23 Feb 2017, 6:37am
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“…Eyeballs…” Bk II: 20. Mall Cruising

Hey! You Got Eyeballs In There?

By Kate Chamberlin

 

As Grace grows up, some of her stories are happy, some trying, some enlightening, and a few themes are sad, but, they’re all the warp and woof of what goes into the tapestry of life we call Family. The daily living skills and techniques demonstrated by the fictional characters in these stories are valid, tried and true.

 

Book II:  The Teenagers

#10. Bad News

#11.  Grace’s Day One

#12 Knight With Shining Flatware

#13. The Locker Fiasco

#14. Lost In Thought

#15. The Musician

#16. Day Two And Beyond

#17. First Date

#18. The Zipper Creep

#19. Making Up

#20. Mall Cruising

Grace and Crackers had practiced working the mall during several training trips and enjoyed the freedom of walking effortlessly through the crowd of busy shoppers, moms with strollers, and splashing, noisy fountains. Grace was a bit nervous about how Ken, Edie, and Joe would take to traveling with a guide dog team. “Crackers and I are still relatively new to each other. Would you help me keep up her training?”  Grace asked her friends as they entered the wide, glass, automatic doors to the mall.

“Sure,” they agreed. “What do you want us to do?”

“Let’s let her work. I need to trust her, but, if you could give me verbal directions, I’d feel safer.”

Grace picked up the harness handle with her left hand and said, “Crackers, forward.” Crackers did as she was commanded and the four friends walked along, passing the many storefronts inside the mall.

Crackers would indicate store doors on their right with a little swing of her head, but she kept on walking straight. Straight, that is, until she made a sudden turn to the right, forcing Grace toward an open door.

“Wait,” Ken said. “That’s a coffee shop.”

“Maybe she wants a latte,” Edie laughed.

“Let’s all go in for a latte,” Joe suggested, so they did.

Once at their table, Grace had Crackers tuck in under the table with her head next to Grace’s chair.

“When she sits like this,” Grace explained, “she can see who is coming and won’t get worried for my safety.”

“Will she stay down the whole time we’re here?” Joe asked.

“Yes, she should….” Grace started to say.

“Unless, someone comes by, dribbling a ball!”  Ken teased and they all laughed.

Back out in the mall, they told Grace what was in each store window as they passed by. Crackers did well going straight and avoiding strollers, people, and the fountain pools. Until suddenly she made a sharp left turn. An enormous man almost mowed Grace down. Grace apologized and corrected Crackers, wondering why she’d veered so sharply.

“Put out your hand and feel where she is,” Edie said.

Grace did and felt the plastic fronds of a large plant in a huge, cement planter.

“Why did she do that?”  Joe asked. “She’s supposed to be so smart.”

“I think she is trying to tell us that she needs to piddle,” Grace said. “Is there an outside door near here?”

“Yes, just a few stores to the right,” Ken said.

Crackers relieved herself on the real grass outside and they re-entered the mall.

“Well, there’s something to be said about the power of suggestion,” Edie giggled. “Now I have to go, too.”

“Me, too,” Joe said and they headed for the restrooms.

In the Lady’s Room, Grace said, “Crackers, bathroom.” Crackers took Grace right into a stall and turned around.

“Down,” Grace told her, so the stall door could close by passing over her back.

“Oh, my Gosh,” a lady said. “There’s a dog in here!”

“It’s okay,” Grace called out. “She’s a girl, too.”

Back in the mall, as they were discussing the display in the GAP window, a little boy came up to pet Crackers. Grace felt Crackers nudge her thigh and realized what was happening.

“Please don’t pet the dog,” she said gently, putting her hand on the harness’ shoulder strap. “I can’t see, so, when she is wearing this, she is working to keep me safe and may not play with you.”

Quick as a wink, the boy’s twin brother came up and asked, “Hey! You got eyeballs in there?”

Grace was used to young children asking innocent and direct questions and knew that her reflective lenses prevented people from seeing her eyes.

“Yes,” she said. “I have eyeballs in there, but they don’t work.”

The boys’ mother hurried up with an infant in a stroller. “I’m so sorry. They’re just so hyper and curious.”  She corralled the twins and hurried on down the mall.

Later, the four friends met up with several other students from their high school. There was a feeling of relaxed camaraderie. Even the “big” kids had some questions.

 

kathryngc1@verizon.net

16 Feb 2017, 4:53am
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“…Eyeballs…” Book II: 19. Making Up

Hey! You Got Eyeballs In There?

By Kate Chamberlin

 

As Grace grows up, some of her stories are happy, some trying, some enlightening, and a few themes are sad, but, they’re all the warp and woof of what goes into the tapestry of life we call Family. The daily living skills and techniques demonstrated by the fictional characters in these stories are valid, tried and true.

 

Book II:  The Teenagers

#10. Bad News

#11.  Grace’s Day One

#12 Knight With Shining Flatware

#13. The Locker Fiasco

#14. Lost In Thought

#15. The Musician

#16. Day Two And Beyond

#17. First Date

#18. The Zipper Creep

#19. Making Up

When Grace woke up at eleven the next morning, she was glad she’d taken Crackers out for her final piddle and park when Ken had dropped her off. Actually, they had taken Crackers for a short walk together. The dog was a safe, neutral topic to talk about. They talked about other things, too, even what had happened at the party. She remembered exactly what they said.

“It scared me when that zipper creep came on to me.” She’d said, deciding to tell him exactly how she felt and let him take it or leave it. “I couldn’t find the bathroom by myself, I kept bumping into people I didn’t know and they didn’t even seem to know I’d bumped into them. The smoke was awful and when I heard those boys say you were with Heather, I wanted to leave. I felt embarrassed and just wanted to leave.”

“I’m sorry,” he’d said. “I didn’t know being alone in a crowd could freak anybody out like that. I’ve never felt like that but then, I’ve always been able to see my way around.”

The more they talked, the better Grace felt. By the time they’d returned to her front door to say good-night, she decided not to cancel their plans for lunch the next day.

“Oh, Dear Gussie!” she yelped fumbling to get out from the tangled sheets and blankets that wanted to keep her prisoner. “Ken is due here any minute, Crackers. Get a move on.”

Crackers, though, was way ahead of her and wagging her tail as she patiently waited at the door for Grace. Her big, brown eyes seemed to smile, “I thought you’d never get up.”

Twenty minutes later, they were downstairs busy helping her Mother get lunch ready. They heard Stang in the driveway, a door slam, and the basketball dribbling resume.

Grace and Crackers went out to say, “Hello.” She listened to the easy banter of her brother and Ken. She felt the ball being put into her hands.

“Shoot for a swisher, Grace,” the familiar baritone teased.

“Come on, Sis,” Sandy said as he lined her up to face the rim. “Go for it.”

She had done this before. It was a piece of cake. Sandy always put her in the same spot and had taught her how to throw it.

“Crackers, sit. Stay.” Then, her arms went pump, pump, and pump and smoothly sent the ball up toward the hoop with an accurate follow through. It arched up and came down on the rim. Round and round it went several times. Finally, it went in.

Amid much hooting, laughing, and comments about dumb luck for girls, they headed in for lunch.

Tacos seemed to be everyone’s favorite. Grace thought it would be great because they all used their fingers to eat the tacos. It was just plain messy fun for everyone.

