I am not an artist and I have never aspired to be one. I don’t have a lot of interest in it and it’s not an area in which I have much talent.
Except when it comes to drawing eyes.
It’s not that I have a particular desire to draw eyes, it’s just that when I was a kid, I had a book that showed me how to do so. It was the only thing I ever learned on the subject. Over the years, they became my absent-minded doodle of choice and now I’m quite good at them. Not good enough to attract overwhelming praise, but decent enough to look pretty on whatever page I’m defacing.
One evening I was at home with my roommate, Sarah, watching a movie in the lounge. She had picked it and it wasn’t really my thing at all. I was scribbling on a magazine that had been left near the sofa, not paying attention and thinking that I might head up to my room and read for a while instead.
I glanced over at Sarah and was surprised to see that she wasn’t watching the film either. She was reading a book. I was about to ask her why we even had the film on if neither of us were watching it, when I recognised what she was reading.
‘Sarah,’ I said, ‘Is that my book?’
She looked up. ‘Oh yeah, it is. It looked good!’
I felt a little burn of anger grow in my stomach. The book was brand new and I hadn’t even started it yet. Furthermore, it had been left in my room, which meant she had gone in there uninvited. I bit back on the urge to snap at her. I was too tired to get into an argument and Sarah was very good at playing the victim. I didn’t have the energy to deal with it.
I looked away, my jaw clenched, angrily scribbling on the blank spaces of the magazine.
My hand moved over the paper, scratching out the familiar lines of an eye. It began to form in front of me… but I could already see that something was different. I kept drawing, the pen seeming to move of its own accord. I felt a touch of excitement as the picture developed.
It was probably the best eye I’d ever drawn. I had added in details that had never before occurred to me, shadow and light that made it more realistic than anything I’d previously created. As if in a dream, my hand moved to the side and I began to draw a second eye, a twin to the first. I’d tried that before but never with any success; the results never matched. Not this time. They were perfect together, and full of life.
I reached out to the coffee table, where a box of crayons sat. They actually belonged to Sarah, for her Colouring Books for Grown-Ups. She had asked me to not to use them but right now I didn’t care.
Almost automatically, I selected a particular shade of blue and pressed it to the irises, adding colour to them, and more life.
And then I was done. A haze seemed to lift from me and I stared down at the page, down at two perfect eyes staring back at me. They seemed familiar, although they weren’t mine. My eyes are brown. But I’d seen them before.
I blinked and sat up straight, wondering how long I’d been drawing. I became aware that Sarah was looking at me.
‘Are you using my crayons?’ She asked accusingly.
‘Are you reading my book, that was brand new and that you took from my room without permission?’ I responded.
She opened her mouth to defend herself, her big blue eyes already filling with tears but I wasn’t in the mood for it, so I grabbed the magazine off my lap and walked out, up to my bedroom. Once there, I sat down at my desk and carefully tore out the page with my picture on it. I propped it up against the side of my computer monitor, gazing at it proudly. I hadn’t known that I had it in me to create such a perfect image. A part of me suspected that I would never recreate the feat.
I laid down on my bed, facing the eyes and drifted off to sleep thinking of them.
I was late to work the next day as I kept stopping to look at the eyes when I should have been getting ready. Part of me wanted to take them with me, but I was afraid that they might get crumpled in my bag. They would have to wait here until I got home.
As I was about to go downstairs to grab my coat, Sarah appeared on the landing. She haughtily averted her gaze and flounced towards the bathroom. I rolled my eyes and then paused, staring into her room. My book lay on her bedside table. Quickly, I ran in and grabbed it, darting back to my room and throwing it on the bed. Then I pulled the door closed and locked it.
It was petty, sure, but I was in that kind of mood. Then I left for work.
I had a strange day. I felt unfocussed, easily distracted. I kept on thinking about the eyes. I found myself wishing that I’d taken a photo of them so that I could see them whenever I wanted. When five o’clock came around, I positively skipped home, eager to see my creation.
Sarah met me at the door.
