Past and Present
By Trish Hubschman
August 8th, 1849
Headaches, dizziness, fuzzy vision, what was going on with me? Dr. Morris said it was eye strain and that I should cut back, but on what? I admit, I do read a lot, for enjoyment and for my profession. I’m a teacher. I had a wonderful mystery novel open on the desk in front of me. My neck was sore from craning it close to the book. My eyes were squinted and sore from trying to read print on a page that was becoming increasingly difficult to see. I had the oil lamp so close to my head I could feel the heat of it singeing my hair. I was very deep in concentration. I didn’t hear Mama call for me.
“Margaret, for the third time, supper is on the table and getting cold. If you don’t come down here now, we’re going to start without you.”
My head popped up. The room was spinning, but, at this point, I didn’t have the luxury of waiting for it to stop and my eyes to focus. I was late for dinner and the whole family was probably angry at me because of it.
“Coming, Mama,” I called back, jumping to my feet. For a second, I gripped the back of the chair. “Coming, Mama,” I called again, taking a quick intake of breath to steady myself. Lifting the front of my long skirt, I dodged from my bedroom, down the hall and toward the staircase leading to the first floor. I was halfway down it when something happened. Maybe I lost my footing, tripped on my skirt, got dizzy or just couldn’t see where I was going. I pitched forward. I remember screaming, then being in the air. The floor at the bottom seemed to come up fast. My face hit it with such force it felt like it cracked. Severe pain shot through me. Before the world went dark, I had the oddest thought, what about supper? I was really putting everyone behind schedule.
When I woke up, I was in my bed. Dr. Morris stood on one side of it. Mama and Betty, the housemaid, stood on the other side. It wasn’t that I could see them. I couldn’t turn my head. But I could hear their voices.
“You’re one very lucky young lady,” Dr. Morris said.
I glared at him. Was he crazy? I’ve never been in such pain in my life. It felt like I was broken into pieces. My nose was useless. The most I could do was squint my eyes suspiciously at him.
“Is she going to be all right, Doctor?” Mama asked.
He was looking down at me. His lips were pressed together. “For the most part, she’ll heal. Broken bones do,” he said. He was talking to Mama. To me, he explained. “You have a broken nose, your cheekbone too.” He pointed to both parts on his own face. “You’ve got two black eyes and, my guess is, since you’re not speaking, you dislocated your jaw,” He pointed out. “What worries me is that your eyes are bloodshot. There could be bleeding behind them, but there’s no way to know for sure.”
Dr. Morris was right. Over the coming weeks, my injuries were healing, though very slowly, or so it seemed. Two weeks after my fall, I was able to get out of bed. A week after that I returned to my job. I’m sure the children were horrified to see my swollen face with its purple bruises, but I figured if I had to, I’d incorporate the explanation into one of the day’s lessons. I had to resume my life.
Something else wasn’t right. My vision was getting worse. The world around me was getting darker and closing in. I told Dr. Morris about this on two occasions. Both times he gave me the disdainful frown and shook his head. The second time he placed his hand on my shoulder.
“I think it best if we prepare for what might be the inevitable.” His tone was gentle but stern.
I knew what he meant, that I may be going blind, but what would that mean regarding my life? I was twenty-five and engaged to Robert Freedmont. Since my accident, Robert had been visiting the house less often. If I completely lost my sight and my whole life changed, what would that mean for me and Robert?
Mama asked the doctor if my vision loss was temporary or permanent. Dr. Morris couldn’t say for sure. “All we can do is hope and pray and wait,” he said. “Margaret, here, is very strong and I have no doubt that she can handle whatever comes her way.”.
“Want to tell me what’s going on with you, Margaret, and don’t tell me nothing is up. I’ve been watching. I can see it. Something’s up,” my brother, Philip, asked. He leaned against the porch rail; his arms crossed over his chest. I sat on the swing; my hands folded in my lap. “You’ve been moving around so slowly, like you’re not sure where you’re going.” He waved his hand. “You keep your hand on the wall or a chair, and I heard a few days ago you got lost walking into town to the schoolhouse,” he practically shouted. “You’ve been doing that since you were a kid. How could that possibly have happened?”
I bit my lip. That incident had been embarrassing. I blinked my eyes a few times. “It’s my eyes, Philip,” I finally replied, doing my best to keep my voice steady. “They’re getting worse.”
Philip sighed and seemed to shrink back. “Oh, Margaret, look, are you sure? Do Ma and Pa now? What does Doc Morris say? He’s got to have some answers. He’s been treating you since you were a kid.”
I shook my head. “This has nothing to do with the headaches and eyestrain.” I
gestured to my face. “Dr. Morris feels this has to do with the fall I took down the stairs
two months ago.”
