A patina of sweat had broken across Oriana’s brow since scrubbing herself for dinner, but she didn’t seem to care that she’d have to visit the washbasin again before her mother would let her sit at the table. She was too preoccupied with her task—moving all of the furniture in her room until it was an unrecognizable mess.
Naomi had already called up to ask what the ruckus was, but Oriana had replied with ‘nothing’, and her mother seemed to realize it was the kind of ‘nothing’ she needn’t worry overly about. Instead, she hummed to herself to drown out the noise.
Upstairs, Oriana had finished, and she surveyed her work with the look of satisfaction that comes with a job well done. The reason for all her effort soon became clear as she pulled the ribbon out of her hair and tied it around her eyes before spinning herself in circles. Once she finished, she waved her hands in front of her face as if to assure herself she wasn’t peeking.
Satisfied, she put her arms out in front of her, listened intently, and immediately walked into her chest of drawers.
She fell backwards onto the ground, frowning and rubbing her forehead vigorously. However, she was undeterred, and quickly made her way back to her feet, preparing for round two.
“Oriana! The stew is almost ready! Come sit down!”
“I’m not hungry!” Oriana yelled in the general direction of her door. While this was half true, any excuse not to eat the stew she was already regretting agreeing to was fine with her. Her mother’s voice had given her a sense of direction, though, and she took another blind step, making sure to shield her face from errant furniture this time.
“Ow!” Oriana growled, clutching at her newly stubbed toe just in time to hop onto her quiver with one foot, which rolled underneath her and brought her to the ground again. She tore the ribbon off her eyes and threw it across the room, glaring at it as though it might try to sneak back onto her face.
“She’s a witch and I know it,” she muttered conspiratorially.
“If you’re not hungry I guess I can have all the rolls to myself!” Naomi called again.
Oriana’s eyes widened, and she quickly found her feet again. “My rolls!”
* * *
After bounding down the stairs, Oriana hastily washed up again, trying unsuccessfully to wash off the red mark that had found a new home in the middle of her forehead. She took consolation in the fact that her mother couldn’t hear or smell a bruise. At least, she hoped not.
She found her seat at the table and immediately grabbed three rolls, barely managing to hold them all at once and burning her fingers in the process. She didn’t mind the pain, but Naomi was quick to rain on her bread parade anyway.
“One roll, until you’ve finished your stew,” she insisted, and waited until Oriana had put what she had carefully decided were the smaller two rolls back. Satisfied, she turned her attention back to her own meal, blowing carefully on the steaming broth.
“One,” she emphasized, her spoon stopping just short of her mouth, and Oriana pulled her hand back from the bowl.
“Fiiiine,” Oriana conceded, resting her chin in one hand as she grumpily dunked her roll in her stew. She hated to ruin a good roll that way, but it was the only way she would be able to stomach the watery broth, and she was going to get another roll, no matter what it took. Nibbling at the soggy roll, she made an array of impressively disgusted faces the lack of an audience began to bore her, at which point she dropped the act and resigned herself to eating.
Unfortunately, she finished her roll long before the bowl was empty, leaving her to eye the rolls in the middle of the table.
“My roll is gone,” she announced hopefully.
“Eat your stew and you can have another,” Naomi said, not looking up from her own.
Oriana’s face fell again as she stared into her bowl, poking the contents around with her spoon. “But it’s all full of mushy bread crumbs…”
“How could that have happened?” Naomi wondered aloud, smirking into her soup.
“It’s not funny.”
“I’m not laughing,” Naomi countered, but then, she was.
Oriana pouted harder.
“If you don’t eat it soon, it will be cold and mushy,” Naomi chimed in after a moment’s silence. “And the rolls will be cold, too.”
Oriana grimaced at the thought, and pulled her bowl closer. She stared at it with the grim look of a young girl on a mission, raised it to her face, and drained the rest of the contents in one go.
“Ew ew ew ew ew!”
She quickly grabbed another roll and ate half of it before she felt the memory of the chunky broth and slimy breadcrumbs making their way down her gullet was properly drowned out. By the time she finished the second roll and grabbed her third, she was no longer doing much more than picking at it.
As her mother finished her own stew, Oriana stared through her, deep in thought.
“What’s on your mind, little one?” Naomi gently inquired.
Still picking at her roll and staring into space, Oriana dreamily asked, “Are they really that bad, mom?”
Her mother was more resigned than alarmed at this second mention of the villagers. She collected the dishes from the table with deftness that belonged to a woman in full possession of her sight, and sat back down at the table.
