Monday, September 30, 2019

Jazz Age, part I

The noise of the party diminished the further she persisted in her wandering, which was of course her aim; by the time she reached the east wing, the babble of the guests and the frantic band had entirely abated. She felt a vicious jab of pleasure upon achieving her goal. This subsided into the simpler satisfaction of snooping at her leisure, buoyed up by the effects of several glasses of champagne.

Some hours earlier, the east wing had been described to her by the host – the coal magnate – as “the Tudor Hall.” Now she gazed, not unimpressed, at soaring oak-paneled walls, a series of tapestries depicting a hunt, and hulking carven chairs that looked as if they had previously housed bishops awaiting their beheadings. She sipped her champagne; she walked on. It had all been constructed less than ten years ago, of course, but the effect was total. Even the electric lighting was tastefully low. She allowed herself a sense of reverie: she might have been a time-traveler. On an impulse, she called ringingly out to the woven hunters on the wall: “Tantivy, tantivy!” – and raised her glass in toast to them. The half-full bottle of champagne with which she’d absconded was a happy weight in her other hand, and she swung it loosely as she walked on.

At the far end of the hall, a Gothic archway gave onto to the darkness of what looked like a games room, where billiard tables lurked under padded leather coverings, like staunch, blanketed horses. She found herself restraining laughter at the self-conscious masculinity of it all. To the left of the archway, a small, enclosed half-flight of stairs disappeared into darkness, carpeted thickly with the same leafy motif as the hunt tapestries.

Along the wall at the left of the foot of the stairs there was an array of large and imposingly dour portraits in gilt frames. She lifted her champagne glass and rested it against her lower lip, not drinking, as she scanned the gallery of fat-faced dukes in furs and hollow-eyed women whose pasty fingers looked pinched off by stacks of gold rings. What had they been thinking about as they had had their portraits painted? Lunch, probably. A sick child. An annoying mother-in-law…

“He imported the aristocratic relations, of course,” someone said suddenly, “just like the rest of the dΓ©cor in the hall.”

She started, disoriented, and looked around. A light had appeared at the top of the little staircase: how long had she been staring at the portraits, drifting? Silhouetted against the light was a figure – a man – sitting at the top of the stairs, slightly hunched.

She stared, wordless, rankled. She’d been caught unawares, and resented it, resented the loss of her private reverie. She felt the return of the vicious mood that had driven her away from the party in the first place.

“Have I scared you? I beg your pardon,” said the figure.

“I’m not scared,” she said loudly and sharply. “You don’t have to beg.”

The figure laughed. The laugh sounded odd, in a way she couldn’t have described, and then it – he – moved in a way that was also odd, a sort of lurch to one side, his head rolling to that shoulder also. “Oh good,” he said, “then maybe I won’t have to do much to convince you to share some of that champagne with me.”

Slowly she turned away from the portrait gallery and took a few steps closer to the staircase, squinting upward. “So those aren’t his great-grand-whatevers, then?” she said, evading his suggestion. “Not even distantly?”

After a moment, he laughed again. “Not even distantly. The Byrnes are Irish through and through. Upstarts in American soil.” Despite her irritation, it struck her that his voice was delicious: it had a kind of easeful theatricality, deliberation balanced by humor.

She wished the light were better; she tried to examine him more closely. He was not much older than her, she thought, but so lean, even thin, that it made him look older, especially in the dim lighting, which cast heavy shadows under his cheekbones. He had dark, slightly waving hair, deeply parted on one side and cut rather short. His nose was pronounced, balanced by a wide mouth. From what she could see, his eyes were deep-set, narrow, in a way that accentuated the sense of habitual humor that he gave off. He was wearing a crisp shirt and tie, but no vest or jacket.

Under her gaze, he moved again, and the movement was undeniably unnatural, a kind of rolling spasm that seemed to travel the length of his whole body, stretching some joints and collapsing others. She noticed that, leaning towards her, he had hung his arms straight down between his bent knees, and was gripping one wrist with the other hand; both hands jerked gently.

She raised the bottle of champagne and put her head to one side. “Are you sure you haven’t had enough already?”

He paused. “Would you believe me,” he said, “if I said I hadn’t had a drop all evening? Maybe that’s what’s the matter with me. If you do share and it turns out your champagne has cured a lifelong affliction, I’ll be awfully in your debt.”

She kept looking at him, uncertain. She thought that a note of strain had entered that lilting voice, but it was hard to say.

“Damn,” he said finally. “You’re not really drunk, are you?” His body moved restlessly.

She didn’t bother answering, just kept looking.

“I’m a cripple, you see,” he said, as if in response to something she had said. His voice had not risen at all, but its gaiety had become cutting.

The questions that had been turning slowly in her mind stopped, clicking together. A new rank rose to take their place.

“Who are you?” she said curiously, taking another step forward.

He answered with another question: “Have you met Winston Byrne?”

“Winston? The middle brother? The one who’s mad about horses – polo and things?”

“That one. The centaur.”

She smiled uncertainly; she waited for him to say something else. When he didn’t, she turned over the image of Winston in her head, looking for a clue. The elder and younger Byrne sons were fair and rounded, like their mother, but the middle was dark, tall, very upright, sunburnt brown, edgy and superior. He always looked as if he were wanting a riding crop he could whack into his thigh in order to more fully express himself. She felt bad for the women who trailed after him because she could sympathize; there was something mindlessly attractive about the hard-edged masculinity that he exuded.

She thought about his lean, rawboned frame; his prominent, somewhat knobbed nose and sun-weathered cheekbones. She began to get an uncomfortable feeling. Take Winston Byrne: take away the sun, the hard-packed muscle…

“You,” she began to say to the man on the stairs, taking another step forward, squinting again.

“I think you begin to see,” he said. “Well, nobody would have told you he had a twin brother.”

Twin brother,” she breathed. She felt it like a shock of cold water. She had only gotten as far as maybe a cousin, maybe a brother –

“It’s unfortunate, isn’t it,” he said, almost as if apologizing. Another of those spasms ran through him: one of his feet kicked out abruptly and dropped down one step, and one of his arms gestured oddly. Trying to interpret it, she realized that he had lost his grip on the wrist of that arm, so it was now wandering through the air by itself.

“Well,” she said, and stopped, unsure of how to continue, trying not to watch him trying to recapture his own arm.

“What’s your surname?” he said, helpfully filling in the silence. After several awkward grabbing motions, he had resettled his grip on his wrist; his hands sank between his legs again.

“De Vries,” she said softly.

“Miss De Vries,” he said.

“Helena,” she added automatically.

“Helena De Vries,” he said thoughtfully. “Of the Philadelphia De Vries?”

“Those ones,” she said.

“Hmm. Michael Byrne, at your service. You see,” he said, as if continuing an earlier train of thought, “it’s not too uncommon for twins – especially the younger – to be afflicted with palsy, after a difficult birth. – You’re about to spill.”

Hastily she looked down and righted her glass just as she was about to let it list too far to one side. “Thank you,” she said uncertainly. She found that her cheeks were hot.

