:: love is blind – part 2::

The newest restaurant in town was one of these
operations, called “Love is Blind”. Alex thought both the name and the concept particularly stupid. What was the point of not seeing, or for that matter, not being
seen? Furthermore, how were you supposed to eat when you couldn’t see the food? But, being a curious creature, he felt the need to check it out for himself. The
fact that it was the place to be seen, or not seen as the case may be, didn’t hurt either.

The restaurant was dimly lit upon entry; Alex could only make out faces by squinting. Large bulbous lamps glowed a soft orange, and Alex could see red couches
around the sides of the room. Two long tables stretched down to the far end, with chairs clustered around each side. Alex announced himself to the maitre’d, who
nodded and led him to the second last seat at one of the tables. He took his seat and looked around. A squat woman sat to Alex’s right, the seat to his left was
vacant. A whoosh of air behind him announced the arrival of an anxious waiter, who received Alex’s order for a beer and promptly swooped away again.

The others seated at the table chattered amongst themselves. Alex felt the woman next to him turn as if to speak, and he coolly looked in the other direction. He didn’
t see anyone else he recognised, which was a relief. He didn’t like small talk. He liked that the darkness made him feel like an invisible predator, surveying the room
unseen. His friend Tom was the owner of the restaurant, and had asked him along for the opening night. He wondered whether Tom would be able to find him in the
shadowy room, but decided he didn’t really care either way.

A gong sounded out the back of the restaurant, and the lights dropped even further. He could barely even make out his plate. The waiters’ shirts began to glow in the
darkness, briefly illuminating each person they passed. A soft flashlight on the floor near the entrance caught Alex’s eye, and he watched in fascination as it wove a
jagged path to his table. The chair next to Alex was pulled out, and a smoky sweet scent filled his nostrils as a woman sat down. A waiter briskly walked past, and
her head was illuminated just long enough to give Alex a glimpse at the woman’s profile. She had high cheekbones and a razor-sharp jawline . Her nose was
patrician, and her lips pouted just slightly. In the second that he saw her, he knew her to be the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

Alex willed a waiter to walk past again, so he could have another look at the woman. He felt anxious for some reason; it irritated him that he couldn’t think of anything
to say. He groped on the dark table for his beer, and was alarmed to feel a wine glass topple under his exploring fingers. A sharp clink sounded, but Alex was
relieved to note that it didn’t sound like a break. The girl laughed, and Alex felt like he had been slugged in the chest. It was the most incredible sound he had ever
heard – warm and thick, rolling in perfect, rhythmic peals.

“To be expected in a place like this, I guess” she said. Alex nodded, then realised she couldn’t see him. He forced out an assenting grunt. “Actually”, she continued,
“I’m surprised they don’t cover this whole place in plastic and give us bibs if they expect us to eat in the dark. It’s going to be a right hovel later, I’d say.” Alex wasn’t
sure, but he thought he heard her mutter to herself, “Eating in the dark. Bloody stupid idea.”

Her voice was of the same viscous quality as her laugh. Slow enough to be assured and enticing, but not so slow as to be concerning.
Deep enough to suggest a seductive mix of cigarettes and whisky, but not so deep as to seem masculine. It was beautiful, and Alex wanted nothing more but to hear
her speak again.

Alex was mesmerised. Sarah’s voice was almost hypnotic, and for the first time in his life he found himself listening, really listening. They sat together in the dark,
thighs tantalisingly touching amid the crowded seats. She ran a modelling agency, but only laughed coyly when Alex asked how long she had been modelling for. If
only he could see her properly, he was sure he would recognise her face. Sarah travelled a lot, was well spoken and obviously of good family. She questioned Alex
about his own life, but he was too enthralled to speak anything of consequence. He just wanted to make her laugh, to revel in the golden peals over and over again.

They talked through all three courses, Alex barely noticing the food. He stared at her profile in the dark, memorising the curves and lines. He watched as her laugh
changed the shape of her face, plumping the apples in her cheeks. He breathed deeply and smelled her perfume, the film of cigarette smoke covering the shampoo
smell in her hair, the laundry smell of her clothes. He was entranced.

