The three-story apartment sat on the corner of Washington Way and Brook Street. The third floor apartment of 34D was directly above Mrs. Molly’s Laundry Haven, a name that often got a lot of first-time customers coming in, but few ever coming back. Because of the placement of 34D, all four rooms would fill with the various scents of different laundry detergents throughout the day.
Lily, although only a tenant for two months, was still not used to all the new changes that had happened over the course of the past year. Her great health had always been a sure thing in her life. Now, at the age of 22, she had seen more boring, off-white doctors’ offices with tacky parchment paper-covered chairs than she had ever witnessed before. Her mother was always right next to her, switching between complaining about the coldness of the room to crying desperate tears of worry for her daughter. But the tears didn’t make much of a difference; Lily was going blind.
In a sick way, Lily found humor in it. Back when her eyesight was nearly perfect, which was only a few months before she moved in to 34D, she had spent hours binge-watching the show about Marvel superhero Daredevil on Netflix.
Matt Murdock – Daredevil’s actual name – had a strange disability where he was blind, but the heat radiating off of people and objects around him made him able to “see” things completely engulfed in flames. While the things she could somewhat define with her deteriorating eyesight were not on fire, the general loss of sight she was going through was similar to his.
Lily couldn’t see the color of someone’s eyes or the time that was on the clock, but she could always tell when her friend Samantha was going on a date by smelling the heavier amounts of perfume she wore and seeing very faint outlines of her hair down, which she only did when she wanted to look especially nice.
Lily was getting the hang of doing certain things on her own at home. She could wash her own dishes, brush her own teeth, and make her bed nearly without a hitch. Going blind was the ultimate test of self-sufficiency, she had come to realize.
Apart from the one time she had put too much food in the garbage disposal and it broke, she hadn’t needed anyone. After everything that had happened, and everyone who had decided to stick by her, she hadn’t felt the urge to get any help.
Today was no different. The lack of warmth on her face after sitting in front of her window told her it was cloudy out, and the vague smell of moisture in the air said that rain was or would be on its way. She grabbed her old CD Walkman and popped in a “Learn to Speak Spanish” disk she had bought ages ago to download onto her iPod. The iPod was at the Apple store getting repaired, after getting thrown at the wall. It had been a rough few months, and Lily was glad it was able to be fixed at all. But until then, she was going old school. Settling into her couch that still smelled like the Goodwill she had picked it up from, she grabbed a blanket and listened to the voice of the woman on the CD who introduced herself as Joseline from Puerto Rico.
Joseline said they would be covering the basic conjugations of ser and the differences between formal and informal language.
“Alright, let’s do this Joseline. You and me, girlfriend,” Lily said, trying to psych herself up.
It had barely been ten minutes since Joseline introduced herself when Lily heard a loud knock at her front door. Embarrassed, thinking whoever it was must have been knocking for a while, she immediately began to stand up.
“Lilian Marie, answer this door!” Lily froze, knowing the shrillness of that tone could only belong to her mother. She tried to sneak back to the couch. Sometimes if she pretended to be asleep, her mother would leave her be. She almost got all the way to the edge of the sofa without making a sound, but on her last step she put her weight on one of the creakier boards of the floor, its noise sounding more like a rumbling stomach than a piece of wood.
“I heard that. Open up, missy. We don’t have all day to sit here,” her mother called, tapping the door with what sounded like the point of her shoe.
“We?” Lily asked, breaking her silence. “Who else is there?”
“Open the door and you’ll se- you’ll find out.”
“Good catch, there,” Lily sighed, chuckling at the almost blind-person joke as she came to the door and felt around for the locks.
“Oh hush, you,” her mother admonished, letting out an amused breath.
After undoing the chain and opening the door, there were many different things Lily sensed at once. The blurry look of her mother’s usually curly hair now pulled back into what must have been a ponytail or bun. The hazy fluorescents in the hallway were flickering again and the carpets smelled muddier than usual. Swishing sounds of thin fabric clashing with clinking metal meant her mother was shaking her umbrella. But what was even stranger was the heavy, rapid panting that seemed to be coming from something sitting at knee-level. There were muffled footsteps following her mother’s footsteps.
