The claps of thunder grew increasingly louder, as well as closer together with the now bright-as-daylight flashes of lightning. Annie growled as the image on the TV fuzzed and went to snow.
Auggie returned from the kitchen with a bowl of chips. Cocking his head toward the now black & silent TV he asked, “You turned it off?”
“Satellite went out.” Annie explained.
“We can watch a DVD.” Auggie responded, setting the bowl carefully on the coffee table between their soda bottles and turning to the cabinet beside the entertainment center. “What are you in the mood for?”
“Whatever.” Annie said. “Nothing too deep. Something we’ve both seen before.”
Auggie ran his fingers over the braille labels on the DVD cases, turning toward her. “Why?”
“I don’t want to be frustrated if the power goes out and we don’t get to finish it.”
He nodded in agreement. “Has it flickered yet?”
“Not yet. But I’d say it’s imminent. That’s a doozy of a storm out there.”
“Then would you mind shutting down my computer?” Auggie asked, pulling out a couple of movie options.
“Sure.” Auggie heard the slight rustle as she got up from the couch and padded quietly across the room in her socks. The sign-off tone of his computer told him she had completed the task, and he intercepted her as she returned to the living room. He handed her the three DVDs he’d chosen.
“Any of these strike your fancy?”
He listened to her shuffling the cases for just a moment before she answered, “Hell yes! Danielle and I used to watch this all the time. But these days she has little eyes and ears to worry about… so it’s been awhile.”
She handed Auggie the box, and he brushed his fingers over the label. He grinned. “Definitely not kid-friendly.”
Annie returned the remaining DVDs back to the cabinet, grateful that he organized them alphabetically, rather than using some obscure method by genre or something. She returned to the couch while Auggie loaded the disc in the DVD player, and pulled the appropriate remote off its velcro spot on the side of the entertainment center.
“One of these days they’ll have voice control for DVD players that actually works.” He voiced his usual complaint as he headed back toward the couch, handing off the remote to Annie as he passed her. Some DVD menus were easier to navigate than others, and it saved him (and her) frustration if he just let her drive.
He listened to the trailers start and stop as she fast-forwarded to get to the menu.
“Before we start, do you want another soda?” Auggie asked, holding up his empty bottle.
“Sure, but I’ll get them. And do you have any salsa for these chips?” She rose and took his bottle.
“Yeah, should be on the top shelf in the fridge. Right side, maybe behind some yogurt.”
He could hear her open the fridge and move things around.
“I don’t understand how you find stuff in here.” She stated, her voice slightly muffled by the refrigerator door. “You’re obsessive about everything else in your life being organized so you know exactly where everything is. But your fridge…”
He shrugged. “I guess I need a little chaos in my life. I really do know where most stuff in the fridge is. Touch and smell solve most mysteries.”
The noises from the kitchen continued as Annie got a bowl for the salsa. An immense clap of thunder vibrated the entire apartment. The sound of Annie swearing followed soon after.
Auggie realized that the background music of the DVD menu had gone silent too.
“You OK?” He called to Annie.
“Yeah. Lights went out. I think power’s out for good this time.”
“Guess we’re out of luck for the movie then.”
He heard the bottles clink together as she held them in one hand, presumably carrying the bowl of salsa in the other. Her soft steps sounded slower than usual, and stopped before she had entered the living room very far.
“Sorry, Aug. It’s really really dark in here. Trying not to redecorate your living room in salsa,”
“Stay where you are.” Auggie said, getting up. He moved toward her, easily navigating his furniture, listening to her quiet breathing to pinpoint her location. The bottles rubbed together again, and he reached for them carefully. “I’ll take these.” He said, smiling. He placed them on the coffee table, on the coasters they’d already been using. “And this” he took the salsa bowl from her other hand and deposited it next to the bowl of chips.
“I feel like an idiot.” Annie stated.
“You’re not.” Auggie said, taking her arm and guiding her around the coffee table to the couch. “You’re just caught off your guard.”