Philip sniffed. “You did take a nasty plunge. You looked like a horror story, Margaret,” he said. “What is Doc going to do about it? What did he say?”
I shrugged. “He said we should accept the inevitable, Philip.”
He sucked in air. “Are you okay with that?” he said.
I was tempted to laugh. “I don’t want to be blind, Philip, but if that’s what it is…” I shrugged. “I don’t have much of a choice. I want to get on with my life, I have to, and I have a plan on how to do that,”
Philip resumed his original stance, crossing his arms tightly over his chest. “I’m listening.”
Okay, I thought, here goes. Philip was the first person I was presenting the idea too. I took a deep breath and blurted it out. “I want to go to the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston.”
Suddenly, he stood bolt upright, his arms dropped to his sides with a slap. “Isn’t that a bit extreme, Margaret?”
I shook my head. “I think it’s the perfect solution, Philip. I can learn to live my life fully again, as a sightless person,” I said. “Since the Perkins School opened its doors twenty years ago, in 1829, they’ve had success stories. If I can become proficient in Braille, I could continue to do the things I love so much, read, write and possibly teach again.” My voice grew softer. “Please say you’re with me on this, Philip? I need your support.”
He raised his hand to his chin and scratched it. “What about Robert? What is he going to think of all this, you’re going off far away for an indefinite amount of time?”
I snorted. “In case you haven’t noticed, Robert hasn’t made his appearance around here in quite a bit.”
That one got a boisterous chuckle from Philip. “Indeed, I have. Thought maybe you and he had a lover’s quarrel.”
I smiled sweetly and shook my head. I hadn’t seen Robert long enough any time since my accident to quarrel with. “Honestly, Philip, I don’t know what’s going on with Robert but, at the moment, I do have much more important fish to fry, you might say.”
Philip nodded. Pushing away from the rail, he crossed to where I sat. “Have you spoken to Ma and Pa about this?”
I shook my head. “Not yet,” I replied, licking my lips. “Mama, I think, is in denial, or trying to be. Papa, I’m sure would be more open-minded.”
Philip held out his hand to me. “Then I think it best we get right on discussing this with the parents.”
My eyes widened. “Are you with me on this, Philip?” I asked.
“I don’t want to have to be, Margaret, if you know what I mean, but I guess I am.”
A huge smile drew to my face. Reaching up, I took his hand and rose from the swing. I looped my hand in his elbow and we walked to the front door together.
I’d been at the Perkins school four months. One beautiful afternoon as I sat on a bench in the courtyard, my personal instructor, Samantha, trotted up to me. She was breathless and excited.
“You received a letter from your brother today, Margaret,” she said. “I just stopped at the office and picked up the posts.”
I hadn’t heard from Philip since Papa brought me to the school. “Will you read it to me, Samantha?” I asked. She was also my friend.
She sat down on the bench. “I’d be honored but it may be personal. Are you sure you want me privy to the family secrets?” she teased. I giggled and nodded. Samantha tore the flap open, pulled out the single sheet, unfolded it and glanced at it. “Oh dear,” she said. “This may be upsetting.”
My insides tightened. “Please go on.”
She cleared her throat. “My dearest, Margaret,” the letter began. “There is no good way to say this, so I’ll just come right out and do so. A fortnight ago, we received an engagement announcement that read – Mr. Robert Freedmont to wed Miss Josephine Brooks. I was flabbergasted! Ma hasn’t stopped weeping and Pa is raging. I knew you and Robert were having problems, but I never dreamed it was this bad. Just give me the word and I will go and punch Robert’s nose off.” Samantha lowered the letter. “Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry,” she said, reaching out and touching my forearm.
“I can’t really say I’m surprised,” I said. “Please write to Philip, ask him to leave my former fiancé’s face intact.” With that, I rose and walked toward the dormitory, went inside, entered my own room and closed the door behind me. I lay down on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. I didn’t cry. I was depressed though. I think I deserved more after mine and Robert’s courtship and engagement than the way he handled this.
I closed my eyes and unexpectedly, drifted off to sleep.
I was awakened by rapping at my door. I sat bolt upright in bed.
“Margaret, are you in there? Is everything okay?” called an unfamiliar female voice.
“Yes, I’m in here. Everything’s fine. I just dozed off. Is anything wrong?” I called back. I pulled aside the bed sheet.
“Mr. Nelson wants to see you in his office. I’ll take you down there,” she said.
I narrowed my eyes. Who was Mr. Nelson? Well, perhaps I hadn’t made his acquaintance yet.
“Margaret?” the woman called again. She sounded somewhat impatient.
