The girl giggles as she strokes the
fur against the nap. Her index finger traces the smooth oval
surface of the left plastic eye, then the right. "Is
it a teddy bear?"
"Yes! Happy birthday, sweety!
You can open your eyes now."
Sitting at a nearby table, Eye 650
waters a little, blinks several times, then quickly focuses
on the weathered hands now wrapping themselves round the mug
in front of him. He confers with the senses in the fingertipsthe
substance in the mug looks like coffee, which is normally
hot, but this mug's only lukewarm because it's half empty...
"...or half full," interrupts
the spinster's optimistic mind.
The French philosopher Henri Bergson
once said, "The eye sees only what the mind is willing
to comprehend." Eye 650 observes every single fact, but
if the brain chooses to discard some of them, it's as if he
never saw them in the first place.
Closing your eyes in a safe environment
should reveal a multitude of sounds, smells and textures.
But Eye 650 operates in a world where the speed of your reflexes
determines whether you win or lose, live or diehe works
with the blind.
It's been possible to see life through
someone else's eye for over a decade now, but Eye 650's relatively
new to the job, hence the magnitude of his identity number.
And, yet, he's seen enough to know that giving sight to the
blind comes at a price. While renting an eye for the day costs
a month's wages, the memories last a lifetime. Which is best:
better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at
all, or what you don't have you can't miss?
Rolling, dilating, winking; Eye 650's
conveyed every emotion known to man. He may not have smelt
muffins before they burnt in the oven, or heard a vehicle
approaching before it ran over his host, but he's held back
a soldier's tears on seeing his baby son for the first time,
and located a young artist's wedding ring in a cornfield to
escape her husband's fistif he'd discovered she'd spent
his month's wages on the chance to paint again, for just one
Eye 650's 'life' began the day he was
donated. His original owner was more skilled at drinking himself
to sleep Friday nights than 'living.' Like a dog whose owner
hadn't time to walk him, it felt like Eye 650 was watching
the world from a distance through a pane of glass.
Roland wasn't exactly dead when he
donated his eyes to the Rent-An-Eye Projecthe was predicted
to die within the week from liver cancer. Whether he did or
not, Eye 650 will never know. Somewhere there's an Eye 651,
but why dredge up the pastEye 650 strictly avoids links
to his former life, or lack of it. He was the right eye, naturally
the stronger of the two.
The elderly, well-spoken lady currently
renting Eye 650 is probably listening to these musings. There's
no privacy switch, but the chances of seeing through her eye
socket again after today are extremely slim. It's just flattering
to know his experiences intrigue her so, seeing as she's lived
three times longer than him.
Finding new life experiences comes
easy these dayshis hosts take him on all kinds of adventures
they've been planning for months. Once he's introduced himself
to a new set of senses, he just holds on and enjoys the rideyou
never know where their mind will take you. The day people
lose their freedom of thought and start reading and controlling
each others' minds, they might as well be replaced by robots.
But black days still find himthe
days when no-one wants, or can afford, to rent him. But, for
all he knows, such days don't existonce severed from
the optic nerve he's 'dead' to the world, unaware of his existence.
The only way he can measure time beyond 24 hours is by comparing
the dates on hosts' contracts, which they sign once he's been
inserted into their skull.
The lady's head starts to nod, making
Eye 650 dizzy. Joe clears his throat. Falling asleep wearing
a Rent-An-Eye defies the contract, so Rent-An-Eye carers are
permitted to give clients anything from a polite cough to
a slap on the cheek. Joe's been trained to appear 'invisible'
while shadowing their every move and inserting eye drops every
Eye 650's glance at the old woman's
gold watch reminds her she has ten minutes remaining before
the slow, agonizing walk back to the Rent-An-Eye Center. This
realization normally triggers tears, but today, surprisingly,
the duct remains dry.
"There's nothing left to seebe
at peace," orders a voice from the back of her brain,
so Eye 650 keeps his questions to himself.
He glances at the watch again. Impatience
shivers through the rest of the body, rather than the regret
he was expecting. It's best not to think what will happen
once Joe's left her blind again, alone with her thoughts.
It's as if she's resigned herself to death.
