She first saw the dog with no eyes when she was walking around the block crying.
She was crying not because she looked like the bad witch in the marchen, hump-backed and white-haired, though she had cried over that. Today she was crying because they had made her sign papers.
Here, they said—all her friends—and they pointed at sheets covered with the drifting ash of words she could neither see nor understand. This is the contract for your new apartment. Why must I go to a new apartment she said. I have a house to live in.
You need people to take care of you they said.
I can take care of myself she said. I have always taken care of myself.
Then—yes. But that was before. Now we must put out your medicine and tell you how to pay your bills.
Ines knew she forgot things—keys and—and—things—what she went into a room for—sometimes what day it was—whether she had eaten—but she hadn’t always. She did not forget the old language and the old place, and the words of tenderness—
I am a person she cried. You cannot treat me like a thing to be put places I don’t want to go—
That is when she saw the dog.
He stood at the end of the dead-end street. Behind him was the dark wood. He was a shar pei, wrinkled and majestic, his skin like folded velvet. He looked agelessly concerned and wise.
Only he had no eyes.
What kind of a person are you? he said.
She did not think it odd that a dog with no eyes should be talking to her. She had had many dogs. What do you mean? she said.
What kind of person are you? Good—bad—?
I am good she said. I am a good girl. She looked at the dark seams where the dog’s eyes should have been. Well, not always good. When my friend was here I was better.
But she is gone, the shar pei said.
Yes. She could not remember her name, but knew that the world had changed with her going. I didn’t have to sign papers then she told the shar pei. I don’t want to sign papers.
What do you want? the shar pei said.
Nothing she said.
Nobody wants nothing. What do you want?
I want to die she cried as she had cried over and over.
The shar pei was quiet for a moment. Then he said, I could make you die. I could tear out your throat. It would hurt, though.
I wouldn’t care she said.
The dog growled. He lifted his big dark lip and his teeth glistened like bones.
She stepped back. No.
Dying is like that he said. Usually.
You are right then she said. I would not want it.
The shar pei said, Do you want her back?
Yes she said. Yes. And I want me back. I am—so away.
The shar pei said, I can give you that—if you give me your eyes.
My eyes? I can’t do that she said.
Days spun away. People came and went. One morning she found a sign in her yard that said “FOR SALE.” She went out the gate, her heart banging like her cane on the street, and cried What are you doing? You are selling my house from under me.
The dog was there on the street. They are selling my house, they want to get rid of me she said. So they can lock me in prison.
The shar pei said, Many people are in prison. Darkness—that’s a prison.
What happened to your eyes? she asked.
They took them the dog said.
I’m sorry she said. They take things from me also.
But they took the pains in my eyes too the dog said.
That is good she said. I have a pain—here. She put a hand on her chest. It was a bumpy sheet of bone, the hard dumb center of her.
Will you give me your eyes? the dog said.
I can’t she said. They are taking everything. If I give you my eyes I will have nothing.
What do you have now? the dog said.
They put her in the prison. But look, Ines, you have four rooms, they said. They told her the names of the rooms. She forgot the names. Look at all your furniture and pictures here they said look at all the windows look at the charming little patio where you can sit and drink coffee in the morning look at the way the geraniums glow in the sun…
She did not see any of these things. It was a dark cell, hedged with endless corridors.
The shar pei was standing on the charming little patio. So you found me she said. See what they have done to me—this dark cell.
I can’t see anything said the dog.
Oh yes. I forgot she said.
Will you give me your eyes? the shar pei said.
Oh leave me alone she cried.
The shar pei went away.
He was gone for a long time. She did not know how long because the days and nights slid together gray into black and black into gray. People came and went like shadows. She did not want them and the things they brought and their laughter and their smothering hugs. She sat in her dark room and wanted the dog with no eyes.
One day he came back. Where have you been? she said.
You said to leave you alone the shar pei said.
You are just like all the others she said.
Will you give me your eyes? the dog said.
Oh all right she said. Take them. No one cares. I am only a piece of meat.
The shar pei didn’t answer right away. Then he said, I can’t have eyes that are only pieces of meat. Because I will need to run and chase rabbits and squirrels. Now I can’t run because the grass ends and there are things to bump. I need to run. I’m still fairly young and very fit.
Ines said you don’t look very fit. With your skin.
Oh skin said the dog dismissively. That doesn’t have anything to do with it. You know what happens to skin. It just happens more to you if you’re a shar pei.
She looked down at her bare arms and remembered the day when she first noticed the ruck and crumple of her skin under the sheen of bathwater. And then the way her underarm flesh swung like a hammock when she poked at it….
It was absurd and she smiled a little. And then remembered suddenly in the way that memories came now, sharp and vivid as flames, remembered running through the field at morning, the wet grass blades small points of light from the rising sun….
My eyes aren’t very good she said. They have never been great. I always fell down a lot.
They’ll be better than nothing the shar pei said.
She asked How would I give you my eyes?
A very simple process said the shar pei briskly.
She looked at his big dark jaw, the one that had opened to reveal those teeth like bones. Would it hurt? she asked.
Not at all said the dog. Well—not much. I’m very skillful.
This is like a marchen she said. A Fairy Tale.
Fairy Tales are good the dog said.
If I give you my eyes you will run she said.
I will run the dog said.
OK then she said. I will give you my eyes.
Close them the shar pei said. Close your eyes.
She obeyed but somehow—maybe before she closed them—saw him lean his great furrowed head down and open his mouth and let the drool slide down into the dust at the edge of the charming little patio. It looked like a rope of gold. Then she felt something hot as fire and cool as clay and then she heard a great echoing bark.
Oh these are wonderful eyes! the shar pei cried. I can see everything. The sky is purple and gold and the earth is flaming with leaves and the squirrel—look at the squirrel—it has no bones only long ribbons of dancing fur and in the fields look the corn is singing up the morning—
I never saw these things Ines said.
But you see them now the shar pei said.
I do Ines said.
Come the shar pei said. Come run with me.
I can’t she said. I can’t see.
Yes you can the shar pei said. You have just said so. You ran once. Don’t you remember?
Yes she said yes I do.
Ann Boaden lives in the Illinois Mississippi River Valley, received master’s and doctoral degrees in English from The University of Chicago, and returned to teach literature and creative writing at her undergraduate college, Augustana (Illinois). Her work has appeared in South Dakota Review,The Penwood Review, Ginosko, ACM (Another Chicago Magazine), The Windhover, Sediments, Big Muddy, Christmas on the Great Plains, Plumtree Tavern Journal, and SAC, among other venues.
Artwork: Caitlin Hackett, Remember Me