Another prolonged stop in the middle of a darkened tunnel added to the torment of the daily grind on the underground. Charlotte always felt weighed down and hemmed in when she was in the city. It was the wide open spaces of the ocean where Charlotte McCartney felt most at home.
She was hurriedly on her way to give a lecture on oceanography to a group at the National History Museum. She had recently returned from a three month secondment to the South Pacific where she was studying ocean-floor dwelling crustaceans, her area of speciality.
The train eventually wound its way through the old Victorian tunnels of the Piccadilly Line emerging at the platform of South Kensington Station. Charlotte fought her way out of the carriage with the other commuters, alighting onto the cold, hard platform and quickly discerning the direction of the exit before hurrying onwards.
She was wearing the uniform of the London female commuter. A cold-grey suit, stockings and high heels – her hair was pinned up in a business-like manner to finish off the look. It was almost as if Londoners had forgone bright colours to fend off the grime of the city’s filthy underbelly. What Charlotte would have given to be in warmer climes.
She arrived at the museum just on time and was introduced to the professor who had organised the day of lectures on ‘The Great Blue Unknown’. He ushered her into position, stage-left, and walked over to his podium to introduce the event. Charlotte was quietly chastising herself for her vanity. She should really have been wearing her glasses so that she could see the audience and for that matter the screen clearly.
She had been prescribed glasses whilst at University, the years of heavy study had taken their toll and Charlotte was prescribed glasses for her myopia. She could get by without her glasses and so for the most part that’s exactly what she did, she just wasn’t a glasses person.
The grey professor wakened Charlotte from her thoughts with the announcement of her name. She walked towards the podium to mild applause and entered into her well-worn perambulation through the husky world of crustaceans.
Charlotte’s fascination with the ocean was born of a desire to get as far away as possible from her childhood home in the heart of England. It may only be a small island but when you live at the grey, industrial centre of it the ocean feels like it might as well be the other side of the world.
That she should specialise in the dreary end of the Ocean was to Charlotte as predictable as night follows day. Her life had been tough in many ways, but Charlotte was a fighter and despite the hostility and chauvinism she had encountered she had eventually found an area of research unconstrained by the typical oceanic explorer’s need to conquer the unknown. Charlotte had found her own little part of the ocean where only she and a few of the more mellow professors chose to reside.
Charlotte walked off the stage to the usual less than emphatic applause. She smiled and nodded to the obsequious hosting professor as he rushed back towards the podium to introduce the next professor whose subject was the more crowd-pleasing topic of plankton.
As Charlotte walked through the Museum on her way out she retrieved her mobile phone from her handbag to check for messages. Her team were short-listed for a research project in the Pacific near Hawaii. If they received the go-ahead Charlotte would be on a plane within the week and back on, and in, the Ocean.
After the phone had gone through its procession of motifs and jingles and settled down into its normal operating mode, Charlotte was able to open her mailbox and check for any news on the project.
To: 07777 123456
Sent: 09.32 AM
Wkd - we’ve got it!! Getting the champs on ice
c u soon.
Charlotte hated the language of SMS. It was completely alien to her and she often found it took her much longer to understand the intended message than if the sender had just used a few more characters and written in English. It wasn’t as if Charlotte was old, she was only 33, but she’d always been a bit of a technophobe. Still, on this occasion she could forgive Jake the strangulation of the language. She hailed a cab and headed to the office, there was a lot to get done.
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The temperature was a perpetual 85oC and the sun’s rays danced on the ocean’s surface writing their own absorbing narrative to describe the beautiful day as it unfurled. The story would be one which would be lost on Charlotte.
Charlotte and her team were inside the hulk of the Russian research vessel they had chartered for the duration. Control of the remote submersible vehicle, ‘RSV’, was given over to Jake. Rachel, a young graduate, was relaying information on the position of the vehicle to Jake using GPS positioning and good old-fashioned charts. Dieter, a German researcher who had seen many an expedition in his time, was looking at the telemetry from the RSV. His job, probably the most important of the crew, was to make sure that no matter what happened they wouldn’t lose the RSV.
Charlotte oversaw all of this and interpreted what they saw on the video feeds, deciding which specimens to capture for further study. Once the RSV returned to the surface she would be the person who would examine their bounty, noting her observations in minutiae. Rachel would take photographic evidence whilst Jake and Dieter would ready the RSV for the next dive.
The RSV returned to the surface, a full three hours after it had begun its decent. The team were eager to get on with their allotted tasks and it wasn’t long before Charlotte was at her desk in the makeshift lab studying the aquatic life up close. There was one specimen which had really excited Charlotte when she had seen it on the video screen. It was like nothing she had seen before and she had high hopes that they had discovered not only a new crustacean, but possibly a whole new species.
