Chas Adlard, Australian Author

Dark Light

'Leave the light on, mummy.'

Miriam Tyler, just five years old, was unaware of the wet sadness that glistened on her mother's cheeks. Outside the sun still lit the evening sky and the child's fear was of the growing veil that would soon take the light from her young eyes, the shroud of never ending darkness, the shroud of sightlessness, the world of the blind. Hidden behind the partially closed door Sue Tyler felt her husband's arms cradle her sorrow as he embraced her tightly. Derek was her rock of support, and without him she would have surely broken under the strain. The doctors - there had been three - were sure of their individual prognosis. The degree of irreversible damage that had so cruelly defined Miriam's fate was caused by disease, not by accident. When they had finally stopped fighting the inevitable outcome, Derek had taken Sue to the depths of the earth where they had held each other for thirty minutes before running out of courage. Returning to the daylight above the disused mine their grief had intensified tenfold. The mine's own secret darkness allowed no adjustment for their eyes and so the blackness was absolute.

With that glimpse of Miriam's new and terrifying world, Sue Tyler was determined to prepare their home environment. While their daughter slept they moved around the home blindfolded until they each had discovered the dangers within. Their shins were bruised and Derek had sustained a sprained wrist, the result of a fall. After five days they could move around the house in comparative safety. They removed any obvious dangers and asked for and received professional help.

Over the ensuing years, Miriam slowly adapted to a world without sight. She did well in school, which specialised in Braille format studies, and her extra-curricula activities were varied. Her father had encouraged swimming lessons and by the time Miriam was twelve she excelled in the sport and her trophy cabinet was impressive. After successfully finishing her matriculation studies, Miriam decided to become a teacher. She attended university, where she received excellent help. Her study materials were converted to Braille and her examinations were given orally. She also had the help of some dedicated carers and friends who could meet her extra needs. Her independence was far stronger now and her best friend 'Almost' guided her through the hazards of her daily routine. 'Almost' was a beautiful Labrador – well almost. The dog's tail was by a quirk of nature black while the rest of his fur was the regular gold. The dog's trainers had immediately chosen a name to fit the dog. Miriam loved him.

Jeremy Haydn Smythe was an athlete of outstanding quality. He came from a wealthy family and had the benefit of a grand education with all the trimmings. Jerry was courageous and had been unspoilt by his fortune. He was four years older than Miriam when they met. Both had passed their desired levels in academia, he a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering and she a Bachelor of Education. Jeremy Haydn Smythe was to be her first pupil.

With her graduation behind her, Miriam had sought work away from specialised teaching for the visually impaired without success. The publicly proclaimed loudness and surety of equal opportunity had, however, constantly returned to her a vague whisper, a negative whisper.

Slowly, her frustration turned to despair and then to depression which eroded her former confidence. 'Almost' was just as forlorn as he sensed his mistress' discomfort. The telephone call came from a Dean of College who had seen Miriam's potential. After a lengthy discussion she had agreed to meet Geoffrey Smythe.
'I understand you once had sight?'
Miriam was used to this question and responded as she had so many times before. 'I was visually impaired when I was five and all sight had gone by the time I turned seven.'
'Can you remember?' Geoffrey Smythe couldn't complete the question. Miriam understood his awkwardness.
'Do I remember the sun, the birds, the colour? The near? The far?'
'Of course I do. I can still visualise the world's beauty although I can't see it. I can touch and smell a flower. I can feel the sun and wind on my cheek and sense enjoyment or sadness. I'm unable to see - nothing more.'
'I'm sorry. I was rude.'
Miriam decided to move the conversation along. 'About the teaching job, sir?'
'I need a private tutor for my son. A specialist.'
'Oh.' Miriam was disappointed.
'Look, I know you wanted to find work within the school system. I'll make a deal with you. Help my son and I'll guarantee you a position at a leading private school.'
'A fulltime position?'
Geoffrey Smythe chuckled. 'Yes, a fulltime position.' He qualified his statement. 'I'm on the Board.'
'Your son is visually impaired?'
'He has no sight at all - Jeremy's blind.'
There was hurt behind the words. Miriam didn't speak and Geoffrey Smythe took her silence to be a rebuke. 'I'm sorry. Does the word 'blind' imply irreverence?'
'Politically correct you mean?' She didn't wait for him to reply. 'I'm blind and your son is blind. How? When?'
'Eight months ago - a car accident.' Once again the sadness and anger was present.
'Jeremy has tried to kill himself five times.'
'Why me? Surely this is a job for a medical professional, a psychiatrist?'
'They've tried. Now I need a qualified teacher to help him. And you have experienced what he is going through with his loss of sight.'
'Will Jeremy want me as a teacher?'
'Probably not.'
'So you try. That's all I ask.'

