Years ago, he got a tic in his eye that he couldn’t control. He was at a party, drinking. Figured maybe he’d had too much. (He probably had.)
Hours later, he woke up to find it worse. Figures swam before him, not blurred, not moving, but liquid in this re-vision. He made it to the bathroom, figuring he’d had too much last night. (He probably had.) He saw in the glass darkly a fright — the face in the glass was often a fright after such nights.
For a quietly panicked minute, he blinked, rubbed, even prayed. But he couldn’t right his crossed eye, nestled now like a thick bead heavy against the bridge of his nose. A round persistent sightless weight dead center of his disbelief.
That day & the next, he made do with a patch from the drug store. Shrugged it off to anyone that asked. (Everyone asked.) He kept it on until the doctor removed it, gripping the paper sheet rolled across the examining table, hoping the bead would roll right.
In a swift ten minutes, the doctor moved with the kind of sanguine approach and gently urgent pace that you’d expect from a young professional practiced in hour after hour of these fifteen-minute appointments, one after the other, from one not well person to the next not dying person, from one end of the hall to the other and back. She moved a light around. She asked him about his drinking, about his weight, about his eyes, and those of his family. He answered everything.
For days & weeks, he answered even more, in other offices, crinkling paper on table after table, test after test. Each time, a penlight moving laterally, searching out the pupil of his eye now fixedly lightless. His wife right there with him now, noting everything, repeating the questions and responses and hopes to every person who called. (Everyone called.)
One day, they found something.
A walnut-sized tumor deep in his skull. It had probably been there his whole life, they told him. What a relief, he joked, for a minute, I was worried someone had left it there by accident. His wife slapped his shoulder, not softly. They repeated, Probably growing his whole life, micromillimeter by micromillimeter, now just large enough to just push just enough on his optic nerve just in time to ruin that party that night.
In a couple of weeks, they said, they’d saw part of his skull open to enter his brain through the ear canal and arrive, dead center, where the tumor was. You’ll lose your hearing in that ear, but you’ll also lose the tumor. There was no other way.
The afternoon before the saw and the scar, before the great cleaning (as he called it), he moved the living room speakers to either side of his easy chair, the cords stretched taut above the frayed rug. On the side table, three fingers of mescal and a stack of LPs. He sat down and listened, the stereo turned up like it was the last time. (Which in some ways, it was.) Tupelo Honey. Eydie Gorme y Los Panchos. Taj Mahal live at the Fillmore East. Tom Waits On the Nickel. His wife & the kids could hear the Julio Jaramillo album as the car pulled into the driveway. He welcomed them home, smiling, tears darkening his eyepatch.
After it was all over, after it was all out, they stapled shut a long pink rainbow of a scar over his ear.
It’s been years. He’s okay. Sometimes, he even forgets which is his good side.