EYES TO SEE
“I’ve booked you in to the optician in St Peter’s centre”.
“What? I can see, there’s nothing wrong with my eyes”.
“You keep getting headaches, you bring the book too close for comfort, there’s obviously a problem, and your parents aren’t going to do anything about it”.
“So why do you have to?”
“Because I care”.
We were walking, which didn’t come naturally to Fred, and St Peter’s is quite a trek from Caxton.
“Why do we have to go there?”
“Because it’s where I go, and because we don’t know anyone there”.
“My Dad comes from there”.
“Yes, but he lives in London now, so that’s not a problem”.
“How do you know that?”
When we were safely over the big roundabout, and out of Caxton, walking along the ring road to St Peter’s, Fred took my hand. He smiled at me. I scowled. He laughed.
“Am I going to be all right?”
“The worst is you might need glasses, that’s all. I hated it when it first happened to me, but I got used to them”.
“Yes, if you need them, as cool as you like”. He perked up, a spring in his step, still holding my hand.
“This place is SO scuzzy! If Caxton had a shopping centre, this would be it”. Fred was bizarrely a snob. He rarely went shopping – his mother might think otherwise lately, but that’s what he claimed to be doing when he was spending Saturdays with me – and when he did, it was to the city centre, and on the bus. We reached the opticians.
“You’re my nephew, OK? Your parents are out of the country, so your mother’s asked me to bring you”.
“Whatever. Just remember. And when the optician asks you stuff, tell the truth, there are no right answers, so don’t guess, just say what you see, or how it feels, OK?”
“Yeah, I lie about you being my uncle, and I tell the truth about having headaches when I read – did I get that right?”
“Yes, and please don’t be difficult, I’m only trying to help!” He was picking up on my anxiety, and enjoying it, but maybe with a little anxiety of his own about the test. “Just sayin’”, he said, with a grin, as we went in.
“He needs corrective glasses. It’s not severe, but he’s done pretty well to get by this long without help. If you’re ready, it’s now a question of frames, and we can get the prescription made up for a week’s time”.
“So, I get to choose?”
“Yes, but take some advice from the staff”.
He did, and I gave my opinions too, but I couldn’t help feeling I was getting it wrong. I was choosing for how I wanted him to look, not how he wanted to be. In the end, I gave in,
“Look, I’m rubbish at this, why don’t you call Camilla and see if she’ll help us choose?”
“She’s busy shagging Piers today!”
“Not all day, surely? Just call her and see if she’ll come over. Piers can drive her here”.
“I’m not sure she’ll go for that”.
“Offer her the flat for the afternoon.”
“Seriously???” “Yes, why not? We’ll take ages walking back – I’ll take you for lunch, and they can have their fun in comfort”.
The bribe worked. Camilla was there within twenty minutes, having left her lunk of a boyfriend parking the car, and she set to work with enthusiasm, dismissing several frames I rather liked out of hand. I left them to it, and got chatting about prices, and what assistance there might be on the NHS – not so easy for a mere “uncle” to arrange. Then there were squeals and laughter, and grunts of approval. As I looked at them I saw Camilla checking the price tag. She showed Fred, who shook his head, and she put them back on the shelf. I walked over.
“Looked like you found a good one there?”
“Oh, they’re cute, but not quite right”.
“These?” I picked them off the shelf. I restrained the urge to wince. “If it’s only the price against them, we’re having them”.
“But Giles, they’re far too much”. Contrary to some people’s expectations, Fred took no pleasure in spending my money.
“It’s your birthday soon, consider it a present, and when we get your NHS number, there’ll be money off, so it’s much more affordable. Are you sure they’re the ones?” They both nodded. “Then let’s order them”.
Camilla went off to find Piers and spend an afternoon in my - our? - bed, and after signing my life away, Fred and I left the shop, and started wandering down some backstreets and alleyways to a pub on the way home I’d seen for years and never been in. There was a garden. We’d have lunch and a drink or two. Then keep walking, and with any luck the lovers would have finished by the time we got back.
“How do you feel about wearing specs?”
