A small statue of Saint Angela of Merici, sits in a nook above the fish tank in Dr. Langer’s office. Marina has seen the statue before, here of course, where she has visited many times but also in her grandmother’s house where it keeps a quiet vigil between yellowing candles and other chaste, porcelain saints. Virgin martyrs of the dusty shelf; Agatha, Goretti, Saint Eu-lalia of Barcelona. Marina has thought of suggesting to the optometrist that he should replace Saint Angela, who lost and then regained her ability to see, with a statue of Medusa, who was blessed with an avenging and protective sight. She imagines that he would laugh, “oh ha ha,” he might say “we wouldn’t want to scare the patients, would we?”.
Middle onset macular degeneration, Marina often pronounced these words to herself, rolling the sounds forward and back. A progressive disease, which was progressing. “Perhaps soon,” Dr. Langer says, “we may lose our ability to read, recognize faces, or perform visual tasks that requires us to see fine detail”. You mean I, you mean I, will lose my ability to recognize faces, she thought but didn’t say. He speaks of inter-ocular injections, of a diet rich in antioxi-dants, he tests her sight and makes notes.
No longer able to drive, Marina rides home on the bus. In the flickering light of the late afternoon, she watches as the furry spots in her vision coalesce into almost images. Focusing on a middle distance, neither looking nor not looking, she can see a network of lines, the wing of a moth? Maybe a face? Best not to look too hard. The surface of the eye is to be gazed through, not at. Like my body, she thinks, and then stops thinking.
Later, in bed, Carmen asks her about the visit to the optometrist. Marina tries to keep her voice light, optimistic, fact based. When Carmen begins to touch her, Marina closes her eyes as she always does. “At least this will not change,” she thinks and is glad to be in her body, in the velvet dark. That night she dreams of Medusa.
When the beautiful maiden Medusa, was chased into Athena’s temple by Poseidon, and then raped, Athena became enraged at the desecration of her sacred space. She punished Medusa, for this trespass, making her hideous to look upon and deadly to any man who tried. So wrote the Roman poet Ovid. Marina knows that only a man could have written the story this way. Her dream is of a compassionate Athena, and the granting of a wish. “I no longer want to be seen by men,” Medusa had pleaded, and the goddess had made it so. “But they can see you, child,” she had warned, “if they use a mirror,” and a compromise was reached. Those men willing to look through their own reflection might glimpse Medusa without harm.
Marina finds that she no longer enjoys being in public spaces. To be seen without seeing is a double loss of power, and it more than she can bear. She thinks of the porcelain saints, of her grandmother’s stories in which each of the women were pursued, assaulted, and harangued.
“They defended their purity,” her grandmother, rheumy eyed, would say, “they gave their bodies to Christ.” These stories tend to end in one of two ways – the girls (most of them aged twelve to fifteen) are tortured and killed, often by the men who’s advances they had refused. The second path to sainthood was a life of isolation, withdrawing, like Medusa, from the sight of men to la-bor among the sick, the poor, and the other unseen. Unlike Medusa, the female saints embraced forgiveness, so the stories say, they accepted responsibility for the violence committed against them and they submitted to the authority of God.
Carmen no longer visits in the evenings. The last time, tearful and drunk, she had admit-ted that she couldn’t deal with the approaching blindness, “I need to be seen,” she had finally said, and Marina understood, though she hoped that someday Carmen might learn to see herself with her own eyes.
Though Marina wonders if it might exacerbate the situation, she guiltily allows her vision to drift into that middle distance where the detritus in her macula becomes a private kaleido-scope. She delights, increasingly, in the distortions, the emerging patterns. New spaces open in her blurred vision, streaks and beating wings, mysterious writhing shadows. The bright kitchen in her apartment, where she no longer prepares food, is the best place for this indulgence. She sits in a straight backed chair before the blank white wall. The light from the windows dances and she thinks of the virginal saints and their visions, their eyes filled with the glory of God and the omnipresent maleness, naked and hung, of the body of Christ. Marina does not see Jesus.
When she holds her hands up to the light, she sees the curving bodies of the women she has loved and the pink blood-light between them when their limbs are laid skin to skin. Marina also see snakes. The snakes do not frighten her, they portend power and protection, their poison, a granted wish.
Perseus, beheaded Medusa. The host of gods, each with their own motives, conspired to help this golden haired killer. With the winged sandals of Hermes, the sword of Hephaestus, and a helmet of invisibility, he was able to find Medusa in her hidden place. He used the mirrored shield of Athena, looking past his own reflection, and lopped off her head. History calls Perseus a hero and Medusa, a monster. Marina knows that only a man could have written the story that way.
It is into light, rather than darkness, that Marina slips. Leaving her body in the straight backed chair ,she abandons the land of the killing hero and gladly enters the realm of the unseen saint.