When they explained it to her, when Farah was old enough to ask about it, they told her, speaking slowly and smiling, saying the two words carefully: heterochromia iridum. One blue eye and one brown eye. One from each of them – a Mommy eye and a Daddy eye. From that day on, she was sure her special eyes, one of each, were the single thing that made her a pure and magical being. A magician.
She drew posters of herself wearing a cape and holding a magic wand. She always colored the eyes to stand out against the flat white of the cardboard, pressing the crayons hard and choosing the colors with great care. One cerulean blue and one Van Dyke brown.
Her father had no idea Farah wanted to be anything other than a little girl. And that was something he knew nothing about, being a little girl. So the two of them, father and daughter, saw one another every other weekend and were defined by these meetings, defined by what they didn’t know about each other. Every Friday, her mom parked at the curb, blew the horn, and drove away. And her father would walk Farah hand-in-hand back to the apartment without speaking a word.
Early one Saturday morning, Farah said she had a marvelous idea for an illusion.
“Did you know magic is considered as arts and crafts?” she asked. “Trimming something for a certain effect. Small-cutting the edges of cards, building stage sets, notching metal rings until they seem to come together and then fall apart. It’s all arts and crafts.”
Her father tried on a smile, gave her a side-squeeze around the shoulder, leaning his hip as far out and away from hers as possible.
“Another trick?” he said. Farah paid no attention to the tiny sigh between his lips when he said it.
“I’m glad you asked,” she said, and opened her eyes very, very wide. “What if I could make these the same color?”
Farah heard them talking on the phone. Talking and then yelling and then, at the end of the conversation, her father screaming in his great, booming voice, a sound as painful as an old wound. She thought of her mom sitting on the couch at home. Probably wearing her favorite bathrobe, the one she also used to wear when the three of them still lived together. She saw her cradling her head sideways in the palm of her free hand, how the skin on her face wrinkled into folds while she cried.
It was her mom she thought about while holding the hand mirror as close to her eyes as possible. She closed one eye and then the other. One of each and pretty special, pretty magical. She closed both eyes and squeezed them tightly until she saw the little red and white explosions of light spreading and disappearing like heat lightning behind her eyelids. She inhaled and exhaled slowly and deliberately, meditating, focusing on every detail. This could work. Being special was pointless if you didn’t use it.
The quiet minutes after supper never settled in the way that time can for normal families. Her father sat in the same spot every Saturday evening, but never seemed to get comfortable. Not in his chair, not in his skin. His lost wife hung in the room as a veil, obscuring any possible conversation or small talk or even general interaction. Farah watched him drop more deeply into some far away, silent, painful place where his lost wife smiled at him and held him, kissed him, made promises with a steady heart. If for no other reason but to ease the tension, Farah reminded him of her new trick. He turned slowly and forced a smile.
“You sit on the couch and I’ll sit here on the coffee table,” she began. “I need you to look very closely into my eyes. Remember how they look and when you’ve got a really good image of them in your mind tell me.”
There was a strange five or six seconds where the two of them stared at each other in total silence and then her father said, “Okay I’ve got it.”
Nodding, she leaned forward until the tip of her nose was a few inches from the tip of his nose. She blinked her eyes three times and, again, held them open very, very wide. Her father leaned in close, narrowing his own dark eyes. He moved her into the tiny kitchen where the light was better. Squinted again, closer this time. Two beautiful eyes, as blue as dignity and love.
Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of three books of fiction and an upcoming chapbook collaboration of poetry. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, Ghost Parachute, New World Writing, Free State Review, and Vestal Review. He lives in Kentucky with his wife and two children.