by Emily Glossner Johnson
Lucy wanted to gouge out her eyeballs. She had wanted to do this since she was twelve years old, and she was now eighteen. She knew she would grow new eyes after she did. God would see to it—he told her so during her prayers. She would carry the old eyes around in a pickle jar full of formaldehyde to show people. “See,” she would say. “See these eyes that have seen sin. See my new eyes that only look upon goodness and grace.”
The problem was, the new eyes would inevitably see sin as well. There was no escaping it. She wasn’t leaving for Belmont Abbey College for another six weeks, and even then, there was no guarantee that she wouldn’t see sin. Still, the eyes in the jar of formaldehyde would be a wondrous show of her faith. And she knew that her new eyes would not be as beautiful as her old eyes, which would be an apt display of her humility.
Frequent prayer told her that her new eyes would take a few minutes to grow. Therefore, she decided that she would hollow her eye sockets over the kitchen sink with the plug firmly in place in the drain. She would bleed little—another detail she learned through ardent prayer—but performing the act over the sink would catch any blood that would be spilled, and of course her eyes as well. She’d have the empty pickle jar and bottle of formaldehyde waiting on the counter beside the sink, and as soon as she could see with her new eyes, she’d carefully place her old eyes in the jar, fill it with formaldehyde, and screw the lid on tight.
She bought a container of commercial grade formaldehyde for $18.95 plus tax, shipping, and handling from a website called Bridgley Scientific. That part was easy. What was not as easy was devising a tool with which to scrape out her eyes. And then it came to her: an ice cream scoop with sharpened edges. Through a restaurant supply website, she found a twelve-inch oval diamond and steel knife sharpening tool. Because of its long, elliptical shape, she was able to hone the edges of the metal ice cream scoop until they were sharp enough to slice through skin and tissue.
She was ready.
In Sicily in 304, the year of the Lord, Lucia, a follower of Christ, had exquisite eyes. A pagan man admired them immensely, which disturbed Lucia. She wanted no suitors and, in the name of Christ, had taken a vow of celibacy and refused to marry.
She paid no regard to the distress this caused her parents. She was an odd and curious girl, and would, without a husband, become an outcast. The pagan man asked for her hand, which Lucia’s parents granted, but Lucia repeated her vow and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ my Lord, I will never marry.”
“Why do you commit yourself to this Jesus?” her father asked.
Lucia didn’t answer. She ran up into the sun-dappled hills where she remained until the next morning. When she returned home, her livid parents scolded her.
“You will give up this Jesus Christ folly and marry this man!” her father said.
And so alone in her room, Lucia took a blunt knife and carved her eyeballs out of her head. There would be no more admiration from the pagan man, for God allowed new eyes to grow, but these eyes were repulsive—small and flat and a dull, lightless brown. She placed her old eyes on a plate and carried them into the front room to show her parents. Horrified by the change in her appearance, the blood down the front of her dress, and the bloody eyeballs on the smeared plate, her parents screamed and wept. Lucia ran out into the street to show passersby her old eyes and stare at the people, stare deep into their souls, with her hideous new eyes.
In 1898 in a concert hall in Milan, Enrico Caruso sang “Santa Lucia.” Men swallowed hard and women wept. Caruso’s voice rang out strong and lush, filling the concert hall and drifting out into the streets of night under a starless sky.
There at a bistro sat a woman named Lucia with a man named Giuseppe. Giuseppe had manicured hands and a sumptuous silk cravat. Lucia had full red lips, arched eyebrows, and green-blue eyes like the water in a deep lagoon.
“How I do love your eyes,” said Giuseppe to Lucia. “I wish that I could carry them with me when we’re apart.”
“And how would you do that?” Lucia said.
“Perhaps they could be my cuff links.”
Lucia laughed, a sound sensual and provocative against the backdrop of Caruso’s bold, sweet voice.
“Or else they could be a pair of lovely flowers for my lapel,” Giuseppe said.
“My eyes?” Lucia said. She tilted her chin upward. “And what of the rest of me?”
Giuseppe finished off his liqueur and smiled. “That we shall contend with later,” he said.
“Me? Oh my, no. You’re the incorrigible one.”
Lucia fluttered her eyelashes and gazed at Giuseppe with her stunning eyes. Giuseppe was immeasurably grateful that Lucia’s husband had taken a three-week trip to Brussels. Three weeks with Lucia!
“My dear,” he said, “finish your liqueur so that we can retire to my house.”
When it came time to do the deed, Lucy couldn’t. She held the ice cream scoop against the tender skin of her eye socket and pressed, but she couldn’t bring herself to press hard enough to even break the skin. She dropped the scoop into the sink and wept.
From Bridgley Scientific, she bought two cow’s eyes intended for dissection to put into her pickle jar. They didn’t look that human, but they were close enough, for the formaldehyde was a bit murky. She told herself again and again that the things in the pickle jar were her eyes. She tried to convince herself, but in all honesty, she felt like a failure and a coward for not going through with the act.
If only there were someone who could do it for her—even violently, for she was willing to suffer for Christ her Lord. But she knew this was not to be. She cried and cursed her gorgeous green-blue eyes. The compliments, the awe, would continue, tempting her to commit the sin of pride.
In Sicily in 304, the year of the Lord, pagans persecuted followers of Christ. A girl named Lucia was martyred for following a man who called himself the Son of God. Before she was killed, she was tortured. Her rather ugly eyeballs were cut out of her head with a sword, and even in the sight of her eyes being rapidly rebuilt by invisible hands in her empty, bloody sockets, she was nevertheless stabbed in the throat and left to bleed to death.
In Milan at dawn, Lucia left Giuseppe in bed and went to gaze out of the massive bay window at the sunrise. It was then that she turned and saw it—she had never noticed it before: a porcelain statue of Santa Lucia on the table next to the window. The statue was delicately wrought and finely detailed. Still Lucia looked at it with disdain.
“What a pitiful soul,” she whispered, for of course she knew the legends and stories about Santa Lucia.
She touched the head of the statue then ran her fingers down to the plate that held two green-blue eyes.
“For what, Santa Lucia … for what?” Lucia said.
She cursed her namesake for her idiocy. Blasphemy, perhaps, but so be it. She hummed “Santa Lucia,” pulled her robe around herself, and made her way back to Giuseppe.
Emily Glossner Johnson has had short stories published in the journals Lost Coast Review, The Outrider Review, Sliver of Stone Magazine, Lynx Eye, The Linnet’s Wings, Cobalt Review, Postscripts to Darkness, as well as a number of other journals. She’s had essays about mental illness published in The Ram Boutique and Amygdala Literary Magazine. She has an essay in the book Parts Unbound: Narratives of Mental Illness & Health, published by Lime Hawk Literary Arts Collective. She has a B.A. in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo and an M.A. in English from the State University of New York College at Brockport. She lives with her family in central New York.
Photo: detail of Santa Lucia by Francesco del Cossa, 1472-1473, used freely under Creative Commons license