The Blind Shall See || June O'Sullivan

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Image Credit: ©Modern Furniture

The Blind Shall See

by June O'Sullivan



Clara was hovering in the parlour doorway, fastening her outdoor jacket. The clatter of hooves shook the window panes as a carriage went by. Jane looked up from her reading. Clara’s buttons were fastened haphazardly. She could tell her but she was so sensitive these days she was likely to burst into tears. Jane returned to the paper, using the pages of The Western Daily to shield herself from her younger sister who sighed, theatrically, demanding attention.


‘What is it?’


Clara stared out the window. ‘I’m worried.’


Jane took her time folding the paper along its creases, then placed it to one side. Clara worried about silly things that were more suited to a child than a middle-aged woman of thirty-one. Never things like the leak in the roof, or their dwindling inheritance, or whether their remaining days would be an ad nauseam repetition of today and yesterday and the day before?


‘About what?’


‘The hyacinths.’


‘The hyacinths?’ Jane gripped the antimacassar.


‘They always bloom along with the daffodils. But there’s no sign of them. What if they don’t bloom at all, Jane? Remember how Mother loved them? She always arranged them so splendidly their perfume filled the house.’ Clara shut her eyes and drew her hands to her nose, inhaling the phantom scent.


How could Clara remember Mother like this? A benevolent florist, layering their world with beauty? Jane could only recall her grousing that the gardener was useless and mocking the ostentatiousness of their neighbour, Mrs Huggard’s, flower arrangements before condemning Jane’s attempts as anaemic. When Jane thought of the hyacinths’ suffocating perfume her mouth filled with warm spit. She’d be quite happy if they stayed below ground forever. Maybe the bulbs had withered and shriveled along with Mother. When Mother’s breathlessness relegated her to the bedroom Jane had felt, for the first time in her life, that she could unfurl in her own home. She did not go to the sickbed often. When she did she would bring her soft pencils and attempt to sketch Mother, blend her angular form into something kinder.


Jane flexed her fingers now. The stiffness was still there. That sketch of Mother was the last thing she had completed. She longed to explode in colour across her easel but her fingers refused to bend to the desire, assuming a stubborn rigidity if she even thought about picking up a paintbrush.


‘I planned to bring some flowers to Mother’s grave,’ Clara said.


‘You’re going again?’


Clara didn’t answer.


‘I’m not sure it’s good for you, to go so often.’


‘I’m going out anyway, so I thought I’d pass by the graveyard.’


‘Out?’


Clara rarely ventured out in the evening.


‘With Mrs. Huggard. I’m going to see someone. Someone who can speak to Mother.’


‘Clara, we agreed. No more clairvoyants.’ Jane clenched her teeth. They didn’t have the resources for this nonsense.


‘This one is different. Miss Maude, from Illinois,’ Clara said. ‘And she’s not clairvoyant. She’s clairaudient.’


‘So what? She can only hear Claire’s?’


‘Don’t be cruel! She’s blind so her hearing senses are amplified. I’m going to ask Mother about the garden.’


‘Could you ask her where we might find the money to fix the roof?’


‘You really are rotten sometimes, Jane.’


Clara’s voice wobbled on the last word and then she was gone, the front door reverberating in its frame behind her. 


Jane picked up the paper. A headline caught her eye: ‘Dr Macaura’s Blood Circulator’. How macabre, she thought as she read on. ‘The blind shall see, the deaf shall hear.’ She snorted. Another snake-oil merchant, profiting from the misery of others. Maybe she should recommend him to Miss Maude, he could cure her blindness. But then she saw:

‘expands the arteries and stimulates blood flow through the application of up to five thousand vibrations per minute to the affected area. Dr Macaura will give a demonstration, this evening, Victoria Rooms.’ 


Well, that was interesting. Jane put the paper down and stood, brushing at her skirts. The prospect of an evening alone in a silent house was not appealing and she liked to keep herself informed of the latest scientific advancements. She would go and see what this doctor was about.

 

***

Mrs Huggard grabbed Clara’s hand as the front door opened. A young girl, with brown curls escaping from her linen cap, took their coats and hats, slipped their donation onto a silver platter and led them to the sitting-room. It was humming with women of different ages, conferring in low murmurs, admiring the bronze ornaments on the mantel. Clara recognised Ms Lucey from church. Her cough punctuated every Sunday service and it was no different here, though she tried to smother it with her handkerchief. In all her time visiting mediums Clara had only ever seen a handful of men attending. She wondered if this was because women were more communicative. They didn’t want the conversation to stop just because someone had died. Or disappeared. That was why Mrs Huggard was here. Five years ago her husband went fishing and never returned. The police could offer her no answers so she sought them herself, in houses like this one, all over the west of England.