Sarah told him she had to leave after they had finished dessert, as she had an early flight in the morning. Alex was surprised to feel a panicked flutter in his chest as
she groped on the floor for her bag, and he tried to think of something, anything to make her stay.

Stuttering, he asked if he could see her again, and was rewarded with a laugh. “You didn’t even see me this time!” she said. Alex was shocked to hear his own
voice, so tremulous where usually it was assured. What was happening? Nervously, he asked if he could have her phone number. Sarah slipped a business card
under his fingers, explaining that she was going to be away for three weeks in New York. She would still be on her mobile, but perhaps he would email her instead?
He didn’t even need to answer, he was sure she could feel the desperation seeping out of his pores. A rush of air swept over him as Sarah stood up and gently laid
her hand where she guessed his shoulder to be. Then, with no warning, she was gone.

Alex couldn’t sleep. He lay awake with his arm under his head, thinking of Sarah. It had never occurred to him that someone else could be more enthralling than
himself. He pictured her face in all different scenarios. Smiling at him on the beach, shading her face from the sun. Fondly watching him as he did something
brilliant. Sleeping gently on his pillows, blankets gathered under her chin. Laughing at something witty he had said, covering her mouth with her hand. He debated
calling her then and there, but decided against it. He tossed and turned. He got up and paced. He smoked the cigarette he had hidden from himself in the top
dresser drawer. He waited for daylight.

The very next morning Alex strode to work. He couldn’t remember a day where he had felt so purposeful before. He had watched the dawn rise from its grey slumber
and had mentally prepared email after email to Sarah. Sometimes he had imagined her response too, and so followed a chain of mental emails that progressively
became more intimate and familiar. His fingers shook as he pulled her business card, now wrinkled, from his breast pocket and typed in the address. Painstakingly
punching out the letters with two fingers, he scrutinised the email closely. Was it too short? Too formal? He had no idea. Taking a deep breath, he hovered the
pointer over the “send” button before pushing it decisively.

It took her two days to reply. Alex had no idea he had it in himself to be so anxious and stressed. To be honest, he irritated himself beyond belief – his rational side
stood back and watched his emotional side with utter disgust. He sat as his desk from the moment he entered the office in the morning to the moment he left at
night. He left the office and ran home to his own computer, sitting all night in front of the glowing screen. And every five seconds without fail he pressed the refresh
button. He wondered if perhaps he was losing his mind. He certainly looked the part. Two days of no sleep had created a red-eyed, unshaven beast. He loathed
himself, and took it out on the refresh button.

He was so exhausted by the time her email finally came through that he sat and stared at it for a good five minutes before moving to open it. It occurred to him as it
opened that she might tell him to piss off, and the thought made his stomach turn. He could barely bring himself to read it. Eventually he opened one eye and
cautiously looked at the screen. It looked short, but there were no obvious expletives jumping out at him. As he read the email his stomach turned again, but with
shining happiness. Sarah not only remembered him, but seemed pleased to hear from him. He pictured her face smiling at him and wanted to roll on the floor with
joy. He read her email through five times before he started to write back.

For the next three weeks Alex and Sarah emailed daily. Alex could hardly believe it. He felt like he was getting to know two people, Sarah and his new self. He thought
about her all the time, playing the now-familiar scenarios over and over in his head. She was kind, and funny, and ambitious. He found himself telling her things he
had never even acknowledged to himself, and he sat in amazement as the words filled the screen. He told her about his father, and his mother, and he could almost
feel her presence listening gently as the stories spilled out. He told her about his life before her, about the girlfriends he had had, but never really felt connected with.
Sarah made him feel as though for the first time he was a part of something more than himself. He felt like a kinder, better person. People at work noticed the
difference in him as he beamed his way through the day. He even bought a coffee for the girl in Systems, and noticed for the first time that she had soft eyes. Day
and night, though, all he could see in his mind’s eye was Sarah’s perfect, exquisite face.

The beach was packed with brown-skinned bodies, interspersed with the odd salmon-pink sunburned back. Alex
was nervous. He tried not to pace, staring instead at the rolling waves and the distant toy figures tossing in the surf. The sand was marked with the tiny, interwoven
footprints of the hordes of seagulls, hovering for food. He smoothed his hair and his shirt, and waited.