There was a laden pause. Having looked away, she kept her gaze slightly averted from him. Finally he said, “You haven’t met someone like me before, I suppose.” How could he keep talking so lightly? But she could hear the effort it cost him, too.

“No,” she admitted. Maybe seen them in city streets before – poor children, ragged weary men on crutches, blurry newspaper images of veterans from the Great War – but she wouldn’t say that out loud.

“Well,” he said, “I did hear you crying the hunt, and thought I might come see what game was afoot, if you’ll pardon the expression. But I’ve disturbed you, when you took the trouble to come be by yourself here in the first place. I can retire, and leave you to enjoy your evening.”

“Do they make you stay back there?” she said, raising her eyes to look at him again. Her spirits had gathered again, into something like anger. “In – what – the servants’ quarters?”

“They’re my quarters,” he said, “but, yes, it’s much the same idea. Wouldn’t you do the same thing if you had a son like me?” With a wrenching gesture, he lifted both his hands, to show her their trembling. After a few moments, they dropped back down again heavily, as if he didn’t have the strength to keep them raised.

“Don’t be cruel,” she said, deeply stung. “How could you say something like that when I’ve just been talking with you? And seen –”

He waited for her to complete her thought, but she found she couldn’t express what she meant.

“So what you’re saying,” he said then, “is that champagne is not entirely out of the question.”

She laughed, and the feeling was lovely. Without another word, she went up the stairs to him. When she reached his level, she stopped and, with deliberation, topped off the champagne glass. She could feel his eyes on her as she poured; the hiss of the bubbles that sprang up in the glass sounded dangerously loud in the waiting silence. She bent and deposited the bottle on the landing above. She turned back to him, beginning to outstretch the glass, and then hesitated. “Do you need…?”

“Yes. Please.”

She sat next to him and stretched out the glass to his lips. A moment later, seeing how he struggled to keep his head still, she put her other hand to the back of his head, gently steadying it.

“Thank you,” he murmured, flicking his eyes up to hers. He held her gaze for a moment; then she tipped the glass, and he drank.

After a few swallows, abruptly his head fell to one side, and she failed to catch it in time, so a little champagne spilled on the corner of his mouth. Swiftly she withdrew the glass, murmuring in dismay. He righted his head, grimacing. Without thinking, she moved her free hand to his mouth, put her finger to the side, and let her black satin glove soak up the little trickle of champagne.

He looked at her. His eyes were very dark. Hastily she withdrew her hand, dropped her gaze.

They turned and looked out over the dim hall. She held the glass of champagne a little stiffly, as if it were no longer hers. She listened to the rustling as his body moved restlessly. She discerned a strange sense of guilt in herself: as if she had seen something she shouldn’t have – or even as if she were personally responsible for his condition. How could that be? But perhaps she ought to leave, anyway… But there was a pull, there, in that dimly lit, antiquated hall, where it could have been any century and any hour of the night. She wanted to stay there; she wanted to hear more, somehow get ahold of a sense of reality of this strange man.

She drank from her glass of champagne again. “So,” she said, “appropriated ancestry. A secret scion in the east wing. Please tell me, does your –” she hesitated, it was still hard to believe, “– your father also have a literal skeleton in a closet somewhere? A suspicious femur, at least?”

He laughed. “I don’t know if he has the imagination for anything so exciting. If there’s a forbidden vault somewhere in the house, it probably just has stacks of bonds and deeds inside. Then again, I did used to like to imagine him being quite the adventurer when he was a young surveyor. People do like to exclaim over how much Winston brings back the younger Father.”

And where did that leave him, she thought, who was Winston’s twin? She pushed the thought away. “Did you imagine him – what, murdering a claim-jumper? Swimming a flooded river to deliver an urgent message? Fending off a mother bear?”

He laughed. “All of those, and more. And then the next time I saw him, I’d see him complaining about the boiled potatoes or whatever, and think, my god, he’d probably just lecture the bear about land lease agreements until she stumbled away to drown herself.”

“But anyway,” he continued, as she smiled to herself, “what brought you out here, to our West Coast?” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his body lurch, and she realized that he had turned to look at her, but his body’s awkwardness had forced his head to twist at a strange angle, while one of his shoulders had dropped forward.

She shifted; she found that her cheeks had warmed again. “I’m helping my aunt with her archives.”

“Archives?” His voice had brightened with curiosity.

“She’s a sort of – she traveled the world a great deal when she was young, and she has all sorts of letters and maps and things. And art – lots of it.”

“And does she have good taste?”

“She has excellent taste.”

“Oh, thank God.” As she laughed, he said, “I just can’t imagine having to sort through stacks of lifeless art while numbly agreeing with auntie that yes, it’s all remarkable.”

“No, no, she’s not that kind of aunt,” she said quickly. At the same time, she thought that, for the first time, something about his urbanity in that moment had grated on her. She paused briefly to fish out the notion: he was forcing it, it was too clear that he was putting it on, this appearance that he had met and passed judgement on lots of people and things. Well, what did she know about his life, really? Maybe he had. But no – the slightly too-forceful artfulness with which he acted that experience was its own giveaway.

But again, she pushed those thoughts away.

“She’s really an original,” she resumed, “she traveled all over – Morocco, Egypt, India– and she refused to ever get married. Her taste is – it’s surprising, in little ways. She likes beauty, of course – anything that’s too modern repels her – but she doesn’t mind things that are broken, or stained. She has a way of picking things so that it seems like part of the piece. She likes silver better when it’s tarnished…”

She could sense him smiling beside her. “That sounds lovely. I’d like to see some of those… And so you’re here for – what, one month? To help?”

“I’m here for the summer. And maybe again in the winter, if some plans work out. She’s hoping to start a little museum, you see, with her collection,” she finished, a little bashfully.

“Why do you say that as if you’re embarrassed?”

“Oh,” she said, startled. “I… well, it’s something I really want to happen, and I suppose I feel that it’s my project, too, and… I don’t know. Maybe I’m a little superstitious about things that aren’t entirely worked out yet.”

He gave a speculative hmm.

She straightened and was about to offer him more champagne to cover her embarrassment, but then put her hand out and touched his arm. “Hold on –”

He jerked. “What is it?”

Coming towards them, distant at first but growing with great speed, was a trail of confused laughter. Two voices, a man’s and a woman’s, very drunk – she could hear them careening and stumbling, alternating giddy laughter with exaggerated shushing. They arrived at the archway to the Tudor Hall with a particularly shrill burst of laughter from the man. She felt Michael jerk under her hand again, this time slipping out from under her touch. She froze, as the woman at the other end of the hall cried out, “Oh!”

“What is it? What’s it?” the man slurred. She could see him slumping against the doorway; the woman glimmered in a short silver dress.

“It’s spooky in there,” the woman cried.

“Oh? Ghosts?”

“No, don’t say that –”

“I’m sure there are ghosts,” the man said leeringly. “Here comes one now – ooooo…”

And they veered back in the opposite direction, shrieking.