They were just cleaning up from lunch when Joe and Edie pulled up the driveway, parking behind Stang. The four of them had made a date to go mall cruising. Mall cruising was always fun and interesting.

Grace had a sense of déjà vu. Maybe this year won’t be so bad after all, she thought again.

 

kathryngc1@verizon.net

9 Feb 2017, 6:01am
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“…Eyeballs…” Book II: 18. The Zipper Creep

Hey! You Got Eyeballs In There?

By Kate Chamberlin

 

As Grace grows up, some of her stories are happy, some trying, some enlightening, and a few themes are sad, but, they’re all the warp and woof of what goes into the tapestry of life we call Family. The daily living skills and techniques demonstrated by the fictional characters in these stories are valid, tried and true.

 

Book II:  The Teenagers

#10. Bad News

#11.  Grace’s Day One

#12 Knight With Shining Flatware

#13. The Locker Fiasco

#14. Lost In Thought

#15. The Musician

#16. Day Two And Beyond

#17. First Date

#18. The Zipper Creep

Grace was nervous about being in large groups. It was so hard to know when someone was talking to her if they didn’t say her name and then their own name. At the bonfire, word spread that there was going to be a party at Heather’s house after the bonfire. Grace knew it would be noisy and there might be drugs. The other three really wanted to go, so Grace felt she couldn’t say no.

As they got closer to Heather’s house, there were cars all over the place.

“Aw, Man. We’re going to have to walk two blocks just to get to the freaking party!” Joe moaned.

Even from that distance, they could hear the music. As they came closer there were bursts of loud, raucous laughter. Grace tried to calm the uneasy feeling that was growing in the pit of her stomach. As they walked into the house, they were immediately sucked up by the crowd. People were shoulder to shoulder, butt to belly, with only smoky air to breathe. Ken and Grace became separated from Edie and Joe although Grace couldn’t tell who was where anyway. She was glad Ken had a strong hold on her hand.

She could barely hear Ken when he yelled into her ear, “Here’s a chair. I’ll try to find us a soda and be right back. Okay?”

She nodded her agreement and sat down. She checked her talking watch for the time, but could not hear the tiny voice. She thought ruefully how loud it sounded in church when she’d accidently bumped the time button.

“Hi, Grace,” a nameless voice hollered and passed on before she got out her, “hello.” As people passed by her, she detected a sweet smell. She’d heard that marijuana has a sweet smell and wondered if this was the real thing. She reached out her hand to try to figure out what was near her. To the left she felt a wall with flocked paper on it. Her chair had a caned back and seat with curved wooden arms and straight legs.

From the arm of her chair, she gently reached to the right. Her fingers felt denim. It was just a quick touch but she recognized the feel of fabric over a zipper. With her face flushed and turning redder, she stammered, “Oh, excuse me.”

A stranger’s thick, deep voice mumbled, “That’s Okay, Honey, I’ll give you a half-hour to stop!”

Grace rushed up out of her chair and felt a cold liquid slosh on her head.

“Grace, for crying out loud. Where are you going in such a rush?” Ken asked trying to keep hold of the red Solo cup of Coke she had just smashed into.

“Oh, gosh. What a mess. Do you see a napkin or something?”  She yelled at him to be sure he heard her above the noise.

“I’ll go get something. I found the kitchen on my way to the drinks,” he hollered back.

Grace didn’t know what else to do but to sit back down in the chair and hope the zipper creep had moved on. She sipped her Coke but found that it made her queasy. She bit her lip to calm her stomach. She checked her watch again but, of course, it did not speak any louder than the first time she tried it. Her cold, sweating hands stuck on the wood arms of the chair as her fingers rubbed up and down on them. How long had Ken been gone she wondered.

To take her mind off her rising frustration and panic, she tried to eavesdrop on the conversations that were around her. The smoke was making her feel sick.

She thought she heard a boy say, “Ken’s pretty lucky. He can leave this one out here and make it with Heather, too.”

“Yeah,” came a reply. “Heather really knows what she’s doing. What a piece of…” but, the rest of his comment was lost as another conversation burst into loud laughter.

Grace needed to get to a bathroom quickly. She had no idea where the bathroom would be. She didn’t even know where the door was to get out of the house. She stood up and took a step. She felt someone’s foot pull out from under hers just as she put her full weight on it.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Could you tell me where the bathroom is?” she said as she steadied herself.

“Why sure, Gorgeous, it’s upstairs on the right. I’ll go with you.”

At first she thought he recognized that she was blind and he was being helpful but the way he draped himself on her and sloshed his drink on her, she changed her mind. With a quick “no thanks.” she twisted out of his grip. The twisting motion disoriented her. She had no idea which direction to go to get to the door. Her panic was heightened as she bumped from person to person. Her shoulder hit something hard and her hip slammed into something even harder; a doorknob.

As she turned the knob, she prayed that this was the door out and not a closet. Grace tried to remember if they had walked up three steps, across a small patio, and then two steps up to the door or was it two steps up to the patio and three steps up to the door?  Her breathing was shallow and irregular with her heart thudding in her breast, she opened the door. The cool air hit her face. She felt for the step with her foot. Once she let go of the door, she’d be in limbo with no solid landmarks. Her foot found one step. Then she found the next step. Was there two or three?  Her mind was a blur, her hands were sweaty and cold, and she thought she would surely throw up. Her foot didn’t find another step. That meant the three steps were going to be from the patio to the sidewalk. She tried to think. Did we turn left after coming up the three steps or did we go straight?  She turned right – right into a wall. She turned back and felt with her foot for whatever was there. The little voice in her head said, “Never ever go anywhere without Crackers or at least your long, white cane.”  Her Mother’s words about new opportunities also popped into her head.

Her foot went down and she felt herself fall forward. Her knee hit the edge of the sidewalk and her hands smacked down on the hard packed grass.

Rough hands helped her to her feet. “Whoa, too much to drink, little lady?”

Her mind raced as his hands began to brush the dust off her and pull her in for a hug and more. She felt the saliva begin to well up in her mouth, her palms began to sweat again, and there was that awful taste in her mouth as all the contents of her nervous stomach shot up and out all over the man who was helping her.

“Get your hands off of her, fella!” yelled Ken, dropping the case of sodas Heather had asked him to get from her van. “Grace, are you okay? Why did you leave the party?  I told you I’d be right back.”

“I’d like to go home. I’m not feeling well,” was all Grace could say.

The walk back to the car seemed longer than two blocks. No one spoke. No one knew what to say. Grace was confused. She wanted to believe Ken but everyone knows how easy it is to fool a blind person. So much depends on trust. Could she trust Ken again?  Maybe it just wasn’t worth the emotional investment.

 

kathryngc1@verizon.net

2 Feb 2017, 4:46am
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“…Eyeballs…” Book II: 17. First Date

Hey! You Got Eyeballs In There?

By Kate Chamberlin

As Grace grows up, some of her stories are happy, some trying, some enlightening, and a few themes are sad, but, they’re all the warp and woof of what goes into the tapestry of life we call Family. The daily living skills and techniques demonstrated by the fictional characters in these stories are valid, tried and true.

