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Friday, February 22, 2013

Through the Lens

by Mae Pen

      Cassandra inhaled the warm musky scent of things growing. The roughness of the potting bench beneath her hands centered her in her surroundings. Eleven years. Today marked the eleventh year since the horrible accident that had blinded her. She blinked, hoping by some miracle that she would be able to see again. It was just one of the curses of this day. Sighing she turned back to the delicate task of potting her new orchid. The moss squished between her fingers with the excess of liquid from the transport. Cassandra shook her head. Some people would never learn.
Glass clattered in the hallway inside the house. The gruff grumbling of John's voice rumbled through the closed French doors. For a brief second a smile graced her lips. Just as quickly it vanished leaving behind the emptiness she'd been fighting lately. Though she loved her father dearly, he wasn't enough to bring her out of the blackness that was swallowing her whole. Not even her beloved gardening was doing the trick.
Her eyes burned as she fought not to cry. Her glass encased sanctuary felt more like a glass walled prison. Jackson's voice floated through the glass panes. She frowned. She hadn't expected him today. In fact, she'd expressly forbidden him from visiting. She didn't want to see anyone. She snorted. See. Right.  She moved to the far side of the conservatory hiding behind the large palm fronds. The smoothness of the leaves reminded her of silk against her skin.
The French door opened. The woodsy sandalwood that was purely Jackson drifted to her. She closed her eyes inhailing the treasured essence. She could always tell Jackson was near by his scent alone. The heavy clomp of his boots against the tile floors told her he was moving further in looking for her. She took a tiny step back and winced as her shoulder bumped the glass wall.
"I know you're in here, Cassy."
For a minute she debated if she should say anything. His footsteps stopped in front of her hiding spot. Shoulders slumping she knew she'd been found.
"I told you I didn't want to see anyone today. Including you."
"You know I'm not going to let you brood today."
"Brood? You think I'm brooding? Lose your sight and see how you feel." She pushed past him moving back to the orchid. The light scent of the plant usually brought her a semblance of calm.
Jackson caught her wrist before she went too far past him. His calloused fingers pressed against the pulse beating rapidly beneath her skin.
"You’re brooding. As you do every year on this day. It's time to let it go, Cassy."
"Let it go? I can't just let it go Jackson. I can't see!" She tugged her wrist back but he only tightened his grip. She swallowed the large lump threatening to burst free. This was why she hadn't wanted to be near anyone.
"I know Cassy. Do you think you let anyone forget?"
"You don't understand." She pulled her wrist again. He let go. She stumble back a step before catching herself. She hadn't really expected him to let go. Sometimes he was like a dog with a bone.
"I understand better than you think. You weren't the only one who suffered that day."
"I lost my eyesight. What did you lose?"
He was silent for several minutes. If it hadn't been for the whisper puffs of his breath and the lack of the door opening and closing, Cassy would have thought he had left. She jumped when he spoke just over her shoulder.

"I lost my conspirator. The one person that willingly went with me wherever I went and got into the same trouble I did. I lost my best friend." He tried to hide the anguish he felt, but the gruffness of his words seared themselves into his heart. She stood so stiff before him. He desperately wanted to rub her shoulders to get her to relax. His fingers itched reminding him of the wrapped package he still held. Jackson laid his forehead down on her shoulder. She didn't move away, but she didn't relax either.
"We still spend time together Jack."
"It's not the same. You're not the same. Your father's not the same."
"I know that." She took a deep breath then let it out. The tension in her body left.
"I brought you a gift." He spoke lifting his head from her shoulder. He deposited the package on the workbench before her.  