A young lady with blonde hair, teased into a fashionable style, entered and clapped her hands.


‘Ladies, we are about to begin. My aunt, Miss Maude, is in position and has entered a trance state. It is crucial she not be startled. I will escort you to your seats, silently, in pairs. You first, madam, and your mother.’


Clara realised she was looking at her. ‘Oh no, she’s not…’ Her voice was swallowed by tears.


Mrs Huggard rescued her. ‘We’re friends. I’m afraid her poor mother is no longer…’


‘Please!’ The blonde lady raised a finger to her lacquered lips. ‘Do not disclose anything.’


She led them down the corridor to a darkened room. Clara was glad they were first so she could settle herself. The chairs formed a circle with Miss Maude at its centre, barely visible in the crepuscular gloom, a shadowy figure dressed in flowing robes, her face covered by a black, tulle veil. When everyone was seated she intoned.


‘Welcome. I invite you to take each other’s hands.’


Mrs Huggard grasped her right hand and a clammy stranger took her left.


‘We are about to cross the bridge between the living and the dead. Many of you suffer the loss of those you love but in our time together death will lose its sting. I ask only that you remain silent unless the spirits communicate a message for you.’


Clara noticed the niece stepping to the sideboard, extinguishing the solitary candle with one efficient breath. The room was curtained in opaque dark.


A thick silence swelled and the room filled with the held breath of anticipation.


‘Minnie!’ Miss Maude’s voice shattered the silence and Clara’s unknown hand-holder gasped.


‘Yes?’


‘Your husband knows what concerns you, Minnie. Speak with the old man. He will assist you.’


Minnie whispered, ‘Ok, dear. I’ll do that.’ She removed her hand from Clara’s to sob into her handkerchief.


‘Clara?’


Clara stiffened. Mrs Huggard poked a sharp elbow into her ribs.


‘Yes?’


‘Mother is here. She’s worried. About one of your siblings.’


One of my siblings? thought Clara. Well, there was only Jane.


‘Jane? Why?’


‘Jane must be careful. A sophisticated man seeks to dupe her. She will suffer a loss.’


‘Oh!’ Clara wanted to ask another question but Miss Maude moved on. Somebody’s cat was to be found on the Common and Ms Lucey needed to visit her doctor as a matter of urgency.


‘Did someone have a question about a river?’ Miss Maude asked. Mrs Huggard raised her hand but it went unseen in the gloom. A sudden loud clap brought the session to an end and Miss Maude slumped forward in her chair. Her niece rushed over and helped the weakened medium to her feet. She fastened an arm around her waist and carried her out.


The room filled with urgent chatter.


‘I’m sorry you didn’t get a message,’ Clara said. She could see the tired resignation on Mrs Huggard’s face, deepening the furrows between her eyebrows. ‘I wish I’d gotten a chance to ask about the hyacinths but this message for Jane must be important, I suppose.’


***

‘Ladies and gentlemen! I hold in my hand Patent No. 13932.’


The doctor stood centre stage, holding aloft a piece of paper.


‘The very one submitted by myself in the US of A, the United Kingdom and France. This document declares that I, Dr Gerald Macaura, am the inventor, owner and rightful disseminator of this miraculous device!’ He put the document on the podium and raised a small, wooden box over his head, turning left and right so the crowd could appreciate it. ‘The Pulsocon Blood Circulator.’ He summoned an assistant from the wings, placed the box in her hands, extracted a small, metal implement and elevated it. ‘This astounding apparatus can be self-operated, in the privacy of your own home. Simply crank the handle to begin the vibrations and apply it to the affected area of the body and I guarantee to you instant relief. But I know a guarantee is worth nothing without proof so tonight I present you with indisputable evidence. Ladies and gentlemen, the lame will walk before your very eyes and for this treatment I will charge not - one -  single  - penny. Mrs Wicks, if you will.’


The doctor stepped to the side of the stage and removed his suit jacket, revealing a fitted waistcoat, pressed white shirt and dove grey ascot. His black pants had a sharp crease and the shine of his black dress shoes was matched by his pomaded hair. With his deep tan Jane thought he could pass for an American film star. An old lady was wheeled onto the stage in her bath chair.