“Do you have any candles?” She asked, twisting the cap off her soda with a chink and a hiss.
“Annie, why would I have a flashlight?” Annie could hear the humor in his voice.
“For the benefit of guests who might be stuck here during a power outage.” She replied, with a touch of sarcasm.
“Huh. Hadn’t thought about it. I don’t have a lot of guests.”
“Sure you do, Aug. I’m sure those girls who drive you home from Allen’s don’t just drop you at the door.”
“Well, no.” He admitted. “But the plans I have with them doesn’t usually depend on the power being on.” The innuendo in his voice made Annie roll her eyes.
“So… no emergency lights at all.”
” That rules out playing cards or board games, I guess.” She paused. “Unless you want to play alone.”
“What fun would that be?” Auggie said. “We’ll come up with something.”
Annie felt uncomfortable. She knew that in everyday life, she had an advantage over Auggie. I wasn’t usually a big deal, but the world was geared toward sighted people, there was just no escaping the fact. But tonight, their roles had been reversed. To Auggie, aside from not having the TV, there was no challenge to the power being out. Annie, however was at an extreme disadvantage. And unlike Auggie, she had no training or experience to help her exist in his world. Auggie knew how to get by in the sighted world. He’d lived there most of his life, and had worked hard after being blinded to find ways to cope. Annie was just lost.
“I have an idea.” Auggie stated. His voice sounded a little hesitant to Annie, as if he was assuming she wouldn’t like it. “Stay here for a minute.”
Annie heard him move across the room, and she envied him his confidence and ease of movement. she heard him open a door, and there was some shuffling, as if he was looking for something. She tried hard to concentrate on her other senses, and stop peering so hard into the darkness looking for light. She knew that the idea that one’s other senses were heightened or improved after losing sight was a misconception. It was only a matter of focus and practice. She was generally an observant person, she just had to focus her attention toward listening, touching and smelling.
She focused on the sound of Auggie’s steps as he returned, following his path in her mind’s eye. When he came back to the couch, she reached out tentatively, and touched his arm. “I’m going to stop being such a spoilsport.”
“Oh, good.” Auggie said, and she could hear the smile in his voice.
“I just… I’m at a disadvantage here. I don’t like it.”
“I imagine you don’t.” He reached up and squeezed her hand that was still resting on his forearm. “That’s why I’m going to take this opportunity to help you out a little bit.”
He pressed a rectangular box into her hands. It rattled as she took it, and she couldn’t guess what it was. Tracing the edges of the box with her fingers, she thought it was the size and shape of a board game box. It had braille embossing on the top and sides.
“What is it?”
“Scrabble.” Auggie said cheerfully. He had a great Scrabble set with both print and braille characters on the board and tiles. The board and tiles were magnetic, so the tiles didn’t slide around when touched.
“Auggie, I can’t SEE.” Annie said, a little frustrated. “And you know I don’t read braille.”
“Well,” His voice sounded matter-of-fact. “Now’s as good a time as any to learn.”
“That’s so unfair. I’ll have to ask you what all my tiles are.”
“That’s why we won’t be playing against each other. We’ll just play together to fill up the board.”
“Oh.” Annie’s frustration ebbed. “Auggie… that’s…”
“I know, I’m a nice guy.” He laughed. “You up for it?”
“Yeah.” Annie said. “I think I am.”
They played several rounds. In the beginning, Auggie handed her the tiles, telling her what the letters were. They both had vast vocabularies, so making words wasn’t hard. They played a few variations on “Team Scrabble Solitaire” as they dubbed their invented game. They had an unlimited tile round, where they used all the tiles to just make as many words as they could fit on the board. They also had a five-letter round, where every word had to be five letters or fewer. That was followed by a speed round, where they had to make as many words as they could in 10 minutes, with Auggie’s kitchen timer keeping time. Then they started playing in French. Somewhere in the middle, Auggie started handing Annie the tiles and asking her what they were. By the end of the game, she could recognize some of the most common letters right away.