"I don't want anything Jack, especially today."
"Don't you think that maybe we should start to celebrate this day instead of brood?"
She shook her head. The silky tendrils of her sable hair brushed like butterfly wings across his cheek. She usually wore her hair in a simple braid down her back, but this morning she wore it in an intricate chignon. He stood back really looking at her for the first time that day. She wore a black cotton day dress. Around her bare throat she wore the small glass bottle pendant he'd given her for her seventeenth birthday. It was supposed to hold all of her dreams and hopes.
His heart thumped against his ribs. She'd never worn that particular piece on the anniversary date. Perhaps it was finally time to move past the accident and into the future. He pulled out the black velvet box from his pocket. He'd planned to remove the anguish of this day from everyone's heart. If she accepted.
"How can I celebrate a day that left me so useless?"
Jackson frowned. Useless? She truly thought of herself as useless? She was well educated, a world renown botanist, and a big supporter and promoter for the American Braille system. Cassy had just this last year begun the labor intensive project of building a school for the blind in the country just outside of London. She already had three blind children taken from the streets to be raised and cared for. Useless? Jack snorted.
"That's the biggest crock I've ever heard."
She turned. The sun finally made an appearance and burst through the glass casting light across her creamy face. Most people became unnerved by her sightless white gaze. Jackson loved how he was reflected there. He could see himself they way she saw him, even if there was no actual sight involved. She always encouraged him to push his boundaries, both in his personal life an in business.
"It's true. Mary had to do my hair and help me dress. Sarah can't move any furniture around or I'll trip. John has to put my plate and silverware exactly so or someone has to feed me. Father-" Her voice caught on a sob.
Chills chased down his spine. His stomach clenched while his throat closed. The catalogue of things people did for her was long, but even longer was the list of things she did for herself.
"You read to the children at Church. You can brush and braid your own hair. You can dress yourself. You know everyone who comes in your home by just a scent. You designed and run a lending library. You’re building a school for the blind. How can you possibly think that small amount of things people do for you makes you useless."
"I can't marry, Jackson."
His stomach dropped. He took a deep breath then let it out slowly. "Why..." he cleared his throat of the lump of grief her words caused him.”Why would you say that?"
"Tell me truthfully, would you marry a woman who couldn't host events, darn your socks, cook your dinner?"
Jackson felt a bubble of amusement worm its way up his chest. It burst forth. Tears burned his eyes. He shook his head. The small box burned like a coal in his hand. Finally able to contain the almost hysterical laughter, he took her hand in his. She pulled away but he tightened his grip.
"I know you don't like to be led, but please humor me."
She sighed. "Alright."
Jackson grabbed the present before leading her to the wicker sitting area just to the right of the French doors. He made sure she was settled before putting the present into her hands. Her soft gasp at the silk wrapping had him smiling. It was one of her favorite material. It was why he'd wrapped the gift in blue silk. He didn't know how she did it, but just by touching something she was usually able to guess the color. She smiled.
"Blue silk? Jackson-"
"Open it."
"You already brought me back something from your last trip."
"This is something special. It's not from a trip."
"Oh." She pulled the ribbon unraveling the material around the wooden box.

Cassandra held the ribbons tight around her fingers fighting against the need to run. Her stomach threatened to heave her breakfast up. With shaking hands she let the ribbons fall. The silk had lovingly captured a polished wood box with delicate filigree hinges and handle. Running her finger tips over the box she felt raised images. Frowning she paused over the lettering at the top. She smiled. Her name was carved into the wood followed by the raised dot system from America. The image below them was of a glass blower at his furnace.
"It's beautiful." she whispered.
"There's more inside." He opened the box.
She breathed in at the velvet against her fingertips. Dipping further in, she gasped as she bumped up against metal. Her heart skipped a beat as her fingers explored. Metal rings attached to leather straps. In the top corners on each ring a piece of metal stuck out. Attached to the metal rods three smaller metal rings filled with glass. Her stomach revolted burning her throat with bile. She swallowed. He'd given her goggles. Laboratory goggles. She closed her eyes.