Book II:  The Teenagers

#10. Bad News

#11.  Grace’s Day One

#12 Knight With Shining Flatware

#13. The Locker Fiasco

#14. Lost In Thought

#15. The Musician

#16. Day Two And Beyond

#17. First Date

It seemed like the Homecoming Weekend would never get there, but, as sure as exams, it finally arrived. Edie’s favorite heart-throb, Joe, had asked her to Homecoming, so, they were going to double  date. It was exciting to have Ken pick her up in his ’79 Mustang that he lovingly called: “Stang”. She heard “Stang” in the driveway and then began to have second thoughts about going. “What if he gets embarrassed when I make a goof?” she lamented to no one in particular. “What if Crackers has an accident? Maybe I should leave her home?  What if he doesn’t want to hold my hand to guide me?  I haven’t used my white cane in ages.”

As fate would have it, her brother over-heard her and startled her by saying, “Would it calm that scattered brain of yours if I just happened to be at the Volleyball game tonight?  If your puppy piddles or you make an unpardonable guffaw, I could bring one or both of you home before anyone would know for sure what happened.”

Sometimes her big bro really seemed quite human. This was one of those times and she was grateful for his support. “Well, it’s a big world and you’re free to come and go as you like.” She gave him a thank you smile accompanied with a punch on the arm as the doorbell rang.

Sandy beat her to the door and opened it. “Hi, Junior, she’s over there with that pile of hair in a harness!” he said to Grace’s mortification.

Ken was nonplussed. He walked over to her and said, “Hi, Grace.”

She awkwardly said, “Hi, Ken.” Then, didn’t know what else to say.

Ken seemed to sense her uneasiness and said, “I put a blanket on the back seat for Crackers. Do you think she will mind sitting with Edie and Joe?”  They laughed at the thought of the three of them cuddled in the back seat. It had broken the tension and let her know that he expected Crackers to come with them.

They drove over to pick up Joe and then to Edie’s house. They said they didn’t mind sitting with a dog as long as she remembered she’s not a lap dog. Crackers, of course, thought it was great fun to have such a fuss made over her.

When they got out of the car at the game, Ken said, “Do you think Crackers would mind if I held your free hand as we walk?  Or would you prefer to take my arm the way my favorite old aunt does?”

Grace didn’t give it a second thought and slipped her hand into his strong hand with its slender fingers that, she was sure,  matched his tall, slender physique.

The gym was packed with students and alumni. The cheer leaders were doing their thing with enthusiasm. It fanned the crowd into a frenzy that sent a chill up Grace’s spine. She had never been to a volley ball game before and it surprised her. It was like a palpable wall of smells and sounds. Yelling people were everywhere. The four friends and one Guide Dog managed to squeeze onto the first level of bleachers. Crackers would have had a great deal of trouble going up and down the bleachers so they had to sit where she could be on the floor near Grace. The dog was nervous right from the beginning. The loudness of the crowd, the squeaking sneakers. The whooping of the sweaty players, and the sharp whistling of the line judge really made her try to guide Grace out of the gym. Try as Grace did, she could not get Crackers to settle down. When the home team came out to warm up, Crackers really became uncontrollable. She was just a puppy and been trained well, but the bouncing volley ball was too much for her. She strained and barked to get out on the court to play with that ball. Each time Grace tried a more severe method to control Crackers, but the dog had forgotten she was in harness. She just wanted to play ball. Grace gave Crackers a high collar correction where the choke chain goes  high up under her chin and near her ears. It was the most severe type of correction and not to be used often. When the man behind Grace saw her do this he began to yell that he was going to report her to the Humane Society. Grace was close to tears. She knew what she’d done was within proper training guide lines. Still, she felt awful.

Amid the confusion, Grace said, “I’m taking Crackers out to calm her down.”  Grace’s voice could hardly be heard above the cheering. Ken went with them into the hallway.

Her brother, Sandy, came up to them. “Is there a problem?  Grace, you look like a Beet. What’s going on?”

“Crackers isn’t ready for this type of crowd. I can’t train her in ten minutes. Sandy, will you take her home so I can stay for the game?”

“Sis, I thought you weren’t supposed to do that. She’s your dog. You take care of her.”

“Please, Sandy. For once in my life, I want to be like other girls on a date. Besides, you just put her on tie-down when you get home and you can come back to the game yourself.”

Ken said, “I don’t mind having a beautiful girl on my arm all the time.”

Grace had lots of doubts about being without either her dog or the long, white cane but couldn’t figure out any other simple solution. She really wanted to be with Ken just like a “normal” girl.

Sandy finally agreed to take Crackers home. Grace felt Ken’s elbow nudge her arm and she hooked on to return to the gym.

They lost the volleyball game, but, it didn’t really matter. Later, as they sat on a blanket munching hoagies and sipping hot cocoa, they watched the bonfire and sang school songs. Grace felt the warmth of the bonfire on her face. As Ken put his arm around her, she felt a different kind of warmth. It spread through her on the inside. She had Edie as her best girlfriend and Ken as her best boyfriend. Maybe this year wasn’t going to be so awful after all.

 

kathryngc1@verizon.net

26 Jan 2017, 4:45am
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“…Eyeballs…” Book II: 16 Day Two And Beyond

Hey! You Got Eyeballs In There?

By Kate Chamberlin

 

As Grace grows up, some of her stories are happy, some trying, some enlightening, and a few themes are sad, but, they’re all the warp and woof of what goes into the tapestry of life we call Family. The daily living skills and techniques demonstrated by the fictional characters in these stories are valid, tried and true.

 

Book II:  The Teenagers

#10. Bad News

#11.  Grace’s Day One

#12 Knight With Shining Flatware

#13. The Locker Fiasco

#14. Lost In Thought

#15. The Musician

#16. Day Two And Beyond

She ended up in the boy’s bathroom again and tried to beat a hasty retreat, but, in her panic, she dropped Crackers’ harness. She began to feel along the wall for the way out. The walls were cold and clammy. She bumped into the urinals. They began to come closer and surround her; closer and closer they came with an angry warning buzz. One bent to touch her cheek. It was cold and slimy.

Her mind sprang awake as her heart continued to thud loudly in her chest. It took a moment to realize that her alarm buzzer was going off and that Crackers had stuck her nose into Grace’s cheek. She wiped off the slime and gave the friendly dog a big hug, as the sotto voice on the radio continued with the oldie, moldy refrain about “the darkest hour is just before dawn”. Wiggling her feet around to find her slippers, she hoped today would be better than yesterday.

At Grace’s request, her Mother drove her to school a little early. Grace was determined to be independent and had put her Braille labeler into her backpack. Once through the side doors, the clickety-click of Crackers’ nails sounded loud in the quiet halls. Both Grace and Crackers were eager to do well.

 

After Crackers had guided Grace to their home room, Grace counted seven lockers from the door and felt around for the Locker’s number plate. She

thought her fingers must have been cold or playing tricks on her. She found the number plate and right beneath it was the number in Braille. She felt for the knob of the combination lock. Braille had been put there, too. She was sure it hadn’t been there yesterday. Grace tried the combination and it worked just fine. It was the right locker and the right combination, but, who had done this?

 

Crackers was working well today and they made all their morning classes on time. Heather had never come up to ask if Grace wanted help and Grace was just as glad.

In the lunch line, Grace was pleasantly surprised to hear Ken’s low baritone alongside her. She managed to get her tray onto the slide bars and even found the flatware and straws. As the cashier punched her lunch card, Ken said, “There’s no way I’m going to carry your books, but, may I carry your tray to our table?”

