The Road to Nowhere

The Hint Fic Challenge didn’t fit the universe I’ve been using, so I wrote this using an entirely different prompt.  I had a bit of fun exploring Benjamin and his vision – how he gets around so well without the people around him realizing how poorly he actually sees.

Emily frowned as she looked into Benjamin’s eyes.  It was strange, in a way, to see them not react to what she was doing.  Normally, pupils dilated and contracted when light was shone into them.  His did that, although not as well as she would have expected.  Normally, eyes tracked things that moved in front of them.  Normally eyelids fluttered when something was too close.  Benjamin’s eyes stared straight ahead and his lids didn’t move at all, even as close as she was.

“What do you see?” she asked, her voice soft.

“Right now?” he said, sounding a bit confused.  He shrugged and then blinked.  “It’s too bright to see much of anything, I’m afraid.  Why?”

Scowling, Emily lowered the lantern that she’d been holding in front of his eyes.  After a moment, she said, “What about now?”

Benjamin gave a wry chuckle.  “Now… it’s too dark for me to see very much,” he said.  He shrugged and shook his head.  “I can see… that you’re standing in front of me.  I can see that you’re holding something with a light in or on it.  I can see… there’s a window off to the left.”

“Shadows and light,” Emily said, shaking her head.  “How long as your vision been like this, Benjamin?”

“For as long as I can remember,” Benjamin admitted.  He settled a pair of sunglasses over his eyes and she stepped over to unshutter the window and let more light into the room.  “It’s gotten worse as time has gone by.  When I was young – really young – if the light was just so, I could see fairly well.”

“Is it still getting worse?” she asked.  He shrugged and she sighed.  “It’s way outside of my ability to treat, Benjamin.”  It wasn’t easy for her to admit when she couldn’t help a patient.  She wanted to help him.  “I’ll see if I can find out about anyone who specializes in vision.  Maybe… someone can help you?”

“If anyone can save even what vision I have at this point, I’d be… ecstatic,” he said, his voice soft.  He shook his head.  “I feel like I’ve spent my entire life walking down this road that leads into nothingness.”

“Benjamin,” she said, her voice soft.

He heaved a sigh.  “I don’t expect to be able to turn around,” he said, shrugging.  “I just… pray that I can stop my progress down that road one day.”

She nodded.  “I’ll write to the doctors I know of in other towns,” she said.  “Someone, somewhere has to know of an eye specialist.”

“Thank you,” Benjamin said.  He stood and moved towards the door.  It never ceased to amaze Emily how easily he negotiated around obstacles and through rooms.  He used a simple wooden cane, one that any gentleman might carry.

As he reached the door, Emily said, “How do you do that?”

Benjamin chuckled.  He turned to face her.  Then, quite deliberately, he tapped the cane on the wooden floor.  He tilted his head to one side.  “I listen for echoes,” he said, his voice soft.  “I note when I feel something touch my cane.  I also pay close attention to what little I can see.  If a shadow looks like a person seated at a table, I give them enough room that I won’t trip over their leg or their skirt or anything that might be out away from them that I wouldn’t see.”

“Practice,” Emily said, smiling faintly.

Nodding, Benjamin tipped his hat.  Then, he turned and grabbed the doorknob.  As he stepped outside, Emily followed him.  She watched him make his way down the steps.  He set his cane on each step before moving down to it.  When he reached the bottom, she noticed that it made an entirely different sound.  Until then, she hadn’t noticed.

“I wonder what else he notices that most people don’t,” she said.  Then, she turned around and headed back into her clinic.  She sat down and began writing a list of the doctors in the area.  She wanted to get the message out as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Benjamin returned to the saloon.  He made his way over to his usual chair and settled down.  He smiled when he caught the sent of jasmine.  “Hello, Ms. Rose,” he said.  He heard the glass tap the table.  Then, he heard the sound of liquid splashing into it.  Then, the tap of the bottle being set on the table reached his ears.

He reached out and took the glass carefully.  He closed his eyes as he brought the glass to his lips.  He breathed in, catching the familiar scent of whiskey.  “Thank you,” he said.  Then, he took a sip.

“That’s amazing, Benji,” Ms. Rose said, as she sat down at the table with him.  “You want to tell me how you did that?  We both know your eyes aren’t suited to you seeing where the glass is on the table, nor who it was standing beside you.”

Benjamin heard her lift the bottle.  Then, she poured more whiskey, but not into his glass.  He would have felt the weight increase, if nothing else.  He raised his glass and smiled when she touched her own to it.

He took a sip and then shrugged.  “Mostly,” he said, “I listen.”  He smiled and said, “You give me a little hint with your jasmine perfume.  You’re the only lady in town who wears it.”

Ms. Rose laughed.  “Good for you that I like jasmine so much,” she said.  “It’d confuse you to no end if I changed perfumes from time to time.”

Chuckling, Benjamin said, “Indeed, it would.”  He looked thoughtful for a moment and said, “Ms. Ada always catches me off-guard that way.  When I’m at the boarding house, I know it’s here, since her daughter doesn’t wear perfume and they’re the only ladies that live there.  Out on the streets, though…” he trailed off, shaking his head.

“That explains how you seem to ignore her sometimes or call her by someone else’s name,” Ms. Rose said, nodding.

“She and Ms. Lily both favor rosewater,” he said, sounding chagrined.  It was never good to confuse one’s landlady with one of the saloon girls.  That mistake had earned him a tongue lashing and had resulted in him admitting to Ms. Ada that he really didn’t see very well.

Ms. Rose laughed.  “I’ll suggest to Lily that another perfume might be a good idea,” she said.  She patted Benjamin on the hand.  “Drink’s on the house, Benji.  Just remember the rules.”

“I will play solitaire and amuse the guests with my ability to make the cards dance,” he said, nodding.  He set his glass to one side and then drew out his cards.  He wasn’t allowed to gamble now.  Especially since Ms. Rose knew he played with a marked deck – he had to do so.

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