Bill's eyes (by William March)
William March (1894—1954) depicts common hard-working people in his works of art. The life is too hard on his characters. It takes everything from them what they have got with their hard labour and that is why they highly appreciate it. The writer's stories are filled with dramatism.
The nurse came into the room where Bill sat and glanced around to assure herself that everything was in readiness for the doctor. They weren't used to such famous men in hospitals of this sort, and she was afraid each time he came to see Bill that he would ask some question which she could not answer, some technical thing which she had learned in her probationary days and had promptly forgotten, such as, "Define lymph, Miss Connors, and state briefly the purpose it serves in the economy of the body."
She dragged her forefinger over the table, examined it critically for smudges, and looked briskly about her for a dustcloth. Since there was none, she lifted her uniform above her knees and held it away from her body while she wiped the table clean with her underskirt. She was conscious of the exposure of her thighs, and she turned her head slowly and looked at Bill. He was a strong, thickset man with a muscular neck and a chest so solid that it seemed molded from the metals with which he had once worked. He was, she judged, about twenty-five. The fact that such a young, full-blooded man could neither see the charms that she exhibited, nor react to them, because of his blindness, as a man should, excited her, and she began to talk nervously:
"Well, I guess you'll be glad to get this over with. I guess you'll be glad to know for certain, one way or the other."
"I know now" said Bill. "I'm not worrying. There's no doubt in my mind now, and there never was."
"I must say you've been a good patient. You haven't been upset like most of them are."
"Why should I worry?" asked Bill. "I got the breaks this time, if ever a man did. If there ever was a lucky man it's me, if you know what I mean. I was lucky to have that big-time doctor 80
operate on me for nothing just because my wife wrote and asked him to." He laughed contentedly. "Christ! Christ, but I got the breaks! ... From the way he's treated me, you'd think I was a millionaire or the President of the United States or something."
"That's a fact," said Miss Connors thoughtfully. "He's a fine man." She noticed that she still held her uniform above her knees, and she dropped it suddenly, smoothing her skirt with her palms.
"What's he like?" asked Bill.
"Wait!" she said. "You've waited a long time now, and if you wait a little longer maybe you'll be able to see what he looks like for yourself.'
"I'll be able to see all right, when he takes these bandages off," said Bill. "There's no question of maybe. I'll be able to see all right.'
"You're optimistic," said the nurste. "You're not downhearted. I'll say that for you."
Bill said: "What have I got to worry about? This sort of operation made him famous, didn't it? If he can't make me see again, who can?'
"That's right," said the nurse. "What you say is true."
Bill laughed tolerantly at her doubts; "They bring people to him from all over the world, don't they? You told me that yourself, Sister!.. Well, what do you think they do it for? For the sea voyage?'
"That's right," said the nurse. "You got me there. I don't want to be a wet blanket. I just said maybe.'
"You didn't have to tell me what a fine man he is," said Bill after a long silence. He chuckled, reached out and tried to catch hold of Miss Connors' hand, but she laughed and stepped aside. "Don't you think I knew that myself?" he continued. "I knew he was a fine man the minute he came into the hospital and spoke to me. I knew." Then he stopped, leaned back in his chair, and rubbed the back of one hand with the fingers of the other < He had stopped speaking, he felt, just in time to prevent his sounding ridiculous. There was no point in explaining to Miss Connors, or anybody else, just how he felt in his heart about the doctor, or of his gratitude to him. There was no sense in talking about those things.
Miss Connors went to the table and rearranged the bouquet of asters which Bill's wife had brought for him the day before, narrowing her eyes and holding her face away from the flowers critically. She stopped all at once and straightened up.
"Listen!" she said. "That's him now."
"Yes," said Bill.
Miss Connors went to the door and opened it. "Well, Doctor, your patient is all ready and waiting for you." She backed away, thinking of the questions that a man of such eminence could ask if he really put his mind to it. "I'll be outside in the corridor," she went on. "If you want me, I'll be waiting."
The doctor came to where Bill sat and looked at him professionally, but he did not speak at once. He went to the window and drew the dark, heavy curtains. He was a small, plump man, with a high, domed forehead, whose hands were so limp, so undecided in their movements that it seemed impossible for them to perform the delicate operations that they did. His eyes were mild, dark blue and deeply compassionate.
"We were just talking about you before you came in," said Bill. "The nurse and me, I mean. I was trying to get her to tell me what you look like."
The doctor pulled up a chair and sat facing his patient. "I hope she gave a good report, I hope she wasn't too hard on me".
"She didn't say," said Bill. "It wasn't necessary. I know what you look like without being told."
"Tell me your idea and I'll tell you how right you are."
He moved to the table, switched on a light, and twisted the bulb until it was shaded to his satisfaction.
"That's easy," said Bill. "You're a dignified man with snow-white hair, and I see you about a head taller than any man I ever met. Then you've got deep brown eyes that are kind most of the time but can blaze up and look all the way through a man if you think he's got any meanness in him, because meanness is the one thing you can't stand, not having any of it in you."
The doctor touched his mild, compassionate eyes with the tips of his finger. "You're a long way off," he said laughingly. "You're miles off this time, Bill." He switched off the shaded light on the table, adjusted a reflector about his neck, and turned back to his patient, entirely professional again. 82
"The room is in complete darkness now," he said. "Later on, I'll let the light in gradually until your eyes get used to it. I generally explain that to my patients so they won't be afraid at
"Christ!" said Bill scornfully. "Did you think I didn't trust you? ... Christ! I've got too much faith in you to be afraid."
"I'll take off the bandages now, if you're ready."
