If you could see what I hear


The rubberized tap tapping of the cane as he walked was Dwayne’s security blanket. As he moved along the tile floor, his heels tapping a beat that reverberated off the sleek marble sounding walls, he counted his steps.

“Seventy five, seventy six, seventy seven … stop and turn left … wait for the elevator to ding” Dwayne mumbled to himself under his breath as he followed his own directions.  A moment later he heard the swish of an elevator changing direction and the click of the doors as they prepared to open and disgorge their contents. 

Dwayne stepped to the side of the open door and placed his cane inside it across the track while politely waiting for the people inside to exit.  When the coast was clear Dwayne followed his cane in the open doors, his shoulder staying in contact with the right wall until he was inside completely.  Doing a small 180 degree turn around the wall, he knew he was facing the number pad.  He ran his hands down the wall until he felt the little bumps representing the lighted numbers, pressing seven.

He heard excited breathing and turning slightly toward the sound gave a reassuring smile, self consciously reaching to his face to insure that his dark glasses were firmly in place.  He himself couldn’t see them but his sighted friends and family had assured him that the clouded appearance of his eyes was not easy to look at.  The stilted breathing became quieter and Dwayne heard the urgent whispering of a young woman “Sammy stop that!” while at the same time Dwayne felt the presence of a small mass directly in front of him.  He rolled his eyes (yes blind people can do this) as he realized that the unseen Sammy was standing in front of him, waving his grimy hands in front of his face. 

Dwayne took a deep breath, pretending he didn’t notice as was expected of him by the sighted people, instead focusing on recalling the number of steps and sounds it would take once he exited the elevator on the seventh floor.  Suddenly it struck him that he had not been counting floors with the distraction of the child, who smelled of summer sweat, sunscreen and dried chlorine.  He had no idea which floor he was on or to which floor Sammy and his long suffering mother were going.

Clearing his throat, which in the quiet of the elevator reverberated off the walls like a shot, he heard Sammy go stumbling backward to fall against the softness of his mother who grunted at the impact and then quietly began to chastise her son for his insensitivity.  Dwayne interrupted the lecture to ask “Excuse me, can you tell me where you’ll be getting off please?” 

The woman hesitated for a moment in the typical flight response of a woman alone with a child and then he just as quickly palpably felt her rush of relief at the unlikelihood of Dwayne being a threat to her or Sammy’s well being.  She said in the clear throaty voice of a blues singer “We’re exiting on the seventh floor”. 

“Thank you” Dwayne said with a regal nod and another reassuring smile directed downward toward Sammy.  He was still leaning against his mother’s abdomen, evidenced by the sound of his hand wrapped around her thigh tapping out an erratic pattern indicating his nervousness.  The sudden changed sound of Sammy’s breathing signalled to Dwaye he was preparing to ask a question.  

“Saved by the bell” Dwayne thought as the elevator dinged and swished open to the sound of silence on the seventh floor.  Dwayne inclined his head toward Sammy and his nervous mother in a gentlemanly manner,  signalling for them to exit the elevator before him.  He had placed his cane across the threshold, as was his habit, to hold the door.  After his elevator mates had moved along the softly carpeted floor in the opposite direction Dwayne exited the elevator, stopped a moment to gain his bearings and moved off to the right, again counting and tapping.  He breathed a sigh of relief that the elevator had arrived before little Sammy could ask the inevitable question “What happened to you?”  Dwayne tried to be patient with childrens’ natural curiosity but it just got old after a while. 

The carpeting muffled the sound of his cane’s tapping; he had since he was a child, hated carpeted floor for that reason.  He found himself striking the floor with the rubberized tip of his cane much harder than was necessary to hear the satisfying “thwack” as he walked and counted.  Ahead a beat or two he heard the sound of a door handle turning and muffled voices on the opposite side.  The handle turned back and forth for a moment while the occupant behind the wooden door finished his or her thought and then it swung open widely with a whoosh of air and a thump against the door stopper behind it. 

“OH, I’m sorry sir I didn’t see you there” a young man’s voice exclaimed as he came bursting forth from the door.  Dwayne’s quick rejoinder “Oh wow I didn’t see you either!” elicited an appreciative chuckle from the young man who immediately offered to escort him to his destination. 

“No need” said Dwayne confidently “it’s another forty three steps ahead and turn right at the first set of glass doors”.  The young man, clearly a medical professional based upon his relaxed demeanor and kind aura gave him a cheery good morning and went on his way, in a hurry like everyone his age.

Dwayne continued his sojourn up the hallway listening for the reverberations of sound on the walls as he walked knowing that he would pass one hallway before he arrived at his destination.  Hallways were tricky, he had found, because sighted people did not pay attention at office intersections.  He could always hear the change in tone of the vibrations as he approached the hallway and would slow down and with exaggerated movements push his cane as far out in front of him as he could to indicate to any pedestrians that someone was enroute.  There was no one coming either way so Dwayne pulled back on his cane and completely his journey to the glass doors.

As he opened the doors he heard the thump and small pull of the rubber sealed doors before it opened into the lobby of his doctor’s office.  Having arrived at his destination and knowing the layout of his doctor’s waiting room as well as he knew his own living room he folded up his cane and slid it into the messenger bag strapped across his body. 

