The crowd was deafening, roaring as the baseball flew high over their heads and into the rows of “cheap seats”.
“It was a homerun. Vasquez did it!” Stephanie squealed in high-pitch delight and clapped her hands.
“STEPH! DIDJA SEE DAT?” Uncle Max shouted, slurring from the effects of the large amount of alcohol consumed already.
Not waiting for her reply, Uncle Max was laughing and hooting cheers again with his two buddies. The baseball game had been as Rylund feared only an easy excuse for the adults to get drunk. Stephanie wisely made a pre-emptive strike and asked for their uncle’s debit card to pay for a Uber ride home after the third inning.
“Vasquez is the best and the cutest player on the Phillies!” She squealed again.
Rylund shook his head. “Velasquez. His name’s Vince Velasquez.”
“Oh,” she giggled. “Whoever! We’re tied at least.”
He sighed in boredom. Even before his accident, baseball was too long for him to watch, let alone now listen to his sister’s poor play-by-play.
A breeze scented with butter floated over them, his stomach growled in response. He reached out and patted her shoulder. “Let’s hit the restroom then make a run for some food. Okay?”
Stephanie’s sudden silence wasn’t surprising, and he didn’t need to see her face to know what she was thinking. Her shoulder had tightened in reflex under his fingers. To be truthful, he didn’t relish the idea of meandering among the Spectators either. Spectators was the name he gave the unseen members of the crowds that watched and sent him looks of pity. Spectators that meant well but mostly watched him struggle and were secretly grateful they weren’t him. Spectators were his version of roadside rubberneckers.
“I brought my cane, I’ll be alright – just find the first stall, I’m in an out. Simple.”
“Yeah, cuz I’m not going in! It’s—”
“You don’t need to. That’s what I’m tellin’ you. I’ll go in on my own. Stay by the doorway so we can go together to the food kiosks.”
Minutes later, he trailed behind her as she wove them skillfully through the throng of fans that milled about the stadium. Rylund heard lots of noise, most of it he tuned out as “crowd white noise”. While some people liked to “people watch” crowds, Rylund liked to eavesdrop and guess their stories.
A cranky toddler somewhere behind them was fussing and whining about a lost toy. The mother was refusing to go back for the white wabbit. Children’s voices tended to catch his attention first – the higher pitch the voice the more they impacted his senses.
A woman to the left of them was laughing, maybe even flirting with someone as her laughter seemed too long and forced. Another younger voice interrupted hers and her words also came out sounding forced, bordering on obnoxious. A male’s lower, gruff voice interrupted now and then.
She’s drunk. Goin’ to be a cat-fight soon, he mused.
Stephanie squeezed his hand. It was their agreed upon signal for stopping. He sensed her leaning in close to him. “I will be on the left. There’s a long line for the kettlekorn. Once you get past the line, on the right is the Men’s Room. Got it?”
“Yep,” he answered and tapped out a quick series of staccato notes on the stadium floor with his cane.
The faint, tainted air of urine and bleach marked the restroom’s unpleasant location. As he neared the open archway, a silvery flash flickered in the corner of one eye.
Someone collided with his shoulder. The strike spun him to the side where he bounced off some lady’s large backside. She cursed loudly while he wobbled unsteady trying to regain his footing.
She must’ve turned to face him, noticed the cane, and her mouth audibly snapped close. He shrugged as his poor apology, headed again toward the restroom. His cheeks burned red in embarrassment.
Yet, his mind reeled, his thoughts mixed and tumbled over each other. His sight had been completely cut off ever since the night of the fire. The explosion of aquarium glass and scalding water had been the last thing he saw, and they had done irreparable damage. Thus, it had been nearly a year in “darkness”.
The term darkness doesn’t aptly describe blindness – being blind isn’t like keeping your eyes closed. It’s more akin to trying to see the room about you with your elbow. It simply doesn’t happen. Nothingness is a closer definition for being blind.
That flash… That flash! Is that a sign of…healing? He wondered, the thought nearly tripping him up again. Could he dare to have hope?