‘Have we met before, Mrs Wicks?’


‘No, Doctor.' Her West Country accent bumped up against his euphonious American vowels. 


‘Can you tell me what ails you?’


‘Rheumatism, Doctor. This past twenty years.’


‘Does it affect all your joints?’


‘The only thing that’s not entirely seized, Doctor, is my brain, and I thank God for that at least.’


The audience tittered then hushed as the doctor cranked the handle of the device furiously. The tip began to judder. Mrs Wicks looked on, fear widening her eyes.


‘Do you desire to walk again?’


‘Oh very much, Doctor. I would give anything to take a stroll around my little garden.’


‘Then with your permission I will apply this to your legs, Mrs Wicks.’


The doctor knelt and slipped the device under her long skirts. The audience in the Victoria Rooms shimmied left and right to get a good view of the treatment.


‘Can you describe what is happening for the benefit of our audience, Mrs Wicks?'


‘It’s very pleasant I must say. Most relieving.' Mrs Wicks was flushed and her voice lilted with giddiness. ‘The doctor is moving this thingummy up and down from my ankles to my knees and everything is… what’s the word now? Tingly?'


Dr Macaura laughed. ‘Yes, that’s a good word for it. You see, the Pulsocon is stimulating your blood flow. Another few minutes and we’ll put it to the test.'


Jane strained to see as Mrs Wicks was lifted from her chair. She stood, took a step, then another, picked up pace and proceeded across the stage as though on a sheet of ice. Her companion hovered nearby. When she made it to the side of the stage she turned to Dr Macaura and laughed. He joined her, offered her his arm and with loud cheers ringing to the rafters the pair sashayed back across the stage.


‘Will that do, Mrs Wicks?' Dr Macaura assisted her into the chair again. 


‘I believe so.' Mrs Wicks could hardly speak with laughter. ‘That’s the best walk I’ve had in years.'


The applause was rapturous and Dr Macaura allowed it to persist, chivalrously indicating that Mrs Wicks was the rightful recipient of the accolades. When the crowd quietened the doctor adopted a sincere tone.


‘Of course, this device is miraculous but to cure rheumatism in one treatment is a claim I do not make. Mrs Wicks will require further treatments to ensure the ongoing benefits. And remember she can do this in her own home, by her own hand, simply by purchasing her own Pulsocon.'


Jane allowed herself to be herded out with the crowd when the demonstration ended. She was lost in her thoughts, trying to rationalise what she had seen. But one thing she knew for certain. She would pay a visit to Dr Macaura’s rooms first thing tomorrow to secure treatment and by the week’s end she might know again what it felt like to conjure beauty from a brush and a blank canvas. 


***

Jane closed her eyes as the early tram trundled through the Bristol streets to Dr Macaura’s clinic. Her mind kept returning to Clara’s words after her encounter with Miss Maude.


‘A sophisticated man will dupe you.' Clara’s face had been a tableau of concern. ‘That’s what Miss Maude said. She even used your name. How would she know that?’


Jane couldn’t answer that but she knew these mediums had their tricks. Anyway, she barely knew any men, let alone a sophisticated one.


‘You want me to believe that a blind American received a message from our deceased mother?’ Jane had demanded.


‘You want me to believe that a woman was cured of rheumatism? In minutes? With a — what did you call it?’


‘Pulsocon. That’s science, Clara.’


‘I wish Mother had gifted me a message. It’s wasted on you.’


‘The only person who has been gifted anything is Miss Maude. How much did you pay her?’


‘It is donation only.’


‘How much did you donate?’


‘How much must you pay the Doctor?’ Clara retorted.


‘He does not request payment for the treatment.’


Clara had laughed. ‘So they are the same then. He and Miss Maude?’


Jane pursed her lips now at the accusation. They could not be more different. Dr Macaura was a medical man and Miss Maude was a fraud. In truth, she was worried about Clara. She could not seem to let go of her grief and was pining for a kind, loving Mother that had never existed. Maybe that was the root of it, Jane thought, the loss of what she’d never had. Jane felt a twinge. She must be kinder to Clara.


She alighted from the tram and took her place in the queue of women snaking down the street in the cold morning air. 


