The girl left the house letting the door slam shut behind her. She was already smiling, knowing that her mother would shout as always: "Don't you have a doorknob?" She passed cheerfully the leash in her other hand and after a few steps she stopped by the traffic light, counting in her mind the distance to the next one.
The afternoon was sunny with a light breeze rustling among the birch leaves on the sidewalk. It would have been much easier for her to take the bus that stopped at the station in front of her house than walking more than a mile. She liked to stroll, and her dog was always going out for a walk.
Unlike other teenagers, she was listening on her headphones to classic music. She daydreamed to go for a concert at the Opera. Her thin fingers were already moving on imaginary keys of the grand piano, like playing the first part of Rêveries, from Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique Opus 14, in Liszt's piano transcription. She was walking cheerfully, matching her steps in the rhythm of her pet, like a four-legged accompaniment in allegretto espressivo. She smiled at this naughty idea. She stopped abruptly, alerted by a sudden appearance of an obstacle. She walked so many times on that street knowing it was a straight one, long and wide, with no pedestrian crossings, no coffee tables and no chairs, nothing to hinder her way.
In front of her she perceived some strange movements. She stopped, not knowing whether to keep walking or not. Her hearing, accustomed to distinctive resonances of sounds, captured some odd sounds. Gemini began to bark and jerk on the leash, wanting to rush forward. Emily barely could restrain him. It usually was calm and friendly, but now it had become an unrecognizable beast. Someone approached her, a heavy hand grabbing her wrist. She felt a vivid pain, like her bones were crushed, almost making her scream.
Breaking loose, the dog growled angrily and began to bark fiercely. Then suddenly, he got silent. The pressure on her wrist eased a little. She massaged her arm to ease the pain. The piano recital just two weeks later.
”Are you okay, my dear?” a woman's voice asked.
She regretted not bringing her cane. If she had listened to her mother, maybe all this wouldn't have happened. She worried about the dog, as she couldn't hear its breath next to her anymore.
"Gemini," she called and held out her hand.
"Dear, there's no one here," the strange voice said. ”Is there anybody you want to call?”
”No, no ... I just want...”
”Do you need any help?”
The woman was still holding her wrist. She felt a little dizzy. Leaning reluctantly on the arm that sustained her, she feel tears streaming down her cheeks. The pain flashed through her shoulders and her spine, radiating all over her body.
"I want to go home," she whispered, almost out of breath.
"Yes, darling," said the voice. ”But first we go somewhere”.
”No, no ... I ...”
"It's not up to you, my dear." The words sounded like an order.
Emily sighed, and pulled by her hand, took a few steps against her will. She didn't know why or where the unknown woman was leading her. It never crossed her mind to shout for help. As if she had lost all her strength and resistance, she followed the woman like being hypnotized. Halfway down the street, they turned right onto the alley leading to the neighborhood library. She knew that place very well, as she often borrowed books in Braille, or even piano scores.
She climbed the six steps and right before the heavy oak door closed behind them, she felt Gemini insinuating between her feet. Although her wrist still ached, she smiled. Both of them were safe now. And they were in a place she knew.
Once in the reading room, a hand pushed her shoulder gently, making her sit in a chair. The deep silence and the lack of any noise, told her that there was no one else there, except the two of them and the dog. The heavy hand finally unclenched from her wrist. She gripped her arm with the other hand, sighing in relief. The dog's breathing gave her, like always, peace and confidence. Not perceiving any movement or voices, she wondered why there weren't any other people or children who usually came in the afternoon.
"Emily," the woman said. ”Do you want to make a deal?”
The girl shrugged, not knowing what to reply. Holding a sigh, she didn't even wonder how come the women knew her name.
”What ... what deal?”
"I want you to read something for me."
”I’ll pay you. It is very important, otherwise I wouldn't ask you.”
"I know you're blind, but that's not a hindrance. Look, here.”
The dog faintly growled as the woman put her something in her palm.
"Gemini, be quiet" she whispered, feeling the puppy’s tail wagging at the sound of her voice.
Cold, foreign fingers took her hand and forced her to open what appeared to be a small and not very thick notebook, with hard covers. By the smell, it was an old book clad in moldy leather. She touched the first sheet and a shiver, like an electric shock immediately spread throughout her body. The pain in his wrist miraculously disappeared.
"Are you all right now, darling?"
Somehow the woman's voice sounded warmer. The girl nodded and began to explore the first page with her fingertip, seeking for embossed signs she could read. But the paper was smooth and flat, probably printed in normal letters, for those who can see and read. For her, it was only blank pages.
”I don't think I can ...”
”You don't have to say anything,” the stranger’s voice interrupted her, slipping something between her fingers.
