“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver
Topic: Short story titled “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver
By Raymond Carver (1981)
This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to
spend the night. His wife had died. So he was visiting the dead wife’s
relatives in Connecticut. He called my wife from his in-law’s. Arrangements
were made. He would come by train, a five-hour trip, and my wife would
meet him at the station. She hadn’t seen him since she worked for him one
summer in Seattle ten years ago. But she and the blind man had kept in
touch. They made tapes and mailed them back and forth. I wasn’t
enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind
bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the
blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeingeye
dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.
That summer in Seattle she had needed a job. She didn’t have any
money. The man she was going to marry at the end of the summer was in
officers’ training school. He didn’t have any money, either. But she was in
love with the guy, and he was in love with her, etc. She’d seen something in
the paper: HELP WANTED—Reading to Blind Man, and a telephone
number. She phoned and went over, was hired on the spot. She worked with
this blind man all summer. She read stuff to him, case studies, reports, that
sort of thing. She helped him organize his little office in the county socialservice
department. They’d become good friends, my wife and the blind
man. On her last day in the office, the blind man asked if he could touch her
face. She agreed to this. She told me he touched his fingers to every part of
her face, her nose—even her neck! She never forgot it. She even tried to
write a poem about it. She was always trying to write a poem. She wrote a
poem or two every year, usually after something really important had
happened to her.
When we first started going out together, she showed me the poem. In
the poem, she recalled his fingers and the way they had moved around over
her face. In the poem, she talked about what she had felt at the time, about
what went through her mind when the blind man touched her nose and lips. I
can remember I didn’t think much of the poem. Of course, I didn’t tell her
that. Maybe I just don’t understand poetry. I admit it’s not the first thing I
reach for when I pick up something to read.
Anyway, this man who’d first enjoyed her favors, this officer-to-be,
he’d been her childhood sweetheart. So okay. I’m saying that at the end of
the summer she let the blind man run his hands over her face, said good-bye
to him, married her childhood etc., who was now a commissioned officer,
and she moved away from Seattle. But they’d keep in touch, she and the
blind man. She made the first contact after a year or so. She called him up
one night from an Air Force base in Alabama. She wanted to talk. They
talked. He asked her to send him a tape and tell him about her life. She did
this. She sent the tape. On the tape, she told the blind man she loved her
husband but she didn’t like it where they lived and she didn’t like it that he
was a part of the military-industrial thing. She told the blind man she’d
written a poem and he was in it. She told him that she was writing a poem
about what it was like to be an Air Force officer’s wife. The poem wasn’t
finished yet. She was still writing it. The blind man made a tape. He sent her
the tape. She made a tape. This went on for years. My wife’s officer was
posted to one base and then another. She sent tapes from Moody AFB,
McGuire, McConnell, and finally Travis, near Sacramento, where one night
she got to feeling lonely and cut off from people she kept losing in that
moving-around life. She got to feeling she couldn’t go it another step. She
went in and swallowed all the pills and capsules in the medicine chest and
washed them down with a bottle of gin. Then she got into a hot bath and
But instead of dying, she got sick. She threw up. Her officer—why
should he have a name? he was the childhood sweetheart, and what more
does he want?—came home from somewhere, found her, and called the
ambulance. In time, she put it all on tape and sent the tape to the blind man.
Over the years, she put all kinds of stuff on tapes and sent the tapes off
lickety-split. Next to writing a poem every year, I think it was her chief
means of recreation. On one tape, she told the blind man she’d decided to
live away from her officer for a time. On another tape, she told him about
her divorce. She and I began going out, and of course she told her blind man
about it. She told him everything, or so it seemed to me. Once she asked me
if I’d like to hear the latest tape from the blind man. This was a year ago. I
was on the tape, she said. So I said okay, I’d listen to it. I got us drinks and
we settled down in the living room. We made ready to listen. First she
inserted the tape into the player and adjusted a couple of dials. Then she
pushed a lever. The tape squeaked and someone began to talk in this loud
voice. She lowered the volume. After a few minutes of harmless chitchat, I
heard my own name in the mouth of this stranger, this blind man I didn’t
even know! And then this: “From all you’ve said about him, I can only
conclude—“ But we were interrupted, a knock at the door, something, and
we didn’t ever get back to the tape. Maybe it was just as well. I’d heard all I
Now this same blind man was coming over to sleep in my house.
“Maybe I could take him bowling,” I said to my wife. She was at the
draining board doing scalloped potatoes. She put down the knife she was
using and turned around.