Miriam's interview with Geoffrey Smythe had taken place at his city office. Jeremy was being cared for by a privately employed male nurse at the Smythe family estate situated some eighty kilometres from the city. Miriam had agreed to accept temporary accommodation within the estate. The mansion stood proudly away from the main road set on eleven hundred hectares of pleasant pastures and wooded hills. Stock was watered from a spring filled creek that had never failed to provide constant water throughout the six generations of the Smythe family occupancy.

Frank Duran, the male nurse, was very helpful and Miriam soon had the layout of her rooms memorised. She was alarmed that Jeremy was presently under heavy sedation and for the most part slept. Frank explained that cameras were installed and monitored for Jeremy's own protection. He had no say in the matter. Geoffrey Smythe had made the decision. Miriam made a mental note to challenge this intrusion at the earliest opportunity and also to question the use of the heavy sedation.

Jeremy's room was empty with the exception of his bed, a bedside table and a chair. All other furniture and materials had been removed since the second suicide attempt. Frank left Miriam sitting next to Jeremy's bed, 'Almost' slumped at her feet. She listened as he slept. The drugs had reduced his level of consciousness, but the young man's mental turmoil was still evident in his breathing. Jeremy was sadly disturbed and Miriam's empathy was real.
'Who's there? Frank?'
'My name is Miriam Tyler. Your father has asked me to help you.'
Jeremy was trying to break out of the drug haze that clouded his befuddled mind. 'Not another nurse?'
'No, I'm a teacher.'
'I don't need a teacher, unless of course you can teach me to see.'
'In a way, yes.'
'Get out!' Jeremy was angry. Who was this woman? Why was she tormenting him?
Miriam sat quietly for a moment and then dropped her hand to caress her dog's ears, then gently brought the dog to stand and urged him forwards. 'Almost' as always was most perceptive and lent across the bed and nuzzled Jeremy's right hand. Surprisingly, Jeremy didn't overreact. Certainly, his hand pulled away on contact but soon returned to stroke the dog's head.
'My father would be annoyed. He hates dogs inside the house.'
'This is a different dog. 'Almost' is my guide.'
Jeremy shook the fog away and found more rational thought. 'You're blind?'
'That's excellent - two blind freaks together in the dark.'
Miriam was hurt. She should have been more prepared for his venom, his self-pity.
She fought against her immediate response of 'I'm not a freak'.
'Look, Jeremy.'
'Jerry. I can only help you if you need me.'
'I don't.'
'Then I'll go. I told your father that this wouldn't work.'
'Then why did you come?'
'I lost my sight when I was seven. My parents helped me. We all need help.'
'Help me to end it then.'
Miriam, still hurt from his previous comment, bit now. 'That's it, take the easy way out and end it all. How bloody pathetic.'
'You bitch.'
She left him then, too angry to confront him any further.

That evening Miriam rang Geoffrey Smythe and explained that her first meeting with his son had turned a little sour. She had calmed down by then and decided to continue her role as teacher. She could hardly accuse Jerry of cowardice and walk away from her task after one visit. No - she would stay and try again.

Three days produced little change. Miriam had one win to her credit. Geoffrey Smythe had instructed Frank, after checking with Jerry's doctor, to reduce the sedation. He would not, however, agree to the removal of the surveillance equipment. He did agree that sound should not be monitored, honouring Miriam's need for privacy.

After a week had passed, arguments between teacher and student were less frequent and his questions were more pointed. He was able to leave his room during the second week and although watched closely by a security guard was allowed to walk outside the house.

This was a great improvement and Frank reported as much to Jerry's father. To Frank, who had been shunned by Jerry as a 'prop' it was incongruous that Jerry had complete faith in the blind girl by his side who in turn trusted her dog. Indeed, he thought, they made an impressive trio.

Miriam was making progress and she had started to turn some of his negatives around. She challenged Jerry in such a way that both his intellect and manhood could not refuse her dare.

