The music swelled and I heard the conductor tap his baton. A tinny tape of a phone ringing played above my head. I jumped a little, and it was just enough to draw the attention of the boy sitting beside me. Jake. He put a reassuring hand on my knee and tapped it twice. I relaxed a little, settling back in my plush theatre chair as I heard pattering onstage. It grew louder and louder and then stopped. Then the phone stopped ringing.
“Hello? Hello? McKinley residence? Hello? Phil, nobody answered! Was that one of your prank calls again? I’m telling Mommy!”
Wow, she was loud. Her voice seemed to ricochet off every surface in the old theatre, bouncing around and around like an echo until it finally died out.
Suddenly, I heard the all-too-familiar noise of skin hitting skin; like the kind I hear when Jake takes me to those awful MMA fights. Yelling from onstage. The little girl.
“Mommy, Mommy! Phil hit me again!”
Her shrill voice pierced the air once more, this time inflected with a whine. I pictured her as a tiny, pale girl, with blonde curls, blue eyes, and a constant smirk. I also pictured her as a spoiled brat who always got what she wanted.
I stopped myself. That was the trouble with going to the theatre...I had to differentiate between the real and the fake. I’m sure that little girl was a perfectly fine kid in real life, but it was so hard to tell. And it was getting harder and harder.
“No, I didn’t, Mom! She just fell on my fist!”
A boy, this time. Judging from the squeak his voice made as it wavered up and down, I wagered he was right on the cusp of puberty.
Laughter from the audience. I never had trouble with laughs. I could always tell when one was forced and when one was genuine. The seats shook as if caused by a small earthquake, and I started to get a little nervous. I pinpointed the source as a man a few rows behind me bellowed with laughter. I cracked a smile, my nerves fading. His laugh was without a doubt genuine. I definitely imagined him as a big man, a little pudgy around the stomach, with tiny laugh lines surrounding the corners of his mouth. I could tell by his tone that he was older, probably in his late sixties. I’m sure he was a fun grandfather.
The woman on the opposite side of me snickered a little at the joke, but didn’t laugh like the rest of the audience. I felt her turn in her chair, probably to look at the still-chuckling man. Was she disgusted by the old man’s laughter? Ah, I could see her now. A thin, wiry woman with a pointed chin and an upturned nose, always thinking she was above everyone else. Who could be above a laugh?
The performance continued, and intermission was announced just as Phil’s sister had snuck into his room.
There was a lot of shuffling and creaking as people got up out of their seats. From the clink of change coming from people’s pockets, I assumed they were going to the concessions stand.
I could picture every single person who walked by me. I gave every one a story, a name, and a personality. Sometimes, in my mind, the people I heard out and about would happen across someone they hadn’t seen in a long time, and my list of people would just keep getting bigger and bigger.
I scooted closer to Jake.
“You enjoying the show, Jenny?” he whispered in my ear. I nodded.
“Yes, I am. It sounds amazing.”
My designated driver was Mrs. Credence. She would take me home in her SUV every day after my high school classes and make sure I got inside the house without any trouble. The bad thing was, Mrs. Credence never talked to me. I wanted to know what landmarks we were passing, and who was walking home from school, and what the weather was like. I wanted to know everything. One day, Mrs. Credence led me out to her SUV like usual, but she didn’t get in. She told me I would have a new driver and that he was very safe and reliable. My mind flashed, trying to think up a description for the new driver. I must admit, I was anxious at first. Even if I didn’t care for Mrs. Credence, at least she was a good driver.
My new driver was Jake. Most people don’t want to tell me about themselves, so I have to create a story. Jake was the opposite. He told me every single thing about himself, down to the color of his shoelaces. I never knew the names of the roads we drove on, or just how many different kinds of cars there were until I met Jake. He described everything we passed in such great detail, it was almost like I could see them. Jake even treated me like I was normal. I never had to make up a story for him or guess about his personality, because I could tell that he was a good, kind person.
Jake’s been driving for me more than six months. I think we may even be best friends.
“Jenny, there’s a kid over there. I think he’s pointing at you,” Jake said softly, putting his hand on my knee again. I was used to it by now, and I waited for the question I knew the child would ask.
“Daddy, Daddy, why is that girl’s eyes closed? What’s wrong with her?”
I heard a little boy, probably around the age of five, and pictured him tugging at his father’s pants to get his attention. Then came the shushing. The father tried to quiet him by offering him candy. I felt someone walk beside me, then stoop down and tap my leg.
“I’m really sorry about that, miss. He’s just five.”
I smiled again.
“No, it’s perfectly alright! What’s your son’s name?” I asked the father.
I felt a small burst of wind as the little boy ran right up to me. I never understood why children would run up to me like that. Did I have a friendly-looking face? A tiny hand was unexpectedly on top of mine, then the little boy climbed up in my lap. I could practically feel him smiling. I knew he was a good boy, with rosy cheeks and dimples right below his eyes. I felt warm breath on my face. It smelled like chocolate.
“George, the reason I can’t see is because I’m blind,” I said in a gentle tone, moving my hand to steady him so he wouldn’t fall off.
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“It means I can’t ever open my eyes. But it’s okay,” I said, worried I was scaring him, “It doesn’t bother me.”
He shifted around in my lap until he finally squirmed off.
“But...but...you can’t see the play! How do you know what’s happening?”
My smile stretched into a grin as I pictured the father’s red face, flushed with embarrassment.
“C’mon, Georgie, let’s go,” the father said. I heard the little boy’s protests fade into the mass of people as his father pulled him away, and I leaned back in my chair once again.
“You’re wrong, Georgie,” I said out loud.
“I can see everything.”