Grace rather liked the way he said “our table” and let his presumptiveness that she would have lunch with him go without a snide remark from her.

“What lady could ever refuse such an offer? Yes, thank you, Sir,” she said coyly. She remembered that he played the Classical Guitar and piano. She wondered if he had long, slender fingers or if they were just nimble?

After lunch, Ken went with her to the back side door as she gave Crackers a chance to piddle and park. Their conversation was casual and relaxed.

She was still thinking of him when she went to her next class. As she sat down in her chair, she felt a hot, gushing flood between her thighs. She felt the blood drain from her face as she realized that her period had started and she had no protection. The bell hadn’t rung yet, so, she got quickly out of her chair and headed for the nurse’s office. She knew which way to go and hoped she’d get there in time to prevent a major embarrassment. She was thankful that most of the other kids were already in their classes and she could concentrate on where she was. As she passed a door she noticed the distinct odor of rubbing alcohol and antiseptic. There was no doubt that it was the nurse’s office, so, she called out, “Hello.”

“Hi. You’re in the nurse’s office. Need something?” a soft voice asked her.

“Are you the nurse? I have an emergency.” Grace said urgently.

“No,” she answered. “I’m Edie, a student helper. The Nurse is at lunch. Is there something I can do to help you?”

Grace really did not want to tell the whole school what was wrong, but, she needed a pad right now and had no choice about it.

“Yes,” she replied, “I have started my period and need a pad. Does the nurse have a supply?”

“Yes. She keeps them in the cupboard next to the toilet for just such emergencies,” Edie answered quietly. “It’s on your right.”

Grace commanded, “Crackers, bathroom.”  As Edie said, “Holler, if you need any help.”

When Grace had gotten herself together and come out of the bathroom, she tentatively said, “Edie?”

“Yeah? You OK now?” Edie said in her soft voice.

“Yes, thank you. Crackers, chair.”

Crackers guided Grace to the chair next to the desk where Edie waited. Grace gratefully sank into it. There was something in Edie’s quiet demeanor that invited talk and Grace just began to babble.

“It has been so hard to come to a new school. It has been all I could think of the past few weeks. I should have known that over-reacting to everything, all the tears, and feeling fat, were signs that my period was due soon. I had such an awful nightmare about being trapped in the boy’s bathroom, that I never paid attention to the fact that my ears were more waxy than usual. That is a sure sign that I need to carry a pad, but, I never gave it a second thought this morning.”

Grace paused with a sigh and continued, “I’m sorry. I don’t usually go around telling everyone how I know my period is due. My apologies.”

Then, to try to take the edge off her own embarrassment, she asked, “What does a student worker do in the Nurse’s Office, anyway?”

Edie gave a soft chuckle and said, “Oh, I count Bandaids on Monday, tongue depressors on Tuesday. Then for excitement on Wednesdays, I count the cotton balls. It isn’t much but I get paid a little and that helps with the groceries at home. Do you want a pass now to get back into class or would you like to stay here the rest of the class time?”

Grace stayed and they found each other easy to talk to. They had many things in common. They were both Seniors and had three classes together, as well as an interest in hiking, and crafts.

When the bell startled them back into the reality of school, they walked to Spanish together and exchanged phone numbers. Grace had a new friend. She remembered her mother had said that her new school would be an opportunity to make new friends. Her mother was right.

 

The next day as Grace and Edie were about to go to their Seventh Period classes, Edie asked, “Grace, what do you do in the Resource Room?”

“It’s my Study Hall, but, because I need to use Braille and the talking computer, I go to the Resource Room where my equipment is,” Grace said, surprised that Edie had never been in there and did not know what it was. “Maybe we can get permission for you to come in and we could study together. Would you like to do that?”

Edie agreed and the following week found them sitting at Grace’s computer terminal. “I am going to introduce you to HAL, Edie,” Grace said with a grin. “It is the speech program of the screen reader that makes it possible for me to use the computer. Some computers for the blind have refreshable Braille outputs, but, this one uses the Apollo speech synthesizer.” She booted up the system, listening to the ticks, beeps, and whirrs to tell her when to turn on the various peripheral equipment.

A loud and clear “Hi” came from the synthesizer and startled Edie.

“Hi,” she automatically said back and immediately felt foolish to have talked to a computer.

Grace laughed and said, “I always say hi to HAL whenever I boot him up. Somehow it seems rude to not answer, even if it is a computer. Hal and I have done so much together that I often refer to him as just Hal. People have thought I’m dating a boy named Hal. They are surprised to find out it is a computer and a talking computer at that.”

Grace put in her homework diskette and continued, “While the speech or Braille makes it possible to use the computer, the optical scanner makes it possible for me to do much of my own reading without paying a person to read for me. I can lay almost any typed document on this lighted flat-bed. It will be scanned into the computer, converted into ASCII, and then into the word processor. I use Word2013. HAL will read it to me right away or I can save it as a file. It is a lot like the bar code scanner they use in the grocery store.”

“I thought you used a lap-top computer in class for taking notes. Can you take the information from that small computer and up-load it into this one?” Edie asked with growing amazement.

“Yes, that is exactly what I do,” Grace said. “Then I can re-arrange my notes and mesh them in with text from other files. Sometimes I scan a whole book just to be able to refer to it during my homework time. It is really quick to look up things using List Files index or the SEARCH feature.”

“Boy, would I like one of these,” Edie said with envy.

“Sorry, you have to be blind to get one of these babies,” Grace said with a grin.

Grace and Edie began to study together all the time. Some study halls they would be in the Resource Room and other times they would be in the library or, as Mrs. Rae liked to call it: the Media Center.

 

Mrs. Rae’s gruff  voice was the one Grace had heard that first day of school when she had mistakenly gone into the library instead of the main office. Edie and Grace were always careful to have their passes ready for Mrs. Rae to sign.

“She was here before they built the building,” Edie whispered to Grace one day. “They say that she is mean; however, the Media Center would not be as terrific as it is without her sovereignty. Everybody’s afraid of her.”

They thought Mrs. Rae had heard them talking, because, they heard her footsteps before she got to their table. She said, “Grace, I came across this book I thought you might find helpful in your Literature class. No one else in this school can read it, so, you may borrow it until the end of the school term.”

Her voice was not the unfriendly voice Grace had come to associate with her, but, that of an older woman. The older woman who had helped her with her locker and then told her where her bus could be found. Grace was surprised at this revelation, but, did not let on she knew. The book was an Anthology of stories that would indeed be very helpful to her. It was in Braille, so, of course, no one else would be borrowing it. She began to thank Mrs. Rae, but, the Media Center specialist had already left for the stacks. It dawned on Grace that now she also knew who had put the Braille on her locker.

 

The following week, Grace noticed that the book she was returning didn’t slip into the book bin behind the slot the way it usually did. A quick examination with her hand told her that it was over-flowing with books. When she asked Edie about it, Edie said, “The library aide is out this week and with all the budget cuts, they won’t hire a substitute aide. I guess Mrs. Rae is behind in checking in the books. She seems angry all the time now.”

Grace decided it was time to repay the kindness shown to her earlier in the year. She swallowed hard and approached Mrs. Rae’s desk.

“Mrs. Rae?” she tentatively asked.

