Chapter 11: Walking Off
Flustered, Pearl made her way to 122 Maple Lane. She has learned where her house is by location: it is the third driveway from the corner on the right. Also, Pearl’s house has a white garden fence that encompasses the front yard. Dr. Holt put up the fence last year for Pearl to help her recognize her home. The fence is outlined with beautiful purple and hot pink pansies that her mom and Dr. Holt planted together. Although Pearl can no longer see the flowers, just knowing they are blooming makes Pearl smile. As a child Pearl had the silly thought that flowers bloomed just for her. And somehow, even in near blindness, Pearl still feels that these pansies bloom just to see her off and welcome her home from her morning walks.
The day was nothing remarkable; rather simple in routine and almost boring. Pearl placed her walking stick in the usual location, hanging by the leather strap on the doorknob inside her room. She slipped into the shower for a good scrub down, trying to wash away the uneasiness of the events from her morning walk. Pearl wondered what the girl was crying about, and she felt a tinge of guilt for not responding to the persuasion of her walking stick. “But what would I have said to that stranger?” Pearl thought to herself. “I don’t talk to people I don’t know,” Pearl said under her breath.
Pearl’s world of communication had reduced itself to her mom, Grandma, Dr. Holt, Meredith, and occasionally a few other doctors and their assistants. From time to time a few acquaintances Pearl met at the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired would email Pearl. But even then, the contact was sporadic and far between. Pearl had become a recluse, an outsider to the world visiting its sidewalks and local grocery stores as a matter of mindless motion… nothing new ever coming from it. Nothing new except in today’s encounter with the stranger. Pearl crossed paths with her sadness and had not been able to release the stranger’s cry from her mind.
Pearl tried to distract herself with music, listening to books on tape, and even putzing through the garden Grandma and Pearl created a few months ago. Nothing seemed to ease her mind. Pearl had gotten fairly good at helping her mom, Dr. Holt, and Grandma in the kitchen. Every Friday night Dr. Holt would come to dinner. Sometimes he came several times in a week, but always on Friday. Tonight was no exception.
“Feeling okay, Pearl? You seem a little off tonight,” Dr. Holt said while tossing pepperoni slices onto the pizza dough.
“Yes, Pearl. I have noticed you bumming around all day. Are you okay?” her mom asked.
“Yeah, I am fine. Just a little distracted. No particular reason, just thinking.” Pearl regretted her response immediately because she knew it would only produce more questions.
“Really? About what? Did something happen today?” her mom probed. Everyone stopped working on dinner and looked at Pearl. Even though Pearl could not see them, she heard their lack of movement.
“Seriously, everything is fine. No big deal. I am allowed to think, right?” Pearl said in a sassy tone.
“Of course you are, Pearl. Sorry for the intrusion. We just want to help if you need to vent or simply want to tell us something about your day.” Dr. Holt always had the right answer, as if he were strategically placing his reply into a crossword puzzle.
Pearl was detached at dinner; she heard talking but didn’t take the time to digest the words. Everything was simply background noise compared to the thoughts in Pearl’s head. After Pearl ate, she quietly slipped away from the table and went to her room. She was amazed at how quickly the light table conversation turned into a serious dialogue about Pearl once she left. “I’m blind, not deaf,” Pearl thought to herself. She heard her name being tossed around the kitchen table like a hot potato. Pearl cracked her bedroom door so she could take in everything that was being said.
“I have no idea, Todd. She just seems different today. Every day she withdraws more and more. Today was awful. I wouldn’t have even known she was in the house except I have a dirty dinner plate to prove me wrong!” Pearl could tell by the tone of her voice that her mom was very frustrated. Todd leaned over and held Susan’s hand.
“Yeah,” Grandma said. “She doesn’t have any friends - never does a thing with kids her age. That just can’t be good for a young girl her age. She is a good student, but she has to be unhappy. What does she have outside of her homework?”
“Nothing, not one thing,” Susan quietly responded.
“I have an idea,” Dr. Holt said smiling.
“What?” Susan questioned.
“Just wait and see. Promise me you will let me handle it, okay?” Dr. Holt asked. Against her better judgment, Susan agreed. Dr. Holt made arrangements to pick Pearl up at 9:00 o’clock in the morning to go on a special errand.
“Wonderful,” Pearl thought to herself as she brushed her teeth. “He probably is going to take me to a shrink to discuss my loneliness.” Pearl tried to recognize her face in the mirror. “Why do I still have this stupid mirror?” Pearl thought. “It’s not like I use it for anything.” Pearl could see her shadow: a raw outline of her reflection. Standing before the mirror, Pearl felt her face – eyebrows, cheeks, lips. She visualized her features and mentally placed them in the mirror before her. The mental picture slowly erased itself like an Etch-A-Sketch drawing. Pearl forgot the details of what she looked liked. She didn’t know how her appearance was changing with age or even if her hair looked shiny or dull. It was increasingly hard for Pearl to grasp the reality of becoming invisible to her own self. At times, Pearl felt she had simply faded entirely away, but the sound of her heart beating reminds her that something is alive in the midst of the darkness. Tired from the day, Pearl put on her pajamas and nestled into bed. She was ready for a good night’s sleep with dreams greeting her in vivid color.
That evening Pearl slept soundly. Her body barely moved, and her pulse remained slow and steady. The walking stick swayed back and forth from the doorknob like a pendulum clock. The rhythm of the stick coincided perfectly with Pearl’s heartbeat. During the night, with one quick swoosh, the walking stick vanished from the doorknob. A swirl of color floated throughout Pearl’s room: pink, blue, yellow, green, red, and black. A cascade of memories, fears, and hopes glided over Pearl like a choreographed ballet.