A purple sunset; a group of youths
scuffing their trainers on the curb; giggling girls with teddy
bearsjust a few sights this woman had learnt to live
without. The droplets finally burst through and form puddles
in the crevices of her face.
* * *
The light comes back on, even though
Eye 650 hadn't seen it go out. But he can tell this is a new
day, just by the different pattern of thoughts and observations
from the other sensory organs.
Joe comes into view. "If you can
just check we've got your details correct, and sign the contract,
then we'll get started."
Researching his new host is Eye 650's
favorite start to the day. A pair of hairy hands grip the
pen below him. The skin looks young, but you need to be over
21 to rent an eye. Squiggles appear on the dotted line next
to the name Fraser Cooling. Fleeting glances across the rest
of the page reveal that he's a 22-year-old orphan. Eye 650
immediately warms to him. Anyone who's lost both his parents
deserves to have a nice day.
But Fraser refuses to look in the mirror
when washing his hands in the men's room. All Eye 650 wants
to do is see his host's facethe suspense is killing
"What's so wrong with understanding
the vessel you're moving through this world?" Eye 650
asks Fraser's subconscious.
"This is no ordinary boy,"
replies the subconscious. "If you want to survive the
day, stop asking questionsI'm struggling to control
his blood pressure as it is."
Fraser leaves the men's room, scanning
the corners of the ceiling for cameras.
"How long have you been blind?"
Joe asks Fraser when they meet back at the front door of the
Fraser flashes his new eye from Joe's
face to the floor. "Three months. My nan's house burnt
down with us inside it. She's dead."
"I'm sorry to hear that, matewasn't
meaning to pry. We'll make sure today's a good day."
There's a gale outside the Rent-An-Eye
Center, so Eye 650 has to pull Fraser's lashes up and down
as frequently as he can to keep out dust, but without impairing
his visioncrashing the boy into a lamppost during his
first few steps back into the visual world could mean death
to Eye 650. Eyes with 'imperfect' vision go to heaven down
the garbage chute, and even a sailor's gold earring wouldn't
"Where to, first?" Joe asks,
trying to match the boy's lengthy stride.
"I've never seen Nana's grave,
so I need some flowers."
"That's a nice idea."
They're approaching the street market;
the favorite starting point for anyone who hasn't seen such
an abundance of materialism in a while. But passers-by don't
normally stare at his hosts so much. Their glances make Eye
650 feel like he's being captured by personal, judgmental
CCTV cameras, recorded to fester in strangers' minds forever,
influencing their future thoughts and actions.
Eye 650 spots the bright colors of
the flower stall ahead, in answer to the overexcited nasal
signals. He still struggles to keep up with senses that work
in overdrive to compensate for lack of sight.
But Eye 650 wishes he could dissuade
Fraser from purchasing the bunch of black roses currently
in his grasp: they might symbolize sorrow, but they can also
symbolize hatred. How does the poor boy survive on his own
in this confusing world?
* * *
"How much would it cost to keep
this eye permanently?" Fraser asks Joe when they're sitting
on the bus.
Joe shifts around in his seat to get
a better view of the boy. He puts on his serious, but sympathetic,
facereading expressions is part of Eye 650's job description.
"Unfortunately, Rent-An-Eyes are
in such short supply and high demand that keeping them permanently
probably won't be an option for another five years, minimum,"
Fraser chews his hangnail and a surprising
spurt of heartfelt philosophy leaves the mouth below Eye 650:
"Can you imagine how it feels to be shut out of the world?
I spent my youth collating a visual memory bank that's useless
now. After 22 years of living, I'm having to learn how to
'see' the world in a totally new way. If you're worried
there aren't enough hours in the day, think of me taking half
an hour to aim toothpaste onto my brush."
"A previous client found it best
to squirt the paste straight into her mouth," Joe suggests,
Fraser grins, but thumps the thigh
nearest the window, out of sight for Joe.
"I know this probably doesn't
make you feel any better," Joe breaks the silence, "but
there are some things I wish I'd never seen, like my girlfriend
kissing another man, or children bleeding after a bomb explosion.
Visions like that haunt my dreams."
