I switched on the torch and shone the beam into Mrs Camberapple’s big round eyes. “Look to your left please… lovely, now to your right.” I watched her eyeballs roll around from side to side. “Now, open wide,” I said, lowering the beam to her mouth. “Isn’t that normally the dentist’s job?” “I just want to check something.” I explored her illuminated mouth – her teeth, her tongue, gums and tonsils. All were the normal size and shape, perfect even. “Thanks,” I said, flicking the torch off. “That’s fine.”
Wherever I walked in the village I found myself being watched. Big round eyes turning to follow me, like undercover beasties in a cartoon. I was still new enough to attract their attention, but there was something else too. I was not like them, not entirely. On the rain-loosened sea front I stopped and watched the fog and the waves rolling in. The waves being the same as they were back home. Which was something else. I thought about swimming out a little, cracking the waves with my bones. But I didn’t. I turned away from the sea and walked back inland, big round eyes watching me all the way back to the surgery.
In my second week there I started to measure my patients’ eyes. “And why exactly is this necessary?” asked serious Mr Wholegrain, villager and veteran. “It’s… something new we have to check for. These things change all the time. It won’t take a second.” He, like the other villagers, was kind enough to not ask any more questions. “Just relax for a moment and…” I took my tape measure and gently held it as close to the eyeball as is polite. First vertically, then horizontally. Read the numbers on the measure with my little eyes and wrote them down in a book. “Thank you Mr Wholegrain, that’s wonderful.”
By the third week I had started to measure my own eyes. I could not shake the feeling that day-by-day my face felt heavier and when I looked in the mirror I was convinced that my eyes were getting bigger. Maybe it was just tricks of the mind. Outside, the broken clouds were subjecting the village to a taste of the sea. I got back into bed and read through my book of eye measurements and doodled big-eyed faces in the margins. I read and drew by candlelight until the sun rose and I did not need the candle any longer.
I couldn’t help but think of the villagers’ big eyes as being like balls of wood. I wondered about tears, whether they would come out bigger, faster, whether there would be such a quantity of tears as to drown in. Big eyes, sad eyes, big sad eyes everywhere I looked, like a whole commune of puppy-dog people. And yet they all seemed quite content, resigned maybe, but content. I wondered how I ended up here. My eyes were growing big and heavy like wooden apples.
A knock at the door sounds like a wooden apple falling on the floor.
I stopped watching the rain falling through the fog and went to the front door. “Hello,” I said. “I don’t know how I got here,” I said. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Things just got,” I said. I opened the door and she stepped in and away from the fog and the rain. The elements stayed outside. “I know,” she said. “You look sad,” she said, straight into my big eyes. “Where did you go?” she said. “Here,” I said. “Not straight away, but here,” I said. “I’m here now,” I said. My eyes were big, round. Like the moon. I watched it all settle like broken waves on her haunted face, looked at her little eyes and felt like the attention I was giving dwarfed them.
She left, and the door opening and closing again felt like the world cracking back down, like freeze-thaw erosion breaking us into pieces.
In the surgery Miss Mickleworth looked up into my big eyes with her big eyes as I ran my finger along her cheek bone. She was one of my more compliant patients, almost flirtatiously helpful. “And what do you hope to find in your research?” I didn’t say anything. I had stopped measuring eyes now. I was just admiring them.