Light fingers tapped him on the shoulder, and he whipped around sharply to find that the world had turned. Sarah stood before him, but it was not his Sarah. The
size was right. The profile was right. The smile was right. He smelled her smoky sweet scent and his knees shook with excited familiarity. But something was
terribly wrong.
Nausea rose to a crescendo in his stomach as he stared at her, his face ashen. His Sarah had been swallowed up by a grotesque monster. A revolting, livid red
stain covered almost half of her face. Alex leaned over and noisily vomited onto the footpath. As he bent, heaving, a gentle hand rested on his back.

Sarah spoke, “Oh Alex! Are you sick? What’s the matter?” At the sound of her voice, the nausea was subdued somewhat by a more pleasant warmth in his stomach.
He straightened and breathed deeply, hands on hips. After a minute he creaked open one eye, willing the creature to be replaced by the real Sarah. But it was not to
be. He bent again and retched desperately, passers-by starting at the bestial noise.
“Alex!” Sarah said again, more concerned this time. She clutched his arm and led him over to a seat.
“The light…” he muttered, not knowing what to say, but certain that “beast” was not the correct word. Sarah pressed a pair of sunglasses into his hand. He slipped
them on, and although they were tight on his head, they were mercifully dark. So dark, in fact, that he could barely see anything.

Alex’s instinct told him to run, to get away, but something else was equally insistent in telling him to stay. He just wanted to hear her voice. They talked until dark, with
Alex shutting his eyes behind the glasses for good measure. Even after nightfall he kept them on, and Sarah, possibly fearing the return of the vomits, didn’t press
the issue.

She was still fascinating. She talked of her life and how much she loved everything in it. Alex wanted to know every detail, every thought. He wanted to get inside her
and her life, but was too scared to ask questions in case the golden flow of words ceased. So he sat contentedly listening, eyes firmly pressed shut.

A pause in the conversation came, and Alex got the distinct feeling that Sarah was gearing up to say something important. “You’re probably wondering about my
face,” she said. “A lot of people are freaked out by it. I never think about it at all, so I didn’t even think that you hadn’t seen it in the restaurant.” Alex felt his stomach
churn and knew he was supposed to say something. He grunted and nodded, and tried not to be sick. She told him that it was called a port-wine stain, and it was
pretty common, actually. She’d had it since she was born. The agency was the family business, but being around models all day didn’t ever bother her. She knew
the stain didn’t really detract from her real beauty. To be honest, she forgot that it was there most of the time. Alex wished he could be that lucky.

The night air was blood-temperature, and so Alex was oblivious to the passing of time. Alex felt like he was in a dark, warm cocoon, surrounded only by Sarah’s
voice. She finished a story about her brother Nick with a loud laugh, and Alex’s heart lurched. He never wanted to leave her.

It was only later, after Sarah had gone to catch the last bus, that Alex realised the extent of his quandary. He was in love – true, drowning love, and it felt like nothing
on earth. He could think of nothing but her, could hear nothing but her voice. She was wonderful and kind and funny. She thought he was wonderful too. Alex knew
that everyone thought he was wonderful, but this was different. She didn’t seem to care about his money or his looks or his charm. She was happy in her own life.
Alex felt a new feeling that perhaps there was something that he had been missing. He wanted to be a better person, to see love in her eyes. But here Alex stopped
and faced reality with a heave.

He could never see love in her eyes without being violently ill. How could the beauty he saw within Sarah be so cruelly reversed on her exterior? Was it possible to
love someone’s personality but loathe their person? Is someone’s body an inextricable part of their being? Alex’s head hurt from all these ponderings. He folded
Sarah’s sunglasses in his pocket and went home.