"Okay!" said Bill. "I'm not worrying any."
"Suppose you tell me about your accident while I work," said the doctor after a pause. "It'll keep your mind occupied and besides I never did understand the straight of it."
"There's not much to tell," said Bill. "I'm married and I've got three kids, like my wife told you in her letter, so I knew I had to work hard to keep my job. They were laying off men at the plant every day, but I said it mustn't happen to me. I kept saying to myself that I had to work hard and take chances, being a man with responsibilities. I kept saying that I mustn't get laid off, no matter what happened.'
"Keep your hands down. Bill," said the doctor mildly. Talk as much as you want to, but keep your hands in your lap."
"I guess I overdone it," continued Bill. "I guess I took too many chances after all. Then that drill broke into about a dozen pieces and blinded me, but I didn't know what had happened to me at first. Well, you know the rest, Doc."
"That was tough," said the doctor. He sighed soundlessly and shook his head. "That was tough luck."
"What I am going to say may sound silly," said Bill, "but I want to say it once and get it off my chest, because there's nothing I'm not willing to do for a man like you, and I've thought about it a lot. Now here's what I want to say just one time: If you ever want me for anything, all you got to do is to say the word and I'll drop everything and come running, no matter where I am. And when I say anything, I mean anything, including my life... I just wanted to say it one time."
"I appreciate that," said the doctor, "and I know you really mean it."
"I just wanted to say it," said Bill.
There was a moment's silence, and then the doctor spoke cautiously: "Everything that could be done for a man was done for you, Bill, and there's no reason to think the operation was unsuccessful. But sometimes it doesn't work, no matter how hard we try."
I'm not worrying about that," said Bill quietly, "because I've got faith. I know, just as sure as I know I'm sitting here, that when you take off the bandages I'll be looking into your face."
"You might be disappointed," said the doctor slowly. "You'd better take that possibility into consideration. Don't get your hopes too high."
"I was only kidding," said Bill. "It don't make any real difference to me what you look like. I was kidding about what I said." He laughed again. "Forget it," he said. "Forget it."
The doctor's small, delicate hands rested against his knees. He leaned forward a little and peered into his patient's face. His eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and he could distinguish Bill's individual features plainly. He turned on the small, shaded light, shielding it with his palm. He sighed, shook his head, and rubbed his hands against his forehead with a thoughtful movement.
"Have you got some kids at home, too?" asked Bill.
The doctor went to the window. He pulled gently on the cord, and the thick curtains parted and slid back soundlessly. "I have three little girls," he said.
The autumn sunlight came strongly into the room and lay in a bright wedge across the floor, touching Bill's hands, his rough, uplifted face, and the wall beyond.
"Well, now that's funny. I've got three little boys. Can you beat that?"
"It's what they call a coincidence," said the doctor.
He came back to the chair and stood between Bill and the sunlight. "You can raise your hands now, if you want to," he said wearily.
Bill lifted his hairy, oil-stained hands and rested them against his temples. He spoke with surprise.
"The bandages are off now, ain't they, Doc?"
The doctor shook his head and moved to one side, and again the strong sunlight fell on Bill's broad, good-natured Slavic face.
"I don't mind telling you, now that I got my eyesight back," said Bill, "that I've been kidding about not being afraid. I've been scared to death most of the time. Doc, but I guess you knew that too. That's why I've been acting like a kid today, I guess. It's the relief of having it over and knowing that I can see again... You can turn the light on any time you want to. I'm ready."
The doctor did not answer.
"My old lady was in to see me yesterday," continued Bill. "She said they're holding my job for me at the plant. I said to tell'em I'd be there to claim it on Monday morning. I'll be glad to get back to work again."
The doctor was still silent, and Bill, fearing that he had sounded ungrateful, added quickly: "I've had a fine rest these last weeks, and everybody has been pretty damned good to me, but I want to get back to work now, Doc. I'm a family man and I've got responsibilities. My wife and kids would starve to death without me there to take care of them, and I can't afford to waste too much time. You know how it is with your own work, I guess."
The doctor went to the door, and spoke gently. "Nurse!... Nurse you'd better come in now."
She entered at once, went to the table, and stood beside the vase of asters. She looked up after a moment and examined Bill's face. He seemed entirely different with the bandages removed, and younger, even, than she had thought. His eyes were round, incorruptibly innocent, and of an odd shade of clear, child-like hazel. They softened, somehow, his blunt hands, his massive chin, and his thick, upstanding hair. They changed his entire face, she thought, and she realized that if she had not seen them she would never have really understood his character, nor would she have had the least idea of how he appeared to the people who knew him before his accident. As she watched him, thinking these things, he smiled again, pursed his lips, and turned his head in the doctor's direction.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked jokingly. "What are you waiting for?... You're not looking for a tin cup and a bundle of pencils to hand me, are you?" He laughed again. "Come on, Doc," he said. "Don't keep me in suspense this way.
You can't expect me to know what you look like until you turn on the lights, now can you?"
The doctor did not answer.
Bill threw out his arms and yawned contentedly, moved in his chair, and almost succeeded in facing the nurse who still stood beside the table. He smiled and winked humorously at the vacant wall, a yard to the left of where Miss Connors waited.
The doctor spoke, "I'm about five feet, eight inches tall," he began in his hesitant, compassionate voice. "I weigh around a hundred and seventy-five pounds, so you can imagine how paunchy I'm getting to be. I'll be fifty-two years old next spring, and I'm getting bald. I've got on a gray suit and tan shoes." He paused a moment, as if to verify his next statement. "I'm wearing a blue necktie today," he continued, "a dark blue necktie with white dots in it."