We get what we don’t deserve.
“Retinitis pigmentosa is hereditary,” the doctor had said, unfazed that there were two men in his office before him: one the patient, the other his brother, a friend or maybe something more. What he described only meant that he knew nothing about actual causes. Misfortune is your real inheritance, silent as calculating crows alighting upon that high wire of your future.
Fear feels like strength in the dark. Your father is in the living room outside, watching Chinese opera on the television; the bright but muted sounds ghosting in and out of the fugue of our breathing. I press my face against your chest, as if to leave a permanent mark.
You know we must be on choppy waters, when you resort to counting blessings: parents that are still healthy, sisters who care and aren’t calculative, friends who make immediate plans for overseas trips together, me in the car beside you with my hand massaging your thigh through your black jeans. Not to say these aren’t blessings. It’s true and you’re right: they’re all we’ve got. I wonder how long more before your peripheral vision goes and you might be forced to sell the car. You still long to make every date an adventure, an additional memory to be tattooed into your brain, new places and new feelings of togetherness to be recalled when alone in your bed. I thank you (you remind me to stop doing that) for the meal we had at Uno Beef House in Toa Payoh, the site of one of our early dates during our first year together; the meal you always pay for, because you make more money than me, because you are the “husband” and I the “wife” – the poor artist, the fragile one. We say the words in Mandarin because sexist stereotypes matter when we fuck and we can almost believe we are enacting the happy endings of Chinese soap operas we watched since we were children. “Stay inside me, lao gong,” I moan, not able to see your face because your body is cleaved to my back, spasming with both your eyes kept uncontrollably shut.
Alone in my bed, I remember the day we met. A threesome with a retired musician you were seeing at the time. He sensed something building between us and left us alone to figure it out; not out of generosity, but so that he could give you hell for it later on. He was your “rebound” after you had been ditched unceremoniously by an earlier jerk: we have such lousy luck in love. I realised you were making yourself uncomfortable by sitting on the balcony where I was smoking a cigarette, cross-legged on the floor, the sun bouncing off your dark skin, sweat congregating amidst the coarse hairs on your chest. You wanted to be close by, even as nothing was said between us. I realise now you were squinting because the afternoon light was flooding the tight corridor around us and striking your thinning retinae with already too much force. I bet you must ask yourself whether I would have given in to your advances, knowing then what we do now. I might be lying to myself; I might be lying to you. But I like to think, yes, I would still have gone with you to that budget hotel. I still would have said “I love you” that first time, our gazes merging into a spiralling tunnel between nowhere and everywhere.
Your mother threw out my footwear from inside your flat, casting my sandals passive-aggressively upon the mat outside the front door. You later lashed out at her for me, for us.
When your parents eventually find out about your condition, when you do tell them, does it mean she will be nicer to me from that moment on, knowing you will need all the help you can get? Pragmatism trumps prejudice every time. Coming to the flat, bringing groceries, taking you out for meals, to the mall, maybe even for a jog in the downstairs park, a rope binding our waists together. (I saw this happen once between a woman and a blind man, each taking turns in leading the other; I guessed that they must adopt a similar rhythm when they make love.)
What the eye fails to see is what prepares it to see everything else. A fascination with mirrors is our attempt to coincide with ourselves, even if the encounter is only half-fulfilled; what the mirror doesn’t show us we make up for in that inclination for self-completeness. In The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty describes the priority of being as a “blind spot” for reflection – the revelation of being constituting both the thought of itself and its subjectivity, its limited vision, a hiddenness from thought that is the very architecture of that reflection. We are defined by what we cannot see. What we see we seal in with language, thought and concomitant feelings. I see you. We are mirrors for each other. One day, you will “see” me; your capacity for perception will have altered. My faith in a fundamental accuracy of your visualisation remains unwavering.