For the next two days, Alex’s head hurt a lot. He called in sick to work and didn’t leave his flat at all. He thought about Sarah obsessively, while simultaneously trying
to forget her. It wasn’t easy. Alex had never been denied anything in his life, and now was not the best time to start. He fought himself continually, and was exhausted
as a result. An impatient voice kept intruding in his thoughts, wondering why he was bothering with something so ridiculous. Personality is for ugly chicks, it
reminded him. She’ll only drag you down. Imagine taking her out and showing her to the boys. There’s a paper-bagger, they’d say behind your back. Look at how
pathetic you’ve become! At this point an image of Sarah’s face would spring into his mind, and the violent nausea would make him fall to his knees. On more than
one occasion he didn’t make the bathroom in time. It was here that Alex felt he could go no lower. The darker voice chimed in that Sarah was a bitch for trapping him.
She should be taught a lesson. People like her have no business with people like you. Alex indulged these thoughts for a time, feeling the tingle of revenge. But
again and again, like a wisp of smoke, Sarah’s voice would gently dance into his head, and Alex was lost.

On the third day he could stand it no longer and called her. She was surprised to hear from him, but pleased. The
knowledge that he had made her even a little bit happy made his heart swell to almost painful proportions. Like a drug, her voice smoothed the tangles from Alex’s
head and made him calm again. They talked on the phone most nights for two weeks. Alex told her he had a dreadful stomach bug that was highly contagious, so
as to avoid suspicion. He wanted to talk to her every second of the day, and was despondent until he heard her welcome voice again. She told him of family
vacations up the coast, and he felt the warm sunshine on his face. She talked of breaking her arm at age seven, and he felt the pain as keenly as if it was his own
bone splintering. She told him of her beloved father, and he could feel the welcoming, familial pat on his back.

In the night hours he felt his dilemma most clearly. He wanted to spend his life with her, knew it was destined to be so. But how could he live that life without looking
at her? He needed to find a way to separate her body from her being. He contemplated buying her plastic surgery as an option, but sensed that the suggestion might
not be entirely welcome.  He thought of coming to terms with her physical shortcomings, but the memory alone of her face made him ill.

By the third week after the beach incident, Alex could stand the separation no longer. He needed to get over this, to force himself to come to terms with her face.
Nausea or no nausea. He invited her over for dinner, wanting to be safe on his own turf. She arrived promptly at seven, and Alex nervously hovered near the door
before opening it. He steeled himself and creaked the door to admit her, eyes firmly planted on the floor. As Sarah bent in to kiss him, he inadvertently looked at her
face and felt the now-familiar queasiness in his stomach. He swallowed it and endured the kiss, mumbling something about burning food as he ran away from her
to the kitchen. By the time she had followed him through the house, he knew he was going to be violently ill. Mumbling something about the bathroom, he ran and
just made it before the sickness came tumbling out. Resting his head on the toilet seat, he pondered his options. Obviously he wasn’t going to be able to talk to her,
or even look at her. The solution hit him, and he set off on his mission. Creeping through the bedroom, he peeked around the door to check where she was. Damn.
She was sitting facing the door reading a magazine. No exit that way. He retreated into the room and stood for a moment before thoughtfully considering the window.
As he tumbled into the garden, he was silently grateful that he lived on the ground floor. Creeping around the side, he eased open the power box and pulled out the
wires. Hearing a squeal from inside the flat, he quickly hoisted himself back up and through the window. He landed with a solid thud on the floor just as the door
swung open across the room.

“Alex?” Sarah said nervously, creaking on the floorboards. “What are you doing?”
He picked himself up quickly and forced a laugh, telling her that he had tripped over the bed on the way back from the bathroom. In the darkness he pictured the
original Sarah, the real Sarah, in his mind, then walked over and enfolded her in his arms.

The night was a blur of joy for Alex. He couldn’t remember ever feeling this happy before. It only took a few minutes of sitting close together on the couch before they
lost all ideas of dinner and moved into his bedroom. Alex was happy to discover that the stain on her face was undetectable by his fingers. Mixed with his happiness,
though, was a small stone in his stomach, reminding him that the lights wouldn’t always be out. In the morning he woke up and gazed contentedly at Sarah’s face
on his pillows, stroking her downy skin with a finger. Just as in his dream, her eyelid fluttered and she smiled in her waking sleep, turning to open her eyes to him.
Unlike his dream, the turn of her head revealed the awful stain that he had somehow forgotten. He shut his eyes against the sickness that he knew was coming,
and fell back against the pillows. Somehow he managed to tell her that he wasn’t feeling too well, that it was probably his stomach bug again. It took all his
willpower to get her out of the house without throwing up or shoving her out the door. She left with a gentle kiss on his closed eyelids, and Alex felt wretched despair
setting in again.

