Indra’s eyes are beautiful. Let me describe them to you. They run down the front of her body in parallel lines, starting just below her scalp, passing over her throat, down her midsection and along each leg until ultimately stopping at the base of her pointer toes.
Life became easier for Indra once she learned to open and close each pair selectively. Keeping all but two of her eyes shut made her feel less conspicuous while walking outside, shopping at the market, and sipping coffee at cafes.
Indra has perfected the art of eye makeup, but on a day-to-day basis she accentuates only her “normal” pair so that they overshadow all the rest. This helps her blend in, but in the way a magician might use misdirection.
Indra often wonders what constitutes her insides, how else she might be different. She remembers the shock and quiet nausea that rose and settled inside her when, sitting with her high school science partner, she cut through the scales of a female fish to discover that roughly one-third of her interior life was taken up by her eggs. The memory of that thick, cylindrical mass still strikes her, how the textured, colorless structure gleaming up beneath the pried-back skin presented itself without comment like a blunt and incredible fact—not a deformity, but the design of life. With respect, she pictures her arteries and veins competing for space with one long, branching optic nerve.
When Indra’s husband first met her, he mistook her eyes for tattoos. It was dark, she was scantily dressed, and her extra eyes were shut tight.
“Are you an art student?” he asked, running a fingertip up her thigh, just grazing the corners of her lashes. “I’ve seen recovering addicts ink their bodies to mark each sober year, but you’re too young to have this much of anything.”
He looked at Indra looking back at him. What is the meaning behind your eyes? he was begging to know. She took his hand and opened them for him all at once. She felt his grip on her hand loosen, go slack, all but pull away, and then tighten, hold firm. For his birthday, Indra made up every last one of her eyes with iridescent shadow, mascara, and kohl. By the fifth pair she felt intoxicated. The repetitive application put her into a near meditative state, and any thought that he might react not with desire, but with disgust, was banished, buried, not an issue. She was right, and when he saw her, he immediately fell to his knees. As he kissed her second set of lips, he gazed into the eyes bookending her navel. Indra watched him fight the need to blink, feeling her own eyes grow teary from the strain of staring until her body and his tongue forced her eyelids to flutter in release. She all but kissed back, the way he opened her up. He said afterward that he’d never felt so seen. All of her eyes began to glisten and brim over, and she knew, from then on, that she could stop trying to conceal or disguise them. Their skin and their sheets sparkled with glitter and Indra felt tender toward the shimmering streams running off her into the shower drain. She had the urge to bottle them in glass jars and display them on their windowsills where they would catch the sun.
Her mother told her life would be hard. “Don’t expect to feel normal,” she said, but Indra was never concerned about finding a man. They are much less picky than everyone would have you believe. What Indra did not expect was to have such a rich social life. People can adapt to so much. But in Indra’s presence, she found that everyone eventually confesses their insecurities, worries, secrets, flaws: I think I’m developing an unhealthy obsession with my hair stylist. I’m finding it harder and harder not to tell my daughter she was adopted. I can’t stop daydreaming about my son’s teenage best friend.
A few years after their wedding, Indra and her husband hosted a house party where Indra spent over an hour listening to their neighbor Pete talk about opening up his marriage.
“Everyone feels so safe around you,” Indra’s husband said when their guests had gone. He had been sulky and quiet all night. “And you look at them the same way you look at me, opening all your eyes so wide and taking it all in, everything anyone says. How do you stand it? When Pete talks to me about his bullshit, my eyes roll back in my head.”
Shortly after Pete’s confession, Indra’s husband came home with a standing floor length mirror. It was gold-trimmed and filigreed, and bounced light from the windows into the room in a way that reminded her of reflections off water. Its reflective surface concealed his body as he eased it through the door, and when Indra looked over at him, she saw only herself. He moved it into the hall corner where it added peacefulness and calm, but at the same time a sense of energy and movement, to their home. They were both pleased.
Her husband began collecting mirrors of all shapes and sizes. It started slowly. He returned with another about a month later, and another a week after that, and before long, they had mirrors mounted on all their walls, leaning against every free space, propped up next to the refrigerator, dangling from the ceiling, affixed to end tables and drawers.
“Darling, what’s wrong?” Indra asked.
He tried but couldn’t explain. She would catch him gazing into them, studying her reflection from odd angles when he suspected she couldn’t see. Was he jealous of Indra, was he trying to figure out what it was like to be her, to have such a richness of vision? The reflections opened something up in him that she felt was important, so she never discouraged the practice, until one day he commented that maybe she would be happier if she spoke with a doctor about removing her unnecessary eyes. Indra recalled the identical expressions on his parents’ faces, made honest by too much champagne, at their wedding reception, barely disguising the fact that they would have preferred a two-eyed daughter-in-law.