As Jerry was not yet ready for a long walk in his new dark, Frank drove them to a place Jerry knew so well, an enchanting place where the willows touched the water in shadow allowing the trout a secret breeding ground. Masses of colourful finches joined them where they sat as the evening collected the night.
'You're trying too hard, Jerry.'
'I can picture everything but not what you describe.'
'Shush - listen.'

Frank had taken a great interest in Miriam's teachings. She had shown him the winged creatures in the sky, the flowers, the trees, the water and the fish swimming below the surface. She brought the positive closer and pushed the negative away. She explained his own acceptance of sight in a way that made him humble. As for Jerry, he was frustrated by his own impatience and insisted they return the next evening. He would do better.

His pulse had raced the first time he could place the moment the finch left the tree. He had felt both the flight and the moment of contact as the tiny wings made fleeting contact with the surface. He had watched this evening ritual many times and now linking sound to memory completed the picture of his youth.

That night Jerry cried himself to sleep. In the morning he had a challenge for his tutor.

The saltpan stretched out beyond the horizon, baked hard by the sun and windswept to a perpetual level which made hazards non-existent. Money or the lack of money was no barrier for Jeremy Haydn Smythe and Miriam had found herself transported at a rapid pace to this distant land. After the plane landed, much to the delight of 'Almost', they were guided to a four-wheel drive.

The vehicle was fitted with a two-way radio and this link was the only guarantee that Miriam had of her survival. Jerry on the other hand had been here before. He trusted the desert floor and the faraway boundary. She didn't.
'Come on, Miriam, cheer up.'
'Just don't crash.'

Jerry started the engine, engaged first gear, slipped the clutch, planted his foot and Miriam gave a shriek as the inertia flung her back. 'Almost' howled in sympathy. Jerry laughed and laughed, so much so that Miriam forgot her fear and instead became downright angry at his joy. Jerry, well acquainted with the vehicle, wrestled the mike from its rest.
'I'm going to swing around to the right. Clear to move right?'
'Affirmative, Jerry - move right.'
The other vehicle had maintained a parallel position and now moved further forward before slowing to a standstill. They watched as Jerry's four-wheel drive moved right and stopped.
'Your turn, missie.'
'I can't drive. Anyway you've got gears and things - it would take me ages.'
'No cop outs. The other vehicle is an automatic.'

Jerry took no notice and had already started to put his request through to the other vehicle's driver. Miriam was not quite as worried now and this challenge was one she had yearned for. Her father, after providing a safe environment, had changed tactics during her last year of sight. He had taken long service leave and taken her on his own form of learning safari. She was going to experience things to remember. She was to get her chance.

Go-kart racing, mini bike riding, horse riding, sailing - anything he could fill her day with. Her mother took her to see plays, to the movies, to the museums and although hampered by thick spectacles and clouded vision she saw - she learnt - she remembered.

She listened while Jerry went through his rudimentary instructions. Now she was excited. Too excited. They rocked backwards at pace and she panicked leaving her foot hard down on the accelerator. Then her hands became confused and the lightness of the power steering threw the vehicle into twists and turns that threatened their stability. The radio crackled into life. 'For bloody hell's sake take your foot off the GO pedal.'
Finally, she lifted her foot and steadied her hands. The vehicle slowed and Miriam braked gently to a standstill.
'And you told me you couldn't drive.'
'Shut-up, Jerry.'
Taking a deep breath Miriam gingerly felt for the 'Drive' position and exhilaration filled her with happiness. Jerry 'whooped' loudly next to her and 'Almost' looked on disdainfully.
On the flight home Miriam decided to show off.
'Can you swim, Jerry?'
'You bet. Why? Think you can beat me?' In one fell swoop he trumped her ace.
'OK. I'll pick the swimming pool.'

The rubber dinghy pulled away leaving them treading water. 'Almost' sat watching from the bows. He hadn't shown the least inclination to join them. Directions were shouted through a loud hailer when they veered off course. Once again Jerry had used his money to extend the challenge. They were positioned a good kilometre away from the coast with the finish line some three kilometres off. Miriam thought the adventure a fantastic event. She beat him easily and was pleased with his attitude.
'You cheated - you're half fish.'

