Matthew Andrews: Seeing Tomorrow

Lewis rolled onto his back. He first noticed it when he could see the dark outline of the tip and bridge of his nose against the morning light leaking through the window blinds. No no no, he thought. As a test, he raised his right hand toward his bedroom ceiling and opened both eyes wide. Beyond the front edge of his nose, he only saw his hand and the beginning of his wrist. He slowly moved his arm left. It was not until his arm crossed his torso that Lewis could see his forearm. “Shit!” he shouted. He pounded the bed with his right hand clenched. “Not today.” His breath quickened. Moisture built in his eyes.

The last time Lewis had been invited for a job interview, it was brief. The interview was for a stock clerk position at an office supply chain that opened in nearby Pittsburg, the chain’s first store in the California delta city. It had been nine months since Lewis’s diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis and his departure from Contra Costa Steel. The day before the interview, Lewis had awoken with his right leg numb from his foot to his knee. The next morning, feeling had returned to his leg, but the slightest weight on his right foot felt like stepping on a thousand pins. As Lewis entered the store doors that afternoon—khakis pressed and polo shirt tucked in—he saw a young man who Lewis soon learned was the manager. He was brawny, thirty at the oldest, wearing a black collared shirt with sleeves rolled to his elbows. The manager was shaking the hand of another man, same build, maybe a few years younger. “I’ll be in touch,” said the manager. Lewis approached the men, slowing his pace to conceal his slanted gait. But when he saw the manager’s eyes drop to his right leg, Lewis knew it was decided.

Lewis swung his legs over the side of the bed and scooted onto the floor. He stood momentarily hunched and unfurled upright. This prompted a chorus of cracks and pops—first his knees, lower back, shoulders, then neck. He lurched across the dim-lit room toward the bathroom, switched on the light, and stood before the mirror. His right eye appeared no different than his left. Lewis leaned forward and shifted his amber eyes from side to side. Despite a dull pain behind his right eye, both eyes moved in tandem.

This had happened once before to Lewis. He had awoken one morning a few months back and felt as if someone had dimmed the lights and drained all the color from the room but only on his right side. This morning it was less a darkening of sight in his eye than a complete ceasing of it. I’d been having a good week too, Lewis thought. He had gotten rest, sequestered himself from the summer heat in his air-conditioned apartment. Lewis pulled away from the mirror. His temples began to pulse and his face flushed. Before his eyes could well he closed them. He inhaled through his nose and counted to three, as his physical therapist had taught him, then exhaled through his mouth. He paused and repeated this again.

When Lewis reopened his eyes, he saw the bags etched below them and the gray-white hairs that now flecked his chin and upper lip. Lewis remembered standing before the same mirror preparing for the long days at the factory maintaining and fixing machinery. How the hours were taxing both on his body and his social life. How he first had trouble gripping his drill, then lifting equipment, then just making it to five. How on his final day his boss, Rick, walked with him to his car and said “I’ll keep an eye out for openings.”

Lewis snatched his electric razor from the sink drawer and began to shave. He watched in the mirror as he slid the shaver across his neck and face, giving a light rosy flush to his beige skin. Out of the bottom of his left eye, Lewis saw his right hand disappear each time it moved under his nose and to his right cheek. He could not get the smoothness that he used to get with a real blade, but Lewis could not risk it. His right hand, his shaving hand, had become less and less reliable. A carved up neck wouldn’t give a good impression.

Lewis put on the dark blue Italian wool suit that his sister Cathryn helped him buy from JCPenny and the yellow-gold tie that his five-year-old niece, Kayla, picked out. “Like I said,” Cathryn told Lewis, as she peered over his shoulder at his suited reflection in the store mirror, “presentation is key.” Kayla stood beside her mother, brow furrowed, nodding in serious agreement.

In his final years at Contra Costa Steel, Lewis did not see Cathryn often. She had a new husband, new baby, new home—a life of her own—and he did not want to impose. When Lewis was first diagnosed, Cathryn and her husband were in the middle of a divorce. But Cathryn and Kayla visited Lewis at his apartment every day, especially those first months, the months when getting out from under the weight of his bed covers was a feat, when his wardrobe seemed to consist of a single pair of black sweats and a white undershirt. They would take Lewis to his physical therapy appointments, Cathryn still in her dental hygienist scrubs and Kayla in her school uniform. They would bring him dinner when the food in his refrigerator would spoil, sometimes before eating themselves. Before his first disability payments, Cathryn had even helped Lewis pay his rent. Each evening, as Cathryn and Kayla would leave, Lewis thanked them. Cathryn would smile, swipe her hand in the air as though to brush the thank you away, and say “See you tomorrow.”

