She had no plans to grow old, and she had no desire to feel her hips hurt (1). Minna was sitting by her grandmother’s bedside in Munroe Hospital when the woman called out in pain. Even though it has been nine years since her grandmother’s death, at night when Minna tries to fall asleep those screams still play like a broken record in her ears. In her sleep she sees her grandmother’s back arch, sighing one last breath. When she was eleven, she sat there motionless listening to the old woman’s lungs collapse and fill with liquid.
After Minna returned home to Bar Harbor from her sophomore year at Dartmouth, she resumed her usual position as her elderly neighbor’s shopping escort. Mrs. Aisen had bad arthritis, so Minna made things easier. It was Minna’s birthday that particular Saturday, but she went with Mrs. Aisen anyway.
“Darling, can you reach the canned peas for me? They’re on the top shelf.”
“Um, the canned peas?” Minna asked. Peas? She was bored. “There aren’t any cans on this aisle.”
“We’re on the canned food aisle, dear,” Mrs. Aisen said. “They’re right there on the top shelf – can’t you try?”
“Uh, they’re not there,” but somehow she knew they had to be. Minna couldn’t see the top shelf. She squinted upwards, but Mrs. Aisen didn’t make it home with her canned peas.
When Minna turned twenty and her eyes began to go, she took it as a sign of middle age, and sighed a sigh of relief. Her family had always prided itself on excellent eyesight. They’d won the genetic lottery, they had. This was her grandparents’ gift to their children, and her parents’ gift to their daughter, her daughters, and her granddaughters.
After she got back from the store, she slumped into the living room couch next to her father. He was a doctor, so he knew everything about the human body. “Hey kiddo, lemme have a looksee.” He tilted her chin to the ceiling, and peered into her eyes. “Hmmm….Allergies. Definitely allergies. Here – how many fingers am I holding up?”
“Mhmm.” He still wasn’t listening. “See? You’re fine.”
When Minna was six, she had a solo in her ballet recital. But her father fell asleep (2) somewhere between the opening number and Minna’s solo. After the show, her Daddy had given her a bouquet of flowers. “You were great, kiddo. I loved it.”
Grandma, who knew, took the prettiest flower in the bouquet and pressed it between the pages of her unabridged dictionary.
“Just allergies, you see? You don’t need to go to the doctor when you’ve got one right here.” He pointed to himself with his thumb. Minna rolled her eyes and walked over to the bookshelves. She pulled her grandmother’s yellowed unabridged dictionary off the top shelf.
Minna turned the pages of her grandmother’s dictionary, thumbing through the brittle pages, hoping to find her grandmother somewhere in there.
Allergy, al·l?r·je, n. German Allergie, from all- + Greek ergon. 1. a bodily hypersensitivity to antigens or germs. 2. an exaggerated bodily response to an antigen or germ such as sneezing or embarrassment. 3. a feeling of antipathy and repugnance, self-loathing, disgust, constant eye-rolling self-polling paranoia that often results in strange bodily effects like irritability, headaches, dizziness, disorientation, disbelief, and in extreme cases, more extreme effects.
She thumbed about halfway through the book and halfway through the M section, when she saw her name in the dictionary. In between “Min-Min” and “Minne-drinking” she found her name in bold.
Minna, mi·n?, n. Middle High German, 1. love, affection. 2. a woman’s given name. 3. the name of a girl born to Stanley and Margaret Ipsen on June 24, 1982, in Munroe Hospital of Bar Harbor, Maine, U.S.A. They named her after a song they heard someone singing on the train from Brussels to Munich on their honeymoon. Minna was teased about her name in kindergarten by all of the Mikes, the Scotts, and the Johns. She had a pet fish she named Ophelia in middle school after she read Hamlet (see Hamlet) and thought that naming a fish Ophelia was a safe bet because fish cannot drown (3). The fish died, however, when her mother accidentally forgot to de-chlorinate the tap water during the ritual of fishbowl cleansing (see Murder). She pissed off her best friend in high school when she straight-out told Mike Hamilton that Bea had a crush on him when Minna was supposed to drop subtle hints (See Withers, Bea or Bitch). She graduated second in her high school class behind a fifteen year old mega- dork (see Geek and Celibacy) and was accepted early decision at Dartmouth, where her father got his undergraduate degree in 1972. People said she was only accepted because her dad went there, but she got a 1530 on the SAT, she just never told anyone because she was embarrassed it was so good.
And the rest was a sea of words swimming on the page. She couldn’t read the rest of the definition. There was an ink illustration of her, the portrait her parents had insisted on her sitting for when she was twelve. Squinting at the small print gave her a headache.
Tiresias, with his green mohawk and eyebrow rings
Marched into the forest to leave his mother,
The nymph Chariclo behind him. Parting the reeds
By the pond, Tiresias leant forward to see
The Goddess Athena butt nekked and buxom.
