There hadn’t been a need to dress up for some time and the available options were limited. The couple of fancy dresses pulled from the back of the closet now felt tired, faded, and dated. Skirts too tight about the waist; a formal blouse needing a stiff ironing to flatten its deeply-embedded crinkles.
Still, anticipation of dinner with Marcus was great enough that the exercise of assembling a passable ensemble from the spare parts laid out across Solœil’s bedspread was enjoyable with let’s-put-on-a-show optimistic enthusiasm.
One of her nicer business jackets was selected and a jaunty scarf in a translucent floral print tied just-so could cover the sagging neckline of the only top that matched. A silver brooch with a stylized image of the sun, a gift from her father way back on her 21st birthday, accented nicely. The whole thing came together well enough to instill confidence.
Marcus had selected Le Pommier both because for its impressive reputation and on the false assumption that Solœil came from French ancestry. Solœil’s name was something of an in-joke within her family. A portmanteau of “sole” and the French word for “eye,” the invented name (shortened to “Loy” by friends and family) wrapped the newborn in faux-Gallic exoticism. Her parents felt the name would be both personally meaningful and celebrate her guaranteed-unique status.
That Marcus had asked Solœil for a second date–their first was a casual after-work coffee–was something of a surprise. The whole eye thing made dating a nonstarter for most men. The few who approached Solœil were either jerks wanting a laughable story for their beer buddies or complete weirdos looking for a freak show. Solœil had learned to make any first meeting quick, cheap, and easy to escape from.
Marcus was different in the plainest of ways. He was neither good nor bad looking and came off as boringly normal, sensibly logical, and never once questioned Solœil about the single eye centered right above the bridge of her nose. It hadn’t come up even once in their hour-long chat at the coffee shop. That itself was refreshingly freeing and completely unexpected.
It turned out Marcus had a matter-of-fact way about most things in his life. As their bread, wine, and iced tea arrived–Marcus hadn’t had alcohol since his uncle died of liver failure at 58–conversation turned to where each lived in the city. Solœil learned that only a couple years prior, Marcus had extensive remodeling done to his house on the North Side. A drunk driver had jumped the curb and crashed into the front wall of his two-bedroom bungalow. The ’88 LeBaron only came to rest after colliding with the living room couch. Had he not been retrieving dinner from the microwave, Marcus would have died right there, watching Jeopardy. That night, Marcus explained, he’d finished his Salisbury steak and tiny apple pie before calling the insurance agent.
Over steaming bowls of soupe de poisson, Marcus went on to reveal a shocking litany of other near-death experiences. At six years old, a plastic chess piece was jammed into his throat by sadistic older brother Steven, prompting his first Life Flight. To this day, the brothers still play a protracted match each year at Christmas and Steven will menacingly twiddle his rook when he feels like he’s losing. Marcus had almost drowned after stepping on an out-of-its-reach stingray on a family vacation to Ocean City. An absentminded fall through an open elevator shaft happened just weeks into his first IT job downtown. The medics said he would have died if the server room hadn’t been on the second floor. At 42, the wrong IV injected by a sleep-deprived first-year at Presby forced Marcus into a five-day coma.
Marcus turned out to be an excellent listener–engaged without being too personal, curious, and asking thoughtful follow-up questions. He showed real interest in Solœil’s work in graphic design, the deep connection to her parents, her love of gardening and cinema. Like a skilled therapist, Marcus had connected dots between Solœil’s family history, being an only-child, and the importance of helping disadvantaged people in her volunteer work. Some of his theories were a little out-there, but Solœil couldn’t shake the depth of thought that went into them.
By the time Solœil put her dessert spoon to rest–Marcus was still scraping the plate for every last microcurd of creme brulee–she’d decided she legitimately liked this quirky, frugal man. She also found herself realizing Marcus’ veneer or normality hid a much more complex person than the one she met for coffee a week earlier.
As they left the restaurant, Marcus extended his hand and said how much he’d enjoyed the evening. He announced it was past his bedtime and needed to dash off to catch the bus home. Solœil was surprised by the abruptness, but with everything else it was something of a piece. She got out her keys and headed home.
The next morning Solœil received an email from Marcus. It was an invitation for another date–this one to attend a fancy garden party at a private home in tony Sewickley. The pricey admission went to support a charity supplying textbooks and medical supplies to schoolchildren in Ghana. Marcus offered to pay for two tickets if Solœil would drive them.
