The Heir of Ice and Stone
Posted August 21st, 2017 by Zelda
in a perpetual predicament
A/N: Just a sneak peek of something I might continue in the future c:
Shout-out to Alem, who was super nice and commented on the the other version of this (sorry, I had to take it down, it was a slightly earlier version with the wrong name for Kaelan, i'm not sure why it got posted?? but thank you for commenting!)
The Heir of Ice and Stone
I am blind. I was born on August 21st 1990, to Carrie and Joal Aubinroth; I was born without eyes. I do not know what color is. I do not know the difference between light and dark. I only know what I touch and hear and taste and smell. Since you’re reading this you might as well know; you’re not going to see anything interesting.
The prosthetics are smooth and seamless between my fingers, the soft plastic bends, but doesn’t break or flop as I go through the motions of placing them in my sockets. I peel back the top eyelid of my left eye, and gently tuck the prosthetic into place, then pinch my bottom eyelid and pull it up and over the bottom of the prosthetic. I blink, the tissues in my eyes squish, and the prosthetic is in place. I repeat the process with my right eye, splash cool water on my face, and dry off with the fluffy towel that always hangs from a bar on the wall beside the sink.
They tell me my prosthetic eyes are a color called ‘blue’, they are ‘like my mother’s’, which makes sense because my mother was the one who modelled for the prosthetics-- seeing as I didn’t have any spare eye to model for myself.
I pad down the familiar hall, running my hand down the wall as I go to keep track of where I am. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I rubbed a divet right into the drywall from dragging my fingers over this same section of wall. Already the paint is thinner, I can feel it. My fingertips strike the lip of the trim around my bedroom door. I grab hold and use momentum to swing myself into the room. My bedroom door is always wide, wide open. That way I don’t have to worry about running into it.
It smells like lavender air freshener and warmed wheat in here; like home. I find my dresser, it’s an old piece of junk, the once-smooth surface has become riddled with shallow scrapes, sometimes an edge will snag on my fingernail and chips will flake off in my palm. It must be an ugly thing by now, but I don’t mind as long as it serves it’s purpose. I wonder if that’s how the rest of the world sees me; ugly, but functional.
I retrieve my walking cane from the top drawer and turn to leave the room. The cane is thin and collapsable, there’s a little extra weight at the end where the tip is attached. A loop of soft, frayed rope slips over my wrist so that if I, by some misfortune, drop the cane, it doesn’t go far. Years of constant use have worn my imprint permanently into the thin foam on the grip, it melds perfectly to my hand, like a puzzle piece. It’s Saturday, not normally a day I venture outside on, but Kaelan called and invited me to brunch with a couple of old acquaintances.
Kaelan Thresher is unfortunately good at getting me to do things. The phone conversation went something like this;
‘Come to brunch. Abasi and Panda will be there’
‘I don’t want to’
‘Tomorrow then, at Stokers. It’s just down the street from your place, go left, I’ll be outside waiting for you’
And then the phone clicked dead. That is paraphrase, by the way. Kaelan’s heavy Scottish accent makes it hard to understand what’s being said, I have to guess sometimes. There’s also a fair bit of swearing that I took out-- all on Kaelan’s part.
Now here I am, preparing to leave the house to go have brunch with people I left over a year ago. I wonder if there’s any point in hoping Panda won’t show up.
I scrape my fingers through my short hair, smoothing it down, and check to make sure that the shape of the apartment key is biting into my thigh, then head for the door. At the last moment, I snatch my sunglasses off the pedestal beside the door, and slip them onto my face before leaving.
The stairs are generally the safest route for me, the elevator doesn’t count off the floors as it moves and the buttons are so worn they confuse my fingers. I live four landings up in a tiny apartment that supposedly doesn’t have mold, ants, or any of the usual sketchy apartment health issues. It did stink of cigarette smoke for the first few months, but constant rounds of Febreeze and Scentsies took that problem and wrapped it up in a neat scented bow.
As I’m pushing open the building door and escaping onto the streets, a flood of sensations hit me all at once. The air is cool, borderline chilly. It’s almost enough to make me wish I’d grabbed a coat. The crunch and scrape of tires on asphalt is dull this morning, and very few engines rumble on the nearby street. I tap the leather and beads on my left wrist to confirm that it is indeed my left, only instead of beads I touch bare skin. Oops, wrong hand.
Finally locating ‘left’, I set the tip of my cane to the concrete, and go on my way. My cane clicks faintly whenever it strikes the ground in front of me, somebody heavy wearing hard-soled men’s shoes walks briskly past me, the early morning breeze carries the soft scent of fresh pastry. I wonder what I would see if I had eyes. I’ve always wondered. When I was a kid I used to ask Santa for a pair of real eyes-- or just one, if the set was too much trouble. One whole eye, complete with an iris and a pupil and ocular nerves to connect to my brain, wouldn’t that be something. I grew out of wanting it eventually, mostly anyways. It all faded into mere curiosity by the time I hit seventh grade. After all, you can’t truly miss what you never had to begin with.
