Without warning, as if following some Biblical injunction, the boy reached in and plucked out his left eye. He did it quickly, right hand ambushing his face. My sister and I stepped back. It’s rare for a glass eye to make it into your home. And even more rare for it to pop out. There it lay in his grimy palm, wet with eye goop, scanning my mother’s kitchen for a more responsible owner. I can’t remember the boy’s name, only that his mother dropped him off while she ran a quickie sewing errand with my mom. Either he was the son of La Vawn, the beautician, who frosted my mother’s hair each month, or the boy who lived in the subterranean WW II house that waited, like a jilted bride, for a main floor that never showed up. In a Saturday morning cartoon, this stray eye would have fallen to the floor into a competitive game of marbles only to be chased for twenty chaotic minutes by a pair of squeaky chipmunks. But Saturday was long past, and that eye had no chance of rolling anywhere. It was concave, more like half an eye, which made me want it even more. My sister was more interested in the caved-in eyelid. “Want to see what it’s like inside?” the boy said. I was about to stop him, when he pulled back the folds with his free hand. “Yuck,” my sister said, and I elbowed her. “Well it is yuck,” she said. Moist and pink but clean looking. More mouth than wound. Then he closed it, and I looked from the blue eye on his face to the bluer one in his hand. “They make them in a factory,” he said, “all different colors.” What a field trip that would make, better than a warehouse of polished agates. I knew the eye in his hand was only glass, but my, how it glinted—like it possessed special powers. If you rubbed the eye in just the right way and repeated the right spell, then closed your own eyes, maybe the iris would blink into seeing, and relay pictures straight to your brain. My brain. The possibilities were endless: send it to the drive-in on Sunday nights when movies were taboo, tape it to a pigeon’s leg and let it spy on the neighbors, drop it into the Blackfoot Reservoir to search out the trophy trout no one could hook, slide it under the door to the girls’ bathroom during recess. “Can I hold it?” I said. The boy without a name looked me over, as if he were weighing the seriousness of our half-hour friendship. Slowly, very slowly, he held out his hand. Just as I was reaching for the eye, his mother drove up. He flipped on the faucet, swiped the eye under the water two or three times, then leaned his head back like a teenager putting in a contact. And the room turned back into a kitchen, and I slapped off the water, and all three of us blinked, and kept blinking, to get that eye back in place before the vigilant mothers entered the house.
Lance Larsen’s third collection of poetry, Backyard Alchemy, will appear in 2009 from University of Tampa Press. He has published essays in Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review, Quarterly West, Bellingham Review, and Hunger Mountain. He has received a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from Sewanee, the Ragdale Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. A professor of English at BYU, he will co-direct in 2009 a theater study abroad program in London.
photo by Kristin Fouquet