From then on their lives were hectic. Jerry was making excellent progress although bouts of depression and utter frustration were often drawn to the fore. Miriam taught him well and found joy in her work. His devilment led them to more adventures although she dismissed his suggestion of bungee jumping with a swift retort. Geoffrey Smythe, who had kept a discreet distance for the previous three months, now returned to the mansion. After greeting them and receiving his son's account of their latest venture he drew Miriam aside.
'Thank you, Miriam - you've done a marvellous job.'
'Is the job over?'
'For now.'

Miriam said nothing more. The blanks were obvious - she'd fill them in later. Jerry was furious. His dark had been made light by Miriam's presence and just like that his father had ended his salvation. He would fight this decision but when he managed to locate Miriam's home address she had gone.

The months moved through that intangible world of time to become a year. Jerry had found active work on the management team within his father's empire. His old friends still made the odd visit and small talk but nothing more. To them his was a different world.

He never dated and he never forgot. He sent a few audiotapes to Miriam and although they were never returned he received no reply. Geoffrey Smythe never regained the total respect of his son although he still had his love. Weeks after Miriam's dismissal they had a blazing row.
'It was for the good.'
'You were getting too close. Nothing good could come of that.'
'You bigot.'
'How dare you talk to me like that, Jeremy.'
'Then you explain exactly what you mean.'
'You're both blind for crying out loud, can't you see?'

Jerry had left the room then, hurt by the spoken words and angered by the unspoken words. His father had shown complete and utter prejudice. He didn't have to qualify his thoughts and Jerry knew immediately that Miriam must have made the same deduction.

It was ridiculous they had become friends, not lovers. There had been no talk of any permanent relationship or marriage and certainly no talk of children, of family. Family, thought Jerry. Two blind people bringing into world part of their love. Yes – that's what his father had been afraid of - children. Bigotry, that disabled bridge that kept the sighted away from his world. Her world.

Just as suddenly as he denied those words of love they grew to be true. She had entered his space and his heart. He wouldn't rest until she was once more by his side.

Miriam had listened to his audiotapes and had returned his love silently, still afraid of commitment. Oh, she had painfully understood the thoughts of Geoffrey Smythe and yet she had left without a fight, knowing her own fear, her own prejudice.

She had started to fall in love with Jerry as they sat in the shade of the willows and had instinctively fought against her feelings. When she accepted a man into her life, to have his children, then surely this man had to see. Her own selfish thoughts were now turning against her for she had dreamt about the man of her desire, the father of their children. And always her dreams had involved a man with sight who could look after her in times of need, a man who could help the children do so much more than she could achieve.

She pushed her own feelings aside, even shunning Geoffrey Smythe's previous offer of work in a private school. He had left this offer open and had given Miriam an excellent reference.

Once again Miriam applied for work and attended interviews, all with the same negative outcome. After she had left the interview room the theme of discussion was always similar. The interviewing panel immediately cast aside the tasks that Miriam could do and instead dwelt on those areas that would be hard or even impossible for a person without sight. She would easily get work, they'd say - she's such a nice girl and so very bright.

Work eventually came with the help of her father. Miriam became both teacher and companion for the child of a professional working couple. She would live-in and her income reflected her responsibility. Her board was free and her wages well above award rates.

Annabelle Richardson was twelve years old. She had been without sight since birth and Miriam, with the help of 'Almost', was to prepare her for the independence she would need in her ensuing teens. The Richardsons had decided that Miriam would be far better at this task than a sighted person. As a teacher she would give Annabelle the benefit of private tutoring in addition to her normal high school studies. As the months passed Miriam found herself sharing more of her private thoughts with the girl. They had become good friends and although young, Annabelle's intuition far outweighed her years.

At night in the privacy of her own room, Miriam would often replay the audiotapes that she had received from Jerry. On one such occasion she had left the door of her room slightly open and was unaware that Annabelle had come looking for her.
'He sounds very nice. Is he your boyfriend?'
Miriam turned the tape off, annoyed with herself for leaving the door open.
'No, he's not my boyfriend.'
As often with the young, Annabelle's question was innocently pointed.
'Do you love him?'

Jerry sat as he had so many times in the shade beneath the willows. His thoughts, as always, were of her. He sensed the dog's approach and reached out with the back of his hand to the sound. The property had many such animals but not like this one. The dog was a Labrador of perfect colour - well 'Almost'.

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