”You have $20,000 in there. It’s all yours. You can do whatever you want with this money, pay for some piano lessons, go on a trip or better get an implant or something so you could see. Just don't share it with anyone. Did you get it this far?”
Emily nodded, however not entirely convinced.
"Now it's your turn," the voice continued. ”Read everything written in this notebook. If you were wondering, yes, it has black buffalo leather covers and the notes there were written by an ancestor of my great-grandmother.”
"Why don't you read? I don't want to interfere ...”
”My dear!” the woman interrupted her. ”You don't interfere in anything. I asked you for a service for which I pay you. Now it's your turn. That's all. It can't be simpler than that. It's a clean business, so to speak.”
The girl pursed her lips. How to read something she could not see, not even with her fingers? She took
a deep breath and ran her palm over the black cover, as she had noticed at first, then began to browse through the notebook. All the sheets were empty. There was nothing written, engraved or printed. How to figure it out?
Suddenly some small irregularities came under her fingers. She lightly touched that one with her fingertip, discovering the characteristic shape of the point in Braille. Unexpectedly, Gemini began to bark, the sound’s echo spreading through the entire empty building like in a deep cavern.
"Gemini, shhhh," she whispered. The dog kept barking even louder.
"Gemy, stop, don't...” She wanted want to pet him, but the animal avoided her touching.
The barking became furious. The dog threw itself on Emily, and the chair fell with both of them. Briskly, he calmed down, as if it knew it was guilty and began to lick her face.
"All right, leave it, Gemy, it’ okay … really ... Ma'am, are you helping me up?"
She got no answer. Carefully listening, excepting for the puppy's breathing, she heard nothing else. It was a strange silence, like it has never been in that library. Gemini licked her further diligently, all over her forehead, nose and face. Emily tried to push him away, wanting to get up, but the dog was resisting stubbornly. Its tongue opened an eyelid, lapping over her eyes.
”No, Gemini, no, no, no ...”
Completely overlaid, the dog continued licking her face and especially her eyes. Emily didn't have that much strength to take him off, not even to flip him aside. Holding the envelope with the twenty thousand dollars in one hand and the notebook in the other, she stood motionless, waiting for the dog’s outpourings of love to end.
She finally opened her eyes. On the sudden, she had the sensation that she could see a remote point, very veiled, like a kind of darkness diluted with millions of … iridescent blue? She had never seen any color in her entire life. She had only made analogies between colors and objects or smells. The sky was blue, the sea was blue and the forget-me-not flower was also blue, her mother told her. So a cool, distant color. How would she know that the sky and the sea and the flower were blue, when absolutely everything was a deep darkness to her?
The point grew larger, becoming a small round shape, brighter and brighter. The center took a different nuance ... could it be that red like the burning lava? How could she know what an erupting volcano looked like? The red color grew like a pupil in the blue circle of the iris, without mixing. She could clearly distinguish that red from the blue circle as a fine woven cloth of billions of visible threads.
She blinked, hoping the vision would go away. She used to dream of all sorts of images or rather sensations, but never something so unambiguously clear. And she had never dreamed or seen colors. Only disparate sounds, aromas, feelings, and every once in a while what seemed to be sparks.
The dog's snout was still sticking to her forehead, licking her eyes, which she was unable to close. The hypnotic red came off the blue iris that remained in the background, spinning slowly, then farther and farther away, becoming as dark as it had been before. Maybe darker...
She felt a tear forming at the corner of her left eye. Gemini licked it away and lay down on her, slightly wagging his tail. It put its front paws over her shoulders and its head over her chest. Emily tenderly fondled his neck, feeling its warm breath on her cheek. She closed her eyes, waited for a few moments and then opened them. The first thing she saw was the soft, fluffy, beige-brown fur. Unable to believe it, she raised abruptly with the puppy in her arms.
She looked around, astonished. The library did not look at all the way she imagined it to be. It was much more beautiful and brighter than any dream or imagination she had just by touching the books and shelves. A faint ray of light shone through the opening of the curtains, bathing everything in a magical aura like star dust. Gemini stood up as well. Emily held the twenty thousand dollars in one hand and the black leather notebook in the other. She carefully put the money close to the edge of the table. She opened the notebook with white sheets – just pages of white paper. She began to read aloud, with the dog listening intently, its ears twitching at every word. The invisible writing was there only for her eyes only and for the stranger to listen.
”In the year of grace 1682, in the forest near the village of Ipswich, my sisters gathered at midnight to dance and sing for the glory of the goddess ...”
Emily burst into tears and choked. She coughed a few times then resumed reading.
Somewhere behind the bookshelves, the mysterious woman was crying too.