Her father's cluttered workshop appeared behind her closed lids. The glass apothecary jars filled with alcohol and objects from petals of exotic flowers to parts of animals her father studied. The harsh chemicals in the air made her eyes water for a second. Entering his lab always gave the same reaction. Her father leaned over the magnifying glass mounted over the desk. His torn tweed jacket and stained trousers told him he'd been working for several hours already. And it was only ten in the morning.
"Oh, Cassy. Wonderful." He stood up turning towards her. His smile sent a warmth of love through her. He was always happy to see her.
"Hi Cassy!" Jackson's enthusiastic voice spoke from the small room off to the right. With the energy of a troublemaker and charmer he pulled a suitcase across the floor.
Cassandra groaned. She'd seen that look on him one too many times. It meant trouble. What were they up to?
"Jack, help Cassy with the next set up will you?"
Cassy tried not to pout. She'd hoped to have her papa alone today. The servants had been given the day off. It was just her and her papa and they were going to play in the lab. She sighed. Jack frowned at her as he skidded to a stop in front of her.
"What are you doing here?" She grumbled. He blinked his pretty blue eyes up at her.
"Your papa sent for me. He said you needed help with the experiment your doing today. You don't want me here?" He frowned.
Cassy felt bad. She'd just hurt his feelings. She forced a smile and shook her head.
"You thought it would just be you and your papa." Jackson spoke with a flattened tone. He only used that when he was disappointed. Tears started to fill her eyes. She hated to hurt him. He was her bestest friend. Well, he was her only friend.
"I just didn't expect you today, Jack. Come on."
"I'll leave if you want me to Cassy." He hung back as if waiting for her to tell him to leave. Jack didn't have a papa like she did. His had died in a little after he was born. He idolized her papa. She took his hand and squeezed it lightly.
"I'm fine, Jack. Come on."
"What are we doing today?"
"We're conducting an experiment with sulfur and different plants. I wanted to see results of the plants."
Cassy rolled her eyes. Jack didn't understand her fascination with plants. She wanted to change the future. Plants could do so many things. Not many people realized that plants could heal, feed and provide shelter as well as look pretty. She pulled out the red rose she'd picked yesterday and the vile of sulfur.
"Don't forget your goggles." Papa spoke across the room.
Jack handed her the pair she tended to use. She set it down on the tabletop. Sulfur wasn't dangerous with water. Jack pulled his goggles on and then picked up a vile of water.
"Cassy, your goggles."
"I'll be fine. It's just water." She took the liquid from him and poured it into the vase. She poured the sulfur.
"Cassy! Goggles!" 

Emotions crossed Cassy's face as fast as the new steam operated horseless carriage. He had expected surprise, but not the horror that was contorting her beautiful features. He peeled her hands from the goggle lenses. Her breathing was erratic.
"Why Jackson? Why would you give me goggles? You know-" her voice cracked as her eyes filled with tears.
"Because it's time to move beyond what happened. These are special."
"Goggles are goggles."
"Will you let me show you?" She was quiet for a minute. Her body trembled. "I wouldn't hurt you for the world."
She sighed then nodded. Jackson removed the goggles from the hand carved box he'd brought back from his last trip to America. He set it down at their feet. Pulling the leather straps open he slipped the goggles over her head and settled them against her face. Her breath hitched. He turned a knob on the side of each lens and watched as the blue liquid filled the space between the lenses. Her white eyes turned vibrant blue. She blinked. His fingers twitched as he waited for her reaction. The goggles looked much like the standard laboratory set. The only difference was the special blue liquid. When she didn't speak he twisted on the knob again. Little specks of something else filled the blue liquid. She blinked then gasped.

