The Ten Weeks, 12 January (Part I), Once I Was Blind, Now I Can See

The buzz about Terry’s beating Elisabeth Cassidy—balanced to some extent by her loss—resonated through the hallways and cafeteria at Point Collina. The main result of this was additional jealousy by the Fourth Form girls, although Cathy was certainly impressed by Jack’s account of the victory.
For her part Madeleine’s mind was still full the images of the unique weekend she had experienced, although she had the good sense to keep all of this to herself. It wasn’t difficult; in Sixth Form, Madeleine had earned the reputation as something of an isolationist. Losing her place on the tennis team only deprived her of another outlet of social contact.
Although her social life was limited, this didn’t mean that Madeleine wasn’t occupied. One of those occupations was her work with Madame Seignet’s primary school French classes, and part of that was going in costume to help teach them different topics of the French language and the French-speaking world. Her costume today was that of a traditional French schoolgirl, one which she wore well, although at her age she looked outsized for the part.
Madeleine hadn’t bothered to take off her little hat as she sat in Hancock’s English class. Madeleine’s approach to literary analysis was different than Hancock’s because of her background and inspiration from her father, and Hancock wasn’t always sure she was wrong. But he was loathe to admit that, so they sparred often.
It was no surprise then, at the end of class, when Hancock said, “Miss des Cieux, I need to see you after class.” Denise was sitting next to Vannie. They gave each other that look as they made their exit along with everyone else.
“You think this will stop her?” Vannie asked Denise as they walked down the hall.
“She’s already stopped,” Denise observed. “We just need to kill the moral support.”
Hancock sat down at his desk; Madeleine went forward and stood in front of it.
“Is there something wrong now with my work? I believe I have turned everything in,” Madeleine said.
“Not at all,” Hancock responded. “In fact, I am amazed that you have carried on as you have after your illness. Enough, I might observe, to attend the Beran Invitational with an opposing team.”
“It was difficult. I was very tired when I returned to my home.”
“So why did you travel with another school?”
“They invited me to go. Our team bus was restricted to those playing, you and Mademoiselle Dorr. It is a long way from here.”
“So how did you get to be so chummy with the Hallett team?”
Madeleine knew he had asked the leading question. “Carla Stanley and I are friends. She invited me.”
“Just friends?”
“What are you saying?”
“Let me be frank with you. We—and when I say we, I mean both myself and Coach Dorr—have come to realise that you are, for all intents and purposes, Miss Stanley’s coach, and that you have been working with her for at least a year and a half. We also have reason to believe that you were at her church Sunday morning, and even stayed at her home over the weekend.”
Madeleine knew she was on the spot. “I thought that this was a free country, as you say.”
“Ah yes, a free country. Let me talk with you as one expatriate to another. I have come to know you as a very sophisticated and cultured young woman. You come from a fine background and have lived in many places in the world. That being the case, I cannot understand why you would associate with a person who is a product of a narrow-minded, backward religion whose only experience outside of her own little agrarian world is to visit her relatives in America, and I can assure you from experience that they are, if anything, more backward and narrow-minded than she is. Your parents had the wisdom to send you to the best school on the Island and to associate with people as sophisticated and cultured as you are. I would hope that you, in the time you have remaining here, would spend time with your peers here at Point Collina and leave the ‘hicks in the sticks’ to their own devices.”
“Perhaps I have not found the ‘peers’ you are speaking about,” Madeleine replied, more quickly than Hancock expected.
“Perhaps you have not tried hard enough,” Hancock replied, arising from his desk and attempting to clench his teeth as he spoke. He attempted to regain his cool. “Look, I have found my time here in Verecunda to be very rewarding. But this Island has many unusual social customs. What I have found here is that, if you don’t make friends, you will have enemies, and serious enemies at that. I would hate to see you fall victim to that.”
Madeleine was silent for a moment. “Is that all?”
“That’s all,” Hancock replied, realising the conversation was really over.
“Thank you, Monsieur Hancock,” she answered, turned and left the room.
She barely made it in time for her next class, Advanced World History. About to begin his lecture was Ethelred Scott. Originally a Church of Serelia minister, he was defrocked when he abandoned his wife and four children—two of which were still in diapers—for a University of Verecunda English professor, who promptly bore him two more. He was most famous for his “bull sessions” on the Church of Serelia, which he invariably portrayed in a negative light.
