A sun lamp, a sleeping pill, my mother dozing without the UV peepers over her eyes.  Dark, troubled, shake-of-the-head talk from my father on the phone with the doctor. Mother in her bright blue terry-cloth robe, her face burned blood red and blistered, her eyes blistered too, the wreckage hidden beneath the cotton bandaged to her sockets, helped up the stairs by my father.  This hand on the railing, now step up. Now that hand, that’s right, easy does it.  An anxious servility in him.

The experience two decades later of seeing, for the first time, Oedipus, that subversive song of pride and shame.  The blind prophet Tiresias pointing his gnarled finger at Oedipus, exclaiming in John Gielgud’s majestic warble: You, you are the unclean thing.  You are the one who must go.

But back then, in Dallas, at the Old Mill Stream Apartments, I thought only of myself.  Did I worry about my mother?  Yes, certainly yes.  But folding the Times Herald in the dark, four in the morning, beneath the apartment stairs, alone, I imagined what it would be like to have a blind mother.  I could see it, a life marked out as significant, a source of pity and fear.  The world of Braille, wooden canes, hairy shepherds: that’s what I wanted, what I shamefully longed for.

Even then I yearned for tragedy, could taste the aesthetics of suffering.

Oh, how strange and tender are the dark fantasies of children.  I was disappointed in a way I’d never articulate, even to myself, when the bandages were unspun from her eyes, her vision miraculously restored, like a gift from the gods. No excuses now, no spectacular catastrophe, no special privilege or catharsis for her pitiable son, The Child of the Blind Woman.  Just more papers to fold and rubber-band in the dark, without her help.

Then out on the roads by sunrise, pushing my grocery cart full of news, not a boy in exile, but merely a messenger, the black print all over my hands and face and coat, so that when I returned home, to where my parents slept, humbled and relieved, between the newly washed sheets, I was only too aware that I was the dirty one. I was the unclean thing.

K.L. Cook has published two books, Last Call a collection of linked stories that won the inaugural Prairie Schooner Book Prize in fiction, and The Girl from Charnelle,  a novel that won the 2007 WILLA Award for Contemporary Fiction.  His essays, fiction, and poems have been published in such journals as Glimmer Train, Shenandoah, Threepenny Review, American Short Fiction, Harvard Review, and Poets & Writers. A professor of creative writing and literature at Prescott College and a member of the graduate faculty of Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing Program, Cook was the 2007-08 Viebranz Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at St. Lawrence University.

photo by Dinty W. Moore