“Who’s with you, Mom?” Lily asked.
“Not who, what,” she answered, setting the umbrella against the wall and walking into the kitchen. “Can we have some tea? I just picked some up from T.J.’s, and some tomatoes. George and I are having some of his writer friends over for a meet-and-greet to discuss his new book and I need to make bruschetta.”
“One, you hate his friends, and two, what did you bring here? And what’s that smell? Did you step out of a dog groomer’s bathtub?” Lily could already feel the weight of the soppy smell of wet dog soaking into the air and sticking into the fibers of her couch.
“This is…well, he doesn’t have a name yet. That’s for you to decide. He’s your new therapy/seeing-eye dog,” she said cheerily.
Lily could feel her mouth drop to the floor, probably in a puddle of drool that was already collecting at her feet. She could now put all the clues together. Paws walking across the floor, wet-dog smell, hot breath leaving condensation on her legs.
“Mom…you can’t just bring me a seeing-eye dog. I need like therapy sessions and appointments, and I need to form a bond, or something, with it. Him, I guess. How the hell did you pull this off?”
“Well you know my friend Ralphio,” she started.
“Which one?” she asked, still perplexed that her mother knew two Ralphios.
“The gay one.”
“Mom! Offensive,” she admonished.
“Oh hush, you know I’m bad with last names. Anyway,” she continued, ignoring Lily’s annoyed groans, “that Ralphio volunteers at the hospital on the weekends and he’s been talking you up at the physical therapy ward, and his friend Calvin – who is dating someone who works with seeing-eye dogs in Wellsboro – said he could loan you one to see if you’d like to get one of your own. He and Ralphio brought this big guy over this afternoon, and I thought I’d drop him off before the craziness ensues at home.”
“What are you thinking?! I can’t just have a dog. I don’t know what to do with it! Plus I’m not completely blind yet, and Dr. Phillips said it might take another few years before I totally go blind. And maybe by then it’ll be gone.”
“Sweetie, I know you think your vision might come back, but it won’t. And I want you to be prepared for anything. I don’t want you to suffer any more than you already have,” her mother whimpered, her voice compromised by oncoming tears. “Oh jeez, come on Mom,” Lily said soothingly, taking her mother in her arms and trying to find a good angle to hug her. “I’m fine, you’ve seen it. I’ve been fine on my own so far.”
“Physically, but what about emotionally?” she sniffled. Lily was about to rebut her mother, but out of the corner of the room she heard a mocking laugh, too familiar that her fists immediately balled up and she could feel anger rise into her cheeks, making them hot. The laughter stopped, after whispering a harsh “Too much.” Thankfully, it didn’t last long and she shook herself out of it before her mother took notice.
“Mom! It hasn’t been that bad!” Lily wanted to be mad and refuse the dog, but she admitted to herself that maybe it’d be a bit better to have another known presence in the apartment, other than the occasional mouse cleaning up any Pop-Tart crumbs she dropped. “Alright, alright. I guess I could try him out. It is a he, right?”
She sensed her mother bending down to check out the dog’s bottom regions.
“Definitely a him,” her mother said, the sadness in her voice already gone, replaced with the bubbly attitude she usually pulled out before playing hostess. “Are you sure you’re alright taking him? I could always just have Calvin come back all the way across town to get him. On a Saturday. And it’s nearly five o’clock now, so traffic’s going to be hel-”
“Yes, yes, it’s fine. Just go. Go June Cleaver it up. Tell my stepdad I said hi,” Lily said, brushing off her mother’s attempts to guilt trip.
“I prefer Martha Stewart, actually. And I will,” she said, kissing her once on each cheek and handing her a thick leash, rushing back to the door. The hissing from the tea kettle on the stove broke through the noise of her mother running around.
“Oh shoot, I forgot about the tea. Don’t worry about me, and you can pour it out if you’d like. Love you, bye hun.” And like that, she was out the door, leaving Lily with a dog.
Lily froze again, watching her mother rushing away from her front door as she stood holding the dog’s leash limply in her hand.