‘Did you take my book?’ She asked, pouting. I was about to point out that it was my book and I had merely taken it back but I was still feeling petty, so instead I said:
She stared at me as I moved past her and up the stairs. I unlocked my bedroom door and went in, dumping my bag on the floor and looking straight over at the eyes. I gasped.
The eyes were still there on the desk but they had been cut from the torn page. They had been removed perfectly, as if excised with a scalpel instead of scissors. Who had done this?
The door had been locked all day and I knew Sarah didn’t have a key to my room. But who else could it have been? I looked over at the bed and saw that my book still lay there. If it had been her, why hadn’t she taken it?
I walked downstairs and found Sarah in the kitchen.
‘Have you been in my room today?’ I asked.
She didn’t look at me. ‘Nope.’
I don’t know what I expected really. But whether she was lying or not, I didn’t know. I considered asking her whether anyone else had been in the house, but I could anticipate her response. I stomped back up to my room. The mystery of the cut-out eyes would have to remain unsolved for now.
I spent the evening alone, not wanting to eat or otherwise socialise with Sarah. I read for a while, pausing every now and then to admire the eyes. Eventually, I turned the lights off and drifted to sleep...
I woke up with my heart pounding. I sat up in the dark not sure why I was feeling so startled, why I was feeling so threatened. I looked around the room, my gaze falling on the desk. Moonlight was streaming through the window down onto the surface and I could see an empty space where the eyes had been. Slowly I reached out and turned on the lamp, glancing at it to find the switch.
And saw the eyes on the bedside table.
I flinched. Had I moved them? I didn’t remember doing so. To my knowledge, I wasn’t a sleep-walker. Sarah again? But it didn’t seem terribly likely that she would sneak into my room in the middle of the night and move some pictures that she didn’t even know about. I stared at them. As I did, a strange sense of calm came over me. I gently picked them and held them up to my face, moving them closer as if in a trance.
They twisted in my hand, jumping towards me.
I felt pain and cried out, grabbing at the pieces of paper. They were stuck against my eyelids and as I pulled at them, I felt my skin pulling too and still more pain, sharp like cutting. I yanked hard, whimpering and not understanding why I couldn’t pull them away, why the paper wasn’t tearing.
And then, just when panic had nearly overwhelmed me… they came away. I stared down at them in my hand, gasping, with tears rolling down my face. What had just happened? I threw the eyes on the bed and went to look in the mirror. My eyelids were red, with small dots of blood apparent where the paper had cut into me.
I know I should have destroyed them. I know that. I should have burned them, flushed them away.
But I didn’t. I put them back on the desk, placing my book on top of them as if that would solve the problem. Then I went to sleep.
When the morning came, the bright sunshine made the events of the night seem impossible. Were it not for the tiny wounds around and on my eyelids, I might have been able to convince myself that it had just been a dream. I felt numb as I got ready to go out. I think Sarah might have asked me a question but I didn’t pay attention. She was annoyed but I didn’t care.
I didn’t get any work done that day. I just kept thinking about last night. Seeing my dazed state and sore eyes, my boss assumed I was ill and eventually sent me home early. I had mixed feelings about it. I didn’t want to be at work but going home meant going back to the eyes.
I walked through the door, looking pensively up the stairs. My bedroom door was open and through it, though I couldn’t see the desk, I knew they were there, hidden beneath a book.
Then I realised.
The bedroom door was open.
I tried to recall the morning. Had I left it open? I thought I hadn’t, but I’d probably been far too distracted to lock it. A chill ran down my spine and I flew up the stairs, stumbling into my room.
I was too late.
Sarah sat hunched up on the floor by the desk, my book lying next to her. She was rocking back and forth, whimpering, holding her fingers over her eyes. Her head turned towards me when she heard me come in and she stretched her hands out to me, begging for help. As she uncovered her face, I could see her eyes.
But even from the doorway I could see that they weren’t her eyes. They were the same colour, and the same shape. But they were surrounded by blood.
And made of paper.