Lewis positioned himself in front of his bathroom mirror again. He had parted his salt and pepper hair along one side. The look was a far cry from his days of worn jeans and t-shirts, hard hats and safety glasses. Lewis extended his right hand toward the mirror as if to greet his reflection. “Lewis Ackerman,” he practiced. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Lewis pulled his shoulders back to even his stance, stuck out his chest.

Lewis remembered that the last time he had trouble with his eye his center had shifted—or so his brain had thought—to his left, his sighted side, and that he would unknowingly compensate. He had noticed this when visiting his sister and niece a few days into his first vision episode. Lewis was helping tidy Cathryn’s kitchen, despite her protests. Her house—once spotless—in recent months had become littered with mislaid shoes, used cups, and unopened mail. At one point, when Cathryn asked Lewis again to rest, Kayla waddled up beside them. She faced Lewis, giggling and tilting to her left. Kayla then tugged at Lewis’ jean leg and said “Now copy me.”

In the mirror’s reflection Lewis saw the time on the clock behind him. He backed out of the bathroom and shuffled down the hallway. He made an abrupt right into his living room but misjudged his distance from the wall. He rammed his right shoulder into the wall’s corner, sending a bolt of pain up his neck and down his arm. “Mother fu-” he started and swallowed the rest. He proceeded to the kitchen, clutching and massaging his shoulder with his left hand. No time for breakfast, Lewis prepared a cup of instant coffee. He handled the mug almost entirely with his left hand, as he had taught himself. He scurried past the refrigerator and set the steaming cup in a clearing on the right side of the kitchen table that he had built by hand just two years earlier.

The rest of the table top was taken up by the aftermath of the night before—an open faux leather briefcase, stacks of papers and folders, a few medical bills. Lewis had read the brief job posting Rick forwarded him—“In case you are still looking . . .”—and what little he could find about the company. There were no staff photos or bios, only names and titles. Lewis knew that they dealt in auto parts, manufacturing. That the job was in an office. And that they replied to his application—the first reply in months.

Lewis bent forward and shoveled what looked most relevant into the case, sending papers over the side of the table. When he pulled himself back, he forgot about the mug. The cup toppled, emptying scalding coffee onto Lewis’ right leg and shattering on the kitchen tile floor. The liquid heat seeped through the suit’s wool and migrated down his thigh to his shin. He opened his mouth to scream but out came only a series of short pants. He stumbled two steps backward and dropped his briefcase.

Lewis huddled over the scatter of ceramic shards and thin pool of coffee. He lowered his right knee slowly toward the floor to pick up the pieces. But as he paused mid-crouch to find a dry spot for his knee, he lost his balance. Lewis keeled over onto his right hip and bottom, sending his back into the refrigerator door. The force of the fall knocked the wind from his lungs. Lewis lay slumped on the kitchen floor with his legs splayed out in front of him. His shoulders and head slid up and down the refrigerator door as he heaved trying to regain his breath. Lewis took in the wreckage in the room: his soaked pant leg, strewn papers, spilled coffee, the broken mug. His insides began to knot. Lewis wondered if he should call to cancel the interview. Someone should be in the office by now. Maybe they would let him reschedule.

Among the papers on the floor, Lewis recognized one covered with scribbles, some smaller in fine black ink and others larger in light blue crayon. That past weekend Lewis had helped teach Kayla how to write her full name. Cathryn told Lewis she was the last in her class unable to do so. “It’s upsetting her,” Cathryn sighed. She raked her fingers through her hair, revealing threads of gray. Lewis sat beside Kayla at the kitchen table and, to calm her, practiced signing—more like scrawling—his name with his left hand. He remembered how happy Kayla was when she finally did it, how she ran to her mother waving the paper over her head. “And what do you say?” Cathryn asked Kayla, turning Kayla gently by her shoulders to face Lewis. Kayla sprinted toward him full force, arms open, and buried her face into his left thigh.

The tightening loosened in Lewis’ stomach. He grabbed the table edge with both hands, pulling himself first onto his knees and then his feet. He straightened his jacket, patted his pockets for his wallet and keys, and picked up his briefcase. He tiptoed around the floor’s debris and headed toward the front door, leaving the mess behind.