Helena let out a breath. She looked to Michael, about to make a jesting remark, but found, to her dismay, that he had collapsed across the steps, his limbs sprawled out in every direction. His back was arched awkwardly to one side, his head had been forced back, and his lips were pressed together into a tight grimace. The fingers of his upraised right arm twitched in and out of a claw.

Her gaze flickered across his form rapidly in distress. Should she try to help him? What if she hurt him? Was it a seizure? – no, she could see that his eyes were focused, and hear that his breath was regular, if harsh with exertion. His eyes met hers briefly, and then flicked away deliberately.

“Mr. Byrne?” she whispered. “Are you all right? Can I help you?”

He grunted and then shook his head a fraction of an inch. She could hear and see that he was trying to force deeper breaths; his ribcage swelled against his shirt.

She continued watching for any signal that she should help. A few moments later, he forced his head back into a more natural position, and said faintly, “I’ll be another minute.” His eyebrows were drawn together severely, she wasn’t sure if with frustration, discomfort, or both. Slowly he drew his feet back together, one at a time, and then with his better arm, the left one, pushed himself back up to sitting. His right arm had twisted into another strange configuration, raised and sharply bent, with his hand pressing into his own neck, but he appeared to have given up on it for now.

“Don’t look so stricken,” he said, smiling wanly at her. His speech sounded a little thick. “This is just how things are. You are remarkably patient, though.”

During that time, she had for the first time allowed herself to wonder what it would be like to not be able to trust any part of your body, to be bound to such an uncertain vehicle. He spoke of patience: surely his life required nothing but that. She wondered what it was like for him to see his twin brother striding around, racing off to drive, play with his horses, court women… But then again, how often would he really have seen his brother at all – any of his family? If he was more or less confined to his own quarters – and she doubted if any of his brothers was the type to stop by for a confiding chat…

He must have seen something of these thoughts in her expression because he said then, “Please don’t pity me. I find it encourages bad habits in me.”

Abashed, she looked aside. She found she had set down the champagne glass at some point in the confusion with their drunken guests; she extended it to him again, a peace offering, and he accepted gratefully, this time drinking without mishap.

“It was as if they came at us out of another century,” she said, looking out again at the hall when he had finished. The tips of her gloved fingers felt warm, where she had supported his head.

“There’s a dreamy thought. I wouldn’t have minded a century with less drunken shrieking.”

“Has there been one without any?”

“A fair question. We might have to look back to somewhere circa Eden… I do keep hoping that some interesting ghosts might find themselves drawn here out of sympathy with the dΓ©cor, but no luck yet. If our visitants were from the past, at least we might hope to learn some things from them.”

“You should ask your father to ensure that the next round of imported portraiture comes with at least one respectable ghost attached.”

“If my father ever spoke to me, I would. You should ask your aunt.”

“She does have a Mughal dagger that is supposed to be cursed.”

“Oh?”

“There’s a blackened fingerprint on the blade – no matter how many times you clean it, it always comes back in a day or so. There’s a whole story about it, with a usurper, of course.”

“Oh – I would like to see that. Maybe one day I’ll be able to go to your aunt’s museum, and you’ll be there sitting in a little office where you’ll give me a ticket. You’ll take me inside and tell me all the stories about usurpers you can manage.”

She smiled down at her interlaced fingers. “Maybe.”

“Would you like to see my museum?”

“Excuse me?”

He craned his head back over his shoulder to indicate the little passageway turning off from the stairs. “Where I live. Would you like to see it?”

She hesitated. His dark eyes glinted at her hopefully, and he swayed slightly where he sat, with his arms once again hanging between his knees, left hand tightly clasped around right wrist. Part of her said that it was getting later and later, that this entire exchange was ill-advised for any number of reasons, and that she ought to take this moment to excuse herself; but it was a small, dry voice. The rest of her didn’t even have words; it simply wanted to see where the night would keep going.

“I would like to see that, yes,” she said, and was rewarded with the sight of his face creasing with a deeply warm smile.

She was startled when he pushed himself up the stairs without another word, using his legs alone, and then set off down the hallway in the same fashion, pushing himself backwards with short, deliberate thrusts of his legs. She rose and turned to follow him down the oak-paneled hallway. A little way down the passage, she saw a high-backed wheelchair of wood and wicker, backed against one wall. He positioned himself in front of it and then turned to her with a measuring look. “My chariot awaits. Won’t you help me up, my dear Hippolyta?”

***

On to part II
On to part III

A day in the life, chapter 3

Leaning back in my chair, I start the preparations for a productive workday. Disconnecting my trusty headphones from my phone with a few practiced taps and flicks on the touch screen, I wince as the mechanical voice of the phone blasts through the office.
"Whoops..."  I mutter, rapidly clicking down the volume. Tapping keys with my right hand, reading the braille output with my left, I locate the option on my laptop to connect my headphones to it instead. A familiar beep, followed by the rapid-fire chatter of my screen reader starts coming through the headphones.
Nodding slightly to myself I invoke what I call my magic trick. Blurring through several keystrokes that are almost second nature, I quickly connect my screen reader up to a copy running at the computer at home. A chirp in my headphones signifies that I can now send keys to that machine, and hear it's screen reader output on my headphones at work.
Instant ability to do whatever I want that has nothing to do with work ...at work! Without anything showing on the display of my work machine. Sometimes it is good to be blind.
Rapidly tapping more keys I locate my Spotify instance and start a playlist, making sure to drop the volume below that of my screen reader to still be able to see what I am doing. Turning on the noise-canceling feature again, my office turns into a cubicle where nobody interrupts or disturbs me, the murmur of voices and click-clacking of programmers at work fading into an almost inaudible murmur at the edge of my awareness.
"KNOCK KNOCK!"
The vibrations through the desktop greet my arms leaning on it's edge more than the sound registers as someone knocks firmly on the desk to get my attention.

When I first started working here, I was put in a room with some of the higher-ups and had to basically explain that I really am a human being like them and that I won't call down the wrath of Thor and Odin if a colleague addresses me in the wrong way or forgets to take my blindness into account. It's always a bit of a riddle how much of a thing companies I work at will make of this, but this happens to be one where it's a major thing.
Questions like " Do we need to say our name every time we address you?", please don't, and "How can we get your attention when you are wearing your headphones?"  were covered. I always need to keep my inner snark at bay for tedious as they can be, they are legitimate questions. We decided that tapping on the desk would work well as an answer to the second question.

'Well ...so much for nobody disturbing me ...' my ever-present inner monologue comments wryly as I plaster on a proper full-toothed smile and take my headphones off halfway. "Yes?"