“If you love me,” she said, “you can do this for me. If you don’t love
me, okay. But if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit,
I’d make him feel comfortable.” She wiped her hands with the dish towel.
“I don’t have any blind friends,” I said.
“You don’t have any friends,” she said. “Period. Besides,” she said,
“goddamn it, his wife’s just died! Don’t you understand that? The man’s lost
I didn’t answer. She’d told me a little about the blind man’s wife. Her
name was Beulah. Beulah! That’s a name for a colored woman.
“Was his wife a Negro?” I asked.
“Are you crazy?” my wife said. “Have you just flipped or
something?” She picked up a potato. I saw it hit the floor, then roll under the
stove. “What’s wrong with you?” she said. “Are you drunk?”
“I’m just asking,” I said.
Right then my wife filled me in with more detail than I cared to know.
I made a drink and sat at the kitchen table to listen. Pieces of the story began
to fall into place.
Beulah had gone to work for the blind man the summer after my wife
had stopped working for him. Pretty soon Beulah and the blind man had
themselves a church wedding. It was a little wedding—who’d want to go to
such a wedding in the first place?—just the two of them, plus the minister
and the minister’s wife. But it was a church wedding just the same. It was
what Beulah had wanted, he’d said. But even then Beulah must have been
carrying the cancer in her glands. After they had been inseparable for eight
years—my wife’s word, inseparable—Beulah’s health went into a rapid
decline. She died in a Seattle hospital room, the blind man sitting beside the
bed and holding on to her hand. They’d married, lived and worked together,
slept together—had sex, sure—and then the blind man had to bury her. All
this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like. It
was beyond my understanding. Hearing this, I felt sorry for the blind man
for a little bit. And then I found myself thinking what a pitiful life this
woman must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she
was seen in the eyes of her loved one. A woman who could go on day after
day and never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved. A woman
whose husband could never read the expression on her face, be it misery or
something better. Someone who could wear makeup or not—what difference
to him? She could if she wanted, wear green eye-shadow around one eye, a
straight pin in her nostril, yellow slacks, and purple shoes, no matter. And
then to slip off into death, the blind man’s hand on her hand, his blind eyes
streaming tears—I’m imagining now—her last thought maybe this: that he
never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave.
Robert was left with a small insurance policy and half of a twenty-peso
Mexican coin. The other half of the coin went into the box with her.
So when the time rolled around, my wife went to the depot to pick
him up. With nothing to do but wait—sure, I blamed him for that—I was
having a drink and watching the TV when I heard the car pull into the drive.
I got up from the sofa with my drink and went to the window to have a look.
I saw my wife laughing as she parked the car. I saw her get out of the
car and shut the door. She was still wearing a smile. Just amazing. She went
around to the other side of the car to where the blind man was already
starting to get out. This blind man, feature this, he was wearing a full beard!
A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say. The blind man reached into the
backseat and dragged out a suitcase. My wife took his arm, shut the car door,
and, talking all the way, moved him down the drive and then up the steps to
the front porch. I turned off the TV. I finished my drink, rinsed the glass,
dried my hands. Then I went to the door.
My wife said, “I want you to meet Robert. Robert, this is my husband.
I’ve told you all about him.” She was beaming. She had this blind man by
his coat sleeve.
The blind man let go of his suitcase and up came his hand.
I took it. He squeezed hard, held my hand, and then he let it go.
“I feel like we’ve already met,” he boomed.
“Likewise,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. Then I said,
“Welcome. I’ve heard a lot about you.” We began to move then, a little
group, from the porch into the living room, my wife guiding him by the arm.
The blind man was carrying his suitcase in his other hand. My wife said
things like, “To your left here, Robert. That’s right. Now watch it, there’s a
chair. That’s it. Sit down right here. This is the sofa. We just bought this
sofa two weeks ago.”
I started to say something about the old sofa. I’d liked that old sofa.
But I didn’t say anything. Then I wanted to say something else, small-talk,
about the scenic ride along the Hudson. How going to New York, you
should sit on the right-hand side of the train, and coming from New York,
the left-hand side.
“Did you have a good train ride?” I said. “Which side of the train did
you sit on, by the way?”
“What a question, which side!” my wife said. “What’s it matter which
side?” she said.
“I just asked,” I said.
“Right side,” the blind man said. “I hadn’t been on a train in nearly
forty years. Not since I was a kid. With my folks. That’s been a long time.
I’d nearly forgotten the sensation. I have winter in my beard now, “ he said.
“So I’ve been told, anyway. Do I look distinguished, my dear?” the blind
man said to my wife.