When she arrived at Marcus’ home the following Saturday, Solœil was immediately struck by the obvious reconstruction of the house. Carpenters had grafted an incongruous modern paneled exterior on one half of the street-facing side of the building to its original wide wood siding everywhere else. The work was well done, but for a designer it was a chalk-and-cheese Frankenstein job. At the restaurant, Marcus had admitted he had no eye for architecture and bought the house purely for its proximity to town and affordable price.
On either side of the front steps were a single row of newly-planted marigolds–each perfectly in bloom and spaced an exact six inches from one another.
“Do you like those?” a voice asked, seemingly from nowhere, “I just planted them on Thursday.” Marcus emerged from behind the screen door. “You said you like gardening, so I figured I should take the cue to finally put in some flowers.”
Marcus was dressed nicely in a casual jacket and tie. The colors didn’t really compliment each other, but Solœil didn’t yet feel comfortable enough in the nascent relationship to offer wardrobe advice.
Solœil had taken the opportunity to purchase a new sun dress for herself. She’d also decided to force the eye discussion by adding a single false eyelash–jet black with lashes perfectly fanned-out like rays of a new rising sun. A thick stroke of eyeliner made the single window to her soul impossible to miss.
“Why don’t you drive?” Solœil asked as they cruised out-of-town, “Is it because of the accident at your house?”
“Oh no,” Marcus replied, “I’ve never been able to drive. I have an impairment that would make it dangerous to do so.”
Marcus went on to describe, in great technical detail, the way dysocunesia had affected his life. The rare condition caused the brain to process visual stimuli in hyper-spectral, multi-dimensional, extra-reality. “Essentially, I can’t trust anything I see with my own two eyes,” Marcus said, “I have an accommodation for screens–television and computer–which is how I’m able to work and do most of the things I need to get by.”
Solœil learned that most of Marcus’ interaction with the real world involved some version of trial-and-error. He would probe his plate with a fork to sense where each item actually rested. Doing his laundry, dishes, or cutting the grass was more by sense of touch, or rote memory. Stairwells, with their hypnotic pattern, were especially troublesome; Marcus would close his eyes entirely and use the handrail rather than trust the swirling angles his brain was delivering. The new flowers at the house had been spaced by using a special ruler with notches set every inch so he could feel distance measurements.
At the party, Solœil now noticed the careful way Marcus navigated the world–especially these new surroundings. He could clearly see well enough to know when to reach for the stone handrail leading down six steps into the sunken garden or how the hors d’oeuvres were arranged across their wide table. But he approached each new challenge with a delicate restraint that belied a lifetime of experience processing confusing incoming stimuli. Solœil sensed an ability to parse reality from kaleidoscope vision and then carefully select the safest route forward.
Solœil found herself assisting Marcus in the gentlest of ways. She took his hand as they walked across the grass and made sure to clearly introduce them in conversation, audibly identifying each new person they met. Marcus seemed completely unaware of the weird stares, jerking double-takes, and whispered innuendo from other attendees on seeing this strange woman with a single eye above her nose.
When they got back to his house, Marcus thanked Solœil for the wonderful day and clumsily expressed a desire to kiss her. Several inches taller than Marcus and the only one who could see straight, Solœil needed to lean in and guide the maneuver before the whole thing got even more awkward than it already was.
“Marcus,” Solœil started, still not sure how she was feeling about any of this, “You never once asked me about my eye. Aren’t you curious?”
“Which one?” Marcus replied. “Sorry–that’s a dysocunesia joke we don’t get to use too often. I thought I’d let you bring it up, in your time.”
“I’ve spent my life trying to adjust to a world I can’t always participate in,” Marcus said, “Trying to join a society that doesn’t always have time for a person who can’t move at their speed is really difficult. From what I can tell, your one eye works a whole lot better than both of mine put together.”
The couple moved to an old steel glider on the front porch. Marcus leaned his head back to rest his exhausted eyes and relaxed into quiet humming–a beautiful and haunting Gaelic melody he’d learned as a kid, he explained. Solœil peeled the single false eyelash from its lid, kicked off her uncomfortable heels, and gently pushed the glider into a slow rocking sway.