“Mal the pal, you made it!” Kaelan interrupts my thoughts. Short walk. The pastry smell is almost definitely coming from this area of the street.
“I don’t appreciate that nickname.” I say, allowing myself to be pulled by the hand into the pastry place. A tinkly bell rings when the door opens, and a wave of pleasantly warm air and the smell of baked goods washes over me. My cane tangles briefly with Kaelan’s legs, I can hear the double-jig of tripping feet, but neither of us say anything about it. I flick my cane up so it rests on my shoulder, and hope that it doesn’t jab any passerby. The floors are faintly worn, and have the slightest stick to them, it’s not tile or that slick lacquer stuff that a lot of food establishments have. I scuff my foot against it as we walk. Hardwood, maybe?
It’s louder in here than it was on the streets. A jangle of machinery whirring and humans calling instructions and other humans asking or telling or conversing. The morning rush, I assume. “Look guys, it’s feckin’ Mal.” Kaelan announces, yanking on my hand and causing me to lurch forward.
“I liked Mal the Pal better,” I grumble. I poke at my sunglasses to make sure they’re haven’t slipped.
A rough hand grips my shoulder, followed by Abasi’s smooth purr of a voice. Immediately I know something is wrong. The hand on my shoulder is too stiff, too tight, too rough. Besides which Abasi doesn’t have hands. I recoil, and when the pressure on my shoulder doesn’t lift, I make a fist and swing in what I can only pray is the vicinity of the attaching arm.
“Woah, woah!” The pressure vanishes instantly, “Chill out Mal, I was jus’ going to show you my new digits,” Abasi says. I allow myself a moment to appreciate the music of Abasi’s accent. I have to admit that I’ve missed all the lilting vowels and smoothed-over end consonants. It’s much nicer than Kaelan’s bagpipe accent.
“New digits?” I venture, lowering my fist.
“Yeah, check it.” The pressure returns, lower on my arm, near my wrist. This time it’s loose, just a few light points of contact, only there so I can find the rest of the hand with ease. Folding up my cane and shoving it in my back pocket, I reach out to cup the hand. Dull points dig into my palm. I run my thumb over the parts I can reach, testing it, it feels textured and oddly plastic-y. Working up more confidence, I start prodding more, fingertips pressing here and there, taking in the shape and the size. It’s larger than an average hand, and boxier, but there are all five fingers, with joints, and a square palm.
“Like it?” Abasi asks, trying and failing to keep pride out. “I got approved for funding from the Open Hand project, they made me these hands wit’ three-d printing.” Ah, that explains the weird plastic feeling. I move up, to where warm flesh pokes through bands of metal. There’s both human and artificial heat being generated here, I can feel places where it’s much warmer than Abasi’s skin. The hand must run on a battery.
“That’s sick man,” I say, “When did you get them?”
Four months ago. Wow. “So you can pick things up and give handshakes and everything now,” I flash a smile. I’m glad I brought my sunglasses, I can’t smile if I’m not wearing them, it scares small children.
“Yes! I never thought I would be able to, and now look at me!” I flick my shades down my nose so my eyes are visible and raise my eyebrows slightly. Abasi laughs, I grin and put my shades back in place.
“If you two are done catching up, I’d like to eat,” From further away, behind Abasi, Panda speaks up. My mood withers. Despite what having a name like Pandemonium might suggest, Panda is an exceptionally quiet soul. There are very few people in this world who I struggle to hear loud and clear; Panda is one of them. But this time, the utter, flat chill contained in those twelve words wipes everything else off the map.
“Hi, Panda.” I say.
And then there’s silence, as we all remember the reason our group fractured in the first place.
And then Kaelan says, “Come an’ sit, there’s a chair to yer left right at yer hip.”
The floor groans as Abasi moves, chair legs scrape across the floor, I reach out for the back of the chair, and find it. It’s rough and metallic, cold in my palm as I drag the chair back to sit in it. To my right there’s a high-pitched creak that must be from Kaelan’s chair, Kaelan doesn’t believe in sitting with all four chair legs on the ground. Since the floor groaning came from my left, that must mean Abasi is over there, and Panda is somewhere in front of me. Hopefully not within arms reach.
As if on cue, hard-soled flats on light feet approach us from the general direction of the door, the clack of the shoes on the hardwood is chased by a sweet scent. Floral perfume, orchids maybe, but probably rose. Rose perfume is popular around these parts.
“Welcome to Stokers, how is everyone today?” A high, sing-songy voice asks. There’s a beat of awkward stretched-out silence before Kaelan chirps,
“Great!” The waitress says too quickly, “What can I get you to drink?”
Kaelan tries for bourbon, but thankfully gets denied and has to settle for coffee ‘extra strong, basically just the beans with the slightest hint of water’. “Just water for me, thanks.” I say. I’m the last person to give my order, and the waitress stands still for a moment, doing whatever it is that waitresses always do when they stand at your table for a few seconds after everyone says their order. I’ve never understood that pause. The moment passes, and the waitress leaves to get our drinks.