“Yes, Grace,” she answered and Grace was able to pin-point her location and walk up to her.

“Mrs. Rae, I know how to use the light-pen and computer to check in books. I have a free period on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I would like to feel useful and check in books. I wouldn’t be able to shelve them, but, it would help get the books back into circulation quicker.” she blurted out and then held her breath.

There was a long pause (Edie, who was watching, later said that there was a broad smile on Mrs. Rae’s face that few people had seen.) “OK, Grace, we’ll give it a try. Are you ready to start now or Monday?” Her voice was that friendly one. Grace felt much relief and began to breathe again.

As it turned out, she became the student worker in the Media Center and even got paid to do it. She not only checked in books, but, helped with inventory using the hand-held scanner, Cleaned the books and equipment the teachers used, as well as conducting several of the story times for the Kindergarteners, who came twice a week. It was Grace’s first job and it made her feel very good about herself. Another one of her mother’s opportunities had happened.

And speaking of opportunities, Grace and Ken had lunch together almost every day. One particular day he asked, “How long have you had Crackers?”

“We have been together five months now, counting the month I lived at the training center with her.” Grace said, not surprised at his curiosity. Most people wanted to know about her dog.

“Only five months?” he said in surprise. “I thought the way you two worked together that you’d been friends a lot longer than that. Did you trust her from the first?  What was the training center like?”

“Whoa, one question at a time – my lap-top isn’t with me right now.” she said and they both laughed. “No, I didn’t trust her at first. I was used to using a long, white cane. All of us used them at the residential school, but, when we found out that I would have to come to a public school, my Mom talked me into trying for a dog. They won’t give dogs to kids under 16 except for some Independent Living dogs who help with kids in wheel chairs. I wasn’t sold on the idea. Who needs one more responsibility when doing things for myself is so hard already?  I went with the idea that if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t bring the dog home. She was friendly and a good worker but I did not trust her. I mean, put my life in a dog’s paws?  It wasn’t until a delivery van cut the corner in White Plains that I started to completely trust her. The trucks back wheels jumped up onto the sidewalk and Crackers pulled backwards so hard on the harness that I stepped out of the truck’s way. I could hear he was close, but all the traffic sounded close. She saw it was dangerous and backed off – taking me with her.” Grace paused with a lump in her throat just remembering how scary it was five months ago.

“What about the training center?”  Ken prompted.

“Well, at first I hated it. The people were noisy and seemed to puff themselves up to impress each other. They acted like they were entitled to everything. It was rather intimidating. I started a quiet conversation with an older man next to me. Roger was nice and we still call each other now and then. He is a Grand Master chess player and still plays by using a computer chess board. Eventually, I talked with each of the fourteen people there and got to know their stories: one was a mountain man from Kentucky who was blind because of a bad batch of moon-shine, one was a financial advisor with a big bank in Chicago, one was a real, honest to God Chippewa Indian Chief. Most of them were in their 30’s. Only one had to make a career change. I got to like the training center, because, it was set up for blind people. They served meals and automatically told you what was where. They weren’t shy about saying, “Grace, side step left.” so you don’t smash into a table. They always said my name and then their own name, which is so helpful. I lived there for one month and came away with a wonderful friend, my guide dog.”

“What were some of the things you had to do with her?”  He pumped with intense seriousness.

“Oh, we worked mostly in the Bronx, White Plains, and Peekskill, New York. We learned to ride city buses, go up elevators, down escalators, and even how to go through revolving doors. The scariest time, besides that truck, was riding the subway under the streets in the Bronx. We also learned how to care for our dogs by feeding them nutritious dog kibbles and to not  let them get fat. They gave us grooming tools and tips as well as orders to spray for fleas and Vet check-ups at least once a year.”

The bell rang and they had to hurry to get their trays put back. Later Grace wondered why Ken had so many questions about Crackers. Why did his questions seem like more than curiosity?  She didn’t think  he hated dogs, but, perhaps he didn’t like having one hanging around ALL the time. Did his questioning have an ominous meaning?

One day after lunch, toward the end of September, as they stood at the back side door to piddle and park Crackers, Ken self-consciously cleared his throat and croaked out all in one breath, “Grace, the Homecoming Weekend will be in two weeks. There is usually a Volley Ball game and a bonfire on Friday night, soccer game Saturday afternoon, a dance that night with another bonfire at the beach, and then a Memorial Service for classmates and graduates who have died and a football game on Sunday. Would you go with me?”

They both laughed as he gulped in a huge breath to keep from passing out. She was all fluttery inside and just barely managed to say a shy, “Yes, I’d like that.” And grinned at him. She wondered if his grin looked as silly as hers felt.

 

 

 

19 Jan 2017, 9:21am
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“…Eyeballs…” Book II: 15. The Musician

Hey! You Got Eyeballs In There?

By Kate Chamberlin

 

As Grace grows up, some of her stories are happy, some trying, some enlightening, and a few themes are sad, but, they’re all the warp and woof of what goes into the tapestry of life we call Family. The daily living skills and techniques demonstrated by the fictional characters in these stories are valid, tried and true.

 

Book II:  The Teenagers

#10. Bad News

#11.  Grace’s Day One

#12 Knight With Shining Flatware

#13. The Locker Fiasco

#14. Lost In Thought

#15. The Musician

The rolling thunder never penetrated Ken’s sound proof room in his parent’s basement. Sound didn’t get

In and sound didn’t get out. Each morning at 4:00 AM, he’d come down to be with the love of his life: his music. One morning he’d strum his classical guitar; another morning wail on his trumpet; still another morning blow his slide trombone. Music was in his soul and came out his fingers. He’d loose himself deep into a parallel universe.

The buzz of the intercom brought him back to his basement studio. Ken went up for breakfast. The smell of bacon, French toast, and clover honey wrapped around him like a cozy quilt of earthly wonders.

“Thanks, Mom,” Ken said. “This sure smells great. It’s later than I thought. Dad’s already left for work?”

“Yes,” she said with a smile. “You’d left the music room door ajar, so he came down to listen to you for a spell.  We were commenting on how much you’ve improved since you were three-years old, scratching away with Suzuki on that junior sized violin.”

“I think it is high time you threw out that embarrassing tape of me,” Ken grimaced. “Does Aunt Genny want me to stop in before school?”

“No. my sister has a pile of mail to go through,” his Mom said. “But, it’ll wait until after school. You’re running a little late. I don’t want you to do any speeding in Stang.”

Ken’s day was off to a great start, he mused as the hot shower relaxed his tall, lean body. Towel drying his curly, dark brown hair, he looked forward to his classes. This was his senior year, taking several AP courses at the Eastman School of Music. The scholarship he’d been awarded would enable him to attend Summer courses before attending full-time in the Fall.

Stang was a white, ‘78 Mustang with a variety of rusty “beauty marks”, but, it was transportation and he took good care of it. This morning, he wore his khaki slacks and a pale tan Polo shirt. His Mom liked the preppy look and he thought the colors looked good with Stang’s red leatherette interior.

He arrived at school, after his AP course at the Eastman, in time for lunch. He noticed a Golden Retriever with a harness on in the lunch line. He knew it for what it was: a working dog. When the girl’s lunch tray slipped off the slide rails, he knew exactly what her problem was. His Aunt Jenny was legally blind, so he often picked up things for her. As a matter of fact, He’d be reading her mail to her after school. He saw the girl bend over to pick up the tray and bash her head on the way down. He picked up the tray for her and said, “The tray is in front of you now.”