"Hi! It's Joanne here!" Joanne's unmistakable voice comes to my left. " I am on your left!"
'You don't say ...'  I inwardly snark but dutifully look to my left. "Hi! What can I do for you?"
Beside me, Ruff, the guide dog, snorts as if he is laughing at the silly human and I absent-mindedly scratch him behind the ear as I listen to my colleague, the soft fuzz of his soft fur tickling my fingertips.
"We have a new colleague starting today and George was wondering if you can explain to him how you do your work? You will likely have to collaborate with him in the future and he thought it'd be a good idea to get it out of the way so you won't be bothered with questions all the time" Joanne explains.
"OH ...sure! That makes sense. I'm a little swamped this morning though, is after lunch alright?" I respond, meanwhile opening various programs, my hand on the braille display moving from left to right rapidly to keep up with the output, using my other hand to input various keystrokes, the tactile markings on the F and J-keys acting as landmarks as I touch-type.
"That should be ok, yes! I will let George know you're on board!"
I can't help but shrug. "Sure. I'm assuming he will make sure we have room to do this in?"
George is the CEO of this company and he is incredibly stoked to have a blind person working for him. I am very much in two minds about that, but circumstances being as they were I couldn't make too much noise about it at the time. It just means that now, I need to walk the fine line between educating people and becoming inspiration porn, a game I know all too well by now.
"Yeah, leave that up to him and me. Thanks again, good luck!"  Joanne says, the subtle change in the sound of her voice indicating to me she's in the process of turning away from me.
"Sure!"  I say again, turning back to my desk again as well. Replacing my headphones, I regain my oasis of quiet and music as I arrow through the emails waiting for me.
Tapping a key, I redirect my keyboard to the computer at home again. Opening a browser window, I key on a website that has become rather familiar to me over the last few weeks. It's time to check the board.
Filling in the login details, I assume the identity of BlindLeap as I scroll through the new topics, opening a few new ones in separate tabs to have a look at later.
Switching to the first new tab, I tap a key to jump to the quick reply edit field, then tapping another key to jump up a few headings.
Web browsing as a blind person is an experience in itself. All visuals being stripped away from a website can have any number of consequences, from things becoming unclear to things becoming utterly unusable.
Finding the information you need is almost a treasure hunt at times, using parts of the page as landmarks the way you would in a city you know well. Turn left at Uncle Joe's Vinyard, up the hill next to the playground, X marks the spot.
Reading through the new posts, I decided to add my two cents and jump back down to the quick reply field to put down some thoughts of my own.
"KNOCK KNOCK!"
Somewhat irritably, I take off my headphones again. "Yes?" I ask, making sure to sound friendly at least, unsure about the expression on my face.
"Your coffee is on the right of your keyboard,"  Steve says, putting it down on my desk, the thump of the cup hitting wood telling me exactly where. My right hand subconsciously confirming the spot anyway, carefully gliding across the wood to not knock the cup over until my fingertips encounter the hot China of the cup.
"Thanks a lot,"  I say, genuinely grateful as I look in the voice's general direction. " No problem. Hey, could you have a look at my PR? I'm a little stuck, I think my logic isn't quite working out the way I expect, but I can't seem to see the problem. Could use a pair of fresh eyes to take a look, do you have time?"
Did I already mention I like Steve? He is one of those people that just get it.  Both the fact that I'm a human who's blind rather than the other way around and the fact that programmers have a rather particular way of working are familiar to him, which makes him very refreshing to interact with.
" Yeah ...take a seat?" I say, indicating the spot to my left with a vague hand gesture as I bring up what he's been working on.
" Oh ...I will open your screen up a bit and increase the brightness, alright?"  he says, doing so at a nod from me as I leaf through his code.
I always forget to do that for people, my laptop's screen tends to be mostly closed as I don't use it anyway.
As Steve explains what he was trying to do, my screen reader rattles off lines of code in my other ear. "if lacket user isNot loggedIn racket lace return blip race"
I turn off the speech, preferring to work with braille at this point. With a key, I position the mouse on the offending line.
"I think you may have missed a thing here, this doesn't match up with what you're telling me,"  I tell him, the passive soundscape around me changing very slightly as he leans forward.
Even without echolocating, sounds around me ping-pong and bounce off everything around me. Almost like a passive sonar, this allows me to walk along walls using the sound of my footsteps and even just the subtle rustle of wind blowing past to know where the wall in question is at any given point.
"Ugh ... yeah, that logic is the wrong way around. Thanks, I will play with it some more"  he says, getting up off his chair. "Good luck ..." I respond, closing the page, dimming my screen and lowering it back down to where it was as I can hear him making his way back to his desk.
I switch back to my home machine and start typing the post I was going to type. "I mean my nickname on here is a silly pun on blindness..."
Over the next few hours, I alternate between working and browsing social media on my home machine, left in peace until a call from the cafeteria area pierces the veil of silence around me. "LUNCH!"

Oh no! Still no answer about the Dutch lunch habits! And what happened to the mysterious partner, where'd she go?
I mean ...I have to keep you guys coming back for more somehow, don't I? Enjoy ;)

New Chapter - What It Was

Hi friends of "What It Was", πŸ’š♿πŸ’š
how is everyone doing?
Phew, I had a bit a rough week, I have been crazy busy at work but also kind of sick.
I did my best to make time to look over this chapter last week.

I have to say, I struggled this week for some reason. I had to correct lots of grammar or sentence structures and every time I read over the chapter I found something else. I seemingly read over it like a hundred times and tonight I worked on it once again to get it ready for you. I really hope it came out right.

Thank you for the feedback I got last week, I did reply to it. I appreciated it so much, I loved reading it. Yes Jordan and Shay are all but "normal" and their relationship is not conventional but I hope to make it happen for them and also for my readers.

They are in the very beginning of their relationship, a long road lies ahead and it will get rough. Someone had commented that addiction can't be "cured" miraculously...it definitely can not and it's very difficult and painful for everyone involved.
Hopefully you won't tire to follow along. I feel like my stories are sometimes very long and move slow but I want to try to capture as much of the characters as possible and how I imagine them in conversation and exchange. I hope to keep it interesting for you.

Anyways, thank you to all my readers and for all your comments. I love to read how you feel about the story. And if it actually makes you feel things, that's the best compliment an author can get.

Here is Chapter 12 of "What It Was".
Enjoy and have a wonderful week,

Hugs, Dani   πŸ‚πŸŽƒπŸ‚πŸŽƒ

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Jazz Age, part II


“Would you like to see my museum?”

“Excuse me?”

He craned his head back over his shoulder to indicate the little passageway turning off from the stairs. “Where I live. Would you like to see it?”

She hesitated. His dark eyes glinted at her hopefully, and he swayed slightly where he sat, with his arms once again hanging between his knees, left hand tightly clasped around right wrist. Part of her said that it was getting later and later, that this entire exchange was ill-advised for any number of reasons, and that she ought to take this moment to excuse herself; but it was a small, dry voice. The rest of her didn’t even have words; it simply wanted to see where the night would keep going.

“I would like to see that, yes,” she said, and was rewarded with the sight of his face creasing with a deeply warm smile.

