In a disposal unit, somewhere in the bowels of the hospital, lying amongst burst appendixes, corroded arteries and diseased organs is Evan’s right eye.
Evan himself, his right eyelid covered with a pressure patch, lies in his hospital bed and waits for the surgeon’s verdict. He doesn’t have to wait long. The Surgeon is running late and he delivers the news rapidly. The infected eye and the tumour were successfully removed. The clear conformer has been fitted. The operation was a success.
Evan grips the bed sheets and a thin line of sweat dribbles down his lower back. He’s clear of the disease but he’s not happy. One of his eyes has gone, temporarily replaced by an acrylic impostor. The surgeon is still talking. He’s telling Evan that life as a monocular man won’t be easy. Lots will change. Lots has already changed. Depth perception, for one.
The surgeon asks if Evan is ‘a cricket man’. Evan shakes his head.
“That’s good,” says the surgeon in a tone approaching jovial, “because you’d find yourself dropping a lot more balls than you caught. You’ll have to re-learn how to catch.”
I don’t care about cricket or catching, Evan thinks, I just want to know how I look.
“We’ll take off your bandage in two days time,” the surgeon says, “and then we’ll talk some more about your visit to the ocularist.”
Evan, his eyes still tightly shut, nods. The surgeon, satisfied with what appears to be a positive response, continues to counsel Evan about life as a monocular man. He advises him to be careful when crossing roads.
“Your brain may become confused when your left eye gives it the all clear and the right socket says ‘Nothing here.’ It’ll take your brain a while to learn not to trust the signal it receives from the eyes. Eye.”
Evan nods but he’s not really listening. He only cares about what Suzie will think, what Anna will say, what Jessica will do. Will they still laugh at his jokes? Will they still adore him? When he unbuckles his Versace trousers, lowers his gym-toned body over them and looks down at them with his unseeing eye, will they still sleep with him? Will they stay?
The surgeon stands up. He tells Evan that he will need to remain on the ward for observation for a few more hours and then he’ll be free to go home. Evan thinks about home. It’s a private hospital but he can still smell the stink of illness and death through the mingling scents of bleach, starch and the flowers that clutter his room. Evan thinks about plasma TVs, Egyptian brushed cotton sheets and leather sofas. He’ll invite one of his girlfriends to stay over. That way there will be someone next to him so he won’t be alone if he wakes in the night. Evans thoughts swirl and mingle and he slowly falls asleep.
He wakes up to the buzzing vibration of his mobile phone on his bedside table (hospital policies are for NHS patients only in Evan’s opinion). He reaches for it and squints at the message. It’s from George, his personal assistant. Evan is the only executive in the advertising agency to have a male PA. You can put your trust in a man, Evan thinks.
George has arranged Evan’s afternoon visits, exactly as planned. Suzie, Anna and Jessica have each been allocated an hour’s worth of bedside time, with time in between to avoid any possible overlaps. Evan feels sick and its not because of the anaesthetic. Was it a mistake to invite the women to visit him? He had planned to milk the tears and sympathy but now he feels nervous. Even though the Surgeon told him there was a 99% chance that the eye would be removed he’d clung to the 1% chance that it wouldn’t. He was Evan, he was a lucky kind of guy. But not that lucky it seemed. What if his girlfriends were horrified that he only had one eye? What if they said they didn’t want to see him again? I am Evan Williams-Blythe, he thinks as he gently peels the bandage from his eyelid. Let them see how I look now. I have nothing to fear.
Evan’s eyes are still closed when Suzie arrives. He recognises her by the clip-clop of her heels on the floor and the cloud of expensive perfume that fills the room and invades his nostrils. Suzie. She will be impeccably dressed, her size eight body outlined by feminine tailoring, hair straight to her shoulders, make-up almost airbrushed on. Evan opens his left eye. The lid of the right eye is sticky and the eyelid flutters before it opens a few millimetres. Evan shuts his eyes again. Opens them. Blinks. It’s Suzie but it’s not beautifully dressed, airbrushed Suzie. It’s Suzie in a dressing gown, hair scraped back into a messy ponytail, face make-up free and blotchy and she’s not standing at the end of his bed, she’s sitting crossed legged on her sofa and she’s writing in a leather-bound notebook. Evan has never seen her looking so casual before. He squints and blinks but the image won’t disappear. Oh relax, he tells himself. It’s just a side effect of the anaesthetic. I’ll play along.
Suzie doesn’t look up when Evan speaks so he says her name again, more loudly.