As they packed the game away, Annie grabbed Auggie’s hand and squeezed. “That was really really fun. I’m glad you… I’m glad you shared that with me.”
“No big deal. It was fun.”
“No, Auggie, I mean it. Sharing a bit of your world with me? That means a lot.”
Auggie knew what she meant. He spent so much of his time trying to downplay his difference. And Annie took that in stride. Sure, they joked about his blindness, but that’s all it was, lighthearted jokes and comments. So rarely did he say anything about how his life was actually affected by it. It was just a matter of fact, and they brushed past it all the time. Tonight, though, he had let her in. They hadn’t just watched a movie (with the audio descriptions turned off), as usual. He had truly shared his world with her for a little while.
“Hey,” Annie said, interrupting his thoughts. “Can you show me one more thing?”
“The best path to your bathroom.”
He laughed. “Sure.”
He rose, and offered his hand to her, pulling her up gently. He positioned her in front of him, and put his hands on her shoulders. He described the room to her as they slowly walked through the apartment, trailing a hand down her arm from time to time, to bring her hand out to touch various landmarks on the way.
He stopped her within arm’s reach of the bathroom door.
“God this is embarrassing.” Annie stated.
“Just think of it as a mission.” Auggie said, a smile in his voice. “Sink is straight ahead of you. Toilet is to the left of the sink. Toilet paper’s directly across from the toilet. Soap is to the right of the faucet. Towel is above the toilet. Think you can handle it, Agent Walker?”
It reminded her of the many times Auggie had walked her through an op. He’d never led her astray. She squared her shoulders.
“Thanks for the intel, Agent Anderson. I think I can take it from here.”
Auggie laughed and gave her a gentle shove toward the door.
nnie found everything in the bathroom just as Auggie had described. She still felt clumsy and awkward, but got through the experience without any mishaps. When she opened the door, she inhaled, wondering if she’d be able to smell his cologne. Nothing.
“In the kitchen.” He called. “Need help?”
“No.” Annie said firmly. “I’m good.” She reached out and touched the wall of the hallway, Remembering the path Auggie had showed her, she counted her steps and made her way back to the kitchen.
“Bathroom Op completed with success.” She said, leaning on the island.
“And you found your way back. Good job.”
“Feels stupid to be so pleased with myself over using the bathroom and finding the kitchen.”
Annie heard his watch clink on the island as he leaned across it toward her. She could finally smell his cologne, and she tried to focus on it so she could follow his movements later. “I’ll tell you a secret, Annie Walker. There are days, even now, when I go somewhere new, or somewhere I haven’t been in awhile, and getting to the bathroom and back still feels like a triumph.”
Annie mulled this over, a little surprised. “I guess I just take it for granted that you’re such an expert none of this phases you anymore.”
“That’s a bigger compliment than you know.” He said quietly. Annie could hear the sincerity in his voice, as his hand grasped hers across the island. “Right after it happened… I would never have believed I could do this.”
“I wish I’d known you then.”
Auggie wondered what she meant. He could imagine her wanting to have met him before his injury, but right after? Even his closest friends and family hadn’t enjoyed being around him then.
“I could have been your cheerleader. Told you how successful I knew you would be.” She paused. “Like you’ve done for me ever since I started at the company.”
Auggie squeezed her hand. The air was crackling with emotion, and he didn’t know where to go with it. Sexual tension he could deal with. This… this was something different, and he felt a little off balance. He was saved from the discomfort by the sudden hum of the refrigerator kicking back on.
“Lights on?” He asked, feeling Annie’s hand tense in his.
“Yeah.” She said. “God it’s bright in here.” She squinted, trying to let her eyes adjust to the suddenly overwhelming light. She looked at Auggie. His face was difficult to read at the moment. She wasn’t sure she recognized the expression.
Annie released his hand, and walked to the window, peering out to see the rain now illuminated by streetlights. “I know it’s late, but it’s still pouring. Wanna try the movie again?”
Auggie straightened, trying to shrug off the melancholy that had settled on him in the last few minutes. “Sure.”