“Not… all of them, no,” she admitted, choosing her words carefully. “But once one of them has seen you, they will all know. The bad ones will know. And they will stop at nothing to find you if they know you exist.”
“Why?” Oriana asked, all of her attention suddenly on her mother. It wasn’t very often she got answers this candid. She decided it was because she was seven-and-a-half.
“They… wouldn’t understand you. Or trust you. You’d scare them.”
“Am I scary?” Oriana asked, the wow in her voice half apprehensive, half proud.
Naomi stopped short of speaking, unsure of how to proceed.
“You know how… you know the feeling you get when you cover your right eye?” she ventured, trying to explain something she had never herself experienced. “Scared, like everything is out to get you?”
“I’m not scared!” Oriana insisted, trying not to lose her big girl status so soon. “But, I think I know what you’re talking about…”
Her left eye, the pink one, she called her ‘mean eye’. When she covered her other eye and looked only through the left one, everything was unfamiliar, even things she saw every day. The animals she normally hunted for dinner without fear suddenly appeared deadly, and her own mother seemed like she was out to get her. Oriana hated how everything felt when she did this, so she rarely did.
“Well Oriana, the villagers, that’s how they see things all the time. They only have their left eyes. They’re not just scared of you. They’re scared of each other. They don’t trust anyone, barely even their own families. And you, being so—“
She stopped short, wrestling with whether she was explaining too much too fast. Luckily, Oriana didn’t notice; she was too busy queuing up another question.
“Well why do they get rid of their right eye, anyway?” she inquired, staring at her mother through her own. “It’s much better.”
Her right eye, the bright green one, was her ‘happy eye’. She always looked through it when she had to get up in the dark and didn’t want to be afraid, or if she was sad. It made everything seem nicer, and even the things that went bump in the night weren’t so scary.
“Well, what did I tell you about looking through your right eye all the time?”
“It makes things that are dangerous seem like they’re okay,” Oriana chanted, reciting an oft-repeated lesson. “And I’ll get eaten by a wolf that I think is friendly if I’m not careful.”
“And the villagers know that. So they pick their left eye.”
Oriana snapped her left eye back open and stared at her mother down the bridge of her nose. “Why don’t they just keep them both, then? Everything looks normal with both eyes open. And then they can do this.” She stuck out her tongue as her eyes crossed. “Nyehhhh!”
“Do what?” Naomi asked, puzzled.
“Oh, right…” Oriana said, straightening out again. “I forgot. I was—“
Naomi chuckled. “I know, little one. I’m only teasing.”
“You so are a witch!” Oriana complained, crossing her arms in front of herself, her roll now completely forgotten. She didn’t like being laughed at. “You can’t smell my eyes!”
Her mother laughed again, and leaned across the table to touch Oriana’s cheek.
“They don’t keep them both because… well…” She smiled softly. “You’re special, Oriana. Nobody else sees the world how you do. I thought no one did, until I found you. Everyone thought that. The closest anyone else can get is to not see at all.”
“What do you mean?” Oriana asked. She seemed to be having difficulty deciding whether being special was a good thing or a bad thing.
“Not a single other person has two eyes like you do. Babies cry and cry until you cover one eye and will stop eating and die if you don’t. So the villagers, and everyone else on this side of the mountains, they take the right eye out at birth.”
Oriana scrunched her mouth up. She didn’t like the idea of anyone losing an eye, but taking them from babies just seemed… evil. It was hard for her, with two eyes, to imagine the babies would die otherwise.
“Wait, what about the other side of the mountains? They keep the right eye, over there? Like me?” Oriana probed, excited at the possibility of more people like her existing, even if they were so far away.
“No, little one, not like you. As I said, you’re unique.” Naomi smiled sadly at her daughter. “Across the mountains, they don’t remove either eye, but they cover the left eye up with a patch, and it never really develops after that. If you covered their right eye too, they’d be as blind as me!”
Naomi mimed covering one eye and stumbling around, managing to wrestle a giggle from Oriana in the process.
“Now finish your roll. It’s almost time for bed and something tells me you have a lot of work to do up there before you can go to sleep.”
“What? …oh!” Oriana had completely forgotten the mess she had made upstairs, and her face quickly fell. “Oh no!”
Naomi laughed at the crestfallen look. “I’ll tell you what, you help me with the dishes and I will help you get your room back in order. Deal?”
Oriana lit up again. She really didn’t mind doing the dishes, and her room was going to be a lot of hard work.
“Definitely!” She crammed the rest of her roll in her mouth and got out of her chair, rushing over to the washbasin. “I’ll wash, you dry.”
“Whatever you’d like, little one.”