In the novel, the little blind girl lives with her father. In the novel, she walks to work with him each day through the streets of Paris. In the novel, one day he spins her around three times and tells her to walk home. In her confusion, she cannot tell a curb from a cliff, cannot find her way. In tears and anger she collapses to the ground.
In the year when one eye went dark, the dreams came. In the dream, there is a tall building, in the building an elevator. In the elevator I press the button for my floor but the elevator does not stop. In a panic I press other buttons, more and more, but the elevator only speeds up. In the dream, I know that when the elevator reaches the top floor I will die.
In the year when my other eye began to go dark, they gave me a cane. In class they showed me how to hold the cane, how to tell a curb from a cliff. In their kindness, they did not spin me around three times. In the street, at least, I was not overwhelmed by anger and despair.
In the novel, the father chooses a different place each day. In each place he spins the girl around three times. In time, she somehow gets closer to their home. In her world, you can learn even while you are lost and frustrated and rageful.
In the years of growing darkness, other dreams came. In one I am standing at the stove as the gas flame unaccountably swells. In seconds the knobs are too hot to touch, the towel on the oven door catches fire, then the cupboards. In the midst of the conflagration I wake.
In the chair opposite sat my student, rigid with anxiety. In Italy she was a respected surgeon; here, she was lost, quailing at “How was your weekend?” In the end I discovered that she could talk about what she knew best, kidney transplants, the benefits of live donors versus cadavers. In gradual steps we worked our way up to “What did you have for breakfast?”
In the novel, the girl one day finds her way back to their apartment. In her blindness, she can sense her father behind her, smiling, his face turned up to the sky. In the movie, there will be swelling strings, perhaps a stirring clash of cymbals. In the audience, few or none will blame the father for his harsh and strange tuition.
Header illustration of Paris street scene courtesy Shutterstock.