She was startled when he pushed himself up the stairs without another word, using his legs alone, and then set off down the hallway in the same fashion, pushing himself backwards with short, deliberate thrusts of his legs. She rose and turned to follow him down the oak-paneled hallway. A little way down the passage, she saw a high-backed wheelchair of wood and wicker, backed against one wall. He positioned himself in front of it and then turned to her with a measuring look. “My chariot awaits. Won’t you help me up, my dear Hippolyta?”

At her skeptical look, he said hurriedly, “It won’t take much strength from you, just balance. I know this is an imposition, but to be frank, it will be much less – ugly than if I try by myself.”

She went to him, more than a little trepidatious, but moved by his expression of pride.

“You’ll need to put your hands under my arms,” he said, “yes, like that – and then rise when I rise. You won’t need to take my weight for more than a moment. Ready? Good – I’m going –”

He pressed himself upwards. His legs shook constantly, and his arms twisted loosely at his sides, but it was true that he was able to take his full weight on his feet. It was simply that he had no balance whatsoever, she realized: her hands were there to keep him from pulling himself off center, to push back when his torso jerked to one side. Like this, she was able to help him into his chair with fair speed.

“Thank you,” he said as he settled himself. His eyes sought hers, but she glanced back deliberately over her shoulder. “That bottle –” she said, and turned back to retrieve it. Behind her, she could hear a small squeak from one wheel as he set off down the hallway.

She came up behind him as he exited the hallway into a long, high-ceilinged gallery: somewhat narrow, but wonderfully lofty. The left-hand wall was lined with bookshelves, while the right was a rank of mullioned windows stretching almost the entire height of the wall, showing the blue-black night. The bookshelves were untidily filled to about the height of Michael’s head; a few curious objects were scattered among the higher shelves. A low, round, heavy table sat in the far corner of the gallery, against the windows, and was overspread with more books, most of them open.

She found that she was smiling. Michael had come to a stop a little way ahead of her, pushing his chair around with one foot until he faced her again. “It must be lovely in the daytime,” she said, “with all the light.

“It is.” There was a note of pride in his voice.

She walked closer to one of the windows, peering through the reflection of the lights. Outside she could see a stone parapet and the darkness of the grounds below. The parapet was ornamental, she realized; there was no balcony outside. Had someone, she wondered, been determined that there be no chance for the occupant of this gallery to be visible from the outside?

 She turned back; Michael had made his way to the table and was looking at one of the books there, his head slowly twisting on his neck with that characteristic motion. She went to join him, setting down the champagne bottle off to one side. “The Decameron,” he said brightly to her, “always good company.”

She gazed down. “Yes, plague stories,” she said absently, “stories to divert…”

“The confined,” he suggested helpfully.

She refrained from responding. The copy was open to the story of Martellino, and looked very old – leather-bound, with heavy, brown-edged pages. It showed signs of rough handling, with pages crumpled or even hanging askew. The same was true of all the other books piled on the table; she thought of his shaking hands. Slowly she ran one of her own fingers over the spines of a haphazard stack.

 “Mr. Byrne,” she said carefully. He looked at her quizzically. “I have an impertinent question.”

“Well, you’ve roused my curiosity. What is it?”

“Isn’t it cruel,” she said, “for your family to… keep you alone, and at the top of a flight of stairs?”

He rocked back in his chair and looked at her. An expression of something like contempt flickered over his face, only for an instant, but seeing it, she felt a sharp twist of emotion in her stomach: regret, shame, a defensive thrust of her own pride. She forced herself to look at him squarely, following the motions of his unsteady head, examining his sharp eyes, the lines on either side of his mouth.

“Miss De Vries,” he said finally, “you mean well, I’m sure, but are you aware that the most likely alternative would be my placement in an institution?”

Her stomach sank. “I’m sorry,” she said very softly, barely able to hold his gaze now. “I should have thought.”

“Very likely. But I certainly imagine you wouldn’t be aware,” he continued inexorably, “that California has, very recently, approved a succession of laws allowing the sterilization of many inhabitants of such institutions. For the future betterment of the human race. I don’t think my own mother even knows that I know that.”

She stared away to one side, silent. Her face had gone utterly cold. She felt her skin creeping with slow horror.

“My parents took a sizable risk,” he continued coolly, “in choosing to care for me at home. For years they had no idea whether I would be able to think, or walk, or speak. Obviously some of those things turned out better than others. Nonetheless. Neither my father nor my mother are sentimental people. We can speculate as to their reasons for keeping me at home; I certainly have; we might conclude it was pride more than anything else, pride in their wealth. Still, I must choose to feel gratitude for my circumstances. For my considerable advantages. Anything else would drive me mad.”

She could feel his gaze on her, heavily; she lifted her face to meet it. “I’m sorry,” she said again, “for my presumptuousness.” She felt very young.

“Well, anyway,” he said, with that studied lightness she had detected before, jerking his arms about in his lap as if to clear the air, “I’m not so very alone here. The servants are wonderful gossips. And Mother comes to see me every day. And Owen more frequently than you might expect.” That was the youngest brother; it was a pleasant surprise to hear…

“You’re still thinking a great many thoughts – rebellious thoughts,” he remarked, with something like the contemptuous look he had shown before, but affectionate this time. His head was listing to one side, giving him an incidentally rakish look. “You’re thinking, for example, that my family ought to be more courageous about my situation; to not treat me as something to be ashamed of; to use their position to force better treatment… Et cetera. How old are you, Miss De Vries?”

“You don’t need to rub it in,” she said evenly. “But I’m twenty-two.”

“That makes me,” he said, “more than ten years older than you are,” and she tried not to show her surprise. “I’ve had all that time, and more, to think the same thoughts that you are right now. At present, I find it more restful not to take up that train anymore.”

She could find nothing to say, then. She continued watching him, his body’s restless involuntary rearrangements, the way the fingers of his right hand seemed to tremble open and closed around nothing. She had a sudden notion of being in a garden on a cold spring day, of watching the wind push a flower’s petals open and then shut again.

He gave her that affectionate look again; this time it was less edged. “And what are you thinking now?”

“Do you remember you asked me,” she said slowly, “why I was embarrassed to talk about my aunt’s museum?”

“Yes,” he said curiously.

“I was embarrassed,” she said, running her hand back and forth along the edge of the book-laden table, “because ever since I was twelve, I’ve had a fear that I wasn’t real. I wasn’t real, none of the words I said, nothing I did was real. Before you give me another of your looks – I know that isn’t a new idea. But it felt very real to me, if that isn’t a paradox. I started to look around me for people who seemed to be real, so they could show me how. Pretty soon I realized there were precious few. But my aunt was one of them, of course. But she was so very her own person that I couldn’t see my own way to being that way, myself – I thought that I could only end up like that, if you see what I mean.

“Still, the more I worked with her… The more I work with her, the more we plan, the more I have the sense that this could be the first real thing that I do, this making a museum. Making a place where people can go and see beauty, see things they haven’t seen before, and think about places they haven’t been before, and the people who live there. A place where people can be still.” She shrugged. “Probably it’s silly, but it’s what I’ve been thinking, more and more. – Isn’t it dreadful what being rich does to one’s character? Or at least mine.” She tried to put on a careless smile, but faltered when she saw how genuinely he was, in fact, smiling at her just then.