Alex spent all night sitting at his window, staring out into the dark street, but not really noticing anything at all. He felt completely blank, as though his misery had
completely leeched him dry. There was no denying it – it was clearly impossible for him to see her. However much he loved her, his physical reaction to her was so
violent, so uncontrollable. It was impossible. Alex was thoroughly ashamed of himself, despised himself. He sat silently and watched his breath fog up the glass,
killing time until sleep discovered him.

The next morning as he brushed his teeth, he became aware of a new thought sitting serenely in the back of his mind. A solution. He stood a while, stunned that the
answer he had been agonising over had so quietly found its way to him. How simple! He physically felt as though a weight had been lifted from him, and he rejoiced
in the feeling of excitement that now swelled through his limbs.
He carefully researched and made all the preparations by lunchtime the following day. Alex stood in the bathroom, gazing at his reflection. Perfection. He admired
his skin, his hair, and his eyes. He felt a twinge of sadness at the passing of such beauty, the waste, but it was quickly swallowed by the thought of Sarah. He was
doing it for them.

He awoke to hear Sarah’s voice somewhere to his left. She wasn’t talking to him, but to someone else he couldn’t see.
“But what happened? I don’t understand it.”
A second voice, a man, replied quietly. “Alex has sustained severe burns to his eyes and face, probably the worst I’ve ever seen. He was splashed with a substantial
amount of ammonia; I would assume while cleaning, although we can’t be sure until we speak to him. I have to admit that I’ve never seen a case like it before.”
“Will he always be like this?” Sarah sounded strained.
“I’ll be honest with you. He will be well enough to leave here in a week or so. However, Alex will most likely never see again. Alkali burns are the most corrosive, and
his case is, as I’ve said, the worst I’ve seen. The burns to his face are also extensive, but could possibly be improved with surgery. I’m afraid at this stage his
blindness is irreversible.”
At these words, Alex’s stomach turned with a kick of excitement.

A week later, Sarah helped Alex into his flat and briskly settled him on the sofa.  He heard her walk back and close the front door, then return to the lounge-room. He
smiled at the direction he presumed her to be in.  
“Isn’t this wonderful?” he said happily. “I know it’s been tough since the accident, but I’m just so happy with you, Sarah. I don’t ever want to leave you.”
Sarah sat silent for a moment, and then said distantly, “Alex, you must understand. We don’t have a future together. Not any more.”
His head started to ache. “What are you talking about?” he forced out with a laugh. “We’re destined to be together. I’ve given up everything for you. I love you.”
Sarah sounded hard as she clipped out a laugh, “You’ve given up everything? I don’t think so.”
Alex didn’t understand what was happening. “But Sarah… we’re going to be together forever. We’ll never leave each other. That’s what we said.” His voice faltered.
He hated the plaintive tone in his voice. His weakness seemed to ignite Sarah, making her suddenly angry.
She spat out, “And what am I supposed to do with a cripple? Lug you around with me? Is that what you expect?” She took a deep, furious breath. “Do you really think
we can ever be normal? Do you think I could ever be proud to take you out with me? You are never going to be able to associate with anyone worthwhile now.” She
paused, and then added in a low, repulsed tone, “You’re disgusting.”
Alex heard a soft whine escape from his lips. Sarah snapped, “Look, I didn’t sign on for handicap duties. I can’t look at you, at your eyes, without feeling like I’m going
to vomit. You make me physically sick.”
“But you can’t leave me…you can’t just leave me here on my own!” Alex whispered, aghast. Sarah said coldly, “You’re not my responsibility, Alex. You’ll manage. Your
kind always does.”
She stood, and the chair creaked. Alex felt the crackling of rage building inside him, but to his surprise it was accompanied by slow, crawling fear. She stopped at
the door and said casually, “See you round”. Her voice instantly dissolved any rage he felt, and he desperately wished everything back.

Misery filled him as the door clicked shut, and the love he felt for her was magnified tenfold by her absence. He began to cry, and the action seared his raw wounds.
He cried harder, a mixture of agony, fear and loss. He was alone, in endless night.

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