Lewis dropped himself behind the steering wheel of his car. It was already eighty degrees outside, and the car was stuffy. Without looking he set his briefcase on the passenger seat or, at least, where he thought it was. He heard the case slide and hit the floor. Lewis angled his rearview mirror rightward to expand his vision on that side. He could see the headrest of the passenger seat and a sliver of the right backseat window. He figured that would have to do. It’s only a ten minute drive, Lewis reminded himself. No freeways. He turned on the ignition and inched his car out of his garage, repeatedly twisting his upper body left and right to make sure the street was clear.

Once on the road, Lewis clasped the steering wheel, his hands firmly in the ten and two positions. He dug his back and bottom into the seat cushion with his arms straight and his elbows locked. As he drove down the suburban streets, the rolling sun-dried hills in the distance, he kept to the far right lane. Cars rushed by him on his left. One car honked, but Lewis refused to take his eye off the road to check his speed. Despite a soft morning haze, the light seemed to shine with an unrelenting brightness, reflecting off the dashboard into Lewis’ eye. His hands were clammy and kept sliding out of position. It seemed to take ages before Lewis finally saw the one story, concrete office building.

Lewis maneuvered his car into a parking spot near the building’s front entrance. He turned off the car’s ignition and rested his hands on his thighs. Heat wafted out from the rim of his collar and the base of his underarms. He knew that he probably smelled and would have to keep his jacket on. His right pant leg was damp and cool but had returned more or less to its original color. He reached down for his briefcase on the passenger side floor. As he sat back up, he checked his eyes in the rearview mirror, moving them from left to right to ensure, one final time, that nothing appeared amiss. Then he exited the car.

As Lewis entered the lobby he saw a young woman, maybe in her mid-twenties, seated behind a desk adjacent to the front door. She wore a bright red polo shirt with the company logo embroidered on the front. As soon as she saw Lewis, the woman smiled, but it seemed strained as though her face was still waking.

“Hello,” Lewis blurted. “I’m here for Mr. Landas,” he added, his voice lowered. Lewis straightened his posture to hide any semblance of a tilt.

The woman’s eyes checked her computer screen. “Yes, Mr. Ackerman,” she replied. “Please take a seat.” She gestured with her hand to a row of folded out chairs lining the opposite wall. “Mr. Landas should be in soon.”

Lewis nodded and seated himself in the chair farthest from the door, with the entrance on his sighted side and an artificial potted plant and the wall on his right. He set his briefcase on the linoleum floor and cupped his knees with his hands. A ceiling fan whirled above his head, and he could hear the hum of a vending machine in the hall around the corner.

Lewis imagined what he would do if he got the job. He would pay back Cathryn for those months she helped with his rent. Take her and Kayla to a nice dinner at that fancy Italian restaurant near the multiplex. Maybe pay for those junior karate classes Kayla had kept talking about. Bring her home on his way back from the office so that Cathryn would not have to rush from work. Lewis also recalled the interview for the stock clerk job. How the young manager sped through his interview questions, not even asking Lewis to tell him about himself. How afterward he just directed Lewis toward the store doors—“You know your way out?” How he did not say he would be in touch.

The front door clanked open. A middle-aged man, also wearing the company polo shirt, strode in. He seemed to look straight ahead with his head turned slightly toward the front desk. In his right hand, Lewis saw a long white stick with a thick red strip at its base and a white ball on its tip. You’ve got to be kidding me, Lewis thought.

The woman behind the counter stood up abruptly, her hands propped on her desk top. “Mr. Landas,” she said, with a buoyancy absent moments before. “Your eight o’clock is here.”

“Ah, Mr. Ackerman,” he said and turned in the direction of the wall of chairs.

Lewis paused, putting the pieces together, then shot up out of his seat. “Here,” he said as if Mr. Landas was taking roll call. Lewis winced. “Yes, Lewis Ackerman here.”

Mr. Landas stepped toward Lewis, moved his stick to his left hand, and extended his right. Lewis walked forward and stopped. He adjusted his stance, erected his back, and advanced his right hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Lewis said. Mr. Landas’ shake was firm, and Lewis tried to return the grip. Lewis looked into his eyes. They were pupil-less. At their centers was a light blue that seemed to fade into the surrounding white and gleam against his golden brown skin and jet black hair.

“You’re the man who Rick mentioned might be interested in the opening,” said Mr. Landas.

Lewis’ hand released, his chest receded, his shoulders relaxed. Before he could reply, Mr. Landas continued, “Let’s head this way.” He pointed the end of his stick in the direction of a corner office. “So you can tell me about yourself.”

For more on Matthew Andrews, please see our Authors page.