Charlotte had her glasses propped on her forehead and was wearing overalls for the dirty task ahead. Jake didn’t think he’d ever seen such an attractive sight. He wished that she would put her glasses on properly, he had a bit of a thing for women in glasses and he especially had a thing for Charlotte wearing glasses.
She put her hands into the sea water-filled plastic container on the desk in front of her and retrieved the specimen which had caught her attention. It looked on first glance to be a cross between a sea snail and sea horse. She lifted the creature up towards her face to look closer at it. It appeared to be cognisant of the fact she was looking at it and recoiled slightly into its seductively coloured shell before bursting forward towards Charlotte covering her face with an inky black substance.
Charlotte dropped the creature and screamed in pain as the inky substance burned her face. She instinctively closed her eyes and was rubbing them in a frenzied attempt to stop the pain.
Jake ran over to her and shouted at Rachel to get some fresh water. He put his arm around her and tried to remove her hands from her eyes. “Stop it Charlotte, you’ll make it worse if you rub them.”
Rachel returned quickly with a bucket of water and Jake sponged it over Charlotte’s face. “Put your head back!” he demanded of Charlotte and he poured the water over her eyes. Charlotte’s face was red from the ink and her eyes were bloodshot.
“I can’t see!” Charlotte shouted, “I can’t see anything other than a blur! Jake where are you?”
“I’m right here.” Jake grabbed Charlotte and hugged her to him. “We’ll get you sorted, don’t worry.”
He shouted to Dieter, “How long until we get to Maui?”
“Three, maybe four hours.” Came the urgent reply.
“It’ll have to be quicker. Call the cost guard!”
Jake stayed with Charlotte the entire time, constantly dousing her face and eyes with the water. She could barely open her eyes and was frightened to do so for what she might not see if she did. Why hadn’t she worn her glasses? They would have protected her eyes. The same two thoughts were also going through Jake’s mind.
The coast guard arrived in their frigate, which had an onboard medical facility and helicopter pad with helicopter parked neatly atop of it. The two crews set up a winch facility between the boats and a paramedic was dispatched. He introduced himself to Charlotte and examined her. The red marks on her face were already blistering. He shone a torch into Charlotte’s eyes and told her to try to relax as they were going to get her to a hospital quickly.
He motioned to his crew to ready the helicopter and then he set about setting up the stretcher so that Charlotte could be taken aboard the Coast Guard’s ship.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Charlotte was growing wearisome of staying in bed and wanted to get out and about. The doctors were pleased with the progress of the scarring on her face. They were sure that in time all that would remain of the ordeal would be a faint pink mark on her face which makeup would cover. What they were not so sure of were her eyes. She was due to see the specialist later that day. She would be glad to be free of the gauze and cotton wool which was infuriatingly itchy.
Her nurse, Hazel, who had looked after her for the past ten days came into the room and helped her out of bed and into the wheelchair. She pushed her through the corridors of the hospital, all the time updating her on her daughter’s life story. Charlotte felt she knew the girl of who Hazel talked so fondly, she had a picture of her in her mind and wondered if she would ever be able to see for herself if the girl lived up to her image.
The chair came to a halt and Hazel knocked on the door of Dr Latimer’s office. She waited for permission to enter the office and on receipt of it she duly opened the door and wheeled Charlotte into the room. The doctor’s voice was gravely and yet smooth at the same moment. Dr Latimer sounded like he smoked a few too many cigarettes for his own good, but the tone was very reassuring.
He spoke to Charlotte for a while, poking fun a little at her new-found celebrity status. “What did they call that creature in the end?”
“Officially, Honoratio Adrien, which translates as Snail Horse of the Sea. I just call it ouch!”
He removed the bandage from Charlotte’s eyes and the room came into oblique view. She could almost make out Dr Latimer’s features, but beyond that was a blur and his face was a matter of inches from her own.
“Oh my god, I can’t see a thing!” she exclaimed.
Dr Latimer told her that he’d be the judge of that and proceeded to shine a torch into each eye, commenting all the while. “I have some good news for you Charlotte. The eyes are the most remarkable of all the organs and their restorative capabilities are amazing. I am sure with the right lenses you’ll be able to see well enough to live a normal life.”
She felt a surge of hope and despondency in equal measure at the last comment. For sure, being able to see again would be fantastic, but her life wasn’t normal and it was her old life she wanted back.
Dr Latimer told Charlotte to follow him through to his optics room, as he called it. She held onto his arm and followed him into the dimly-lit space. She sat on a chair in the room and he made her look through a phoropter which would help him determine her prescription.
As he turned the dials the chart at the far end of the room became visible. He asked Charlotte if she could read anything and she answered honestly telling him that she could barely see that it was an eye chart. He continued to turn up the dials until Charlotte could read the top two rows of the chart.
“Well Charlotte, for now I can give you 20/200 vision with glasses. It’s not perfect but your eyes still have healing to do so I am sure we can get you close to 20/20 vision in time.”