He disrobed and joined the Goddess, dipping his rose-pink toes
In the water. With that, the blushing Goddess leapt
Forward and rested her hands over the eyes of Tiresias.
When she pulled her rose-pink fingers back,
The world was darkened to the juvenile delinquent.
‘My eyes,’ Tiresias lamented, ‘you bastard. You took
My sight from me, Skank.’
On June 26, a Monday, Minna did the only thing she could think to do. Her headaches had gotten worse, so she went to see a specialist despite her father’s advice. She was nervously biting her nails, sitting in the dark examination room’s chair when Dr. Webster came in with his intern (4). Underneath Dr. Webster’s lab coat, a screen print KISS t-shirt peered out. He wore black jean shorts that showed a little too much of his thighs, and had white socks pulled white, right up to the bottom of a KISS tattoo on his shin. When he crossed his legs, the “KISS” rubbed his other calf’s flaming guitar.
“Mind if my intern takes notes? Ok, great. So, baby, what brings you here today?”
“Um, my vision suddenly went blurry. It was fine, and then I woke up and I’m seeing things that aren’t there and I’m not seeing things that are. Not that I mind – I just, well, I do kind of hate it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Can you make it stop? Does that make sense? It doesn’t to me. I can leave, it’s ok. Wait – I’m not dying am I?”
“Crazy.” “Kuh-ray-zee” was three syllables when Dr. Webster said it. He put on his doctor’s headlamp, and clamped her into the ophthalmologist chair, peering with his eyes into hers. Drops dilated them, and the world went further out of focus.
“Dr. Webster, uh, where did you go to medical school?”
“Writing’s on the wall, babe, writing is on the wall.” He had a collection of diplomas up on the walls printed in a gothic scrawl which Minna couldn’t read.
“Yup, you came to the right place. We’ll have to run some tests – do a little of this, a little of that. There’s something in there.”
“You promise there’s something in there? It’s not just me?” Minna asked.
He ushered her from the dimly examination room to a door marked “Testing Center.” The door opened on a rickety spiral staircase beginning to rust over in places. It wheezed creaking coughs all the way down past a layer of fog and into a white room that looked like the inside of a giant refrigerator. Dr. Webster motioned for her to recline in an examination chair made of…ice? Over her ears, he placed earphones tinkling the Blue Danube Waltz.
“What I’m gonna do,” he began, “is an autovisualization of the problem. Using holograms, I can get the ‘something’ – the vision problem – to take on a life of its own, so that it can tell us what it is. Got it?” The drugs were beginning to kick in so Minna mumbled something that sounded affirmative. He flipped a switch, and placed a visor over her eyes.
The room dimmed, and the walls began to hum. In the center of the room, a holographic projection the size of a dime expanded into a silver-metallic human image. The mirror woman waved hello. The drugs were getting to her; Minna mumbled a polite goodbye to herself and drifted into oblivion.
On June 27, Minna woke up in her bed with a hangover. “Rise and shine, darling.”
“Shut up, Mom.”
“Sounds like someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Dr. Webster called. Something about autovisual results….is he one of your professors from school?”
“Why’d you wake me up? No – wait – when did he call?”
Minna felt her way into the living room and over to her grandmother’s dictionary. She flipped through the pages, pausing on one entry.
Dr. Webster, doc·t?r web·st?r n. Middle German, websternstrasse. 1. an ophthalmologic specialist residing in Maine, U.S.A. 2. pioneer of the autovisualization process in the psychological aspects of the ophthalmologic science . 3. obsc. an escaped resident of the psychiatric ward of Munroe Hospital in Glen Harbor, Maine, U.S.A. Disbarred from the medical practice for impossible methods. He was arrested for possession of illegal substances at a KISS concert in the late 80’s (see Marijuana) and is identifiable by the stupid tattoos on his legs and the one on his chest of his trashy ex-wife. 4. a name created by E.L. Herschell for the purpose of voter fraud in Florida, or a figment of your imagination (5).
All she could read was “obsc.” but she figured the rest didn’t much matter.
She flipped forward, Minna, mi·n?, n. Middle High German, 1. love, affection. Instead of the ink drawing, there was a paper-thin mirror was embedded in the page. The woman in the mirror was flat, and lost her limbs when she tried to gesture beyond the mirror’s frame.
The woman in the mirror was hated. Apparently, her eyes were getting worse.
Dr. Webster talked to Minna as she sat in the dark examination room for a follow-up, still nervous. “Babe, see here, you’ve got an autovisualization problem, and that’s the real deal. The mental image that you subconsciously picked for the problem takes the form of you. It’s like your body’s allergic to itself. I got it on video tape if you wanna see it later. So anyway, the region where the optical nerve enters your brain is the region of self-awareness and the center of self-imaging, and I could go in and take it out – this much, no maybe this much.” He made an estimate with his index finger and his thumb, and in the sliver of space between his two digits hung an infinity of possibility. “It’d fix you right up. Side effects? Sometimes it doesn’t work out and you might lose some mental capacity and you might lose your marbles, but that doesn’t usually happen. I mean, I try out all of these procedures on myself, and I’m fine.”
