an’ I hear Mama screamin’. I wanna help Mama. I trya be nice!”
Pa stands up and steps away, holding his forehead. He turns and wrestles the phone off its cradle.
“I need an ambulance. 251 Stratford Place, Mirror Lake. My wife. Her eyes… I … hurry. Please.” …
It was another week before Mama started seeing again, really seeing. The doctors didn’t say what made her fall into catatonia like that; no one had ever gotten a second set of eyes before, so they didn’t know how one should react. It took a long time for the doctors and head shrinkers to get Mama used to what they dubbed, “quatra-vision.”
The day Pa came home, I remember the police officer gave me a cola, which Mama never before let me have so I instantly felt naughty. He said it was okay, though, and then asked me all about the big man. But there wasn’t much to tell – he was big and tall with dark glasses and a hat. I did remember one more thing – he had a shiny, gold tooth, but I didn’t tell the police officer that, and I still don’t know why. The police looked for the big man, but they never did find him. I saw him a year ago when I got married, but I didn’t tell anyone. Mama saw him, too, but she didn’t know who he was. As I recited my vows, I noticed him standing in the back of the church, flashing his gold tooth at Mama’s back-eyes.
Bio: I am a graduate of William Paterson University, with a degree in English, writing concentration. I have had poetry published in The Zeitgeist, an on-campus literary journal at William Paterson University, and I have had several creative works and critical papers published in campus writing contest journals.