211. Glass Eye

“She ate ant paste.”
Louise chewed on her pencil,
A fat yellow stub, loaned her
By James. Reading,
He looked up.
Riah, on her knees,
Scrubbed at the floor.
“She what?”
“Yep. That was my great-aunt”–
Louise laughed.
“‘Aunt’: fits then, hey?
Well, she was sad.
Just born that way.”
Louise marked down some numbers,
Careful, heavy strokes: her monthly
Make-up order. “Riah,
Think folks here will buy
A Deep Mauve lipstick?
Twenty-odd, I mean.”
“No.” Louise sighed:
Then she started, rueful,
To erase.

“Yep.
Did herself in.
You know, don’t you, Riah,
What that stuff can do
To bugs–
They totter, sort of,
Like their guts was sore….
Then their feelers
Get all jiggered”–
Demonstrating with her fingers,
As James nodded–
“Sticking off their tiny heads
All helter-skelter, not
No matched pair no more.
Then their little legs
Fold like accordions….”
“Okay, Louise! Enough!”
“It’s just the truth.”
“A long truth, then.”
“But Ma, she’s
Right about the ants.”

“Riah, if you ask me,
My relations have more class
Than that mother of Jeanette’s–
Her that drank the Lysol.
Ugh!” Louise, disdainful: “Death
By common household cleanser.”
“Louise, if you can’t–”
“Well, well! Come to think….
Was her sister–sister
Of the ant-paste eater,
Came to mind the other day.
It was her–
The sister–who lived
Back in Mississippi, bought
A house and land, and
Manufactured eyes.
I think in Tupelo.
I visited one spring, that’s
What I thought of. Lord,
Talk about it’s humid!
It was–”
“What?”
Louise: “Huh?”
From the linoleum:
“She manufactured
What?” James, not
Allowed to interrupt,
Squirmed with relief.

“Eyes.
You know. It’s
Not as easy as it looks,”
Louise said, gravely,
Going back to writing numbers
On her sheet. “No,”
Said Riah, on her heels,
“I don’t know.”
“Sure!
She made glass eyes,
Out in her back yard.
In a shed.”
“For who?”
Louise, skimming through
A perfume pamphlet.
“Oh–for soldiers mostly,
Who was come back from the war.
And sometimes for kids,
Been shot with BB’s. Let that
Be a lesson to you!”:
Aimed at James.

“How’d she do it?”
Riah was still doubtful.
“By mouth,” Louise replied,
Studying the color charts
For lips and lids.
“You didn’t think
Them eyes was solid, did you?
Naw. Too heavy.
Have to be blowed hollow,
Through and through.
She had this brick oven,
Auntie Cal. She’d take
A mess of molten glass
And stretch it–quick!–
To make a tube, and then
She’d cut the tube in pieces–
Take one–
Then the fire again–and
There’d be this gob of glass
Red, at the end,
Stuck like a marshmallow
In flames–
It was the eye.”

“Then she’d paint it
Brown, or blue,” James
Volunteered. Louise
Sneered: “Oh sure.
That’s what some do.
I guess you can imagine
Just how stupid that would look–
How lifelike–a big
Painted eye? My God.”
James blushed.
“No sir, no! Not her.
She did it all with glass. With
Colored glass. Because she
Had–million compartments 
In this special china dish–
These little chips.”

“How did she know which color,”
Riah asked, “to match the eyes?”
“Ah!
There’s the trick!”
Louise raised up her pencil.
“They’d come to her, you see.
These lame kids, busted
In the war. She would
Stand before them–
Right in front, her nose,
Their nose, toe to toe”–
She swung to James–
“And take their face
In both her hands”–
She took his face,
His brown eyes, wide.

“Then she would
Look at them–that’s all.
Did that for a long time.”
James held still.
“Then she asked the person
Just one question.
That was all.”
Louise bent down, recalling:
“I can see her hands now,
Burnt, red patches
And white seams, and
Ugly, they was,
From the fire.
Holding to their face,
She’d ask:
‘What’s your eye like?’

“Some’d say, blue like
The ocean, like a marble, like
The sky. Or brown like
Mud.” James scowled.
“So she’d go over to the chips,
And just so, scoop up five, six
Shades of blue, then mix–
Take that white eyeball,
Colors, and the fire,
And whoof!
Before you knew it:
There’s the eye.
Smooth as you please,
So it won’t rub no sores–
Tender there–done so
A stranger, one who’d never
Been to war, wouldn’t know,
And wouldn’t ever stare.
And when they left for home,
Why, they could shop,
Or stroll outside,
Or go to pictures,
Just like normal folks would go,
In peace.
An eye exactly
Like the one God gave them.
‘Cept, of course,” she dabbed
Her pencil with her tongue,
“It couldn’t see.”

Wait till I tell Barker,
Thought James,
Who could hardly breathe.
Who’d believe it?
Too good to be true–
He’d found out
The secret of glass eyes.
Writing down her name
With earnest effort, curve
By curve, Louise
Sealed her order shut.
Afterthought:
“Guess it runs in the family,”
She remarked.
“How’s that?” Riah paused
With her stiff brush: miraculous,
The floor was done.
“Why, that line of work”–
Louise, surprised:
“Don’t you get it?”
She held up a booklet,
Titled, Lovely Eyes.
“Her profession:
My aunt did glass
Eyes. Me, I do
Mascara, lashes, shadow.
She does eyes.
I do Lovely Eyes.”
“Not the same, Louise.
Not at all.”
“Yes, it is.”
“No. It is not.”
Riah was firm this time.

Peeved, Louise turned,
Leaned in close to James,
And grabbed him madly:
“Hey, I’ll ‘fess up! Look!”–
His eyes, glued to hers–
She poked his chest–
“Quick! Tell your mama
Which of mine is glass!”

James paled.
She let go in triumph:
“Just a joke.”

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