What’s with the Lenses?
Trying to recall what happened close to forty years ago is like looking through a lace curtain; you can see the basic form but some of the details are obscure. So my time frame may be questionable, and inaccurate, but what I do remember was at some point my little brother and I had hauled up the leather case and its contents from the basement. A year had probably passed and i know this because when i saw the man with the light eyes he was standing in our living room. That memory is solid and as clear as pure water. But the day we brought up the leather case, the room had been converted to a dining room. We placed the case on that dining room table. Staring at it in amazement. It was filled with such fun stuff!!! It was so cool.
The box had two leather buckles and a wooden handle. It opened easily to reveal a collection of lenses in various shapes and thicknesses. We surmised that they had been Mr. Mel’s lenses, and that by trade, he must have been an optometrist.
My brother and I were fascinated by the collection. This was the early eighties, when a typical Bronx household had only one television and no computer. Having grown up with limited resources, we had very few toys, so we relied on being creative to entertain ourselves. The lenses were as good a pastime as anything else.
My brother wanted to build a telescope. He held up two lenses opposing each other, stared out the window and into the houses across the street,
“I can see into their bedrooms!. “ He squealed.
An old woman with long blond hair , which she wore in a braid that twisted around her head like a crown, lived in that house. She had told us she was the descendant of royalty in Denmark so we used to refer to her as “The princess” even though she was well into her eighties.
“Give me” I snatched it from his hands and held them up, inspecting the window across the street which seemed so close to us. I could see her standing inside, it looked like she was sweeping.
“Wow.” was all I could say.
Later in the afternoon I brought the box into our small, concrete backyard and tried to make a fire on some dry leaves by reflecting beams from the sun.
By nightfall, the box had made its way back to our dining room table.
Pretty typical right? Nothing out of the ordinary? But wait……
To explain this part I need to explain the floor plans of our small Bronx house. It was a two bedroom apartment. What was referred to as a prewar railroad flat where each room led into the next room like a train car.
I was given the small bedroom and my poor little brother slept on the couch in our living room. If I were to explain it as being a straight line it would go something like this; My bedroom, small hall with bathroom to the side, which lead to the dining room, which lead to the livingroom where my brother slept, which lead to my mom’s bedroom.
So the dining room, the same room I had seen the man with the light eyes, lay between my bedroom and the living room (Where my brother slept). I hope that makes sense.
That night something awoke me. Not a noise, or any disturbance, I simply found myself sitting upright and unable to get back to sleep. I have since learned , when that happens, when something wakes you up and you don’t know why, there is a reason and here was mine.
Unable to return to slumber, I decided to use the bathroom. As I sat on the toilet I heard a screeching sound. It wasn’t loud, but in the stillness of the house it seemed menacing. But I could clearly hear it, even through the rumbling of the elevated train which came through the avenue every fifteen minutes. The best way I can explain the sound was as if two pieces of styrofoam were rubbing against each other. And with that sound, the unsettling feeling that something was in the dining room.
I have to admit, what made this even more frightening was the memory of the man with the light eyes came to mind. I wondered, was he there? Was he waiting by the lamp post again? Staring into nothingness? Was he waiting for me?
I swallowed hard and whispered to my little brother.
“Tommy, are you there. Is that you.”
His voice came back instantly.
“What is that?” He had obviously heard it too.
“Go see” I ordered.
“No, you go see.”
I’m sure the conversation persisted as such for some time as the remainder of the night I cannot recall, but at some point I had made it back to my bedroom.
My brother was a rooster during those days, waking at the peeking of the sun. I , in contrast, hibernated well into the late morning. He came barreling into my room, shaking me violently out of my sleep that morning.
“What!” I snapped and pushed him violently away.
“Get up, Get up. You gotta see this!”
Memories from the night before dripped into my consciousness and I popped out of bed, and followed him into the dining room. The box with the lenses lay open, although I remembered having buckled it the night before. Its contents strewn across the table and onto the linoleum floor. But what was even more frightening, some of the lenses were shattered into tiny fragmented pieces as if they had exploded.
My mother barreled in with a broom and in a frenzy as we were blamed for the mess neither one of us had created,
“I want that box out of this house. Throw it away! I’m tired of you too making messes!”
I don’t recall what happened to the box. I suppose we did as she said and threw it away. Like I said, my memories were like looking through a lace curtain. To this day however, how could those lenses have exploded?