"Really?" Fraser muses. "If
you'd seen what I've seen you'd stop caring about other people
* * *
But the boy soon proves he has feelings.
"I can't do it," he says, thrusting the roses at
This isn't in Joe's contract, but he
once ran all the way back to a woman's flat to fetch her life-savings
from under the mattressnow that took trust from both
So what's the harm in putting some
roses on an old lady's grave? Joe bends down to direct the
flowers into the holes of silver holder, one stem at a time.
Fraser's tears are gushing, but Eye
650 can't clarify their meaning. Why should his nan's grave
make his entire body shake while the phrase "I can't
do it" repeats itself a hundred times per second inside
"You were warned to stop asking
questions," comes a message from the subconscious, which
Fraser can't hear in his immediate thinking.
But, in that split second, when the
subconscious ceased its "can't do it" signals to
deliver its warning to Eye 650, evil desires broke free from
"You distracted me," the
subconscious laments. "Now look what you've done."
Eye 650 can't tell if the gun leaving
Fraser's pocket is loaded, but it's definitely not made of
plastic. It's the ears' job to hear the click and bang, the
nostrils' to smell the smoke, but Eye 650 can almost feel
Joe's pain as the bullet penetrates his organs. His head catches
the corner of the headstone before the rest of the body falls
face-down into the weeds. He doesn't get up. A disturbed dandelion
clock loses grip of its seeds, crying farewell into the humid
breeze. Spread the word: Joe's dead.
The back of Joe's rib cage has stopped
moving, but Fraser isn't satisfiedhe moves Eye 650 closer.
He pushes the body over with his foot to reveal a blistered
face. His skin cells must have reacted to the stinging nettles
with the last few drops of blood circulating through his veins.
Eye 650 has the capacity to recognize 10 million different
colors, but he can't stop watching the red circle expanding
across Joe's white shirt.
Fraser can't stop trembling.
* * *
Joe was right about haunting visions.
Eye 650 hasn't seen dreams since he was donated to the Rent-An-Eye
project, as he is returned to unconsciousness every night,
but he can't stop visualizing the clump of hairs glued to
edge of the headstone with Joe's blood.
Fraser's back on the bus, thumping
his thigh again. Passing fields, passing streams, passing
hairs fluttering in the breeze, passing houses, passing schools.
Fraser turns Eye 650 away from people when they passa
natural reaction to the empty cavity in his heart where trust
used to reside.
"They don't need us, so we don't
need them," the subconscious tells Eye 650. "Now
you're here, we can function perfectly well on our own without
other humans meddling in our plans."
Eye 650 wants to signal for help using
Morse code winkingscared eyes attract more attention
than a smile. You'd think fellow passengers would notice a
one-eyed boy and start wondering where his carer was. But
the rest of society's too polite or scared to intervene. They've
trained their own eyes to ignore anything unusual so they're
not accused of staring.
Fraser forgot to bring the eye-care
kit from Joe's bag. Fraser swears under his breath. He screws
up his eyelid and pushes fingers into Eye 650's tear film
from every angle. As if verbal and physical abuse are going
to provide any moisture.
* * *
Fraser jumps off the bus and kicks
his way through some stubbly fields for half an hour until
he reaches a dense wood. His nose says it's going to rain,
but Eye 650 can't see through the thick canopy of trees to
the sky. The ears can hear the leaves rustling like a thousand
paper bags, but the branches and trunks are just blurry shadows
in Eye 650's vision. He's dying, but Fraser doesn't care,
pushing onwards through the gloom like a dog summoned by a
Lies must far outnumber truths in this
world, as each fact can be matched by an infinite number of
falsities, but Eye 650 thinks he's discovered a fact: Fraser
is an evil person.
This weighs up, in terms of the greater
good or evil. Fraser killed Joe to keep Eye 650 forever. Even
though the 22-year-old has more years ahead of him than the
middle-aged carer did before his death, Fraser doesn't have
to be able to see to contribute to society.
The fact that Eye 650 is now going
to shrivel up and die is just the cherry on top of a pile
of ashes that should have been a Victoria sponge cake. It
should have been a memorable day out for the young man, and
a chance to prepare for a life of Braille and blind dogs.