Pain exploded through Cassy's head. She blinked again. The bright light didn't disappear. Instead it got brighter. She cringed away.
"Take it off."
"Please, Jack. Take it off." she reached up to remove it. He caught her hands and held them out.
"Open your eyes."
"Open your eyes."
Slowly despite the need to keep them shut, her lids fluttered open. Her heart beat in time to the pulses of pain. Her eyes burned. Tears filled them but didn't let up the discomfort. She blinked again before she realized what was happening. Her breath caught.
"What's happening?"
"It's bright."
"Bright? Nothing else."
"What else should be happening? What are you forgetting to tell me, Jackson?"
"I told you. These are special goggles."
"What's so special about them?" she grumbled trying desperately to block out the light. He did something to the goggles. Metal scraped against metal.
"How about now?" He stood back.
Opening her eyes slightly she breathed in relief. The light wasn't as bright. She opened them fully. The room spun and her head felt lighter than normal. Bile threatened to come up. She clapped a hand over her mouth praying for her stomach to settle. She'd felt this way only once before as a small child on a ship her parents had chartered. Who knew one so little could get so sick? She closed her eyes and her body centered.
"I'm fine. Just a little nauseous." She breathed deep and slow. After several minutes her stomach settled. She opened her eyes again.
This time the light wasn't blinding. And there were shapes. Shapes? Yes, shapes. There was a black outline standing before her. She looked to the left. The darkened shapes of what she assumed were her potting benches stood out in strong relief against the light. She reached forward. Jackson caught her hand.
"I'm right here."
Tears filled her eyes. She could see shapes. Excitement thrummed through her. Ever the scientist, she pulled the goggles off. Everything plunged back into the pitch blackness that had been her life for eleven years. The tears escaped and spilled down her cheeks. It had just been a trick. Her fingers rubbed over the metal lens casing. Or had it?
She slipped the goggles back over her hair. Once the lenses settled in place she opened her eyes. Again the bright light blinded her for a second before the dark shapes made their appearance.
"I can see shapes, Jack. Real shapes." She laughed.
He stepped forward. More metal scraping followed. The shapes solidified and became more distinct. Standing up Cassy moved towards the different shapes of the plants she so loved. Boot steps followed. She turned and froze. Jackson stood just behind her and to the right protectively. She'd known he'd grown into a handsome gentleman, but she hadn't realized how handsome. He stood just over six feet with a very well trim athletic body. His face was round like when he'd been younger, but now it had the strength of a wise man. She cupped his cheek in awe. He closed his blue blue eyes and leaned into her hand. She hadn't realized how sad he was.
"Oh Jackson. I'm so sorry."
"About what?"
"I made you so sad."
He chuckled then kissed her palm. Heat rushed through her body at the intimate gesture.
"You didn't make me sad. You've added so much to my life, Cassy. More than anyone ever has."
"Wait. Before you say anything, here me out. Please." She nodded. "I know we grew up together and you may not feel the same, but I feel like I must get this off my chest. The moment I met you, and I know we were barely above five years, I knew you were the one I'd marry. I've loved you from the moment you first laughed. I was devastated when the accident happened and then ecstatic when you survived. I'm filled with so much guilt for not making you put your goggles on before the experiment. I'll have to live with that every day of my life, but I can't live without you. You wonder who would marry you? I would. I want to. I came today to ask that very question."
"Oh." She blinked up at him in wonderment. He pulled something from behind his back. He held it out to her. Tears spilling into the lenses, Cassy took the small velvet box from him. The hinges squeaked a little as she opened it. Something round that looked very much like a ring sat inside. Her breath puffed from her. She hadn't expected this at all. Would never have expected it in a million years.
"I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to feel the same for me as I do for you. I love you enough for both of us."
Cassy stared at the only man who'd ever paid attention to her. Jack had never felt her behind, had always encouraged her to follow her dreams. He'd been there through all of the physicians, and the quacks and the learning. He helped her combat the weakness of being outside. Looking down at the ring through the goggles he'd brought her Cassy realized she felt the same. How could she not? Jackson loved her so completely that her blindness was nothing more than a concern for others. He loved her so much he went the extreme of finding someone to bring back her sight. Even if it was only circumstantial.
"You really don't think of me as useless?"
"Far from it. You're the most industrial woman I've ever met."
"What about papa?"
"He gave me his blessing weeks ago."
"Oh, Jackson. Yes. Yes, I'll marry you."
He laughed pulling her to him. He pulled the goggles off and kissed her. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach and chills raced down her spine. Yes, this was where she belonged. With Jackson.

Copywrite 2013 Mae Pen


  1. Thanks for sharing Cassy and Jack's story, Mae. It takes a special love to wait 11 years to pop the question!

  2. Wow, Mae. I adore this story. I love the environment of the lab and Cassy's passion for botany. Best of all, I love that Jack sees beyond the physical to the essence of Cassy's character. You grabbed me from the first paragraph. Well done!

  3. Loved this one, Mae! You get better and better!