Chariclo then alit from the tree where she was kickin’ it,
And stepped to the edge of the pond.
‘Athena, what the hell are you doing? You know you
Should – just shut up for a second, ok –
My son will now trip and bump into walls. You have
Lost his way for him. Fix it, or I’m suing for malpractice.’
But Athena could not reinstate his sight. ‘I cannot
Alter what I have done, but there’s this one procedure
Of autovisualizational removal I can do.’ But Tiresias,
Refusing, found a greater gift of sight in himself.
Tiresias could see, with his eyes shut, all the world.
Numb to his own troubles, he became a Prophet and saw
The troubles of others, and with them, the brat that he was.
When Minna was thirteen, she was hit in the nose by a stray baseball. At the hospital they bandaged her entire face while her father held her hand. “Tell me what a mess I look like.”
“Darling, you look beautiful.” Honestly, he couldn’t stand the sight of his bloody little girl.
“Are you lying Dad? Because if I look as miserable as I feel….”
Pinching his eyes shut, “no darling, I’ve gotta tell it like it is. Beautiful is the only word that does it.”
“Dad,” she said seven years later, “I need a procedure for my eyesight.” On July 1, her father told her that it was ridiculous for her to get a “procedure” for a nonexistent problem. When he did, Minna turned on her heels and left him at the breakfast table without saying anything. Her eggs got cold, but she couldn’t eat when she argued. She went to the dictionary.
Tiresias, tairí·si·?s n. Gk. mythol. 1. son of the nymph Chariclo, blind prophet of Thebes in ancient Greece 2. journeyer of self, depressed blind man who went blind because he was depressed before he was blind, and went off into the woods to “find himself,” but he really just got himself into trouble by pissing off Athena (see Athena or Bitch). If he had sat down and thought things through he would have been able to be a prophet without being blind, too. 3. one who goes blind due to his or her inability to see him/herself and others and grin glpt stbm ;j sdkj ?…
She turned the pages back to Minna, mi·n?, but the entire page was black and dusty. She blew the particles of the page and into the blinding sunlight.
Out of the air a small point of dust caught in the light. It stretched out until it took the mirrory metallic shape of the woman from Dr. Webster’s holographic testing center. The mirror woman waved “hello.” The word Grandmother, gr?nd·m?·??r. German. Love, affection writhed in a single black line in the open dictionary.
The woman waved “come here.” A wind rustled through the open window, rustling the pages of her grandmother’s dictionary with a whisper from the past.
Minna did. Just as the world went black, she clasped the woman’s hand, and was pulled through the mirror.
Minna landed in a heap on the other side of the mirror. The living room settled back into focus. She dusted herself off and saw the crisp outline of the dictionary, which had fallen open on the floor.
Mirror image mir·r?r ?m·?j, n. Old English. 1. a reflection in a mirror or other reflective surface. 2. exactly the same as the thing itself, only turned around. 3. ‘mirror imaging:’ a process of auto- autovisualization shown to improve one’s mirror image (See Alice in Wonderland or Minna), but not the thing itself, and to improve the clarity of the image, but again, not the thing itself.
She saw that everything was as she had left it the moment before. Nothing had changed: same couch, same bookshelf, same Minna.
“Minna, did you ever get in touch with Dr. Webster?”
Minna kicked the dictionary shut and left it on the floor in the middle of the living room. She was out the door when her mother hollered after.
“Minna, you need to do your laundry sometime today – I’m not doing it for you.” She waited a moment. “Minna?”
Tiresias was blind for the rest of his years
On earth, and remains so in the underworld.
Men still nag him to look into their lives,
But he is still the same kid he was before he
Got put into a nursing home. He is still forced to
Live for others, when he tried to live for himself,
Which kind of sucks.
Athena has since said that there is
Nothing wrong with Tiresias’ eyes (6).
(1) Dr. Webster’s notes begin here. For family medical history see addendum at the end.
(2) Dr. Stanley Ipsen, M.D. is an Ob.Gyn,, and was tired from delivering a baby the night before.
(3) Actually, fish can drown. I had a fish once that drowned because it was lazy.
(5) This definition is copied verbatim from the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. Is that plagiarism? Regardless, I have, however, improved on Webster’s layout and read E.L. Herschell’s poor translation of Ovid.
(6) Dr. Webster’s notes end here. (And Herschell mistranslates, again.) After I had typed them I took them back to his office on July 17, and the place where his office had stood before was instead a field of grass. Minna Ipsen is not in the phone book. Do you know where I could reach her?