Being stuck behind bars, or roaming the world with a guilty
conscience, isn't Eye 650's idea of freedom.
The farmhouse Eye 650 has been told
to search for comes into view. Fraser steps behind a bush,
but allows Eye 650 to peer round the greenery to look out
for other humans. Not for long, however, as the boy's suddenly
striding to the front door. A long wait after knocking causes
the handle to move, and the door to open a fraction to reveal
a pair of brown eyes squinting over a Roman nose. The man's
jaw drops as realization spreads across his wrinkled brow.
"Fraser!" he cries, shutting
the door quickly to undo the chain, then swinging it open
again to display the full length of his middle-aged body.
Eye 650 can tell he's trying not to stare at Fraser's cheeks.
"Hi Alan," Fraser says, stony-faced.
"I assume you're AlanI saw your photo in the paper."
The man nods. "I just can't believe
you've come all the way out here to see me. I thought you
were dead when I dragged you from that fireI thought
I'd risked my life for nothingbut when they phoned and
told me you'd survived, I hoped we'd meet again someday."
"Well, here I am. Can I come in?"
"Sure!" Alan flattens against
the wall to let Fraser past. "Go on through, but excuse
the messI don't normally have visitors, so don't bother
much with housework."
Fraser perches on the edge of the nearest
armchair. Eye 650's rapidly fading sight is making him dizzy,
but any receptivity to light is a bonus for a boy who's lived
in darkness for three months.
Alan sits in the opposite armchair.
"It's amazing they managed to save one of your eyes.
"It's a transplant," Fraser
"Amazing!" Alan muses. "I've
heard such a miracle was possible, but never met anyone who's
had it done. Were your eyes blue originally? It suits you."
Eye 650 stares out the window at the
tree trunks melting into the soil like chocolate.
Alan fiddles with a scrap of fabric
hanging from the worn armrest. "So, what are you up to
these days?" he asks.
"I'm working in a bank,"
Fraser lies. "Sorry I haven't visited you sooner after
the fire. I knew I should be thanking you
"Don't mention it," Alan
says, standing to take a dirty plate and cutlery into the
kitchen. "Do you want some coffee?"
but I can't
"That's fineI've got cola,
I can't thank someone for
ruining my life."
Alan stops in his tracks.
Fraser stands up too. "Or, should
I say, death. Thanks for ruining my death."
"What do you mean?" Alan
"I didn't need a Good Samaritan."
"But you would have burnt to
"Exactly, that was the plan."
"I don't understand."
"You don't understand?" Laughter
erupts from Fraser's mouth like hornets from a nest. "We
promised we'd die together when Nana's cancer got too much,
and she was really low that day, so low it made me feel like
I didn't want to live anymore, so I knew it was time. We were
on our way to a better world when you showed up."
"Bullets would have been quicker,"
"No-one ever drove past our cottage,
it was so out of the way. The chances of you passing on that
particular day, at that moment of timeI knew God was
punishing me. He made me survive, burnt and blind, in more
misery than I was before."
"But you got a transplant!"
Alan protests naïvely.
The boy seems not to hear. "If
I don't kill you now, you'll only come and stop me half-way
through again, and I'll be living in even more misery."
"Being blind doesn't stop you
making a difference to the world," Alan mumbles, still
failing to grasp the danger of the situation. "John Milton
was blind when he wrote Paradise Lost. It gives you
a unique way of observing the world around you. Maybe God
wanted you to survive for a purpose."
"Maybe he wanted me to come and
kill you," says Fraser, chuckling as pulls out a bag
of bullets. "Still think these are quicker? Fire, firingall
mean the same to me, death and peace."
Eye 650 spots the glint of the knife
before it travels into Fraser's chest, complete with chip
fat from Alan's lunch. The eye watches blood dripping into
Fraser's hands as he falls to his knees.
"Look what you made me do!"
Alan gurgles through fearful tears. He starts tearing at his
thumb nail in search of justification. "I've nothing
more to live for than you, but I started again. You didn't
need to stop your heart to be free from social expectationsyou
could have just thrown everything away and followed your innermost
desires. But look what you made me do
at least one of
The eyelid closes over Eye 650. His
days of darkness are here to staynot that he knows it.