Bewildering Stories

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Our Eyes Are What Make Us Human

by Thomas D. Reynolds

Stepping from the transport
And adjusting face mask,
I begin walking through dust
Toward what I believe to be the café door.

Reaching for the handle,
My fingers instead grip
The shoulders of a child
Whose cries echo in the wind.

It’s only me, Ben! I scream,
and lead the only son of the new arrivals
to the door of the all-night café.
Bracing the door, we leap inside.

The maskless boy collapses on the tile,
Seized with gasps.
Sally, the waitress, brings water.
She coos to him and pats his head.

When he finally opens his eyes,
He looks into the tight screen of her mask
That gives her voice a metallic rasp,
And would have drawn back in horror,

Save for the humanity of her eyes
Visible through clouded goggles
That somehow reassures him,
Despite dark circles and baggy lids.

There, there, she squawks,
Stroking his face with long fingers
Curling up with each stroke like those
Of a dung beetle examining its prey.
  Where are your parents? I ask him
In official tones of the high sheriff.
But he collapses again in Sally’s grip,
So I don mask and skins again.

Searching for their stalled transport
Through volcanic blizzard dust,
I wonder aloud at the survival of us all,
Now that storms and fires have increased.

Twenty minutes more and I find the transport.
Pressing my mask against the glass,
I spot two eyes glowing in the dark
And the gaunt profile of Ben’s mother

Shrinking back against the leather seat.
I shout through the mask to unlock the door
And begin knocking, then beating, the glass
When she closes her eyes in fear.

I’m here to bring you home! I screech,
though nothing must seem like home anymore,
as I bust a window and reach a mittened claw
through the hole, feeling for the latch.

When I throw open the door and pull myself
Through the opening legs first, then the heat
Slamming the door behind me to shut
Out the roar of the wind as if in a cocoon,

I turn to her and reach out a claw palm first
And intone in as human a voice as I can muster
Through the density of the mask,
Look at my eyes, Jenny. Look at my eyes.

Copyright © 2005 by Thomas D. Reynolds

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