She forced herself onward. “Anyway, I’ve gone on about all of this in order to explain: I’m confident that you’re the only real person I’ve met this whole time, since coming west. And I truly am sorry for my thoughtlessness about… your situation. It’s just hard… meeting you, and then not wanting better for you.”

“Why,” he said, very softly, “thank you.”

In the silence that followed, she crossed the few steps that separated them. She reached out to take his hands; at her touch, his left hand unclenched its grip around his right wrist, so that she could take each hand separately. It hadn’t been deliberate, she realized in another moment: once again his whole body was thrusting itself into a strange posture, as it had when he had been startled by the drunken revelers, back in the hall. His hands jerked roughly at her grasp as his shoulders wrenched to one side, and she could hear his breath coming quickly. His eyes had widened with dismay, and his cheeks were flushed. But she held on tightly, feeling the warmth of his hands through her gloves, and their wiry, uncoordinated strength.

Gradually his body quieted, slackened. He looked up at her disbelievingly. She leaned in closer. “Would you like to…?” she said quietly.

“Yes,” he said, and she bent down to kiss him.

He breathed out tremblingly when they parted. His eyes flickered back and forth over her face, so bright that they looked liquid. Again she could hear his breath coming fast. Gently she released his hands, trying to lay them to rest in his lap.

“Where,” she whispered, “is your bedroom?”

“Come,” he said. He put one foot out to begin to turn himself away from the table. Then he bit out half of an exclamation as his body buckled in on itself again, his torso collapsing down and to one side, one of his knees lifting sharply off the ground.

“God!” he said sharply when he was able to unfold himself again. His face was tight with anger. “You had better push me,” he said tightly to her, “unless you are, reasonably, having second thoughts about this.”

In answer, she moved around to put her hands on the handlebars of his chair and began pushing him out of the gallery. Beyond, there was a short passageway, which opened out again into a smaller, square room filled with a startling profusion of potted plants; briefly, delightedly, she perceived that in one corner there stood a tall cage with a few small birds sleeping inside. Beyond that there was another passageway, ending in an open door; to their left there was another door, closed. “The one ahead?” she asked him, bending to whisper directly into his ear.

“Yes,” he said; his voice still sounded thick, as if he were forcing it out. His head was lolling towards his chest; she pushed him onward.

His bedroom was large and noticeably warm; a four-poster bed commanded the left-hand wall. To one corner stood a twin of the round table in the gallery, with only slightly fewer books on it. Along the wall opposite the bed was a low dresser bearing a broad tray packed with medicine-bottles, and a basket holding an assortment of what looked like leather bands or straps and metal instruments. She felt his discomfort as soon as he saw her noticing those, and turned her gaze away again swiftly. She moved to close the door; to her mild surprise there was a key in the lock on the inside. She turned it with both satisfaction and something close to fear. She turned to see him looking up at her from his wheelchair with a startlingly similar expression.

“Well,” she breathed. With impatient speed, she stripped her long black gloves from each hand and dropped them to one side. Again she stepped forward and reached out for him– her hands might have been trembling – but this time she moved to cup his face. She felt the jolt of reaction run through him; his eyes closed as the tremors traveled his body. Slowly she ran her fingers over his face, feeling the pleasant scrape of stubble, tracing the lines on either side of his mouth, the contours of his parted lips. Yes, her hands were trembling. Both their breaths were coming fast. She bent to kiss him again and again.

When she opened her eyes again, she was amazed to see tears standing in his eyes. “Don’t do that,” she said, laughing out of alarm or embarrassment. She reached out with her thumbs and quickly wiped the tears away; then let one of her thumbs slide down again to rest by the corner of his lovely wide mouth.

“Sorry,” he said, “I’ll try not to.” He was laughing too, caught up in the same absurd emotional state. His head dropped to one side, his shoulders slumping. “What shall we do about all this?” he said, more softly, gesturing vaguely with his linked arms.

She couldn’t think through everything his question could have meant; she answered with willful ambiguity: “In a moment, I’ll help you… But will you move to the foot of your bed?” Watching her curiously, he did, pulling himself forward in his chair. At the same time, she moved to the opposite wall, before the dresser, taking deliberate, backward steps. She paused before the dresser, smoothing her hands over the fabric at her hips; then she twisted and began to undo, one by one, the side closures of her gown, the long fitted column of finely pleated black silk with crystals at the bodice. She pretended to ignore him watching her, the sheer weight of his gaze on her, the constant rustling and occasional creak of the wooden chair as his body shifted.

She slipped the gown off her shoulders, let it slither heavily to the floor, abstractedly enjoying the cool passage of the fabric. She heard him let out a long breath. She stood in her black slip, her sheer stockings. She allowed herself to look up at him again, waiting there across the room. The desire in his eyes was so bright and fierce that she almost took a step back, but she held herself, poised, looking back at him almost challengingly. His body convulsed; his right hand groped helplessly, trying to escape from the grasp of his other hand.

Swiftly she went to him then; she knelt and reached out to undo his tie, his shirt, pretending, with a strange secret pleasure, to ignore it as his linked hands brushed or pushed with a kind of desperate randomness across her face, her neck, her shoulders – except that once she lowered her head to kiss his knuckles in passing. She heard his sharp intake of breath.

“Let go,” she said eventually, tugging gently at his hands; when he released his clasp, she pulled him forward slightly so that she could guide each of his arms out of its sleeve, pull the shirt away.

He was so thin; hardly more than just bone and muscle. Fine dark curling hair ran down his chest; she put her hand to the place where the line disappeared into the waistband of his trousers, then ran it back up, watching with a strange mixture of satisfaction and dismay as he convulsed again in reaction, his head straining back, the cords in his neck standing out. “Is this all right?” she whispered hastily.

He forced his head back up. “Yes. Yes.” She could see sweat on his brow.

“It doesn’t hurt you – when your body moves like that?”  

“Only sometimes. Rarely.”

She wasn’t sure whether to believe him, but was distracted when he abruptly brought his arms down on either side of his face, fumbling until he could once again link his arms together, so that he was, in his way, holding her. Like this, he pulled her closer to him. She was smiling broadly with delight. It was all strange, so strange, and yet so intimate, almost unbearably so; it was like nothing she had ever known before. This time, he kissed her, rough, clumsy, urgent.

He leaned back again. His eyes were searching her face almost frantically, as if waiting for a reaction that was not forthcoming. His arms were warm on her shoulders. “How can you want me?” he said finally, his voice breaking. “How can you?”

She reached up and took his face again. “I already told you,” she said softly. Then she reached back and drew his arms over her head again so that she could grasp each of his curled, trembling hands before her and, with them, stroke her cheeks, her neck, run them down her waist… She slipped one inside her undergarments to stroke around one of her breasts; he moaned, and the sound stirred her deeply. She left the hand there for another moment, then drew it out, clasped the two hands together again so that he could steady himself. “Let’s go,” she said, smiling.