When they got to the end of the serving line, he guessed at her predicament and said, “It looks like you need three hands. Would you like me to carry your tray to a table?”

“Thanks,” the girl mumbled. “I think that would be the safest thing to do under the circumstances. Do you see where Heather went?”

Ken had been in Heather’s sights before and she made him feel uncomfortable. He also knew what a user she could be.

“Yes,” Ken answered in his low baritone. “But, there are no more chairs at that table. Would you sit with me at another table?”

Ken laughed when she told him, “Ok, but no guarantees about not dumping gravy in your lap.”

There was something that made him feel comfortable with this klutzy, blind girl

 

 

Copyright (C) 1996, 2016, 2017 by Kate Chamberlin

kathryngc1@verizon.net

 

12 Jan 2017, 7:11am
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“…Eyeballs…” Book II: 14. Lost In Thought

Hey! You Got Eyeballs In There?

By Kate Chamberlin

 

As Grace grows up, some of her stories are happy, some trying, some enlightening, and a few themes are sad, but, they’re all the warp and woof of what goes into the tapestry of life we call Family. The daily living skills and techniques demonstrated by the fictional characters in these stories are valid, tried and true.

 

Book II:  The Teenagers

#10. Bad News

#11.  Grace’s Day One

#12 Knight With Shining Flatware

#13. The Locker Fiasco

#14. Lost In Thought

The bus driver was as good as his word. He dropped her off at the end of her street. Although the street was paved, it ended in a cul-de-sac that did not have side-walks or curbs. Grace and Crackers had walked it many times during the summer just for exercise and something to do. She was not worried about getting home and let her mind wander, thinking over some of the things that happened that day.

She felt Crackers’ energy as she pulled hard to get up to the top of the hill. Why was it, Grace wondered, that the dog found all this work so much fun. Grace felt drained. Her thoughts turned to the smooth, low baritone who had been so helpful at lunch time. Suddenly, Grace realized they were starting down the other side of the hill. Crackers had gone past their home and Grace Wasn’t sure how far they’d gone. Bile rose in her throat from fear and panic.

“Crackers, Go Home!” Grace loudly said in fright, hoping the dog would get the message and take them to the unique wooden mailbox they used as a landmark.

Crackers turned to the right, into the middle of the street. Grace could feel the crown of the road. Crackers stopped and then turned to the left. She was confused as to what she was to do.

“Crackers, go home.” Grace repeated again, but, this time in a voice that would not scare the dog. Crackers took several steps forward down the hill but then turned to go back up the hill. After several yards, she stopped. Grace felt the gravel of the shoulder under her feet and reached out with her hand.  She felt the unique but familiar mail-box. It was especially made to hold the Library of Congress Braille books and Records that used to come each week.

“Good girl. Crackers, go home,” Grace   said calmly with relief flooding through her body. She had been so deep in thought, not paying attention to her surroundings,  that she had not told Crackers to go home so she didn’t. The perfect ending to my day, she mused in discussed.

Dinner was quiet that night. Her Dad was on a business trip and her brother was at a Volley ball game. That left her mother and her to have dinner together. Grace really didn’t want to talk about her day. After dinner, her Mother respected her privacy and went off to cut out construction paper pumpkins for her Nursery School children. Grace often helped her with projects, but, she really didn’t want to trace 27 little pumpkins tonight.

Later that evening, when Grace was in her favorite fleecy sleepshirt, reading a braille book, her Mother revived an old tradition that Grace had almost forgotten about. She came into Grace’s room in her flannel robe and PJ’s carrying a tray with two cups, two cookies, and a small chubby pot of fragrant hot herb tea.

“Hi, could we have tea time?”  Her Mother asked. A flood of mushy love gushed over Grace. Before she had gone to the residential school, they always used to ask that of each other whenever one had something to talk about. Sometimes they had tea time just to be together, just us girls, no boys allowed.

During tea time that night, Grace opened up and talked about her day as her Mother listened sympathetically. As Grace talked she felt better and knew that the worst was over. At least she hoped the worst was over. Life had a way of   rolling lemons tart as sour balls her way and she wasn’t so sure she could make any more sweet lemonade.

 

Copyright (C) 1996, 2016, 2017 by Kate Chamberlin

kathryngc1@verizon.net

 

5 Jan 2017, 4:46am
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“…Eyeballs…” Book II: 13. The Locker Fiasco

Hey! You Got Eyeballs In There?

By Kate Chamberlin

 

As Grace grows up, some of her stories are happy, some trying, some enlightening, and a few themes are sad, but, they’re all the warp and woof of what goes into the tapestry of life we call Family. The daily living skills and techniques demonstrated by the fictional characters in these stories are valid, tried and true.

 

Book II:  The Teenagers

#10. Bad News

#11.  Grace’s Day One

#12 Knight With Shining Flatware

#13. The Locker Fiasco

s   “Oh, good heavens,” Ken said, beginning to laugh, too.

Grace wanted to die as she quickly pulled the straw out of her nose.

“Noel Pollard just came in with the funniest outfit on. He is our class clown and has a real knack for making us laugh. He is sitting down at the table next to us.”

“Oh,” she said, relieved to know they had not been laughing at her. Apparently no one had seen her bad aim because of Noel’s well timed entrance. She tried to regain her composure by asking Ken, “Are you in any of my classes?” keeping her voice even and hoping it didn’t sound stupid.

“No, just lunch,” he said still chuckling a little. “I’m a senior taking a couple AP courses in hopes of getting into the Eastman School of music. I play the Classical Guitar and piano.”

“Oh,” she said again. It was all she could come up with. As Grace was scooping the last bite of chocolate pudding accurately in to her mouth, Heather came over to the table.

“Hi’ya, Kenny,” she said in a honey smooth voice that made it hard for Grace to recognize who was speaking. The thought occurred to her that Heather was impressed with Ken and wished she hadn’t left Grace alone in the line. “We have to get to our next class. You ready?  The tray return is over here.”

Grace clattered around getting Crackers up, her tray balanced, and eventually found the “here” that Heather meant. She heard Heather say a silky, “bye, Kenny.” as she muttered her own, “bye.”

Turning right from the cafeteria, they headed to their lockers. When Grace heard Heather working her own locker combination, she screwed up her courage and asked, “What is my locker number, Heather?”

“Oh, yours is 153 and mine is 155. That’s why they assigned me to baby sit you today. Do you think you can remember the way for tomorrow or do you want me to help again?”

“And, what is my lock combination?  I would like to try it myself this time,” she added, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice. It was never her intention to be a burden to this girl. Grace had not asked to have a sighted guide, much less an unwilling baby sitter. She didn’t even ask to be in this bogus school.

“Your combination is on this paper. It is left to 13; right to 24; and left to 10. Now, what about tomorrow?” she said with some irritation herself.

“I’m not sure I’ll be in tomorrow. But, thanks anyway,” Grace forced cheerfully.

“OK, suit yourself. I’ll check with you in the morning if you’re in,” Heather said and hurried off to join her friends in the classroom near their lockers.

Grace’s memory was good and she remembered the combination exactly, but, to be sure, she took out her mini-digital and recorded it.

