Glass eye replacement
Some weeks later, Esther and Joe were on a special mission when she noticed he had a fob Braille pocket watch, but the face was silver and hung on a tiny chain inside his jacket, just as her father’s once did. Looking down she noticed a splattering of tomato ketchup on the sleeve of her white school blouse from when she had eaten fish fingers and chips at British Home Stores in Northampton town.
Together they walked his thin arm inside hers, bone on bone sinew on sinew, carrying a doll he had just bought her from Wool-worth's, a store that never seemed to change, to make up for a watch he had given to her for her tenth birthday and then quickly, mysteriously, taken back after a family conversation whether it was his to give away in the first place.
“Don’t know how long it will take, Esther, did you put that Bunty comic safely away? It should keep you busy whilst I am seeing the eye specialist at Cheney Walk. Are you sure you know where you are going?”
He didn’t see her nod, but still she did out of habit, and then answered him.
“I know where it is, I was there with Mum a few months ago when she had her glass eye replaced, and I know it’s close to where the casualty department is, where I went when I broke my arm a while ago!”
She knew her mum had been taken tearfully to the same hospital, having been delivered into the world with perfect sight, till man-made disease had robbed her of that perfect gift in a matter of days, in spite of the efforts to save her sight then, and the needles they inserted deep into her eyes.
Esther couldn’t quite understand her mum, who would frequently say as they walked along through the belly of their rich world, how she would much rather been born blind than deaf. What a black world, to see but not understand muffled sounds, whispers or silence, or to hear the cry of a child, know when the phone rang, when someone said they loved you, or the braking of a heavy van, but then she had lost love now and how could life ever go back to those happier times before Joe?
Together they walked like programmed tin soldiers, her guiding this man she had already learned to hate, through the crowds and wondering, as she walked toward the hospital, however it all might end. It certainly didn’t seem as if it would be a fairy story ending, but then life for anyone was hardly ever without problems to solve and people to rub shoulders with who weren’t kind at all.
Into the hospital where she sat with thin legs swinging on the hard wooden chair with a silver tubular frame and rubbers on the four feet which left scuffs still as it was dragged day in and out over the smooth hospital waiting-room floor. Her comic opened on her knee, yet she couldn’t concentrate, with little room to open her paper up anyway, and hoping Uncle Joe would remain nice and content at least for the remainder of the day. So many changes were difficult to accept but knowing she must do her best to please him at all times.
A nurse guided him back to his chair about twenty minutes later. Then, having shown him where the door to the men’s toilet was, they prepared their return journey home. His new false eye had been ordered, so “I need a new appointment” he said to the male receptionist at the desk near the flight of stairs and toilets.
Then, having tucked the small white card in his pocket, it was time to seek out United Counties bus from the busy bus station where folk stood in ordered lines and did their best not to stare.
The green double-decker took its usual route out from Derngate bus station then Abingdon Street and the park barely visible in the dark, then Ecton and stopping at Weston Favell to let a young mum with her cumbersome pushchair off, and next to Earls Barton and past the Saxon church and finally onto the dual carriage-way and no light at all.
“We are not there yet, Uncle Joe she said whilst he nodded and whistled through his false teeth, taking out his brown comb and running it through his silver hair, which he said had changed overnight after his house had been bombed in Sunderland. He shared with her how his last wife and adopted child had hidden in the well beneath the stairs for morning and the siren to sound, but that was so many years since and he hoped there would never be the need for another war. Yet it was true to say that not all wars ended in bloodshed