The movie projectionist stood outside the ER, sterilized a serrated kitchen knife with a lighter and stabbed his left eye. He paused before entering, hoping enough time had passed and they couldn’t save it.
When he was in the third grade, the projectionist spent time alternating blinking his eyes to make things appear to move. He learned about parallax in science. Close the left, open the right, close the right, open the left, objects appeared to jump. His tenth birthday was held at the cinema where they watched Jaws-3D. The kid with a glass eye was invited to his party as a punishment because the projectionist socked him in the side of the head and his fake eye popped out and rolled into the dirt on the playground. He wondered if the kid would ever understand what parallax was since he had just one eye. Could he enjoy Jaws-3D? Did the kid only use the red lens of the 3D glasses out of convenience as it covered his only working socket? In solidarity with his victim, he covered his right eye and watched the movie.
When he grew up, he worked at that cinema and enjoyed 3D movies from the projection booth without those 3D glasses. Looking at those movies, with the layers of blue and red over the projected film caused a nausea in him that he rather enjoyed. A feeling of queasiness and vertigo that was better than any drug.
He woke one day with a piercing headache. The world was distorted in a manner he could not explain. He thought it was benign positional vertigo. He called off work, laid down, and blamed the experience on a heavy night of intoxication. By afternoon when he was no better, he took a pill and went back to bed.
The next day was the same. He discovered that if he opened only one eye, the world righted itself. Open the left, close the right, open the right, close the left. His left eye was fine and full of color. But the right eye saw only variances of gray. The projectionist called his eye doctor for an emergency appointment. He used a handkerchief and covered his right eye so he could drive.
While idling at a red light, the handkerchief came lose and the world went off balance. Staring at the stoplight he realized that the world looked like Jaws-3D with both eyes open and no 3D glasses.
The car behind him honked and he puttered forward. He was unable to drive this way. Much like his days of drinking and driving, he simply covered the left eye with his palm, and kept his right hand on the wheel.
The gray world he saw out of the right eye was free of distraction. He saw people for who they were. In color, people masked all sorts of things, but in his gray world, he had clarity. In the lobby of the eye clinic, he saw cheaters, neglectful parents, sexual deviants, and thieves.
The eye doctor, a pervert himself, sent him to the ER for an emergency CT scan. It showed nothing but a normal brain. The projectionist saw doctor after doctor, test after test. No diagnosis. There was no word for what he had. They suggested Lasik. The condition still existed, but at least he didn’t need contacts anymore. Finally, sent to psych, he got a diagnosis, one-eyed hysterical color blindness. A topic for an eager med student’s paper.
The projectionist wore eye patches. Alternating days from color to gray. He preferred the gray world where he could see through people. The student’s paper on hysterical color blindness was a hit. A book was published to great acclaim. The projectionist went on talk shows discussing the phenomenon. But he never told anyone what he actually saw through the gray eye. The newscasters were secret racists, harassers, and tax evaders. Talk show hosts were alcoholics, pill poppers, and bad pet owners.
After a prolonged period, he knew what he had to do. He found a willing surgeon. The projectionist wanted to remove an eye. He would have a glass eye, like the boy he once socked in the side of the head. The day of surgery, the nurse came and started marking around his right eye.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “I want to keep that one.”
“We are to remove an eye, so you won’t have to wear the patch,” she said. “I thought the right was the one that didn’t see color.”
“It is. I don’t want to see color anymore.”
“Why?” she asked.
The projectionist didn’t want to tell her why. He was convinced no one would believe what he saw through the color blind eye.
The nurse pushed more sedative into his IV and got the doctor. The doctor talked for 12 minutes about the gift of color. He didn’t budge. Surgery was canceled. Doctor after doctor agreed to remove one eye, but not the one that saw color. They couldn’t imagine that choice. He continued to wear a patch over it. He also started to use his power beyond the knowing. He confronted people like porch pirates, the man who stole Diet Pepsi’s from the gas station, and the mail carrier who took birthday cards if she felt money in them. During this period, the color eye became week and lazy. It gravitated to the far corner of his socket.
The projectionist’s vanity prevented him from fully accepting the reality of having to wear a patch over either eye. One morning, while looking at his left eye that now hung sadly in the far corner of his socket, he made his decision. He grabbed a dirty serrated knife from the sink and got in his car. At the first red light, he threw his patch out of the window and covered his right eye with his right palm and drove, soaking in the color of the world one last time.
Edward Jackson attended Western Michigan University (BA), Aquinas College (M.Ed.), and the University of Georgia (Ed.S.). Currently he is enrolled in the MFA program at Youngstown State. He has published fiction in Salmon Creek Review, Ethel, and DM du Jour. He has also published CNF, book reviews and editorials in The Gay & Lesbian Review, Entropy, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He lives in Greenville, PA with his husband, their cat and dog, and a bunch of squatter bats and squirrels who won’t leave his attic office.