I need glasses. Not because of what I can’t see, but because of what I can.
I duck into a one-hour place. It’s not crowded, thank God. Just a lady in blue fussing with frames, and a guy in a suit pacing the waiting area.
“Colors,” I tell the optician. Gary, his name tag says. “I see colors.”
“That’s a problem?”
“It is when they keep changing! It started last Thursday. It happens if I turn my head too quickly. And when I eat.”
“I’m not sure I understand, sir.”
“I see green when I eat pizza,” I explain. “Coffee turns the world red. And moving my head like this—” I glance sharply to the left. “That causes a really ugly greenish purple.”
Gary’s face is very round. He has weird eyebrows—tufted, with the inside edges touching, like a demented owl. “I don’t understand.”
“People look strange, too,” I say.
It’s hard to explain. “Some are…fractured. Like they’re made of broken glass. Others are slimy. And just this morning, there was a woman covered in yellow fuzz.”
Gary’s head goes back. His eyes turn yellow and shiny like the glaze on a cheesecake. I decide not to mention it.
I nod vigorously. “When I think of the past, I see riffling calendar pages. Month pages usually, but sometimes, if I think about something recent, it’s a page-a-day calendar.”
His frown deepens. “Excuse me a moment?” He disappears into the back.
I wander over to the sample frames. I perch a pair on my nose and look in the mirror. Beside me, the lady in blue is also trying on frames. I try not to look, but she’s just too easy to see. She looks like popped bubbles. The guy in the suit—ugh. I can’t even look at him.
Gary comes back with a woman wearing a white lab coat. Her name tag says Nancy. Gary introduces her as if I can’t read.
“I think you must have synesthesia,” she says. “That’s—”
“A thing where your senses get mixed up,” I say. “I know.”
“Exactly.” She beams at me. Literally. Little spikes of light shoot out her eyes in a double starburst pattern. “When you taste something, or feel it, your vision is affected.”
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “It’s more than that. A lot more. More than I can handle. I was hoping glasses would make it go away.”
She frowns. “I don’t think—”
“Please, you have to! I’m—” I lower my voice. “I’m afraid I’m going insane.”
“Oh. In that case, perhaps you should consult a doctor.”
“Aren’t you a doctor?”
Gary’s apologetic smile looked like moldy blue cheese. “I’m afraid not. Nancy and I are opticians. We don’t evaluate medical conditions. Only vision.”
“My vision’s the problem! I see things I don’t want to see. Like that guy over there.” I jab a thumb at the man in the suit. “He’s gold and sticky. Like butterscotch. He punched his wife this morning.”
Gary and Nancy exchange startled glances.
“I sure that’s not—” Nancy begins.
“Is that supposed to be a joke?” Gary demands.
“It’s what I see. He slammed his fist into her stomach. He’s left handed,” I add, as an afterthought. “And see that lady in blue? She hates her teenager. Can’t wait for him to move out. I can tell because her skin looks like a crumb cake. All bumpy.”
The man in the suit and the woman in blue stop what they’re doing and look over. Did they hear me? I’m not sure.
Nancy moves between me and them. “Please, sir. Keep your voice down, or we’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“Leave? But I can’t!” Panic makes my voice squeak. “Not without glasses! What—you think I’m making this stuff up? I’m not! What about you?”
“What about me?” Nancy asks, mystified.
She blinks and looks down. “Striped?”
“Red and white, like a candy cane! Because you can’t decide.”
“I beg your pardon?”
She doesn’t fool me. Her eyes had turned wary—she knows exactly what I’m talking about. “You need to make up your mind,” I say. “Soon. If you don’t, you’ll be sleeping alone, instead of with two different men.”
“Wha—? How—?” Her mouth gapes.
“See? See what I mean?”
“Sir,” Gary reaches for me. “This is quite enough. I don’t believe we can help you with your…er…condition. I must ask you to leave.”
I back up, hands raised. “No. No way. I’m not going back out there. Not without glasses.”
“Sir, I’m sorry, but you don’t have a choice.” Gary expression darkens, but, oddly, the cheesecake glaze grows brighter. “If you’re not out of here in ten seconds, I’m calling the police.”
“You? Call the police? Oh, that’s rich.” I laugh. “Okay, sure. Go ahead. Bring in the cops. Have them take a look at the books while they’re here.”
Gary’s body jerks. I turn to Nancy. “You know that five thousand you couldn’t locate last month? Your buddy here spent it on a trip to Italy.”
“What?” Her head swivels. “Is that true?”
“Of course not!” Gary cries.
“But you went to Italy. Last month.”
“Well, yes, but—”
I snort. “And that car he bought for his daughter last Christmas? Have the police look into that, too.”
Nancy’s eyes dart back to me. Her stripes had turned from cherry red to vomit green.
“Fake clients,” I say. “Fake invoices. That’s how he does it.”
Gary emits a growl. “Now wait just a minute—”
“Is this true?” Nancy demands.
“No! Of course not! The guy’s insane! He said it himself!”
“Is he? He knows you went to Italy. He knows you bought your daughter a car. How?”
“He—he’s a stalker. Obviously! He’s targeted me for some reason. And you, too!”
“In that case,” Nancy says, “let’s call the police.” She reaches for the phone.
“No!” Gary blocks her arm.
They freeze—Gary’s hand on Nancy’s wrist, their eyes locked. Fireworks explode around their heads. Red and yellow and orange.
“Let. Go,” Nancy enunciates. “Or you will be very, very sorry.”
I don’t know what happened after that. I could see I wasn’t getting glasses out of those two. I left the store and waded back outside. Into the colors. The writhing, stinking, suffocating colors. The pulsing, putrid patterns soaked with things I don’t want to know.
I walked with my head down. I tried not to see. Tried not to understand. By the time I got home, my breath was coming in choppy gasps and I was close to passing out.
I slammed the door. Locked it. Stumbled into my room and fell into bed. Rolled onto my back and shut my eyes.
I may never open them again.