BIRDS - BY THE SNOW

It starts with vision loss, because all bad things do. The edges disappear first, then the center spot. With childish logic, you keep it to yourself. If you say it, it becomes true.

Reading becomes more difficult. You start getting in trouble for not doing your homework. Some of your friends are more patient than others when you ask them about the essentials, but at length they all get annoyed. RTFM, they say and you're on your own.

You stop driving and downhill skiing. Going swimming, you dive into the shallow part of the pool by mistake and avoid death by an inch or two. As colours fade, your dress choices turn conservative; black two-piece suits with white shirts, no accessories, and you're careful to always put the pieces on the same hanger from which you took them.

There are all kinds of coping strategies, most of which depend on memorisation of patterns and sequences. You become the enforcer of order. A whole afternoon's worth of alphabetising the canned goods is ruined when Jean feels that "tomatoes, pureed" is in fact "pureed tomatoes" and belongs under P instead of T. The "soup, Campbells" you put into the marinara do not mix well with pasta, but the way you force everyone to eat it anyway distracts from the mistake.

It won't be long now. Even with four, sometimes five senses working overtime you're only a few botched assignments away from psych testing and attitude adjustment. Zen may be your friend, but it doesn't change the fact that the part about the blind archer is just bullshit. You use the time window as well as you know how. You walk the house and grounds, committing steps and turns to muscle memory; you rehearse your reactions of disbelief and shock. Alone in the rec room, you weigh the pool cue in your hand, tap it lightly against carpet and tile.

The medical term for it is "axonal loss". The neurons withdraw from each other. Signals go unacknowledged, unheard. Left alone, the neurons degenerate and die. There are no drugs for this, no cure. It happens to telepaths, sometimes, but you thought you'd have some more years before it happened to you. Needless to say, this is not the first time you have been wrong.

You are a very visual person. Sight is how you learn, how you remember, who you are. Your memory is like a slide show, bringing each small frame into focus when you need it. You rarely recall sounds; when others listen to music, you read it. Touch and taste and smell, everything that requires contact and closeness, are secondary senses to you. Sight works from a distance. Using sight, you don't ever have to get close.

Recently, you have been thinking about the mountains a great deal, the silence and the snow. It's all in monochrome there, deep black and blinding white. If you're ever going to see it again, you must go at once; a prospect which frightens you. The cabin is several miles off the trail and one tree looks very much like another. How long before you cannot find your way back in broad daylight?

You think about where it will end and how. A bed somewhere and you, alone in your head. If there are voices, you won't hear them, if there is touch, you won't feel it. Those who love you might be there, but you won't know. Or they might have left already and you won't know that either.

The question is a good one. Maybe you want to ask again.

FIN