The Blind Man Dreamed of a Vestibule
by Sarah Cornwell
The blind man dreamed of a vestibule tiled oceanic blue and a chandelier of rain. He saw the glint of light held in droplets and the rich refraction of blues in such sumptuous detail that he took the dream quite seriously and called an interior decorator recommended by a friend.
“Slabs of blue deep like the reefs of the Indian Ocean seen through a glass-bottomed boat,” he said. “A door that is like a waterfall. Light that rolls like waves. And the chandelier must be high, so my guests do not hurt their heads.”
The decorator sighed at the strangeness of the blind man’s wants, but he was paid in advance and he did the best that he could. He was accustomed to choices between eggshell and ivory, between the sconce and the pendant lamp. He spread old National Geographics across the blind man’s kitchen table and thought about materials.
“And you have never seen?”
“Not until now.”
For weeks, the vestibule of the blind man’s house smelled like dust and paint. The workmen tuned their radio to smooth jazz that seeped through the keyhole of the blind man’s study where he sat reading novels of Braille on Saturday mornings. The blind man moved through the construction in the vestibule softly when they had gone, remembering the beauty of his dream.
When it was finished, the blind man telephoned a friend. They met at the door and he ushered his friend into the vestibule. They stood in silence for a moment. The blind man asked, so nervous, “What is it like?”
His friend moaned softly. “It is like water,” he said. “It is like the lakes where I dove as a child in upstate New York, on a clear day.”
Neighbors came, relatives came. “It is like a lagoon,” they said. “It is like breathing underwater. Like the waters of the Caribbean on my honeymoon.”
The blind man dreamed again. He woke alone at three a.m. with vision crackling in his skull and he wished there were a body beside him to shake awake. Instead, he called his decorator and talked for an hour. His decorator listened and said they would have to hire a bigger team.
“A room that is red and black like a tiger. A fireplace with flames that leap to the ceiling. Chairs and tables with claws and fur. I dreamed a jungle floor and bats among high rafters.”
The details of his dream were so rich and ecstatic that the greatest architects came to him, and the greatest artists. “A canopy of wood,” said the blind man. “The sense of mangrove trees.” The decorator pointed left and right, said no to oak and yes to cherry, and was lifted up and carried in the tide of redecorative ideas. The blind man paid in advance.
The blind man asked the artists when they were finished what the room was like. “It is all the red I have ever craved,” they said. “It is fauvist. It is primal and brutal, it is sexual.”
The blind man felt the furs and the tangled woods with his hands, smelled the new varnish, felt the glow of the fireplace. He invited writers and poets to the room and they described the fire and the furs. They told him, “It is like Joseph Conrad. It is beautiful and terrible, it is adventure.”
The blind man had more dreams and the house seethed with dreamed beauty. The stairway became a ladder through the night sky, the bath a wild English garden. The kitchen was transformed into a factory of gold and chrome, where conveyor belts buzzed and metal clinked gently in the night. He waited for new dreams with a child’s eagerness, but he was lonely in such a house after his guests left in the evenings.
An artist brought a friend of hers to dinner one night, a blind woman called Maria. She moved with measured grace and her voice was as low and rich as an owl’s. She was a potter and she spoke of shape with such eloquence the blind man trembled. He dreamed that night of a room of love, with enamel flowers inlaid in ivory walls, like the Taj Mahal, with ponds of lilies, shades of violet, ivied balconies, and the clatter of footsteps in a cobbled Venetian alley. When it was finished, he invited Maria back to hear the artists and the poets rhapsodize. “It is the romance of all times and places,” they said. “It is as dark and lovely as Casablanca. It is like the first moment when I saw myself reflected in my husband’s eyes.”
The blind man and the blind woman were married in this room.
They made love in the scented dusk of the Taj Mahal and in the urgency of the hot jungle, they bathed amongst roses and cleome, trailing their fingers in the grass beside the tub. The blind man built a studio for Maria where she could do her work, and this room was modeled not from his visions but from her wants. They talked and ate and fought and slept and they were very happy. The blind man waited for dreams.
The artists pressed around him. “And what shall we make of the last room?” they asked. “Antarctica? A room like a canyon? Coney Island?” Still, the blind man waited for dreams.
He slept dreamlessly for months on end. He tried meditation. He read books whose settings seared his mind. He hired a hypnotist and rubbed scented oils into his temples before sleep, but none of this brought his visions back. There were sounds in his dreams, and textures, and the shape of his wife’s hands. But there were no rooms.
He thought over all of the rooms he had seen in his dreams. He searched every corner of the old rooms for the seeds of the next. Then, one afternoon in April, he fell asleep in a chair beside Maria’s kiln. The heat loosened his thoughts and he fell into a dream. There were no walls or ceilings in the blind man’s last vision, but at first a warm redness that the sighted know as the color of eyelids. And at the center of this color, the blind man dreamed of a dark-haired boy.
Maria had her child in December. The last room became a nursery with pale green walls and good sun in the mornings. The child was sighted, and he grew in the house of his father’s visions. The blind man waited for no more dreams, for the rooms of his house were full.