The metallic clink of a bathroom stall door signaled his quest’s end. His hands groped and found the handle. The metal was cold and sticky to his fingers. It was unlocked and he entered.
After months of healing, his body had made astounding changes to accommodate for his blindness which he hadn’t fully expected or anticipated. Of course, his sense of hearing became sharper which is often reported by the blind. However, it was also changes to his fingers. They became extra sensitive to temperatures and textures. Also, his sense of smell deepened, and he found he could discern various smells easier than before the fire. All of it was like going from a broad, wide paint brush to a fine detail brush. It was as if his brain flicked off switches to burned-out light bulbs then flicked other switches on for replacement lights.
At that moment, as he sat down upon the cold seat of the toilet, his heightened sense of smell was not a blessing. He held his breath, blocked out the various noises and echoes, and tried to not gag.
Maybe it was all my imagination. Nothing. Don’t get so excited over this.
He left the stall and worked his way to the sinks universally placed across from the row of stalls. Running water and splashing to the left and even more, maybe two more sinks going on his right. The bathroom had gotten crowded.
The fifth inning must’ve ended, and everyone made a mad dash to relieve themselves. I’m lucky the stampede hadn’t—
Another silvery wave of light floated in front of him, it expanded like a circular tear, like a blooming portal. Its edges were ragged, expanding and contracting. Through this portal, he saw a partial profile of a man as he passed by Rylund and left the restroom. He was much taller than him, a black elderly man with a graying afro. His eyes burned red and there were trailing wisps of smoke in the air. A faint, red aura encompassed him.
When the man slipped out of the Men’s Room entrance, the portal snapped close and the nothingness, the blindness returned like a cold, backhand slap to the face.
Gasping for breath, Rylund gripped the sides of the sink, his cane falling loudly at his feet.
“Kid? You okay?” a voice behind him spoke out. It had a deep bass, authoritative timbre.
He couldn’t speak yet, his legs were shaking, but he nodded he was alright, hoping to be left alone.
“You sure? You’re pale and sweatin’. Do you need help to the toilet to throw up?” Another male voice asked.
“No, no. Thanks. My-my sister is outside, she’ll help me,” he mumbled weakly.
Footsteps scampered away from him. Others came closer, crowding him. Spectators! All with good intentions, but it only magnified his state of confusion, his sense of panic building.
Rylund forced his hands free of the wet porcelain and knelt for his cane. Someone put it into his grip. He rushed through the gathered Spectators and fled to the fresh air of the stadium landing. Hugging the wall, he worked his way to the right then pressed up against the grimy wall. He gulped the air and nearly sobbed with emotion. His mind raced from a whirlwind to now a full Level Five Tempest.
He had seen someone! His eyes had worked for a brief second. Nothing or no one would convince him otherwise. The man had been so clear and so close, Rylund could have picked him out of a police line-up.
Giggles burst from his lips, garnering him probably even more stares. Your Honor, the Defense would like to call its next eyewitness, Rylund David Faraday the Blind Boy From Southside!
A hand slipped into his. “Come on. It’s going to be alright. I’m here.”
He didn’t pull away, let her take him calmly away from the stadium fans all ogling the poor blind kid. Spectators!
He knew there were looks of pity and the mournful faces of sadness. Normally, it would have devastated him. He had had bad times in the rehab center – throwing temper tantrums and ‘why me’ cussing sessions. When he felt the waves of “so-sorry-kid” thoughts overwhelm him. Made him feel helpless, tiny…disabled.
Or like the time at the mall, he tripped on an extension cord and fell headlong into a comic book display, spraining his ankle badly. He was mortified not being able to stand. His embarrassment rocketed to new levels as several strangers lifted him without asking and carried him to an ambulance. Stephanie was there at his side the whole time, but too small to really help. She later told him how embarrassed she had been as well. Her new role in their relationship hadn’t always been easy.
He knew what the Spectators were thinking, saying in their heads, the looks they were giving him and his small sister. This time, however, he was numb to it. None of it mattered. They didn’t know. Stephanie didn’t even know!