Appleseed of my eye
Rotten to the core, a worm squirming in the center.
Ms Demarre’s eyes didn’t quite focus when he called her name, and she blinked blearily up at him.
“Looks like the drops have started working,” Dr Angelo smiled, flicking a small hand-light on to illuminate her pupils. Fat and black like grapes, barely a sliver of iris left to show that her eyes were usually a pale green and not bloated ink blotches staring out of a worn face. They quivered under his scrutiny. “In you come, and we’ll take those pictures.”
The retinal-imaging room was dark, wrapping the pair of them in comforting shadows. A green light blinked sullenly on the machine as he guided Ms Demarre to the seat, pushed her gently towards the hungry maw of the scanner. He explained how it would work, how it was very important she not blink. That was key. Blink, and it was ruined, and they’d have to try again.
The equipment whirred, machinery lurching to life within the hard plastic casing. It thunked and ground and spat an image onto his computer screen, fleshy reds and oranges like embers in the dark. There was a small crimson smudge on the left retina, making Dr Angelo frown.
“Hmmm, little bit of a shadow there. Would you mind doing that again? Look straight ahead and...”
Ker-thunk. Another picture, broadly the same as the last, all yellow and pink streaked like abstract art, blood vessels making lacey traceries across her retina. Completely void of smudges, smears and blots. “Perfect, Ms Demarre. Looks like it was just a small artefact. Your eyes are in excellent shape.”
“And remember, no blinking.”
Ms Demarre, grape-pupilled eyes swallowed by the scanner, murmured assent and the machine snatched snapshots of her retinas. A frown etched itself on his face, and he rubbed at the screen. The stubborn smudge remained, but he wiped his face into a carefully arranged, pleasant expression as Ms Demarre sat back from the machine.
“I’ll need to refer you to your GP for a bit of an examination, Julia.” Pen scratching on paper, Dr Angelo twiddled the light so that the room was once more well-lit and tried to ignore Ms Demarre’s vaguely panicked expression. He did his best to explain it was mostly routine - a tiny smear, probably just a burst vessel and easily healed by time - but his words didn’t seem to allay her fears. As she left, he leaned back in his seat and tapped at the computer screen, sending rainbow ripples spreading outwards from the smudge on the retinal scan. In the corners of the room, shadows curled.
Ms Demarre yelped behind him and he spun, only to see one of the receptionists rushing forward to help and Ms Demarre clutching her arm. She appeared to have walked into the reception desk, but the receptionist seemed to have it well in hand, so he strode ahead and held the door wide for her.
“My GP said everything was fine.”
“Yes, I saw the report. I just want to have another look; if it’s transient it might reveal more information.”
Dr Angelo’s fingers tapped out a sharp beat on his chair arm; he noticed and stilled them with a conscious effort. In front of him, his patient rubbed her upper arm and slumped deeper into her seat.
“Not the drops? Only, I need to pick up Jordan from school and I’m parked in an hour spot...”
“I can do it with just the handheld fundoscope. No drops needed.” Relief flashed in Ms Demarre’s eyes and he smiled at her as he dropped the lights and readied the scope.
“Any eye troubles since I saw you last?”
“None at all, doc. Hard to believe it’s been a year, really.” Ms Demarre rubbed her temple with a thin fingered hand, her pupils swollen like overripe blackberries hanging putrid on the vine. Her irises were invisible in the dark. “Everything’s been going fine.”
The scanner clunked in the darkness, flickers of light slipping out around the edges of Ms Demarre’s face and catching on her earrings. Diamonds became emeralds for a split second, and images appeared on Dr Angelo’s screen. He pulled up the left eye, pushing his reading glasses up his nose to stare intently at the image.
Normal. He swallowed a sigh of relief.
“Looks like that smudge last time was transient after all.”
Right eye. A spreading ink-blot, too dark for cotton wool spots, too large. It eclipsed the ocular vessels and swirled around the optic nerve, a bright yellow sun in the centre of a dark nebula.
He bit back the ‘I don’t know’ that danced on the tip of his tongue, the panic that thundered in his chest. He had to be solid, dependable, helpful. “Probably just a computer error.” He smiled, grateful for the obscuring dark and the mydriatic drops impairing her focus. “Would you mind doing it again?”
Seeping shadow, creeping towards the edges of the eye.
“I’m going to need to refer you to an oncologist, Julia.”
“It’s... not...?” It seemed too terrible for her to say, although the words bounced loudly in his head.
“I can’t say for sure. They’ll have a better idea of what it might be. Try not to worry about it.”
He listened to the dial tone for a few seconds, staring blankly at the wall. The phone clicked back into the cradle, and his subconscious seemed to decide that was a soothing noise, so his pen began click-clicking against the desktop.
No abnormalities of the retina or surrounding tissues. No signs of melanoma or other lesions.
He pulled up the patient file marked DEMARRE, Julia. Smudges and oil-slicks stared back at him. After long minutes, he sighed, grabbed his bag and left them brooding in the dark. Tomorrow maybe something would make sense.
She started when he called her name, and nearly tripped twice on the way to his office. After Ms Demarre nearly collided with the doorframe, he offered her his arm and she took it in an almost painful grip, fingers digging into his arm as he steered her towards the seat. She glanced up at him, some unidentifiable emotion flickering in the depths of her eyes, then stared at the floor.
The chair creaked as she sat down.
“How are you feeling today?” A weak nod was the only response. Stomach twisting with guilt - he had scared her so badly and for nothing last time - Dr Angelo fixed his smile firmly in place and grabbed the handheld fundoscope. “If you could just look into this for me?”
As he focussed on the dials, adjusting the focus so he would be able to see with his glasses off, something heavy smashed into his chest. His head cracked against the floor, sending blurry spots dancing across his vision and constricting his vocal cords. Sound seemed impossible, vision merely improbable.
A familiar face appeared through the haze, very close to his. Green eyes, a weary face contorted in a rictus. He could feel hear breath on his face as she came closer. Hands gripped his wrists. Her body seemed impossible heavy atop him.
“Don’t blink, doctor.” The words carried a sibilant slur, a hiss and a vague stench of something sweet and rotten. Something flashed in her eyes - a spark of green light, quickly swallowed up by a flickering darkness. A smudge, distorting the edge of her pupil, billowing out like ink in water until it swallowed her irises. Consumed the sclera.
Dr Angelo stared into her eyes, saw his own face pale and frightened reflected in their pitch depths. The darkness shivered.
“Do you see me, doctor?”