Eye for an Eye

by Russell Helms

After six weeks in high school, Tristan dislodged his chemistry partner’s left eye. It was an accident and avoiding Charlotte afterward became a full-time job. Much to Tristan’s horror, they went to the same college. Charlotte wore wide hair bands that swept back her red hair in a puffy wave. A peace-sign patch covered her empty eye socket. She sat two seats behind Tristan.

“Hey,” said Charlotte.

“Hey,” said Tristan.

Tristan had beautiful brown eyes and his head perched out too far from his neck, making him seem tentative.

Charlotte winked and doodled a Cyrillic yat on her notebook. Both the yat and yus had been eliminated in Bulgaria during the orthographic reform of 1945. The professor walked in and chairs scraped the floor.

“Good morning folks,” said the professor. He looked at an eraser in the eraser board tray.

Charlotte raised her hand. “I need a clear view, if you’re going to use the eraser board.” She flipped up her eye patch, revealing a pink, gummy slit.

Tristan moved to the window side of the room, near the back.

“Good to go?” asked the professor.

“That’s much better,” said Charlotte.

Tristan’s Bible Study group met Wednesdays in the student center. Everyone knew about Charlotte and the accident. It was their idea to encourage her to join the group.

“Zdravei, Tristan,” said Charlotte. A small cross painted on her eyelid twisted and moved when she blinked and sort of looked cool.

“Hey,” said Tristan. “Everyone, this is Charlotte.”

“Hey guys,” she said, tugging on her strapless dress.

A round of enthusiastic greetings spared the group a minute or so of anxiety. The room was blue and comfortable with tables and soft chairs. There was soda, bags of chips, and an empty coffee maker.

“Tristan and I went to high school together,” said Charlotte. A murmur of animated responses followed. “His mother used to tie him to a piano naked, and he caused me to lose my left eye.”

Tristan nodded and looked down. The blue room went a little gray. The group’s leader said it would be good to start with prayer.

At least once a week, Charlotte required Tristan to participate in a live video chat. She could tell when he was and wasn’t looking at the screen.

“Hey, Tristan,” said Charlotte.

“Hey,” said Tristan. He waited for the ordeal to begin. His roommate, from Mount Athos in Greece, was at the rec center. His roommate’s sister, who hailed from Macedonia, was also an incoming freshman. Charlotte’s head filled his laptop screen.

Charlotte focused the gooseneck lamp on her face. With her fingers she spread the lids apart. A pink wet muscle. She poked her finger in there. She looked at the objects in her lap. She picked up a pocketknife and slid it in, wincing.

Tristan closed his eyes.

“Open your eyes,” said Charlotte.

His roommate, who had been kicked out of a monastery for forging incunabula, walked in, turned around, and left.

She stuck a thermometer in there.

Tristan graduated with his BA in film, Charlotte with a BS in philology and a minor in film. She was surprised when Tristan married and skipped graduate school. What the hell could he do with a bachelor’s in film?

Tristan moved back to his hometown with his new Macedonian wife Natalya who was as thin and awkward as he was. She’d studied film as well. He was working at his old high school—a position had opened up—and Natalya was pregnant.

Against his better wishes, Natalya befriended Charlotte, even learned how to push Charlotte’s prosthetic eye in and out with her index finger.

It wasn’t long before Charlotte was coming over and sitting on the couch watching TV, next to the aquarium filled with meaty silver fish. Natalya made scraping noises in the kitchen, cooking a stew, frying potatoes.

“Hey, Tristan,” said Charlotte. She adjusted her strapless dress and uncrossed her legs.

“Hey,” said Tristan. He walked into the kitchen and kissed Natalya. She was very large and due within the month.

Charlotte massaged the area over Natalya’s uterus to ease the cramps. Natalya relaxed on the bed and fell into a troubled sleep. In the bright blue baby room, Charlotte changed Henry’s tiny diaper and went to the kitchen for a grapefruit spoon.

When Tristan came home, Charlotte met him in the doorway. He noticed her awful brown eye and then looked at the green one and then back to the brown one. He heard little Henry screaming and Natalya shouting in her native tongue.

“Goodbye, Tristan,” said Charlotte.


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Allison Scarpulla

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