"The Writings of Mongsee"
by Marcia Wickes

Bifocals: A Modern Fairytale

Jaynie thought that she was prepared, the day she picked up her new glasses.  The doctor had warned her, and most of her 40-something friends had shaken their heads and waxed rhetorical about the horrors of split vision.  They spoke of headaches, of dizziness and nausea... of skewed perspective and fuzzy peripheral vision.... Jaynie had heard it all.  Still, she had decided on the day that Bobbi left her, to remake herself, to rebuild her image as it were. That included new glasses, and when she went for the exam her doctor had stated in no uncertain terms that she needed bifocals and, no, she couldn't put it off any longer.

Jaynie thought she was prepared, and was even pleasantly relieved when the much-touted lineless bifocals were indeed without a visible slash across the lenses... and she was almost embarrassed at the vanity she didn't know she had, when she realized with relief that no one would know she needed bifocals unless she told them.  She loved the frames, she loved the way they slimmed her wide face... and when she put them on and walked across the office with no problem, she poo-pooed the naysayers.  'Piece of cake,' Jaynie chortled to Dr. Williams, who frowned and said, 'Don't get cocky, just yet.  You haven't driven or read anything or used your computer.......'   But Jaynie just laughed and left the office feeling good for the first time since the door had slammed for the last time  behind her partner of 7 years.  A new me, she thought as she rode the elevator and gazed at her reflection in the burnished metal door.   A new me, she gloated as she saw a woman follow her progress with interested eyes as she walked by. Take that, Ms. Bobbi-who-said-I-was-boring.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Ms.Bobbi-who-never- knew-till- too- late-how -great -I- look ......and as she unlocked her truck she pushed a momentary uneasiness aside when she knocked her head on the door frame after misjudging the distance.  It's OK, she thought, I'll adjust.  It's worth it.

And driving home, she marveled at the beautiful Louisiana landscape that had slowly, imperceptibly become soft and blurred as her eyes had weakened over the last several years. Now, everything seemed crisp, clear;  the whole scene screamed Kodak to her heightened visual senses.  Piece of cake, she chuckled..... I can handle this, no sweat......

But nothing could have prepared her for what happened when she crossed the bridge the next morning on her way to work.

A little bridge, not unusually high, over a shallow bayou so commonplace that she didn't even know its name... a small bridge that she passed over every day as she commuted to and from her teaching job in Houma... a small bridge, halfway between her school and her home in Thibodaux.  Nothing special about it... she scarcely noticed it after 2 years  of making this daily commute...

But on this day, as she crested the bridge, her heart slammed and her foot hit the brake as a slight figure appeared in the middle of the road in front of her.   A freeze-frame image, of a woman in old jeans and a t-shirt, long black hair and a white frightened face... it appeared and by the time Jaynie  hit the brakes, it was gone.  Just gone.  No thud from the truck hitting her... nothing... somehow the woman had just vanished into the morning air.

Jaynie pulled over and got out of her truck, rushed up to the edge of the bridge and peered nervously over the rail, although she already knew the woman wasn't there just as surely as she knew she hadn't hit her.  'What the hell was that?' she muttered.  'What the holy hell was THAT?'  Her body began to shake, and she walked slowly back to the old truck and got in.  Shaking her head, she started the truck and resolutely headed to school.  'Piece of cake', she repeated to herself.  'No problem, no sweat... I can handle this, Ms. Bobbi- who- said-my-imagination -was -a-problem......... it was just a momentary lapse of reason, thank you Pink Floyd.......'

She drove to school with the radio cranked up, the new Jaynie determined to be OK......no matter what.

By the time she was ready to head home that afternoon, the vision of the blackhaired woman was as forgotten as a nondescript dream from years ago.  Head still filled with the amazed compliments of her fellow teachers at her new glasses and the haircut she had  had doubts about but which worked to her advantage, she got into the truck with a smile on her face.  She had plans for a good dinner and a quiet evening of grading papers and watching whatever she damn well wanted to on TV with no flack from Ms. Bobbi- why-are- you-always- watching- that-trash ... and she realized that she wasn't fearing the inevitable moment of sliding into the empty bed.  I'm getting better, she thought with a sense of wonder mingling with relief.  I really am. 

But as she neared the bridge and her heartbeat quickened, Jaynie remembered and she slowed her speed as she approached it.  Won't happen again, she thought to herself, won't happen, it was just my mind doing a little blip on me... and as she crested the bridge and the woman appeared again in her vision, she shrieked and hit the brakes and careened to the side saying, 'Nononono........'    She flung herself out of the truck and stood in the middle of the empty bridge, turning her head this way and that and saying, 'Who are you? Who are you?'

When Dr. Williams told her it was just a distortion of something from her peripheral vision that only seemed to be dead center and that as her brain grew more accustomed to the new way of focusing she was asking it to perform, she almost bought it.  Almost.  But that evening, after 2 glasses of wine, she closed her eyes and the woman was there, white-faced and frightened, and Jaynie whispered, 'You're real. And your name is Lou.'

©Jesse Barnes
For the rest of that week, Jaynie drove to and from work and every day the woman was there on the bridge.  Jaynie wasn't sure when she stopped dreading the apparition and began to look forward to it, and when she realized she was anticipating its appearance, she circumvented Dr. Williams and her talk of refocusing and made an appointment with her counselor.