He was deep into one of these when he made an offhand remark: “You know, it always amused me that, when most churches sent out their ministers to administer last rites with olive oil or some such similar concoction, the Serelians always used that aloe vera nard, not dissimilar to what a few of you young ladies use for your ‘alligator’ skin, as you like to put it.” He went on, but Madeleine started to feel her hands were getting pretty dry just from the thought of it.
Fortunately Scott was the last class she had to endure. Being with a medical excuse meant that she could leave school right after class and skip the athletics, a privilege she relished as she got into the Dyane and headed out. The day was beautiful and reaching its peak at 27°C. Madeleine was especially exhilarated by the nearly 5 kilometre drive across the Dahlia Bridge. Many Verecundan youth looked at the bridge as an extended over water drag strip. Although Madeleine’s Dyane’s capabilities in this regard were limited, it still felt nice to stash her hat and let the breeze to blow through her hair. As she took the straight shot back across the bay, she looked out to see the port, marina and ultimately the Verecundan skyline over the right guardrail.
Pierre’s office wasn’t too far beyond where the Dahlia Bridge’s northern approach met ground level at Meeting Street. On an Island where foreign businesses generally used local agents or joint ventures, Pierre’s company opted for a wholly owned subsidiary. Their decision had paid off: through a series of able managing directors such as Pierre, they held 80% of the tyre market on the Island, and continued to do so with a staff of just six full time people.
Madeleine parked the car in the warehouse, waving at a busy Luke Allen, and walked over to the adjacent office. It was her day to be her father’s chauffeuse so that Yveline could get some shopping done. She was buzzed in by the receptionist and went back to the office of Claudia Yedd, Pierre’s secretary.
“Papa is in, isn’t he?” Madeleine asked, noting her father’s closed office door.
“He’s in a long call with the American office,” Claudia replied. A brunette in her late 20’s who tended to wear clothing that held her close, her life had already been a challenge. Raised in the southern part of the country whose name she bore, her move to the “big city” started off disastrously when her boyfriend raped her, leaving her alone and shortly with a blind girl to raise. Verecunda in those days was a place where unwed mothers had a hard time of it, but Pierre’s predecessor hired her pregnant as a receptionist (“we do not have picture phones just yet,” he noted) and made the necessary accommodations, which were helped by relatives Claudia already had there. This made Claudia the most deeply loyal employee the company had, a loyalty rewarded when Pierre came and the existing secretary retired, allowing Claudia a promotion.
The promotion made a few things easier, such as running a block over and picking Claudia’s ten year old daughter Carol up from the Verecunda School for the Blind and Deaf, a small institution in the run down industrial part of town. Carol was sitting in the office when Madeleine arrived; she knew who it was from her gait.
“Hi, Madeleine,” Carol said, her cane at her side.
“Hello, chérie,” Madeleine responded, holding her cheeks and kissing her on the forehead. Madeleine had helped Carol some with her school work; the two were fond of each other.
“I need to step out,” Claudia told Madeleine as she got up from her desk. Claudia’s office doubled as the waiting room for those wishing an audience with Pierre, so it had three chairs around her desk. Carol and Madeleine were facing each other quietly.
Madeleine suddenly felt the same urge she had when Terry Marlowe was about to start her match. She heard the same kind of command: You must pray for Carol today so she can see. But how? Her mind was flooded with possible solutions, but she suddenly settled on one.
She reached into her purse and, after some riffling about, extracted a metal tube of aloe vera which she carried for her dry skin. Works for the Serelians, she said to herself. She put her purse down, took the top off of the tube and set it aside also, got up, and walked over to Carol. For her part Carol sat contentedly and in silence, following with her ears Madeleine’s movement around the room.
Madeleine stopped in front of Carol and leaned over. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” she said, crossing herself. She took the tube and squeezed a little of the ointment on her right thumb. “In the name of Jesus Christ, be healed,” she said, first applying the ointment on the upper part of her right eyelid, then squeezing more ointment on her thumb, then applying it again to her left eyelid in the same place. Satisfied that the ointment was properly rubbed in, she went back to her seat, replaced the cap on the tube, put the tube back in her purse, and breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Carol had been dutiful throughout the entire process. She said nothing; she even lifted her head as Madeleine prepared to apply the ointment, as if she expected it. Claudia walked back into the office and returned to her seat. Carol’s eyes followed her mother’s return without her moving her head, but neither Claudia nor Madeleine noticed it.
