The optometrist is a kind man. You can see that much: the picture of a Jack Russel on his desk, the gold foil star on his nametag, Chupa Chups crammed in an old jam jar. He dims the lights and asks you to read from the wall. E F P C L I. The letters get smaller and so you lean forward, squint, glare. He laughs and wheels his chair in front of you. Holds a blinker over your right eye like you’re a racehorse about to startle. He uses your name at the end of every sentence, but you don’t mind. It sounds soft, he doesn’t drag out the vowel like how most people do. He asks you to look at his right ear. It looks like a first-trimester zygote, like the ultrasound of your baby niece clipped on the fridge. Your knees touch and he apologises, leans back a breath. Shines a torch into your eye. You can feel the air between both your knees like a warm silk sac. This is the longest you’ve looked right at anyone in a long time, and it makes you feel a little queasy. He moves to the other eye, holds the top lid up and asks you to look up, down, to the left, yep, right. The letter chart glows behind him and catches the fur of his cheek in white light and you think of this thing you read on the bus trip here, where a psychologist made a bunch of strangers pair up and answer 37 personal questions, then stare into one another’s eyes for three minutes straight. They reckon it’s a shortcut to falling in love, and so you tested it out. The woman across from you with the pink pomp dangling from her wallet. The man beside you with the holes in his jeans. The bus driver, glancing in the side mirror, trying to merge onto Bridge Street. He wheels away from you and turns the lights back up. Now for the boring graph stuff. You blink, rub your eyes. He winks and clicks on your file. He points with a blue pen, You have a beautiful optical nerve, see it there? Golden red and shadowed. But the cupping is a little large. You stifle a laugh, and something else. Am I worried? No, I am not necessarily worried. Some of my colleagues, they might be worried, with this machine, and these results. And your eyes. But I’m not necessarily worried. You like that word. Necessarily. It hedges its bets. You can respect that. What do you know about probability? You like probability. You can play hide and seek anywhere. You are more likely to be hit by lightning than to win the Powerball. You have more chance of being killed by a cow than a shark. More of a chance of being killed by an ant than that cow. You start to run it. If Jane Doe is twenty-two, and the average eye does not mature until its mid to late 20s, what is the probability that Jane can go home soon? He shows you your results alongside the national average, all of it blue and green, swirling like a weather map. You are experiencing a cold front. And there you are, orange and red and peeled just off-centre. The chances of Glaucoma are relatively low, all things considered. Though, just the other month, I diagnosed a young girl, 18. He says 18 like he knows he shouldn’t be excited, but he just won some kind of white coat bingo. 18 he says again. The youngest I’ve ever diagnosed. You nod. Wow you say. Wow.
Aimee-Jane Anderson-O'Connor was awarded the 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Prize, and was the co-winner of the 2017 Monash Prize for Emerging Writers. Her work has appeared in a number of literary journals, including Starling, Mayhem, Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Mimicry, and Minarets.