“Good morning Mr. Franklin!” Lisa’s lovely voice chirped from behind the window across the waiting room.  Dwayne responded in kind “Lisa, my favorite nurse, how are you today?”  Lisa’s sweet tinkling giggle was music to his ears as she responded in an embarrassed tone “Oh stop you say that to all the nurses!  Have a seat and Dr. Link will be with you in about five minutes.”  Lisa thoughtfully continued, “There is just you and me here today and your favorite seat is open.”

Surprised, Dwayne ran his fingers over the hands of his watch and raising his eyebrows asked “I’m half an hour early and there’s no wait?”  Lisa said “No you’re in luck today, his 9:00 cancelled so we’ll have you in and out of here in no time flat.”

Dwayne moved to the other side of the waiting room from the receptionist window and sat down on the love seat with a small table next to it.  This was where Dr. Link was kind enough to keep a few braille magazines for his only blind patient. 

Dwayne had just begun reading an article about whale watching in San Diego when Roberta, with her masculine voice and manner, creaked open the door to the inner sanctum calling out his name more loudly than was necessary.  Dwayne had realized when he had first met Roberta five years ago that everything she did was big.  Her hands were large and dry, her touch was firm and her tone of voice was strong and slightly abrasive.  She had been working for Dr. Link for a long time and had the world weary demeanor of a woman who had seen it all.  “If she’s a woman at all” Dwayne speculated as he walked along the hallway sans cane to the room where he heard his chart being hung on a hook outside on the wall.  He had always wanted to get his hands on Roberta’s face and neck to see if he could discover the truth but the opportunity had never arisen.  He had once nearly fallen as he had stumbled across a stool someone had left in the middle of the room on his way to be weighed and he had flaylingly reached out to catch himself landing in a pair of very strong arms with a soft mid-section.  No words had been exchanged but Dwayne was certain that it had been Roberta who had stopped his spill because she always had the same scent, Jovan Musk.  Even her perfume was slightly masculine but lovely on her at the same time.

Roberta gruffly grasped his wrist checking his pulse before sliding the blood pressure cuff onto his arm.  A woman of few words, she competently and confidently went about her work of checking his statistics before leaving him with a curt “Doctor will be right back” in the silence to await Dr. Link’s arrival.

Dwayne sat planning his day and listening to the sounds of greetings as Dr. Link’s staff filed in for the day’s work.  The canned music playing over the speaker system was doing a terrible rendition of “Feeling Groovy” as he sat waiting for the doctor’s arrival.  He leaned back in the chair and spread his legs in an uncharacteristically relaxed pose as he took deep breaths and enjoyed this rare moment of peace.

He lived with his sister and her husband and loved them both very much but he missed the solace of “aloneness” he’d had when he’d lived in an efficiency apartment by himself. 

Dr. Link made his appearance with his characteristic whistling, Dwayne suspected that his courteous way of letting him know who was entering the room.  “Well Dwayne what are we doing here today?”  Dr. Link asked in his broken English.  “Well, it seems I may have developed a slight ear infection from a cold I’ve been fighting for a few weeks Doc” Dwayne said as he straightened his long legs and sat up in the black plastic chair. 

“Well let’s get you up on the table and take a look, it’s no good having two unworking senses” Dr. Link said in a jovial tone following it up with a laugh like Schultz from “Hogan’s Heroes”.  He described what he was doing as he moved around the room in a ritual they had followed since five years ago when Dwayne had first entered his office.  “Okay Dwayne I’m pulling out an instrument I’m going to use to look into your ears and nose, here we go now I’m going to pull down on your earlobe and look to see what we have” he said quietly as he moved around Dwayne to the side of the table.

“Yes you’re right my young friend, you have a nice solid infection there.  I’ll get you a prescription for some antibiotics, take tylenol for the pain and it should subside in a day or so.  Take all of the antibiotic and if you’re still having trouble in a week call Roberta” Dr. Link went on as he again moved around the room putting away his instruments. 

Dwayne felt Dr. Link grip his upper arm and knew that was his signal to lower himself from the table to the floor.  He thanked the doctor, grabbed his messenger bag from the floor and moved out the door with Dr. Link’s hand still on his upper arm.  When they arrived at the exit to the waiting room Dr. Link moved his hand down and grasped Dwayne’s hand, “good to see you Dwayne, take good care and we’ll see you for your physical in the fall if not before.” as he shook Dwayne’s hand while at the same time opening the door to allow him to pass through.

Lisa called out to him as he proceeded to the window “Dwayne I charged your card on file and called in the prescription to Frank’s Pharmacy down the street for you”.  Dwayne grinned and comically did a spin toward the door with a flippant “Wow trying to give me the bum’s rush I see” to Lisa as he proceeded out the doorway.

Pausing for a moment outside the door, he again got his bearings and then pulled a small tape recorder out of his messenger bag.  He clicks the recorder seven times knowing that the directions from Dr. Link’s to Frank’s is the seventh entry.  The recorder whirs and speaks to him in his own voice “Out the front door and one hundred forty steps, turn right at the outdoor produce market and go another nineteen steps to Frank’s.  Watch the third stair going up to his door, the concrete is a bit crumbled”.

Dwayne put his tape recorder away and pulled out his cane, beginning his next journey tap tapping as he moved at a steady pace along the hallway to the elevator, counting “one, two …”

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