A noise comes from Panda’s direction. It’s too quiet for me to catch, but when Abasi goes, “Panda,” sharply, I can only imagine that it was aimed at me. Panda either doesn’t respond, or does too quietly for a human being to hear.
Desperate to avoid another awkward lingering pause, I turn my face in Kaelan’s direction,
“Is there a menu?” I ask. Panda echoes me, a little louder than before. There’s a beat of silence before Kaelan says yes, and proceeds to list off the items and their prices off the menu. The cheapest pastry is a croissant with chocolate drizzle. I’m not fond of chocolate, but I don’t hate it either, so I’ll probably get that. “Thanks.”
“Thanks.” Again, Panda echoes, dragging out the final syllable.
The click-clacking flats return to our table, the waitress says something friendly and unmemorable, and sets our glasses on the table. The table rattles slightly, and the cups make a dull thump, some scrape as the drinks are slid across the tabletop to their rightful owner. Everyone orders, the waitress does her pause thing, and then we’re alone again. I press my fingertips to the wooden tabletop, and skim them forward, searching for my cup of water. It’s out-of-place that Kaelan isn’t talking, probably coffee is taking up too much mouth-room for the usual banter. I find the cup, it’s cold, condensation slicks the outer edge and runs down the side of my hand when I pick it up. The water tastes vaguely of chlorine and iron, it’s probably tap water, not that I mind.
“So,” I say, setting the cup down, “It’s been awhile since I last saw you, how have you been?” ‘You’ meaning Panda and Abasi, since Kaelan stuck to me like a burr after the rocky dissolution of our merry band. Speaking of Panda, sure enough, there’s a mocking echo of, ‘how have you beeeeeeeeeen’.
“Same as always,” Abasi replies.
“Except for your hands.” I point out.
“Except for your hands.” Panda echoes.
“Yes, oh! And I got a job working for a garbage disposal company. I hope I will be able to get off welfare very soon.” The smile is evident in the words.
“Aye, good for you.” Kaelan says, in a way that makes me think everybody at the table except me already knew about Abasi’s new job. “Perhaps you’ll move up to computers soon, eh?”
“Oh, no. These hands are no good for computers. I would squeeze the computer to death.” Abasi chuckles.
“Why’s that?” I lean forward, propping my elbows on the table. Oh, how I missed this.
“Why’s that?” Most of this, I correct myself. I wish I could say I knew what the hell Panda’s problem was.
“I feel no pressure with them, if I try to pick up a phone, I might hold it too hard and crush it because I do not know better.” Abasi explains, “Besides, these fingers are too fat to press all the tiny buttons.” One of the robotic fingers presses to the back of my hand. It is indeed too wide for keyboard buttons.
“That’s too bad,” I say.
“That’s too bad.”
I take off my sunglasses, fold them, and set them carefully on the table. I take my time, squeezing as much passive aggressiveness as is physically possible into that one string of actions. The cafe temperature drops a few degrees. Abasi makes a brief, uncomfortable coughing noise.
“I, um, need to use the washroom, please excuse me.” The table jostles and Abasi’s chair scrapes on the floor. Quick footsteps recede from our table.
“Well now, this coffee is a touch weak.” Kaelan mutters, “try some, tell me what you think, Mal.”
“No, thanks.” I wave the coffee away, “You know I don’t drink that stuff.”
“You know I don’t drink that stuff.”
“Panda, what the hell.” I don’t snap or spit so much as I lean on the words to get that little bit of emphasis.
“What the hell.”
“Seriously, are you five?” I lean harder. Kaelan hums, one long low tone, trying to pull the conversation in a different direction. Panda snorts. “What is your problem?”
“You know what my problem is,” Panda hisses.
“I wouldn’t have asked you if I did.” I say. I keep my voice even and quiet
. “Stop lying!” There’s a sharp bang, the table shakes, cold water sloshes on my hand. I recoil, and I’m vaguely aware that the rest of the cafe has gotten significantly quieter. Panda’s accusation was not particularly loud, but it stings, especially coming from...Well, from Panda. There is a thin line that has kept me separated from Abasi and Panda for this past year, a fine, purposeful line, that I crossed the moment I let Kaelan talk me into coming here. And now things are playing out exactly the same way they did before I left-- and I still don’t know what happened to make Panda this angry at me.
I wipe my wet hand off on my shirt, standing.
“Mal?” Quiet, but accented. Not Panda; Kaelan.
“I’m leaving. You can have my croissant, I’ll pay you back the next time we see each other,” I say, hurriedly jerking my cane out of my back pocket. If Panda wants to act like a damn toddler, fine! I don’t want to stick around for the show. I turn my back and start shuffling away before the cane is fully uncollapsed. Behind me, Kaelan’s chair legs thump to the floor.
This was a mistake, I should never have come.
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