She looked at him, and then looked away, but met his eyes in a mirror. There was nowhere to hide, and she wondered if this was what it felt like to live with her.
Indra started to tear up, which always made her husband panic. That multitude of crying eyes, slick with sadness, spilling over and soaking your lover’s skin.
“Forget I even mentioned it,” he said.
“Maybe you should try getting drunk,” her mother suggests when Indra breaks down and calls. “Dull your senses for an evening and see how you feel.”
So, Indra and her husband pretend to have a party and pour each other glass after glass of nice wine. They joke a little, dance a little, kiss a little, but it feels like they’re loosening to something else. He mentions the doctor again, says he’s worried about her. He sees the practical challenges she deals with. Crossing her legs, bathing, slipping in and out of jeans, everything is practiced and rehearsed so as not to cause pain. Indra tells him she’s used to it, that what started as careful and deliberate has become automatic, routine.
“Would you remove your most delicate feature just because it takes effort to protect?” she asks and sees him flinch.
Her eyes are her jewels, they’re Indra. How could she remove even one?
A decade ago, a famous performance artist sat silently, at length, at a wooden table in a New York museum where she made unbroken, attentive eye contact with visitor after visitor, many of whom were moved to tears by the experience. When Indra was younger, she spent hours sitting on the floor, her legs stretched out straight, gazing into the eyes beneath her toes with the eyes at the top of her forehead, feeling like some kind of circuit were closed. Now, whenever she reclines or folds forward or tilts her neck down, she makes eye contact with herself. She can’t describe how exhilarating and humbling it feels to look directly into her own eyes, how it forces her to acknowledge that she can’t even know the most basic and familiar thing in the world, her own being.
She turns her gaze downward, away from her husband and his mirrored walls. She looks to the eyes beneath her toes, but sees only her shoes, and Indra considers, at least when her husband is around, keeping all but her normal eyes shut.
As if in rebellion, her body sprouts more. She feels the eyes between her breasts begin to tingle. That’s how it starts. A few days later, two small beads begin to form on the exact opposite side of her body, on her back, flanking her spine at the base of her shoulder blades. Her husband asks why she’s stopped wearing scoop back dresses, which he loves. He’s always liked to eroticize Indra’s back, to run his fingertips across it in a ceaseless and careless caress, luxuriating in pure, untroubled touch and enjoying the way his hand on her eyeless skin makes her shiver. She blames it on the weather, tells him she’s coming down with a cold, unpins her hair, and lets it cascade loosely to further hide her new eyes from his sight.
When the eyes on her back open for the first time, and she can't look into them, she's frantic. Desperate. She tries back bending, twisting, contorting herself. She stands facing away from one of their many bedroom mirrors and makes eye contact with her reflection but feels nothing. She holds a compact up to her face to look with another set of eyes, but this fails too.
She walks outside, abandoning the exercise, and once again she’s on the phone with her mother.
“No, honey,” her mother says. “What I’ve been trying and failing to communicate to you, for years it seems …”
Indra closes her eyes and feels the wind on her face. She breathes in the faint smell of rain. She ends the call and lets all her eyes reopen, from her toes upward, like a vine climbing a wall. White clouds on a white sky. Her new eyes blink open, too, trying to expand her vision, to deepen her perception, but they are shrouded in the white cotton of her t-shirt, concealed and concealing.
Indra knows what her mother was going to tell her. Oh, Indra, she would have said. You’re always acting like you don’t exist. You see so much of the world that you’re blind to yourself.
Mom, there is no difference between the world and me, Indra imagines telling her, but doesn’t have the words to make her understand.
It takes more than eyes to see certain things, her mother insists.
Green buds appear on spring’s trees and Indra becomes truly sick. Her throat turns raw and her voice leaves her. Swallowing is no longer worth it, and she grows weak. For days, she takes too many pills and her stomach twists like a netted fish unable to swim free. Her husband intervenes, feeds her broth and tea and tells her she needs sleep. Indra awakens from a dream before dawn’s first light and hallucinates a solution. She waits until she’s well. It doesn’t take long. She takes her husband by the hand and leads him to their bedroom. She pulls her hair up, turns around, and shows him her back. In the darkness of uncertainty, she waits. She hears him breathing. She hears him open his mouth to speak.
“Open them,” he finally says.
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