“You’re very pretty today, Madeleine,” Carol said.
“She is very pretty,” Claudia agreed. “Did you feel of her dress? It’s her French schoolgirl outfit.”
“No, Mother, I didn’t feel of it.”
“Then how did you know?” Claudia asked.
“Because. . .because. . .I can see,” Carol replied. The reality of her transformation was just sinking in; her eyes were wide open as they scanned the new world that had just been opened to her.
“You can what?” Claudia asked. She jumped up and ran over to her daughter. She waved her hand in front of her face; Carol’s eyes followed it perfectly. Now Claudia’s excitement was zooming past her daughter’s, she turned to Madeleine. “What’s going on here? When did this happen?”
“It is my fault,” Madeleine finally confessed. “I prayed for her, and applied this aloe vera to her eyes.”
“And now I can see!” Carol exclaimed.
With that, Claudia let out a scream of joy that echoed in every direction, turned to Carol, and said, “Let’s go see if you can get around the warehouse!” With that the two bounded out of the office, leaving Madeleine in shock.
Shortly Pierre opened his door. “What is going on here?” He turned to Madeleine. “Where is Claudia? And where is Carol?” Madeleine was speechless. “Come into my office,” he ordered his daughter. Madeleine complied.
Pierre retreated behind his desk and stood. Madeleine stood in front of it like an employee facing discipline.
“Now, young lady, can you bring yourself to explain what has happened in my office?”
“Carol Yedd is no longer blind,” Madeleine replied.
“And how did this happen?”
“I. . .I prayed to Jesus Christ that she would be healed, applied some aloe vera to her eyelids, and then she began to see.”
“Let me take a look at this aloe vera of yours,” Pierre said. He walked around the desk while she re-excavated the tube from her purse. She handed the tube to him. Pierre inspected it, then handed it back to her.
“‘Man clothed in the omnipotence of God,’” he quoted, looking at her. “It seems that schoolgirls are as well.”
“I am not just a schoolgirl!” Madeleine protested. Pierre looked over his daughter’s outfit from head to toe. When Madeleine looked down at it and realised what she looked like, she giggled.
“I suppose I am, at least for today.” By this time Claudia and Carol bounded back into Pierre’s office, with Luke behind them. Claudia, in good East Island fashion, fell at Madeleine’s feet prostrate, sobbing and thanking her for what she had done. This was made easier by the fact that the floor was dominated by a Persian rug, the only form of rug or carpet in the entire facility.
“She navigates the shop pretty good,” Luke observed. While the women engaged in an outpouring of emotion and Luke stood in disbelief, Pierre took Carol and stood her in front of him while he sat down and did some simple vision tests. The employees found that Pierre had a soft spot for little girls; Carol had always been a favourite. While verifying the event for himself, he held Carol’s attention through all of the commotion. Finally he stood up and everyone regained their composure enough to stand in front of the desk in silence.
“I believe that you are correct, she can see,” Pierre declared. “However, first, it is necessary for a physician to examine her and verify this, and of course determine the quality of her sight. Assuming the outcome of these tests is satisfactory, the next step is for the Verecundan school system to figure out a method of teaching her some basic things—principally how to read—and prepare her for a normal school. I say ‘figure out’ because my experience tells me that they are not prepared for an event such as this. Miss Yedd, you need to call the ophthalmologist immediately to schedule an appointment—if you have trouble, let me know, their appointments can be rather slow these days. I think now that we can resume our work.”
“Thank you, Monsieur des Cieux,” Claudia said. With that the Yedds and Luke dispersed, leaving Madeleine and her father alone in his office.
“I hope I have not caused too much trouble,” she said, not sure what else to say.
“Miss Yedd has had a difficult life,” Pierre observed. “It seems that God’s providence has extended to someone who richly deserves it. You have done well. How we will explain this to all the world is difficult to understand at this point.”
Claudia managed to make an appointment with the ophthalmologist for the next morning. Further work was futile, as she was having too much fun being with a daughter with sight for the first time in her life. Madeleine usually did homework before the end of the work day, but she ended up joining in Claudia and Carol’s joy. At last 1700 came, Luke closed the warehouse, Claudia and Carol went to catch the bus for their trip back to the Dillman-Arnold district, and Madeleine and Pierre got in the Dyane for the brief journey back to their home.

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