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"Don't make a spectacle of yourselves," Jenorv warned them. "I don't want you bothering the medic and the glass grinder."Author's Notes
Bai fidgeted; there was a fountain in the courtyard of the Vitality Guild that he was dying to splash in. He edged away from his mother, testing the limits of her attention, and was rewarded by a sharp tug on his sleeve. "Bai," she said warningly. "I'm serious. This man usually only sees grown-ups, and it's a great favor for him to see you two. Don't embarrass me."
It was odd for their mother to take them somewhere, and not their nanny Larama, Bai thought, looking down at his shoes instead of meeting her eyes. They were new shoes; not entirely comfortable yet. "Do you hear me, Bai?" Jenorv insisted, and Bai mumbled a reply to the stiff shoes.
Jenorv sighed, and pulled him forward into the big doorway. Rai, on her other side, stuck close to her, and Bai considered the option of a temper tantrum. It wasn't a good option - he was old enough to recognize that it wouldn't gain him much besides his mother's ire, even if he wasn't old enough to go to school yet. They climbed several flights of wide stairs and went into a dim-lit office.
The medic was an old man who smelled like vegetables and frowned at the brothers with disapproval. Bai knew at once that he was not the kind of old man who liked children, and found himself scowling back.
"You first, Bai," Jenorv said firmly, and she set Bai in a tall chair in front of a strange machine with wild arms and lenses. Bai swung his legs, and glanced over to see Rai clinging to their mother.
"We don't usually put spectacles on little boys," the man said, ignoring Bai to fiddle with dials and slip lenses into place. "It's a waste of money when they are this young; he'll only lose them."
"Bai is responsible," Jenorv said with the hint of iron that Bai thought she reserved for warning the twins when they were beginning to tread on her patience. "I'll see that he keeps hold of them."
Bai was surprised that she would stick up for him, and stilled his swinging legs.
The old man harrumphed in disbelief, and then brought the machine down to Bai's level. It fit over his face like an impossibly large festival mask, suspended by a network of cables and mechanical arms.
"Can you see the screen?" the man asked him gruffly. "Do you know your letters?"
Bai shook his head, rattling the lenses. "I'm not in first form yet," he said.
The man, with a great show of the inconvenience of it, switched out the letters on the screen for a set of shapes. "We'll use this one, then," he said with reluctance. "I use it when I assign glasses for new citizens who can't read yet."
"I'm not a new citizen," Bai offered. "I've been a citizen since I was born."
He would have gone on, but Jenorv squeezed his shoulder in warning, and Bai wondered if he'd said something rude. He went back to swinging his legs, and clipped the man in the knee. "Sorry," he said, abashed, as Jenorv's hand tightened on his shoulder. He sat as still as he could, after that, while the grumpy man endlessly switched lenses, and asked about shapes, and demanded to know which ones were clearer, even when it was hard to tell. Finally, when Bai was about to burst, he was released from the machine.
"The glassgrinder should have this strength of lens in store," the man said to Jenorv, ignoring Bai. "But you'll need special glasses that are small enough for him."
"I have a big head," Bai offered. "Everyone says so." He wasn't sure why Jenorv had to giggle, and even the man gave a short bark of laughter.
Then it was Rai's turn, and his twin brother reluctantly took a seat at the mask-machine, with prodding from Jenorv.
"I can't see any shapes," Rai whispered, once the man had flipped all the lenses. He had to repeat himself, louder, and then again after the man flipped the lenses again. "I can see some colors," he offered. "That's blue." Bai could see them, too, but he could also make out the basic shapes, even without the lenses bringing them into sharp focus.
"Does he know his shapes?" the old man asked in disgust.
"Yes," Jenorv said sharply. "He knows his shapes." She had both hands on Rai's shoulders - more reassuring than warning, Bai thought, and while her attention was on Rai, he was able to poke around at the desk that was at eye-level, careful not to disturb the stacks of lenses.
"A triangle has three sides," Rai mumbled.
The man snorted and flipped levers.
"I can't see any shapes," Rai said again and again, as they switched out lenses over and over again.
Finally, the medic said, almost apologetically, "I'm sorry, citizen, I'm going to have to license him blind. These lenses won't help him."
Rai began to cry.
"He's not blind," Bai protested, putting a paperweight back down with a thump. "He just can't see as well as some people." When they played at the park, he had to stay close to Rai to make sure he didn't stumble into the equipment, but his brother could see splotches of color and vague shapes. That wasn't blind. He knew from the way other children talked at the park that blind was disabled, and although he wasn't very sure of what the word meant, it was very bad from the way they said it. "Don't make my brother cry!" He knew he sounded shrill - it was the pitch that Larama would scold them for using inside.
"Baison!" his mother exclaimed. "Rai, it's all right..."
Rai cried harder.
"It's not all right," Bai said, fists balled up at his side. "My brother isn't disabled! He's not a cripple!"
The man looked at him in surprise while their mother tried to alternately comfort Rai and scold Bai. "It's just legal blindness," the medic clarified. "It means his vision can't be corrected so that he can see what other people see." He sounded, amused, which only riled Bai further.
"Then legal is stupid," Bai retorted.
He had all of the attention of the old man now, and Bai wondered if that's what his mother had been talking about when she told him not to make a "spectacle." "Boy, the Empire has to take special care of him," the man said firmly. "The Empire sees to its crip-"
"He's not blind!" Bai wailed at the top of his voice. "You can't make him a cripple!"
Jenorv had him by the shoulder now, and shook him firmly. "Baison, you're being rude! It's just a license he will have to carry, we'll make arrangements for Raivan to be treated just like you."
Bai was crying now, just like Rai, and Jenorv took them both out of the room and sat them on a bench in the hallway, hugging them both until the sobs had faded to sniffles. "You wait here," she told them firmly. "Don't you budge from this bench, do you hear?"
When they had both solemnly promised, she swept back into the office, and Bai, defying his promise, crept to the door to eavesdrop. Rai came with him, clinging to his hand.
The talk was puzzling - of first form, spectacles (Bai was thoroughly confused now about what the word meant), and licensing. Jenorv thanked him for his time, and make apologies for their behavior, and the twins scrambled back to the bench before the two emerged from the office.
"He might just be able to make it through some of the forms if you're willing to pay for special considerations," the man was saying grudgingly. He frowned at Bai as he said it, instead of Rai, and Bai thought it seemed like a thoughtful frown, not a mean one, like their father sometimes got.
"I'll make it through all of them," Rai said defiantly.
"He will!" Bai agreed.
Unexpectedly, the man laughed. "You just might, at that," he agreed.
This came from the July 2011 Muse Fusion, prompted by Deirdre M. Murphy. It can be sponsored for $13 or 13 credits. (Sponsorship makes the story public for anyone to read, and lists you as a patron, if you choose!)