He grinned back at her in answer, his eyes glinting. With his feet he pulled himself to one corner of the bed, where he wrapped his arms around the bedpost, and then, to her great surprise, thrust or pulled himself up to standing this way. His knees shook, as before, but he took one unsteady step to the side, and then another, so that he could pivot and then let himself fall back onto the bed. From there, he rapidly pushed himself back with his legs until he rested against the headboard, where he resumed watching her, grinning at her surprise.

Left at the foot of the bed, she shed her undergarments with almost vengeful speed and leapt up onto the bed on all fours, crawling toward him so rapidly that he laughed and shrank back, perhaps not entirely in jest. “A wild nymph,” he murmured as she approached, his eyes wide; she put her hands to his chest and ran them down its length again, feeling the thin hard muscle, the ridges of his ribs and hipbones. She kissed him hard, seizing the back of his head with a ferocity that startled even herself. She moved her lips down to his neck and kissed, then bit there. Again he moaned.

 She pressed her hands against his shoulders, gently holding him steady against the headboard, then slowly slid her hand down his arms until, for the time, she could interlace her fingers with his. Silent, looking down at nothing in particular, she felt the play of the muscles in her hands against hers, the sudden jerks and contractions. His right arm jolted away; gently she bore down on that hand until it lay quivering against the coverlet again. She listened to their breathing. 

 “Does it disappoint you,” she whispered suddenly, “that I’m so forward? – If this isn’t right…”

There had been something in his eyes, as he had watched her approaching.

She looked up again now. His lips were compressed, and his dark, angular eyebrows were drawn together with disquiet.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know. It may be a lot to ask me… anything of what I’m thinking just now. None of this feels terribly real.” A trace of his theatrical cadence returned at the end of the phrase, like a mechanism reestablishing itself.

“I feel the same,” she said, still whispering, watching his face keenly. “But are you sure this is right?”

“Please don’t ask me such a difficult question when we’re already in… this position,” he said, his face twisting.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry. I just don’t want to disappoint you.”

“I can’t imagine you could ever disappoint me,” he said. Was there already a chilly premonition in the phrase?

She was breathing quickly. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Don’t say that. You’re the only one here who has the least idea of how things should proceed at all.”

She pushed out an uncomfortable laugh. In the silence that followed, he leaned forward shakily and sought her lips again, his head twisting through space until she had to give in and close the gap.

When she opened her eyes again, she found him meeting her gaze with disquieting intensity. She felt it like a little flame moving over her skin.

Silently she released his hands, and slowly moved hers down to his waistband; she undid his trousers as he shivered under her touch, pushed them down his hips and off; his legs trembled tensely. Above, his arms were writhing wildly against the bed, through the air, and it roused her fear again: what if he was in a kind of panic… But no – when she looked up again, though his face showed the strain of trying to contain his body’s movements, his eyes begged her to go onwards.

She smoothed one hand down one of his legs, heard his harsh exhalation of breath. Swiftly she swung one leg over his body – and then simply lay down along the full length of his body, front to front, pressing her cheek to his chest, hearing his heartbeat, wrapping her legs around his, stretching out her arms to grasp his wrists. Feeling below her all the warmth of his bare skin, his hardness. He moaned, and the sound hummed through her.

For long moments she lay like this, just wanting to feel him, and feeling him, feeling every motion of his wayward body, smelling the clean scent of his skin; within her she nursed the ache to be touched more deeply.

Slowly, she sat up, straddling him, drawing his hands closer to her. He had sunk back against the pillows, and his eyes were glazed, heavy-lidded with desire. His body had grown lax, she realized dimly, the confusion of its movements slower, as if he were underwater. Once again she lifted his hands to her, and this time she traced all the contours of her body with them, her small breasts, the dimple of her navel, her full hips and rounded thighs, an anklebone, the arch of one foot. He gazed at her, lips parted, a tremor running through his frame every now and then.

Finally, she trailed his left hand around one hip and drew it towards the meeting of her thighs; with her thumb she extended two of his fingers and pushed them until she knew he could feel her wetness. She inhaled deeply, pleasure flooding up her body at his touch. His body jolted; his head fell to the one side on the pillow. She did it again, and this time she released his other hand so that she could reach to stroke him, too. His moan shook her to her core.

The moments of touch that followed were torturously long, dream-like in their confusion; at every moment she felt as though one or the other of them would shatter. There was a kind of delicious strain in being required to control not only her own motions, but his – to orchestrate both their pleasure; abstractedly she paused to watch once as his untethered right arm flailed on top of the coverlet, until he succeeded in thrusting it below one of the pillows under his head. Devilishly, she almost spoiled it by twisting her grasp upon him then, so that he cried out, very softly, and his arm thrashed under the pillow.

The pleasure mounted in her, and mounted: touching him, hearing him, watching his own pleasure transform that lean, elegant, ironic face.

Finally she could bear it no more: she sank down upon him and frantically rubbed her slickness all against his length, pushing closer and closer, stretching to kiss his lips, his jaw as she did so. Cautious even now, she did not take him into herself, but the contact, the heat, his hardness, his arrhythmic thrusts up against her, were all exquisite. Her awareness shuttered down into a kind of silent explosion, and then she was gasping over him as the waves of pleasure pushed through her over and over again. Below her, she was dimly aware that he had reached his own crisis, jolting against her, sending heat across her belly, and the sound of his same, soft cry sent another stab of unbearable pleasure through her.

The room stilled. She lay upon him, tightly clasping his left hand, whose fingers stirred gently against her grasp even now.

She moved so that she could nestle her face more comfortably in the crook of his neck. The closeness of his skin, his face… Sleepily she pressed forward to kiss his cheek. He made a small sound, and she opened her eyes briefly to see him staring up at the ceiling, blinking. His body was so quiet now: still shifting often, yes, but the motions were slow, gentle; minor tremors rather than the sudden jolts and contortions of before. She relaxed against him, bathed in warmth, pleasure.

 She became aware that he was tugging carefully at her hand. She opened her eyes again, loosening the fingers that had still held his, and watched from the corner of her eye as he haltingly lifted first his left, then his right hand – the right hand, which could not be controlled before – and brought them to rest in her hair.

“There,” he breathed out, and the look of wonder in his eyes was so great that she had to close hers again, pulling herself tighter against him.

They sank into darkness together. Her last perception was that, beyond the sound of his pulse and his breath, she could hear a clock ticking softly somewhere in the room.


***

Back to part I
On to part III

A day in the life, chapter 4

"LUNCH!"

