Sister Binche began her duties in a serious manner, taking extra time to unbandage his eyes, which operation felt to him nothing like a turban, but more like someone slowly twirling his head, tapping little messages through the decreasing layer of muslin and tugging him gently this way and that in a horizontal Saint Vitus’s dance that did not end when she had finished; his head went on wobbling in the medium called air that you could never see, blind or not. What are you doing now, he would say, and she would always give him the same answer: all that is good for you, in her glaciated, slow English. He did not see the raised bed she made from lint soaked in antiseptic, setting first one eye and then the other in a little rectangle that allowed for the curvature of his upper cheek. From a tiny watering can she poured boracic solution against the puckered, bloody whites, almost cooing to him, and it all felt polar cool, the lint, the liquid, her hands, just the thing he had dreamed about in the heat and sludge of the craters and trenches. Each eye took five minutes and she called it irrigation, carefully directing the spout to all areas of the eye, sometimes pouring for a long time and making a flood, sometimes doing just a quick tip to soothe an area neglected. For the moment at peace, Harry felt he was being christened in an unusual way, though the lotion felt astringent, especially in his left eye, the worse hurt. Other days, she did not use the little pouring can at all, but encouraged him to use an eye cup himself, handing it to him full and then helping him to bring it into place with a sudden tip and plunge, always careful not to jam it hard against whatever was beneath it. Then he held the cup in place and tried to blink, finally removing it with a second tip followed by a groping thrust toward her voice. Sometimes he messed up, spilling boracic on his chest, but mostly he got his eye, grateful that the water used in the solution was tepid. At the moment, this sluicing was the thing he wanted most in life, and he got it every three hours. The hospital staff filled him with eggs and crusty bread, made him strong sweet tea that reminded him of the army, from which he considered himself well and truly severed, stroked his head, combed his hair, cleaned his ears and nostrils, and waited for changes. Strong lights came and went unnoticed as he tried to accustom himself to being a baby, much of the time in bed, but also walked in his wheelchair and escorted on short promenades by Sister Binche, whose protégé he had fast become, partly because he reminded her of her brother, captured in the Somme, partly because she felt for the blind, the deaf, the dumb with a special vicarious gift that argued in her a tremendous capacity to discover how it felt to be somebody else. In Harry she discerned something copiously ascetic, perhaps mistaking the bareness of his early life for girding of the loins, self-denial, the beginning of the via dolorosa. She treasured him and taught him some words of French,and after a few weeks they were able to hold private rudimentary conversations about weather, food, the Vickers machine gun, bread dipped in bacon fat, book lovers in his home in Exington, no-man’s-land, and the man named Blood found on top of him, shattered and dry. For pain, of which he had a great deal, she gripped his fists and almost wrestled him, also letting him bite the heel of her somewhat roughened hand. Older than he, she saw him at the beginning of a career as one of life’s victims: not merely a mutilé de guerre, a phrase she had candidly taught him (which he said as matelot de gair), unless—she did not give him much chance of seeing again, and she would soon have to inform him of the need to learn Braille. But not yet. It was a month since he had been wounded, and not all the right surgeons had been to prod him yet, although he described himself to her as a goner, a useless blighter. There is still Woodbine, the American, she said, who will be here soon. Let him see. Harry wanted the issue final, so that he might evolve an absolute attitude and become one thing or another. Having already told Hilly to forget him, to find a stockbroker or an officer, he regarded that piece of business as transacted, and stopped writing, at least until Sister Binche rebuked him and told him not to be so sadistic (word he did not have). He still did not know her first name, and had not asked it, resolved in some reciprocal maneuver to deny himself things in much the same way as blindness denied him her face, though he had felt at its high cheekbones, the deep compassionate chin, the gray etiolated-looking eyes that sometimes in sunlight seemed not to be there at all, making her eligible for the term white-eyes gleaned from the American Indians. She was black haired, she told him, and therefore rather Irish looking, he thought, with that combination of light and dark, and therefore fair complected too with freckles along her arms but none on her chest. Ari, she called him, or Sergeant Ari, making him feel important and imposing. The double eye patch made him look like a man going out to a firing squad, and she tried to bandage his head down low, screening the eyes just enough, but giving them air, a touch of breeze or her own mouth gently blowing at him to get his attention. She had removed much of the crust from the roots of his lashes and increased with minor coaxing their natural flexure away from the surface of the eye. If this attention soothed him, he never said, accepting it as the due of a blinded man who wondered how terrible he looked.

“Am I a monster?” he asked, hoping never to hear the answer, the white lie.