Suzie continues to scribble frantically and Evan sighs. He can’t make the image of Suzie disappear, no matter how hard he tries. Fine, he thinks. Bloody fine. If that’s the way it is I’ll find out what she’s up to, not that I care. He drags himself out of bed, rounds the sofa and peers over her shoulder. Her writing is thin and spidery but Evan can still decipher it.
I know I’m not the only one he’s dating, but that doesn’t stop me seeing him.
Who’s him, thinks Evan. She’d better not be dating anyone else.
Evan tells me I’m beautiful and I feed off that. It’s not like he praises anything else about me. Evan likes to surround himself with beautiful things that he can handle and keep – like the two Ming vases inside his front door. I feel like those vases. Beautiful but empty, touched but not loved.
Loved? Ha! thinks Evan as he yawns and closes his eyes. People don’t stay with you just because you love them. When he opens his eyes again Suzie has disappeared and he’s back in his bed, the sound of a pair of high heels clacking into the distance. The mobile phone on his chest beeps 3.55pm. Five minutes until Anna’s visit. What was the deal with the writing and the beautiful crap? Was he dreaming? Did he sleep through Suzie’s visit?
When Anna walks through the door, all curves and low cut top (not cheap but not classy either, he quite likes that on her) Evan is scratching his eyebrow, his hand over his right eye. Suddenly self-conscious he keeps the hand there. Anna looks well, he notices. She’s maybe even lost a few pounds in the last week. Suits her. She looks pleased to see him and leans over and kisses him full on the lips.
“Darling! How are you?”
Vanilla and musk, Evan notes. That’s how she smells. Homely but horny. Just how she is.
“Is it awful? Is it very awful? Let me see, darling.”
Anna’s voice is as warm as her smell and, despite his misgivings; Evan removes his hand from his eye. He sees her momentarily, hovering at his side and then she blurs and shrinks. He can just make her out against a backdrop he doesn’t recognise. It looks like a packed bar and Anna is standing at the bar chatting animatedly with some woman. In fact it looks more than animation. It looks like rage. Evan moves closer but Anna doesn’t notice him. He gets so close that his face is only inches from hers. She’s ranting but he can’t hear a word. He can see her lips move though and he knows her well enough to make out what she’s saying.
Can you believe Evan told me not to go on holiday?
Her friend makes a face like ‘No way’ but Anna isn’t finished.
Apparently he’ll happily pay for us to go anywhere I want but we have to go there together. He said he’d leave me if I go on holiday with the girls or, God forbid, alone. If it wasn’t for the fact he was stinking rich I’d be off like a shot.
Evan begins to feel uncomfortable. All I’m asking is for a little loyalty, he thinks, someone who wants to spend some time with me rather than other people. The itch above his eyebrow becomes unbearable and he reaches up to scratch it. As his hand covers his right eye Anna disappears and once again, he finds himself in bed with the distinct sound of a pair of high heels clip-clopping into the distance. When Evan notices that it is 4.45pm he grabs at his mobile and punches in his PA’s number.
“George,” he says. “I don’t care what you have to do, but put Jessica off. Each time one of the girls visits I see weird shit.”
“I think she’s already on the way,” says the apologetic voice on the other end of the line.
“Then stop her. I don’t care who you have to pay or what strings you have to pull, just stop her from coming.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
There is sweat in Evan’s hairline and his heart is racing. He reaches out and stabs the emergency button with a finger. A nurse hurries into the room.
“What’s wrong? Why have you removed your patch?”
“I think I was given too much anaesthetic or something. I keep seeing things and it’s freaking me out.”
“Don’t worry. It’s normal to feel a little disorientated after an operation.”
Evan studies the nurse as she hovers by his bedside and checks his vitals. She is short; the wrong side of forty and her uniform is two sizes too small. The bulge at her belly makes her look five months pregnant though in truth she is probably just fat. There is no way in a million years he’d shag her, he thinks. The nurse glances at him and Evan notices that the pager that’s clipped onto her pocket is flashing. From where he’s lying the text is upside down but it’s scrolling slowly and he can just about make it out.
Nice, stare at my stomach why don’t you. Some of us don’t snap straight back into shape when we’ve had kids and we don’t have time to work out at the gym. We’re too busy with our families and looking after people like you.
“Sorry,” Evan says. “I didn’t think.”
The nurse looks at him with surprise. “Think about what?”
“About how busy you must be as a nurse.”
The nurse frowns. “You’re perfectly entitled to ring the bell if something’s wrong you know.”
“No, no, that’s not what I meant. I was talking about you having a family.”