As she took hold of the knob on the lock, she realized the folly of trying to do this herself. The numbers were not raised, much less in Braille. How was she going to figure out where even the first number was?  With her cheeks burning and her eyes threatening to flood over, she heard an older woman’s gruff voice say, “Seems to me that you’re in quite a pickle here. Mind if I help?”

After the woman had gotten the locker open, she left before Grace could even say, “Thank you.”  She’d heard that voice earlier today, but, she could not match a name or location to it.

Grace made a mental note that she must definitely make some Braille labels.

The last three periods of school seemed to go slowly, and yet, the clanging of the final bell startled her. She would now have to face finding the right bus. Too bad Crackers couldn’t read. Then most of Grace’s problems would be solved. They went out the front doors of the school with all the other kids jostling them despite Crackers’ best efforts. Out on the cement apron, amid the stinky diesel fumes and rumbling bus engines, she had Crackers stop. To no one in particular she said out loud, “Where is Bus 161 located?”

She heard the older woman’s gruff voice at her right side say, “It is the last bus to your left. Walk straight to the curb and step in. It is always in that location.”

Grace murmured her thank you but knew it was lost in the hub-bub of teens eager to get home. None was more eager than Grace and she hurried to her bus. The driver knew she would be on his bus and had kept the front passenger seat clear for her and her guide dog. He asked her where she wanted to get off so she gave him her address.

“I don’t go down that street,” he said. “I’ll drop you off at the corner. Okay?  Close enough?”

Grace said, “Okay. Thanks.” But, she thought: Right! Nothing like a half-mile walk to get home. Another of life’s little challenges.

 

 

Copyright (C) 1996, 2016, 2017 by Kate Chamberlin

kathryngc1@verizon.net

29 Dec 2016, 4:56am
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“…Eyeballs…” Book II: 12. Knight With Shining Flatware

Hey! You Got Eyeballs In There?

By Kate Chamberlin

 

As Grace grows up, some of her stories are happy, some trying, some enlightening, and a few themes are sad, but, they’re all the warp and woof of what goes into the tapestry of life we call Family. The daily living skills and techniques demonstrated by the fictional characters in these stories are valid, tried and true.

 

Book II:  The Teenagers

#10. Bad News

#11.  Grace’s Day One

#12 Knight With Shining Flatware

The same quiet baritone now asked her if he could carry her tray to a table.

“Thanks,” Grace said meekly. “I think that would be the safest thing to do under the circumstances. Do you see where Heather went?”

“Yes,” answered the low baritone, “but, there are no more chairs at that table. Would you sit with me at another table?”

“Ok, but no guarantees about not dumping gravy in your lap,” she ventured to say with a smile.

“It’s a deal. I’ll jump out of the way, if I see it coming. By the way, I’m Ken. Who are you?”

“Sloppy Grace,” she answered sourly and told Crackers to Track Ken to their table. Grace silently said a prayer for nothing more to happen during lunch.

She noticed it got quiet around the table he chose as she maneuvered Crackers to sit with her rump under the table and her head next to Grace’s chair. She felt for the seat and back to be sure she wouldn’t end up on the floor next to her dog and carefully sat down. She could hear some tittering nearby and some “Ooh, Ken.”  “What you got there, Ken?” “You going to feed her, too, Ken?”

Grace felt her face burn like a camp fire and  didn’t know what to say so she started to feel for her straw and flatware. To her rising horror, she could not find them and what was worse, she was pretty sure she hadn’t picked any up, because of all the confusion with the falling tray. She felt something brush her hand and heard a metal clink on her tray.

“I noticed that you didn’t take any of these, so I snatched an extra for you,” Ken said. “I’m not sure it will be worth the effort but I get so hungry, that I’ll even eat school food.”

“Thank you, Ken,” she said with obvious relief. “I’m not usually so klutzy.”

“No problem,” Ken said. “I have an aunt who says she is blind in one eye and can’t see out the other. She just happens to be my favorite aunt, so, I’m often filling in the gaps for her. By the way, what they call turkey is located at one o’clock, the little green balls are at six, and the stiff clouds are around nine. The whole thing is covered in brown mud. Bon Appetit.”

Grace didn’t know who this knight in shining armor was but she was very relieved to have at least one bright spot in her day. She started to relax and taste her food. She knew from eating peas at home that she’d have more success if she mixed them into the mashed potatoes. Grace sincerely hoped Ken was too busy eating his own lunch to notice what she was doing. She had a system of eating around on her plate from 12 o’clock to three o’clock and so on until she’d gotten back to the top of the plate. That way she did not have to ask if she had eaten everything. The turkey was dry in spite of the gravy, so she reached for her carton of milk.

Grace always put her beverage in the upper right hand corner of her tray. The straw’s paper wrapper was very tight and refused to budge without a struggle. She wondered why the school purchased such long straws when the carton of milk was so small. She managed to get the carton open with it blowing only a few bubbles of milk out. By now, she was really thirsty.

Grace quickly lifted the carton toward her mouth and immediately felt the result of her haste. The straw did not enter her opened mouth, but rather, her left nostril. The kids at the next table burst out into a roar of laughter. She wished she could climb down under the table with Crackers or run away. She had never been so embarrassed in all her life. Why did she have to come to this dumb school with all these dumb kids anyway?

 

22 Dec 2016, 10:48am
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“…Eyeballs…” Bk. II: 11. Grace’s Day One

Hey! You Got Eyeballs In There?

By Kate Chamberlin

 

As Grace grows up, some of her stories are happy, some trying, some enlightening, and a few themes are sad, but, they’re all the warp and woof of what goes into the tapestry of life we call Family. The daily living skills and techniques demonstrated by the fictional characters in these stories are valid, tried and true.

 

 

Book II:  The Teenagers

#10. Bad News

#11.  Grace’s Day One

A loud crack of thunder woke Grace the next morning. “Right,” she groaned without picking her head up from the pillow. “The perfect start for my first day of Hell. Crackers, are you ready for this?”

Crackers, who was already awake and ready to go, stuck her wet nose into Grace’s cheek. The Golden Retriever knew she wasn’t allowed on the bed; but, no one ever said anything about resting her chin on it and, if Grace’s face happened to be right there..! Grace swiped the slime off her cheek and patted the dog affectionately as she swung her feet over the edge of the bed. Her feet expertly searched for her fuzzy slippers. Over her fleece bathrobe she put the L. L. Bean raincoat and marched out into the rain to let Crackers piddle and park.

Breakfast with its wafts of freshly brewed coffee, sizzling bacon, and toasted whole wheat bread was efficiently over-seen by her Mother. Her Father had eaten first and was just finishing his coffee when Grace and Crackers came to the table. He mumbled something about “have a good day. I have to run.” and was gone.

Her older brother, Sandy, noisily refolded the newspaper, and did not acknowledge her presence.

Grace’s mother, on the other hand, kept up a bright and lively conversation mostly with herself. She knew that her family was not composed of morning people and had gotten used to talking to herself. Grace felt her Mother’s nervousness and wished she would just stop talking. Grace had her own thoughts about the fast approaching, inevitable doom that would be her day.

With Crackers brushed and harnessed, Grace glumly climbed into her mother’s tan, Astro van. Her mother taught at The Teddy Bear Nursery School and had offered to drop Grace off on her way to work. Grace was glad for the familiar feel of the van and had not protested the offer; Taking the bus home would be bad enough. Before she realized it, her mother was touching her arm and saying, “I love you, Grace. I hope things won’t be too terribly awful for you today.”

