October 24th, 2019

Through the Eye
Kate Perruzzi

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You are at a BBQ in your uncle’s backyard. Scores of tiny blonde cousins filter around table legs like frenzied fish in a shallow pond. One of them catches their chin on your knee and glares at you. You do not recognize her.
       Your uncle is seated in a low lawn chair beside the buffet of mayonaised foods: potato salad, with and without egg, macaroni salad, chicken salad. None of these are salads, you think, and swig hard on a warm Miller Lite. Your uncle is quiet, transfixed, watching the sky. His eyes are cloudy security glass and the man working the space behind his face is a bank teller on qualuudes.
       A woman—is it Aunt Donna?—comes into view. She is a vision in astroturf, the kind of green that makes your eyes feel tight in their sockets. She sets a course for your right shoulder. You feel the dig of acrylic talons as a slow hiss of margarita mix and menthol cigarettes singes your chin.
       “He seems pretty freakin loopy today, huh?”
       It’s a question without an answer and Donna knows it, tramping back over the lawn to smoke butts with the other aunties.
       Your uncle is what could be called a tinkerer, but you know he’d rather be compared to a surgeon, or maybe better, a coroner: he is fascinated with the undoing of things, removing components from the whole, spreading them around, reassembling. The dark energy of a lonely life willed his rheumatic hands into car engines, rusted gutters, electronics well within the graveyard of obsolescence. As a kid you spent summers in his garage, hands deep in the guts of a downhill derby car. Your uncle would push you down the hill and mimic the soft roar of a crowd as the car’s plywood sides shuddered.
       When a hurricane rolled over the area last year, taking with it a swatch of your uncle’s vinyl siding and some of the roof, he found the car in a drainage ditch, torn to pieces. He sent you a picture, adorned with the emojis of mourning, yellow faces and crystal blue tears.
       The BBQ is idyllically boring. Bruised clouds gather beyond the patchwork of trailer homes in the distance. You drink beer to mark the time. The air, slick with bug spray and gathering rain, is laying in fat jewels on your uncle’s forehead. He stands, knees knocked and nearly touching, and walks over to the buffet.
       Minutes pass. The clouds are tighter now, darkening in their conspiracy. Soft flashbulbs of lighting play on the jellied cole slaw, in front of which your uncle is standing. He’s performing some sort of offbrand Catholic ritual: moving slowly down the buffet, stopping periodically to dance his sleeves just above each plate, baptizing the food. You can’t see his hands. He’s hunched like he’s hiding answers to a pop quiz.
       Finally, he reaches the end of the buffet, stopping at the sad tribe of cupcakes, melted and finger-poked. He turns slightly, just enough to let you see the blue vial in his hands. It’s tiny, no larger than a matchbox, but its presence is giant and toxically out of place, like a handgun in Santa’s lap. He drops the vial into his shirt pocket after upturning the rest of its contents onto a glob of frosting.
       Your bowels cramp in a vain attempt to get you to stand. You don’t. Your uncle wrenches his hunched frame straight, growing by maybe five inches or more. He rotates slowly and meets your eyes. The feeling is something ancient: two strange apes perched on either side of a patch of jungle, the moment dominated by fear, fear of the unknown and fear of being alone. He shrinks back down and runs into the house.
       You scan the lawn, your eyes moving too fast. The siren song of freshly grilled dogs draws the entire party up for round two of food. They’ve been drained by hours of small talk and booze, their guts groaning for processed meats. Babies, fat in their mothers’ arms, are jamming hot dog ends past their gums.
       You enter the house, passing a downed gutter on the way. His house is a humid tunnelwork of dark spaces; as you move through it, you slam a knee or an elbow into things unseen but always hard and designed to hurt you.
       You hear movement and spot him down a hallway, bent over what looks to be a pile of spilled car parts. He stops moving. You are positioned on either end of a passage. Between you is a window, through which you can see the party, their faces made ugly by unclean glass. Thunder curdles the laughter and noise outside; people begin to gather up paper plates and babies, seeking shelter on the porch, peeking through windows, surely looking for your uncle to bring the party indoors.
       Your uncle is holding something, keeping it tight to his side and out of your view.
       “Look out the window,” he says, and you do. You catch the eyes of a young child, not a baby, maybe eight years old. The butt end of a hot dog bun drops from his hand.
       Your uncle moves closer. “Name one person here.” You struggle with the question. It’s like he’s speaking Turkish. Maybe it’s a stroke.
       “Give me a name,” he says, and from his side lifts a polished chrome tube, the end of which is black save for one blinking pinpoint of red light.
       Your uncle speaks: “You don’t know anyone here.” In this moment the truth is as plain and horrible as a tumor poking above the skin: you do not know anyone. He engages the weapon and you fall. You exist for a second in total darkness, but are able to hear. There is commotion outside: if you didn’t know better, the screaming would be from a heated game of wiffleball. Thunder, in earnest now, rocks the floor beneath your head.
       “The storm is here.”