The nurse presses the back of her hand against his forehead. “I didn’t say anything about my family. I said it’s normal to feel a little disorientated after an operation. You feeling okay, Mr Williams-Blythe?”
Evan swallows. He feels distinctly not okay. First Anna and Suzie revealed their thoughts to him and then he read the nurse’s thoughts on her pager. Was it really a combination of the anaesthetic and his confused left eye? Was it? Or was his sightless eye socket revealing…
“I feel okay now,” he says to the nurse.
“Are you sure? Let me reapply your patch.”
“No, thank you.”
When the nurse leaves the room Evan opens the drawer beside his bed and takes out his vanity case. He extracts a compact mirror, opens it and stares at his reflection. He notes the stubble on his tight jaw, the slope of his perfectly proportioned nose and the raised curve of his cheekbones. He looks at the eye, the lost one. It is largely closed but what he can see is pink and fleshy. Evan feels sick, as though he is looking deep inside himself. He doesn’t like what he sees. It unsettles him and makes him feel vulnerable and afraid. It makes him long for the one woman that won’t be visiting his bedside. Evan looks from his new eye to his left, remaining eye. The eye, wide, dark and ever so slightly teary, stares back, perplexed. The image begins to blur.
“Hi Evan,” says the small boy who gazes back from the mirror.
Evan blinks. He can’t be one hundred percent sure but the small boy looks a lot like he did, thirty years ago.
“Look,” grins the boy, pointing at his face, “I’ve got both eyes. Jealous much?”
Evan just stares at him, mouth open. He’d normally fire off a scathing comment in return but the words have dried in his throat.
“Where are your girlfriends?” the boy asks.
“They were here,” Evan says. “I think.”
The boy laughs. One of his front teeth is missing and Evan knows why. He pulled it out to make fifty pence from the tooth fairies. It wasn’t even wobbly at first.
“What’s the matter, Evan? Can’t you deal with finding out how people feel?”
“It wasn’t real. Neither are you.”
The boy sticks out his tongue. It’s stained black in the middle. Probably a result, Evan thinks, of sucking far too many Black Jacks. Cheap sweets at a penny a go. He loved them once.
“I was real once,” says the boy, “a long time ago. You know that none of those women really love you, right? They just want what you pretend to be.”
Evan says nothing.
The boy stifles a sob. It is, Evan realises, fake. Even when he was six he could manipulate people by pretending to cry.
“Pretty Mummy didn’t love you either, did she Evan?” says the boy. “Remember how you cried when she left in the middle of the night? She didn’t even say goodbye. She just drove off into the night with her rich, fancy man.”
Evan half-throws, half-drops the mirror onto the blankets, flipping it as he releases it so it falls face down. The mirror lies still where he threw it, but Evan can’t shake the feeling that the small boy is still staring back at him. He picks it back up.
“What does it all mean?” says the boy. “Why are you rich? Why three beautiful girlfriends? Back up in case one of them leaves you? Why can’t you sleep alone in your bed? Scared you’ll cry if a car drives off when you wake up?”
This time the mirror flies through the air and smashes against the far wall. Slivers of mirrored glass fall to the floor and the plastic backing lands with a thump. A nurse immediately rushes into the room. Evan glances at her, decides against it and closes his eyes. He hears her hurry from the room and walk back in. Her rubber shoes squeak on the floor.
“I’ve brought the Surgeon,” she says, “and a dustpan and brush.”
Evan keeps his eyes shut but he can sense that someone is standing next to his shoulder.
“Mr Harding?” he asks.
“Can I see my old eye?” he asks. “I’d like to see it if I may.”
To say goodbye, he thinks, but he doesn’t say that.
There is a pause and the room becomes silent. Even the sweeping stops.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” the Surgeon says in an even tone.
Evan opens his eyes and moans. It seems to reverberate throughout his body before it escapes through his mouth.
Get over it, the Surgeon seems to mouth, you should be grateful we were able to remove the tumour and save your life.
“Sorry?” Evan says.
“It may take you a little while to adjust to your new life Mr Williams-Blythe,” the surgeon says. “You just need to give yourself time.”
I do not need to adjust my life, Evan thinks, I need to tear it down and start again.
“Could you leave,” he says softly. “I need to be alone, if you don’t mind.”
“Certainly, though you do seem to be in some discomfort. Would you like something to ease the pain?”
Evan shakes his head. “No,” he says. “No, I don’t think I should.”
The tear duct below Evan’s right eye starts to weep.
(C) CL Taylor 2007
(Winner, The Lancet ‘Fact to Fiction’ competition 2007)