The van was stopped at the side door of her new high school. Her stomach started to do flip-flops. Her mouth was dry. Her hands were wet, and her shoes felt like they were made of cement. All she had to do was find the van door handle, pull it, get Crackers out, and remember the route they had planned during their visit the previous week. It had seemed so easy then. The building was quiet as a tomb last week. The principal had given them a guided tour. Grace had Crackers stop at key check points to familiarize the dog with the routes they would need to   get to classes. But, now, through the open van window, she could hear the noisy bus engines as they idled in the bus loop disgorging their cargo of laughing and jostling teenagers. The crowd flowed into the building like a transfusion of new blood to revitalize a deflated body. It was so noisy. She could just barely hear her mother’s van drive off.

“Crackers, forward,” Grace quietly said half hoping the dog would not hear her and they could just forget the whole thing. Crackers was waiting and listening for commands, so forward she went.

Grace knew that most of the kids would be wearing faded blue jeans, floppy high top Reebocks ™, and tee-shirts. Her Mother had bought her new jeans and a tee-shirt to wear today. She guessed she must look like the rest of the crowd. In her old school, she wore a soft, grey skirt and crisp, white button down blouse. She felt awkward and strange in her stiff new jeans and “Save America” tee-shirt that smelled like it was just printed an hour ago.

She knew she was near the open side doors when she heard laughing kids, slamming locker doors, and squeaking of sneakers on highly polished tile floors. She knew she was through the doors when the hallway got deathly silent. Her face became bright red and hot. It felt like all the blood drained into her stomach, threatening to come out in one whoosh.

“I knew this would happen,” Grace moaned to herself with a nervous flick of her head that sent her hair bouncing every which way. “Grace, hold your head up and concentrate on following Crackers’ lead. This is no time to bump into a wall,” she continued muttering to herself.

As they proceeded down the hall, Grace thought she heard, “My, God, it’s a blind dog!” “No, you nerd, the dog can see. The girl is blind.” followed by lots of whispered tittering. Grace thought she had counted three doors, so she told Crackers, “Left. Left.”

As they entered the room and walked up to a counter, a gruff voice said, “You can’t come in here without a pass.”  The musty smell of old volumes, polished wood, new plastic covers, and inky magazines told Grace she’d turned one door too soon. She was in the library and not the main office.

“Sorry,” she said quickly and turned back toward the door and re-entered the hall that was once again noisy with kids’ chatter.

At the Main Office counter, a friendlier voice said, “Hi, “I’m Tanya, the school secretary. You must be Grace.”

“Yes, I am. Dr. Jones said I should stop in here before going anywhere else. Do you know why?” Grace asked, feeling relieved just a tiny bit that the secretary had not only known her but had also said her own name so Grace also knew to whom she was speaking.

“Yes. We have assigned a student to help you get around for the first few days. Her name is Heather. She’s over there in the red tee shirt…oh, I forgot. I’ll go get her for you.”

Grace remembered what red looked like but there was no way she could see it now or even where the girl was standing.

All she could see were hazy things, kind of like looking through wax paper. She turned as she heard someone cracking gum come up beside her.

“Hi,” Heather said, as she bent down to pet Crackers. “You have a really cute doggie here. What’s his name?”

“Her name is Crackers. But you really shouldn’t pet a dog in harness. She is working now and it will distract her.” Grace tried to sound friendly, but, she had to be firm about not petting Crackers when she should be paying attention to her duties.

“Oh, I didn’t know that, “Heather remarked off handedly as she continued to pet Crackers. “Let’s get to your locker and then home room before the bell rings. We have a pass to be late but I wanna see my buds.”

At Grace’s locker, Heather ran through the lock combination and opened   the locker for Grace. Grace debated whether or not she should explain that she was only out of sight and not out of mind. If Heather had told her the combination, she could have opened the locker herself. It wasn’t until they got into home room that Grace realized that she did not even know her locker number, much less the lock’s combination. She made a mental note to bring her Braille labeler in to school tomorrow, if she came back at all. Mrs. Curtiss, the home room teacher,  seemed like a decent teacher. Grace thought she’d be able to ask her for help if it was absolutely necessary. Home room seemed awfully short. It was time to go to First Period quicker than Grace would have liked.

Heather walked on Grace’s right and seemed to know everyone. They all said hi to Heather and commented on what a nice dog that was, but, no one said hi to Grace. She could never figure out why people found it easier to talk to a dog than to another person. By the end of Second Period, Grace really had to go to the bathroom. She asked Heather where it was.

“It’s down the hall to the right,” Heather said. “Do I have to go with you?”

Grace said, “No thanks. Crackers can find the bathroom.”  They went down the hall and Grace began to say, “Right, crackers, bathroom.”

Crackers went through the tiled, zigzag entrance to the bathroom. Grace was sure it was a bathroom by the smell. Suddenly, she heard, “What the…? Get out of here!”

She was horrified. Crackers had taken her into the boy’s bathroom instead of the girl’s bathroom.

They beat a hasty retreat to the matching zigzag entrance right next to the boy’s bathroom. She was glad no one else was in the girl’s bathroom as a few hot tears rolled down her cheeks.

Third and Fourth Periods passed with no major problems. Fifth Period, however, was lunch and a whole new set of problems cropped up. Grace was determined to be as independent as possible. Crackers took her to the beginning of the lunch line right behind Heather. They were used to lunch lines in her old school and so she knew what to do. She felt around for the trays and put one on the slide bars. It wasn’t quite straight and the tray slid through the bars making an awful clatter as it crashed to the tile floor. As she bent down to pick it up, she banged her head on the bars and felt a big Goose egg start toswell up.

The guy behind her picked up the tray and said in a quiet baritone, “It’s in front of you now.”

She mumbled her thanks and slid the tray too far past the lunch lady who was serving up the main course. Grace had read the menu at home and now could smell  the sliced turkey, green peas, and mashed potatoes with gravy. Grace was used to feeling a notch in the bars where she was supposed to stop at each station. Her cheeks burned as she remembered this was not her old school.  Grace managed to get her plate on to her tray and move to the desserts. She knew from reading the menu yesterday that she had a choice of pumpkin pie or Chocolate Pudding. After her tray problem, she just wanted to quickly pick up one or the other, it didn’t matter which, and get to her seat without any more mishaps. She reached in to feel for a plate and found that she was knuckle deep in Chocolate Pudding. Hoping no one noticed, she put that dish on her tray and slid down to the milk cartons. Again, she knew there would be Chocolate, Skim, or whole milk. She didn’t care which, so, she reached in to get one. Before her hand touched any cartons, the Goose Egg smashed into the sneeze guard causing her to wince. She stifled a cry and stretched her arm in farther to find the milk and put it on her tray. At the cashier, she was thankful that her Mother had purchased a lunch ticket and the lady only had to punch out today’s date. Grace was good at feeling each coin to identify it, but, Thought that at the rate she was going today, she’d mess up again for sure.

Her tray was heavy and not balanced. How was she going to carry it in one hand with her books and hold the dog’s harness in the other hand? Heather had gone on ahead to sit with her friends, leaving Grace stranded.