 

When you wake, it is in a warm, white room. You are positioned on your back, unable to track your limbs, eyes set toward the ceiling. It must be a hospital room, but as your vision focuses, you see two things: a TV screen and wooden plaque just above it.
       You’ve seen plaques like this: it’s something newlyweds get at a discount store. Live Laugh Love, something like that. Your eyes are slow to focus, churning hard like a dusty modem, but the neat cursive becomes apparent: it says TAKE US THROUGH THE EYE.
       The TV flickers alive. A video starts, soft strings warbling as the camera pans over a backlit mountain range. The scene changes. The gentle slope of suburban concrete, neat houses lining the curb. Wooden derby cars race by. You can hear the wheels straining to pop from their bearings as the camera zooms out to reveal a swarm of tiny heads, all helmeted in the same cherry red. They are racing to the end of the street, a cul de sac at the foot of the mountain range. It looks painted on to the sky. As the children come to a halt at the bottom of the hill, they toddle out of their carts. They are all identical and they are all you. On one arm, you see your telltale scar, earned from a sidewalk collision. And then another arm, another scar, and so on and so on and so on.
       White words creep onto the screen. The new NV-2036: the finest in adaptable navigation technology, available to you from birth to death!
       The video cuts to a live feed. You recognize the outside of your uncle’s house. Bodies dot the lawn. The rain is coming hard now, pasting their hair onto skulls. Your uncle comes into view, working his way through the downed crowd. He stands over each body, assessing the weight before dragging them into the house, a seasoned arachnid.
       You hear your uncle, and you know it is not from a speaker: his voice, still laced with familial comfort and, even stranger, pride, emanates somewhere near the base of your brain stem. It is not outside of your head but somehow adjacent, in a place you cannot name.
       “Hi, kiddo. They’re not dead.” He chuckles at his nonjoke, the polite sound normally offered to bad comedians. “Just sedated. They had to be asleep for the journey home. You know how kids fuss.”
       You want to scream but the mechanism is gone. Your uncle continues: “I need you to know that you can’t come with us. Your pod will disengage once we’re through the eye.”
        Animal horror grips you as your uncle speaks for the final time: “I’ll need to offload some of your function now. I’ll be loading meteorological information in just a sec. You’re like our GPS now, you can see what we can’t.” His voice breaks for a second, distracted. “You’ll know what to do—you were born for this.”
       And with that, your vision is taken, your synapses rerouted. What spreads out before you is just like a weather report: the shape of your county is familiar, but a distant echo. A voicemail from a dead friend. In this state, you are anything but panicked: all information is available to you. You are beyond excitement or fear. You passively note the impossible infestation of storm systems, covering the map and beyond, multiplying.
       When you were young, you read about the first apes in space, terrified animals snared in straps, welded to the inside of a rocket. There was one, though, a chimp, whose picture you cut from a book and tacked to your wall: his eyes were calm with the acceptance of a short journey.
       You have just enough inertial sense to feel your uncle’s house rise from its foundation, the booster rockets engaging to match the ferocity of the thunder. You hone your focus on the eye, wobbling, a drunk target. A needle and thread, you think, and the analogy steadies your abilities.
       In a downhill race, there are two options: stay the course or ditch. You’ve had enough bloodied elbows to know that the second option sends you crying into a corner until nap time. There is only one option left. You bare down, feeling the earth fall away.