“Make me look like a geek”. “I’m sorry, I thought you liked them.” “No, that’s good! I’ll look clever! I always wanted to look clever. Thank you”, and he hugged and kissed me in the street. It was a quiet place but even so …. “and stop looking round!” he giggled into my mouth. We walked along. Holding hands.
Then we got to the Quarry Arms. I doubt very much the quarry in Necklington ever merited a coat of arms, nor anyone associated with it, but it was quite serviceable, and the day was warm and cheerful enough to eat and drink in the garden. We found a table, and I got Fred to sit with his back to most of the garden. That was subconscious, I think. Then I went in for drinks and a menu. He’d asked for a G & T, but obviously he knew nothing of pub measures, so I ordered him a treble. I had wine. When I came out, he was fiddling with the NHS form.
“I’m sorry, Giles, I don’t know these numbers”. “Maybe you can call in to your GP – you do have one? – and find out?” “Yes, I think I do. Haven’t been for years. What happens if they send something to home?” “Shit, I hadn’t thought of that. Look, OK, give it a miss. The glasses are worth having.” “Are you sure?” “For you to look like a geek? Worth every penny!” “Fuck off”. “Do I look like a geek?” “Erm …” “Am I too old?” “Yeah, kinda”. “Hey ho. What are you eating?” “A burger”. “It won’t be as good as mine”. “You haven’t made me yours … yet”.
As he was eating, and I was drinking (and stealing the occasional chip from his plate), I noticed that we were being noticed by a man at another table in the opposite corner of the garden. Thirties, probably, bearded, good head of dark brown hair, well-made, probably tall – but he was sitting down, so impossible to say for sure. It seemed to be Fred he was looking at. Well, who wouldn’t? And then he started to come over.
“Don’t look now Fred, but I think there’s someone here who knows you”. Too late, he looked, and at a few places it was “Hi, Fred, didn’t expect to see you here”. “Never been before, Sir – we’ve just been getting my eyes tested and I’m having glasses”. “”Wow, great”. “Yeah, they’re so cute that the girls – and the boys – won’t be looking at you any more!”. He wasn’t sure what to say to that (nor was I), so he held out a hand to me – I’d stood up at the attached bench of the table – and said “I’m Ian – not Sir – Fred’s biology teacher”. Then Fred said awkwardly, “sorry, I should have said, this is Giles, he’s my uncle”. We shook hands.
“Hi Giles! I didn’t know Fred needed specs, it’s good you noticed.” “Reading was making him tired, but he’s not one of nature’s scholars.” “Oh, he’s pretty good in class, and grows me stuff in season for the science lab, he knows his onions, as it were – or tomatoes!” “I’ll leave you to it, good to see you, Fred, and … Uncle Giles – see you on … Monday, I think, Fred!”.
“He knows, doesn’t he?” “Yes”. “We better go”. “No, no rush, finish your food, it’s all OK. He’s a nice guy, he won’t hurt us”. “You’re weird, you worry and you don’t worry”. “I’ve never done this before, sorry, I don’t mean to be confusing”. “I’m done now, I want to go home”.
And so we left. Sir Ian watched us leave.
We walked for ten minutes, his hands twitching. He stopped and took me in his arms. “Are we OK? Is this OK? I don’t know where I am”. “We’ll be fine, let’s just go home”.
The youth club had left before we got there. Fred let Camilla know in advance. I went to the kitchen for a proper G & T and Fred went into the bedroom “fucking hell, Giles, they’ve had an orgy!” “Oh no, please don’t tell me. Do I have to change the sheets?” “And the curtains!”; he cackled with laughter, “Joking!”. By the time I’d made the drinks he emerged, saying “done it”. “What?” “Changed the sheets. I think the curtains will live. O Giles, you are a picture!”. We snuggled on the sofa.
“Are we OK, really?” “If you are, then I am, so we are, and it’s all OK”. “Promise?” “I can’t promise anything”. He looked sadly into his drink. Then, “but one day?” “Oh yes, one day everything will be OK. We just have to get there.”