I can't help but chuckle at the intrusion to my quiet as I flip the headphones off my head and touch a few keys to lock my machine. "Seems we have lunch" Steve comments wryly to my right.
I chuckle at his deadpan attitude. " It ...does seem that way, doesn't it?"  I shrug, stuffing my phone into my pocket as I push my chair back. I feel a slight bump and the wheel catches.
" Again?"  I mutter to myself as I get up off the chair, a hand touching the back of it to keep myself oriented as I walk around the chair and reach down to grab a hold of Ruff's leash.
Tracing its length with my fingers, I soon find the wheel that has gotten stuck in the leather. Ruff gets up off his pillow, shakes himself and settles in to watch me free him from the desk chair, an almost daily occurrence for us by now.
" Need a hand with that?" I hear a passing colleague behind me ask.
I don't know who he is, his voice is unfamiliar to me. This means I haven't interacted with him enough to make his voice tell me who he is. Especially with voices that sound alike, This can take a little while with me sometimes.
" Nah, I got it ..."  I respond as I lift the wheel over the leash, pulling it free and flinging it around a bit to amuse Ruff, who jumps around a bit and shakes his head as if to ward off a pesky fly.
Putting his harness along my arm, the opening free, I lower my arm until Ruff obediently sticks his head through the leather and I do up the buckle. " Good boy ..."  I say as I run the leash through the final strap. He takes a position to my left without me prompting him, something I give him a treat for.
I direct him towards the noise of the lunch table and settle down in a chair as the rest of the company trickles into the room, sitting down around me and passing the bread, sandwich toppings and cutlery around.
I take off Ruff's harness and direct him to lie down next to my chair as I run my hands across the table in front of me. Plate, knife, cup, everything's there. Good.
" What would you like?"  a colleague asks from the opposite end of the table. I think for a moment.
" Can you hand me the bread and the peanut butter?" I respond, not sure if they are even present on the table currently. This is always  a bit of guesswork for me as ingredients fly around the lunch area faster than boxes in an Amazon Delivery facility during the best of times.
Apparently, they are. I am handed a bag of bread and the peanut butter jar rather quickly, my fingertips encountering the smooth ceramic of the jar as I move it towards the noise of its shifting position on the table.
" I don't mind putting it on there if you need it?"  John Doe offers. I bristle at that briefly, then take a beat. it is a reasonable offer, and another day I might have even taken him up on it, but today I'm just not in the headspace for his helping hand.

Offers like that are very double-edged for me. They make things a lot easier, but they also confront me rather strongly with my disability, one I don't experience as such but is still at least an impairment in some situations.
This is definitely one of them; someone who can see will likely always be able to perform this particular task quicker and more seamless than I ever will. At times, I am fine with that admission. Today, I just want to do it myself, dammit.

"I got it ..."  I answer,  my focus already at the task of tuning out all distractions so I can focus. I will also have to move the knowledge I am very likely being stared at to the back of my mind as I take my knife and use it to scoop up some of the sugary spread and carry it over to my slice of bread.
 Taking care to keep a handle on my reflex to check my work with my right hand and getting it dirty, I do my best to run my knife across the bread in even strokes the way it usually works for me.
Repeating this once more, my other hand only keeping the bread steady, I estimate where the uncovered spots are and give it another pass, hopefully filling in the remaining bread. At home, I would run a finger across the bread but knowing what kind of a show I am already putting on, I refrain from doing that this time.
Cleaning my knife at the edge of the jar, I screw the jar shut and push it forward somewhat, indicating someone at the table can have it as I put two slices of bread on top of each other, getting some peanut butter on my finger as I do.
Sighing, I clean my finger off and dig into my rather paultry lunch. I don't like doing that in full view, but I like accepting help and admitting to my inadequacies even less on days like this. It comes with the job description to be a zoo animal worth watching at times, I suppose.
Making small-talk with my tablemates I eat my sandwich, discovering that to my delight I didn't do a half-bad job at covering all the bread. I count that as a small victory as I laugh at a story a colleague is telling everyone who wants to hear it.
My phone buzzes as I finish my sandwich. Wiping off my hands, I pull it out of my pocket and unlock the screen, the phone's tiny speaker near my ear as I listen to what it wants.
" Skype, now, Message from Lara,"  the mechanical voice says, followed by a rather detailed description of a sexual act involving her, me and various implements to do with such things. The explicit message make me blush and makes my pants feel a bit tighter. It is good that my phone's speech is set to a rather high rate, making this kind of clandestine yet rather blatant sexting at work possible.

Sexting is an interesting thing as a blind person. Obviously, the nudes don't really factor into it, so vivid descriptions of scenes, textual roleplay or spicy audio clips tend to be the way to go for most couples that have at least one blind person in it.
Being an audio engineer by hobby myself, I can craft rather exquisite audio experiences where that is concerned as well, be it recorded or on a real-time call, making phone sex a whole lot more dynamic and interesting.
For long-term relationships, imagination and creative solutions like this have made sexy times at least somewhat possible, filling the void of not having the real thing during the times apart.

Smiling to myself at the sheer audacity of responding to this at the lunch table of all things, I flip my phone into landscape mode and rest it on my pinkies, my thumbs holding onto the top of the phone as my remaining fingers find their position on either end of the phone to input braille characters.
" How do you do a slash character again ...hmm .." I think to myself as I fumble it a few times before getting it right, typing out a response just as vivid while my colleagues are completely in the dark about what I'm doing.
 'Isn't that some sweet irony to go with the peanut butter sandwich?'  my inner monologue comments dryly as I send the message off and put my phone away, confined to the lunch table until my rather visible reaction dies down a bit.
" Could someone hand me the cheese?"  I ask, opting for a safer sandwich alternative to round my lunch off with.
Folding two slices of cheese between two pieces of bread I eat my second and last sandwich of the day when someone walks up to me.
" You need to announce you're there..."  a colleague helpfully calls out from down the table. I turn towards the new person, suspecting he was reaching out his hand and got ignored for his trouble.'
"Hi ...I am Luke. I am your new colleague, Joanne said we had a meeting to discuss the way you work?"  he offers, shaking the hand I helpfully stretch out in his general direction to diffuse the awkward situation.
" She mentioned that, yes ...do you know where we are doing that yet?"  I respond as he sits down at our table.
" Yeah, the balcony is free so we figured that was as good a place as any"  he responds, messing about with some plastic-wrapped bread topping I can't readily identify as he makes himself a sandwich.
" Hmm ...it'll just be a theoretical thing then. I can't take all my equipment over there" I tell him, finishing my sandwich and getting ready to go back to my desk. Ruff jumps up next to me, always being able to sense when I am about to leave the table somehow.
"I heard something about a practical demo later this week?"  he responds, getting up as well. Ruff moves in next to me as I harness him again.
" Right, that is this Thursday"  I confirm, following him back to our team's table. " You'll get all the fancy-schmancy party tricks then"
We both chuckle as we sit back down at our workstations. What he doesn't know is that I wasn't exactly kidding ...not entirely in any case. At times, it really can seem like entertaining the masses.
I unlock my machine, do some work and check my messages on Facebook. One of them makes me blink, then get into problem-solving mode. Something isn't right...

Just what did Lara send? What did I send back? Also, is Lara the mysterious partner from this morning? Who knows ...I might just include some more explicit stuff at some point. ;)
And just what happened on Facebook? That sure doesn't look good ...
Keep reading, you might just find out. In this situation, only I can see the future ;)