Charlotte was just thankful to be able to see enough to function once again. Dr Latimer asked her if she would mind if he made up the prescription in her existing frames. Charlotte told him she didn’t mind in the slightest and thanked him for helping her.
“It’s my pleasure Charlotte. We will have to work together on this over the next few months if you are going to get good vision back. For now your prescription is -29.00 in each eye, I will get these made up for you today. They will be lenticular, which is just a smart way of saying strong and therefore designed in a way to reduce the overall thickness of the lenses, so prepare yourself for that. See you tomorrow. I’ll call for your nurse to fetch you.”
Charlotte was helped back into the wheelchair by Hazel and taken back to her room. Dr Latimer hadn’t re-applied any bandages and so she was able to wonder at the sheer blurriness of her view of the world. “He’ll get you back on your feet, he’s a good doctor. Once you get your glasses tomorrow you’ll be free to leave.”
The following day Charlotte returned to Dr Latimer’s office, once again under the direction of Hazel. However, this time Charlotte walked there arm-in-arm with her nurse and friend. The doctor beckoned Charlotte to take a seat at his desk.
She sat down and Dr Latimer removed the glasses from a case, Charlotte knew this because she heard the tell-tale sound of the case opening. She had noticed that her sense of sound and smell especially seemed heightened since the accident. He placed the glasses onto her nose and asked her how they felt. “Heavy”
“Now Charlotte, because of the lenticular design of these lenses the focal point is very small. So what that means is that you need to look through the centre of the lenses in order to see clearly. It takes a bit of getting used to but it’s really just a case of learning to move your head a little more than you do now.”
Charlotte looked around her. If she looked straight ahead, through the centre of the lenses she could see much clearer than if she moved her eyes away from that sweet spot. That was not to say that the view from the centre of the lenses was clear. She could see the room, but not the fine granularity that she was used to.
It was almost as if she were looking through a piece of gauze, there was a dulling of colours and edges. However, she could see well enough to do the basic tasks in life. She looked at Dr Latimer and saw that he was almost exactly as she had pictured him. She turned and looked upon Hazel, who was much younger than she had envisaged, only a few years her senior.
Tears welled up in her eyes and she said “Thank you. Thank you both so much”. Hazel gave her a hug and told her that it was all in a day’s work.
“May I have a mirror?” Charlotte asked the doctor.
She looked into the mirror and saw herself quite clearly looking back.
What grabbed her attention first wasn’t the scarring of her face. It was the same glasses she had worn countless times before that wrestled for her attention. Her eyes looked tiny, contained, as they were, within the lens within a lens which had replaced her former glasses.
The scarring was already beginning to subside and Charlotte was quite relieved to note that it wasn’t as noticeable as she had feared.
Even wearing her new glasses Charlotte’s eyesight was very poor compared to her old unaided vision, for which she had been prescribed glasses. She may not have been a ‘glasses person’, but she was going to have to get used to it.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
6 months later
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Charlotte and Jake decided to head back to Maui. Not on an expedition but this time on holiday. Jake had been wonderfully supportive of Charlotte throughout her ordeal.
He would never disclose it to anyone, but his desire to see Charlotte wearing her glasses was stronger than ever and now he got to see her everyday in her wonderfully strong lenses.
Subsequent visits to the US to see Dr Latimer and also a Harley Street specialist had improved Charlotte’s aided vision to 20/100. Her lenses were still lenticular, or myodisc, as she had learned they were called from reading on the Internet, they were now -35.00 in each eye. She had become an avid reader of a chat room called eyescene and was amazed that people were actually attracted to people because of their glasses. She had started to consider that Jake may have been an ‘optic obsessive’, but she kept that thought to herself.
The pair decided to go snorkelling close to their hotel at a spot known as Black Rock. It was close to the shore and excellent viewing. Charlotte knew she was going to struggle to see things properly but was just grateful to be back in the ocean. She placed the goggles over her glasses and the two swam out hand-in-hand to the rocks.
Charlotte couldn’t really see anything of detail and was fearful of some of the dark shapes and shadows that moved across her field of view. Which was ridiculous, she kept telling herself. Her goggles were beginning to fill with water, so she decided to take them off completely as well as her glasses and just feel the wonderful warmth of the salt water on her face.
She put her head under the water and opened her eyes.
She grabbed onto Jake’s arm and dropped her glasses and goggles. She half-leapt out of the water and shouted at Jake. “I can see!”
He looked perplexed and told her to calm down, but she couldn’t. She went under the water’s surface again and this time looked around properly. She could see in such glorious detail that she thought she had to be dreaming. She had spent enough time under water to know what you can and can’t see through the salt water. This was different. It was almost like something out of a Disney computer-animated movie.
She swam back to Jake and tried to encompass what she was experiencing in a few hurried sentences. With her head above the water her eyesight was pitiful, as it had been the last six months, but under it… well, she had the eyes of a mermaid.