After Uno Beef House, we stumble upon a little ice cream cafe in which there are facsimiled drawings from Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince everywhere. You order Mango Cheesecake, which I spoon into your mouth as you play your game on your iPhone. Don’t you think such games are escalating the damage behind your cornea? Of course, I refrain from repeating this. I’m not a nag. I like it sometimes when you are here and not here. Your mouth opening and closing as I feed you, your eyes narrowing over the screen of your phone, your foot under the table knocking instinctively against mine. After one game, you put your phone down and I attempt to sum up the story about the little prince who falls to our planet and meets a stranded pilot. I tell it badly. I forget, for example, to tell you the part when a fox meets the prince and says to him: “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.” Somebody has framed a quotation on the wall beside you that I read out loud (it’s what the prince tells the pilot before the former is bitten by a snake): “In one of those stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look up ... ” There are never stars in our Singaporean skies due to light pollution from flats and skyscrapers. Or the stars are hidden from our view. In your body I shall be hovering. In a star inside your skull I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars in your head are singing, quivering, laughing, when you look up at the blinding night sky behind your eyes.
Just because you’re losing your sight, it doesn’t mean we should stop fucking ourselves into existence – or is it extinction? Also, does it mean that in the future, you can immerse yourself without guilt in the recollected pornography of your dreams, my body spreading under yours like any imagined body you can call to mind to use and dominate?
You could direct any fantasy actor to do this, cup you there, open up and take it, yes, take it all the way and keep doing it just like that. Your eyes would be completely open, seeing exactly what they want, and you could lie to me, knowing how much I would want you to be happy, knowing I would let you lie, believing it was me in your mind the entire time.
Sometimes I think we are protagonists in a shitty art film about homosexuals that never ends well for anyone, like Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together; the fucking scene at the start reminds me of us though, even as I’m no Leslie Cheung. You never liked the director’s movies. “Too boring,” I think you said. Did you notice the reptilian colours of Maggie Cheung’s cheongsams when she was buying noodles or being wooed by Tony Leung in In the Mood for Love? How far does your colour blindness extend? Can you distinguish blue from black, dull red from brown, light green from yellow? Will you still be able to tell when the tone of my voice shades from turquoise to darker teal, then ever-deepening oceanic blue?
“Did you like the shirt I bought you? Was it comfortable?”
“Very. The blue is very nice.”
“I should have bought more at the sale.”
“No need, lah.”
“Did you like the underwear?”
“Yah, very comfortable too. Most of my underwear now bought by you already.”
“We need to wear more blue. The colour is good for us this year.”
“I think I’ve a lot of blue already.”
As I put all this down for a story I’m composing (yes, the “fiction” is about us), I rediscover that the walls of my study room are cerulean. There is a mark on the wall closest to me where I must have dragged a chair against it by accident. Not a mark but more like a streak, a greyish scar. I wet my fingers on my tongue and rub that part of the wall with a thumb. The mark gets lighter but doesn’t go away.
I remember the magnified scan of your eyeballs the doctor showed us on his computer at the hospital. Frayed clouds carrying rain on the horizon ... the description taunts me. Lightning flashes at the back of my head; a thunderstorm brews in my chest.
I rub and rub, but stop when I realise the paint might crack off. Better the stained blue than the blank and insufferable whiteness underneath, I imagine.
The contents of your head stop shifting when you rest on my shoulder. We park here like this almost every night, before you drive back home to your parents. The Town Council didn’t install enough streetlamps, so it’s always dim here, or dark enough. We still like the dark. You even close your eyes. I refuse to close mine, as if I’m looking out of the windshield for both of us. Sometimes when it seems like I’m staring out into the world, I see nothing at all; sometimes it makes no difference whether our eyes are open or not. We wouldn’t want my neighbours to talk, would we? One of them stumbles past the car. I tell you I recognise her as a single mother of a really cute son. She pretends not to see or recognise me inside the vehicle. We don’t even tense up like we used to when we parked here like this before in the open, kissing and embracing. I fondle the hairs on your arm. I trace an invisible path down past your fingers and across your lap into a secret place in the darkness where we know and agree that we must still belong.
CYRIL WONG is a poet and fictionist in Singapore. His last book was the Singapore Literature Prize-winning poetry collection, The Lover's Inventory.