BY BRYAN JONES
After our son died, my wife and I started trading eyes. The crying started it. The waves of tears just floated my right eye out one day, like a lost fishing bobber carried down a fast river. My hands were cupped in front of my face when my right eye splashed into the tears I had captured in my palms. Half my world went dark. A moment later, my left eye came out as well. It landed with a plop in my leaking hands. Suddenly, I couldn’t see anything. But the thing of it was, when my eyes were out of their sockets, the pain stopped. I realized at that moment that grief was like an electric appliance, something you could just unplug and store away.
My wife also learned how to cry out her eyes. Then, with our eyes out, she and I would sit in the den, neither of us able to remember if we had left the lights on or not. We didn’t feel any pain, or grief, and we delayed the moment when we had to put our eyes in and face our little house and its painful memories that came rushing in like our son used to from his elementary school.
One day my wife asked me to give her my eyes. She wanted to see if they would fit. I held them out toward the sound of her voice and felt her hands reaching for mine, our fingers touching in the darkness as we traded. I put her eyes in and saw her wearing mine. She stood up, walked around the house without blinking, looking at things our son had liked to watch, things like my saltwater aquarium with our Lionfish’s bold stripes that offset a watery world. I looked at the same things with her eyes and we were sad and alone in only the way each of us could be.
On the first anniversary of our son’s death, I was alone in the house thinking about the past when I floated out my eyes. I put them on the coffee table next to the candle holders. Then the doorbell rang. I reached for my eyes but nearly knocked over the candle holders, so I just left them there and headed blindly for the sound of the follow-up knocking. I felt along the walls until I opened the door and heard the voices of my son’s friends. They didn’t have to tell me they wanted me finally to give away my son’s things, things like his baseball glove and fishing pole, his marble collection, and the expensive chemistry set that I had hoped would instill in him a love of science. I wasn’t ready to give his things away. I stood there, without my eyes, at a loss for words.
Suddenly they ran past me. Some invaded my son’s room. Some headed, I feared, for the boxes in the garage. But it was the one whose name I couldn’t remember—Randy or Roger—that concerned me the most. I could hear him talking over by the coffee table. He had mistaken my eyes for marbles that he wanted to add to his own collection. I could hear his marbles grinding against each other in a sack he carried with him.
“Those are mine,” I said, following the sound of his voice. I held out my hand, expecting to be obeyed.
He handed me what felt like my eyes. But after I had put in what I thought was my left eye, I couldn’t see a thing. I plucked it out and popped in my right eye and saw that he had substituted a black glass marble for my left eye.
“Trade,” the boy said.
He had my left eye, but he had stepped back and was near our aquarium. With a grin, he turned and dropped my left eye into the salty water and it began its wobbly fall toward the multicolored pebbles lining the bottom of the tank. But my pet Lionfish swam up and opened its mouth, inhaling the left window to my soul in a swirl of currents.
At that point, I wanted the boys out of my house. I told them to take what they wanted. I didn’t want to see them anymore. “Take it all,” I said.
They went into his room, snatching and grabbing all my son’s things. In a moment, the closet was empty, the shelves bare.
“Just go,” I said after they were finished. I pushed them toward the door. But the last one out turned at the threshold, that Robert or Roger.
“Can I have my marble back?” he asked.
No, I said. My anger was obvious. He stepped back, a little afraid. I popped the black marble in just as I would have my left eye and shoved him out the door. My depth perception was off, but the house was quiet again. I walked back to my bedroom and bumped into an end table along the way.
My wife doesn’t trade eyes anymore. It doesn’t work as well without having both of mine. Of course, because I don’t have two to give her, I don’t ask for hers.
Gradually, my wife and I are adjusting. Adjusting to how quiet the house is, how many of the colors now seem faded. In a few months, another year will have passed since our son’s death. She and I don’t cry as much anymore. And now, when I do cry, my good eye, my right eye, stays dry. Tears only come from my left, the one fitted with a black marble. I keep it in to remind me of fishing poles, baseball gloves, chemistry sets, and car-pools. Of little Roger or Robert and how it wasn’t a fair trade.
Short fiction by BRYAN JONES has appeared recently in Chicago Literati, Cease, Cows, Axolotl Magazine, and Foliate Oak. He lives and works in Texas. “Marble Swap” was previously published in Pequin.