***

The warmth returned to her body as Dr Macaura pressed gently on her fingers. He rotated each in turn then laced his fingers through hers, pressing their palms together to turn her wrist. She willed her cheeks not to redden, conscious that his dark eyes were watching for a reaction. Jane shifted in her seat.


‘This is causing you discomfort?’


Yes, thought Jane. Being here, in a room, alone, with a not-unpleasant-looking man touching my hand.


‘Yes,’ she said.


‘You are a perfect candidate. If you don’t mind me saying so.’


She nodded, mortified that her eyes had filled with tears. For so long she had shouldered the burden of Mother’s bad tempers, Clara’s worries, their financial woes, that she was undone now by his kindness.


Dr Macaura lifted the Pulsocon from its wooden box and held it in front of Jane.


‘See, you just turn this little crank. Why don’t you give it a go?’


Jane gripped the smooth handle and twisted.


‘The more times you turn it, the more vibrations it will produce,’ Dr Macaura instructed. ‘So, as you can see it is completely under your control. You choose the strength of the treatment. Your hand, please.’ He slid the juddering device across her skin.


Jane closed her eyes. Heat built up in her fingers and she could have sworn she felt blood rushing to the tips.


Dr Macaura removed the device and instantly she missed it.


‘Shall we try?’ He handed her a notepad and a pencil.


Jane stared at the blank page. What should she draw? Without thinking, with a few quick flourishes, she produced a likeness of Dr Macaura. She lowered the pencil and laughed. She could do it again!


Jane made her way back to the tram stop. She couldn’t stop smiling, or flexing her fingers, feeling their power and agility. She would return tomorrow with the money to purchase her very own Pulsocon. It would be an expense but she must have it. 


***

A frosty silence over the breakfast table reflected the hard freeze outside. Jane thought of mentioning the hyacinths, by way of brokering peace. It was fortunate they hadn’t appeared yet or the cold would have finished them off. But Clara refused to look in her direction. She had come down to breakfast before Jane and nabbed the paper. She folded each page back, a practice Jane abhorred. But at least there were new stories for her to look at, reduced as she was to reading the back pages.


A headline pulled her eye down: ‘Macaura Arrested: Fraud Charge.’ Jane leaned across the table and yanked the paper from Clara.


‘Jane!’


One minute!’


Jane sped through the article. Then she read it again, carefully. It really was him. He had been arrested, last night, on a charge of fraud. And he was wanted in Paris for practising medicine without qualification. He wasn’t even a real doctor. Her cheeks burned.


How could she have been so foolish?


She had been ready to hand over money they could ill afford to buy his machine. She had almost been conned. Her stomach sank. Did this mean Clara’s medium was right? Was Dr Macaura the sophisticated man of Mother’s message? She couldn’t let Clara see the news.


‘Let’s go out.’


‘I’d like to finish reading the paper.’ Clara pouted.


Jane folded the page over and placed her hand on it. ‘Look, I’ve been rotten to you this last while and I want to make amends. Let’s have a stroll around the shops and then I’ll treat us both to a nice luncheon.’


Clara chewed her lip, considering. ‘With cream buns?


Jane stood up. ‘Of course!’


***

The sisters linked arms as they strolled down Castle St. They didn’t have the wherewithal to buy anything but there was pleasure to be had from people-watching and browsing the displays. They paused outside ‘Joséphine and Céci' to admire the Parisian millinery. Blonde curls caught Clara’s eye. Miss Maude’s niece was inside the shop. And there was Miss Maude. She was trying on a hat. An elegant confection of feathers and flowers in shades of lavender. How sad, thought Clara, that she can’t appreciate its beauty. She was about to say so to Jane when Miss Maude turned to the mirror, admiring her profile and adjusted the angle of the hat. She took it off, handed it to the assistant and pointed to another that she wanted to try.


A hat, on the other side of the boutique, that only someone with excellent vision could pinpoint. Clara narrowed her eyes. Why did there have to be so much deception in the world? And what if all the lovely flowers were used up for stupid hats and the bees had no way of gathering nectar?


‘I don’t think much of these, actually,’ she said to Jane. ‘Too vulgar.’


‘I’ve been thinking,’ Jane said, as they walked along. ‘I’m going to paint you some hyacinths. Then you needn’t worry about them anymore.’





June O’Sullivan lives on an island in Co. Kerry, Ireland. She is currently working on a novel and writes flash fiction and short stories. She is a part-time student of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick.




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