The counselor asked Jaynie if she had ever had blunt trauma to her head or seizures. She conferred with Jaynie's doctor, who ordered a series of tests measuring her brain activity (normal and otherwise), all of which came up negative. The counselor then asked if the black haired woman looked like Bobbi. When Jaynie said no, she wrote  a referral to a psychiatrist and dismissed Jaynie as beyond her medical jurisdiction. Jaynie left the office and dropped the referral slip in a trashcan outside the clinic. She was seeing Lou for a reason that wasn't medical.  She would wait to see what happened.

For 2 months, Jaynie saw Lou on the bridge both coming and going from work.  On Parent's Night, when she passed over the bridge at 9:30 P.M. in full darkness, Lou appeared in the headlights. As an experiment, one day she wore her old glasses... the ones that Bobbi helped pick out so long ago.  No Lou.  Jaynie began to doubt her sanity when the next day, wearing the new bifocals, Lou appeared in her windshield once again.

Then, on the afternoon of the day before the Thanksgiving holidays, there was a change.  As Jaynie approached the bridge, her head full of plans of the packing ahead so she could leave that night for her family in Baton Rouge, Lou appeared on her knees in the road and didn't disappear.  Heart pounding, Jaynie slowed and stared as Lou looked up with a tearstained frightened face and reached her arms to Jaynie...  and Jaynie burst into tears when she saw Lou's lips form the words, help me, Jaynie.  Help me.  As the truck stopped, Lou's hands covered her face and the image shimmied and was gone.

Jaynie pounded the steering wheel in frustration.  'No!' she screamed.  'Tell me!  Tell me where you are, tell me what you need, oh sweet Jesus, where are you?'  She put her head down and cried, feeling lost and helpless and very alone. Then she grimly dried her eyes, drove home, and called her mother in Baton Rouge, telling her that she couldn't make it home for the holidays. Pleading a stomach virus, she promised to call the next day.

Jaynie didn't sleep that night. She sat up in her old rocker, in her living room lit only by a candle, drank wine, and for the first time in years, she prayed. Not any certain prayer, and no certain deity... just, 'Please.  Please.'  Over and over again she repeated her mantra of desperation.  'Please, let me find her before it's too late.'

By early morning, Jaynie realized that she was in love with the apparition. God help me, she muttered, and she showered and dressed as the dawn streaked delicate pink tendrils across the horizon.  She dressed warmly and headed for the truck... and froze, keys in her hand.  No.  She couldn't leave yet.  As if in a dream, she went back to the house, filled a thermos with coffee, grabbed a blanket and first aid kit, and once again headed out the door.  'I'm coming, baby', she whispered into the cold air, and began to cry.  'I'm crazy', she said.  'I'm crazy. It's Thanksgiving morning and instead of going to my family, I'm driving to a bridge to save a hallucination.  I'm crazy', she said... but she headed her truck towards Houma nonetheless.

As she approached the bridge, her Episcopalian upbringing and her reptilian reflexive brain combined and she found her hand crossing herself, her mouth whispering, 'Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me...'   She drove to the top of the bridge, pulled over, and parked by the rail.  Getting out of the truck, she began once again to cry and she choked, 'Please... I can't be too late... don't let me be too late... '  And then she was still, looking around, when she heard from the darkness below the bridge, a faint cry.

She ran unhesitatingly across the bridge and down the slope to the bayou, following the faint voice that called softly,  'Help me, Jaynie.... help me....please.....'  When she stumbled and fell to her knees, she swore and then she looked up to see Lou, kneeling in shallow water and reaching for her with shaking arms. 'Oh, thank god,' Jaynie quavered, and went to her.

With Lou wrapped in the blanket, sitting in the truck drinking coffee and warming herself with the old heater blasting, Jaynie gathered her courage and asked slowly....'Are you real?'

Lou laughed thinly and looked at Jaynie, and then her tears came.  'Yes,' she said.  'But I didn't think you were.  I've dreamed about you for the last couple of months, but I thought you were just a dream.  This morning my car broke down on the way to Houma and a man offered me a ride to a mechanic, but he took me out to the swamp instead and tried.... ' she sobbed, a ragged sound that tore Jaynie's heart......'well.... you know... but I got away and ran into the swamp.  I got this far and was trying to climb up to the road but I fell and sprained my ankle.  I couldn't make it any farther, but I just kept calling your name. I don't know why.  I just knew that if anyone would save me, it would be you. I knew you'd come for me.  I don't know how I knew it... but I knew.'  She fell silent.

Jaynie put the truck in gear and asked,  'Where in Houma were you going, baby?' 

Lou hung her head and said... 'My lover and I...we broke up... and I was so lonely, I was going to Houma to ask her if we could try again. You know...you already know, don't you, that I'm a lesbian,' she said hesitantly.

Jaynie smiled and said, 'Yeah, me too.  So...do you still want to go to Houma?'

Lou met her eyes. 'No. Please...no.'

Jaynie put the truck back in park and reached for her; Lou curled into her embrace and shivered. Jaynie said, softly, her voice a caress, 'Come home with me?'

Lou sighed, her wet black hair a Rorschach print against Jaynie's old shirt.  'Yes, please...oh, yes, please.'

As the truck pulled onto the highway, a tiny sparkle of fairy dust flashed under the wheels and was gone.


----Marcia Wickes ©


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