“Yes, of course, just a second,” I fired back, tossing my legs over the side of the bed. Preparing to rise, I slapped my hands on my knees and stopped again. Something was different. Slowly, I slid my hands up and down on my thighs. Where was my long dress? Had somebody entered my room when I was napping and changed my clothing to play a trick on me? I was presently wearing a two-legged garment, such that Philip and Papa wore, trousers. I frowned. Well, I didn’t have time to figure his out. I got to my feet. “Forgive me for taking so long,” I said as I swung the door open.
“No problem. It happens to all of us now and then.”
I smiled. We were walking down the hall. I held her forearm. “I can’t seem to place Mr. Nelson. I’ve only been here four months. Have he and I met?”
She chuckled. “You’re right, Margaret, you must still be in sleep mode,” she teased. I stiffened. “Mr. Nelson said hello to us yesterday when you and I were having a lesson. Maybe you just forgot his name.”
I nodded. “Where’s Samantha?” I practically demanded.
“I don’t think we have anyone named Samantha on staff,” she said.
We went into Mr. Nelson’s office. He was one of the directors and very involved with the students. "Thank you for coming down Margaret. I have a small matter I want to discuss witgh you. It won’t take long. I’ve been looking over your file. I don’t see any notation of your having a vision evaluation."
I shook my head. “Dr. Morris sent the reports of his findings with the school’s application.”
He nodded. “Yes, yes, I see that. He mentions your earlier eye disorder and your fall down the stairs, which resulted in your blindness. I’m not questioning that, please understand,” he said. “It’s just our policy to do an on-site eye exam.”
I nodded. “That would be fine,” I conceded.” But how or by who?”
“Ah yes,” Mr. Nelson said. “That’s why I brought this gentleman in. Dr. Drake Andrews this is Margaret.” Then to me, he said. “Dr. Andrews is a neuro-ophthalmologist.”
My eyes widened. I never heard that word before. “Pleased to meet you, Dr. Andrews,” I said, holding out my hand. He took it.
“Fine, fine,” Mr. Nelson said. “Now you and Drake go along. Emma and I will wait here.”
Dr. Andrews peered into my eyes through on odd-looking machine that I placed my chin on. He shined a bright light in my eyes. I saw it. When he was done, Dr. Andrews moved the machine away and flipped on the overhead light. “On the tests alone that I’ve done, I can take a pretty good guess at what’s going on in there,” he said. “First, you were born with astigmatism.”
I shot him a one-eyed look. That was another word I’d never heard before.
What does that mean if I can ask?”
Dr. Andrews smiled. “To put it simply, your cornea isn’t proportioned right,” he explained. I wrinkled my nose. I still didn’t understand. “But don’t worry, that’s easy enough to correct with laser surgery.”
My eyes widened. “Are you saying I’ll be able to see again?”
He chuckled. “Not because of the 1astigmatism correction,” he said.
“The course of your blindness may be correctable. Dr. Morris was on- target about the fall down the stairs and bleeding behind your eyes. I see scar tissue in there. This can be removed through laser surgery.”
I was hopping in the chair. “I don’t know what to say. When do we get started?”
He chuckled. “Slow down, Margaret. I’d like to do some other tests, such as a CT scan. I nodded. “And I’d like to talk to your primary physician, and I think you should discuss this with your family as well.”
I agreed with him, but I had a feeling that was impossible.
JUST PUBLISHED: the prequel to the Tracy Gayle mystery series
by Trish Hubschman
Available in e-book and print from Amazon and Smashwords.
Details, cover image, link to a free text sample, and purchasing links: https://www.dldbooks.com/hubschman/
Tidalwave’s tour bus bursts into flames while the band is relaxing on the beach. The band’s leader, Danny Tide, hires private detective Tracy Gayle to do some discreet investigation into the matter. She’s joining the band on tour as security chief. The arsonist is discovered, but much deeper, more dangerous things come to light as well: an assault, an attempted murder, and then two murders. Tracy is faced with far more than she bargained for, and her stint with the band goes further than just that summer tour. She is fully determined to protect America’s favorite rock and roll heartthrob, and they become the best of friends along the way.
About the Author
Trish Hubschman and her husband, Kevin, along with their dog, Henry, recently moved to Northern Pennsylvania. They formerly lived on Long Island, New York. Trish is a graduate of Long Island University’s Southampton Campus and has a Bachelor’s degree in English-Writing. She is the author of the popular Tracy Gayle mystery series, Stiff Competition and Ratings Game. Tidalwave is the eagerly awaited prequel to the series. For more information about Trish’s three books, please visit her website, linked to above.
See her on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14473430.Trish_Hubschman