“You look distinguished, Robert,” she said. “Robert,” she said.
“Robert, it’s just so good to see you.”
My wife finally took her eyes off the blind man and looked at me. I
had the feeling she didn’t like what she saw. I shrugged.
I’ve never met, or personally known, anyone who was blind. This
blind man was late forties, a heavy-set, balding man with stooped shoulders,
as if he carried a great weight there. He wore brown slacks, brown shoes, a
light-brown shirt, a tie, a sports coat. Spiffy. He also had this full beard. But
he didn’t use a cane and he didn’t wear dark glasses. I’d always thought dark
glasses were a must for the blind. Fact was, I wish he had a pair. At first
glance, his eyes looked like anyone else’s eyes. But if you looked close,
there was something different about them. Too much white in the iris, for
one thing, and the pupils seemed to move around in the sockets without his
knowing it or being able to stop it. Creepy. As I stared at his face, I saw the
left pupil turn in toward his nose while the other made an effort to keep in
one place. But it was only an effort, for that one eye was on the roam
without his knowing it or wanting it to be.
I said, “Let me get you a drink. What’s your pleasure? We have a little
bit of everything. It’s one of our pastimes.”
“Bub, I’m a Scotch man myself,” he said fast enough in this big voice.
“Right,” I said. Bub! “Sure you are. I knew it.”
He let his fingers touch his suitcase, which was sitting alongside the
sofa. He was taking his bearings. I didn’t blame him for that.
“I’ll move that up to your room,” my wife said.
“No, that’s fine,” the blind man said loudly. “It can go up when I go
“A little water with the Scotch?” I said.
“Very little,” he said.
“I knew it, “ I said.
He said, “Just a tad. The Irish actor, Barry Fitzgerald? I’m like that
fellow. When I drink water, Fitzgerald said, I drink water. When I drink
whiskey, I drink whiskey.” My wife laughed. The blind man brought his
hand up under his beard. He lifted his beard slowly and let it drop.
I did the drinks, three big glasses of Scotch with a splash of water in
each. Then we made ourselves comfortable and talked about Robert’s
travels. First the long flight from the West Coast to Connecticut, we covered
that. Then from Connecticut up here by train. We had another drink
concerning that leg of the trip.
I remembered having read somewhere that the blind didn’t smoke
because, as speculation had it, they couldn’t see the smoke they exhaled. I
though I knew that much and that much only about blind people. But this
blind man smoked his cigarette down to the nubbin and then lit another one.
This blind man filled his ashtray and my wife emptied it.
When we sat down at the table for dinner, we had another drink. M
wife heaped Robert’s plate with cube steak, scalloped potatoes, green beans.
I buttered him up two slices of bread. I said, “Here’s bread and butter for
you.” I swallowed some of my drink. “Now let us pray,” I said, and the blind
man lowered his head. My wife looked at me, her mouth agape. “Pray the
phone won’t ring and the food doesn’t get cold,” I said.
We dug in. We ate everything there was to eat on the table. We ate
like there was no tomorrow. We didn’t talk. We ate. We scarfed. We grazed
the table. We were into serious eating. The blind man had right away located
his foods, he knew just where everything was on his plate. I watched with
admiration as he used his knife and fork on the meat. He’d cut two pieces of
the meat, fork the meat into his mouth, and then go all out for the scalloped
potatoes, the beans next, and then he’d tear off a hunk of buttered bread and
eat that. He’d follow this up with a big drink of milk. It didn’t seem to
bother him to use his fingers once in a while, either.
We finished everything, including half a strawberry pie. For a few
moments, we sat as if stunned. Swear beaded on our faces. Finally, we got
up from the table and left the dirty plates. We didn’t look back. We took
ourselves into the living room and sank into our places again. Robert and my
wife sat on the sofa. I took the big chair. We had us two or three more drinks
while they talked about the major things that had come to pass for them in
the past ten years. For the most part, I just listened. Now and then I joined
in. I didn’t want him to think I’d left the room, and I didn’t want her to think
I was feeling left out. They talked of things that had happened to them—to
them!—these past ten years. I waited in vain to hear my name on my wife’s
sweet lips: “And then my dear husband came into my life”—something like
that. But I heard nothing of the sort. More talk of Robert. Robert had done a
little of everything, it seemed, a regular blind jack-of-all-trades. But most
recently he and his wife had had an Amway distributorship, from which, I
gathered, they’d earned a living, such as it was. The blind man was also a
ham radio operator. He talked in his loud voice about conversations he’d had
with fellow operators in Guam, in the Philippines, in Alaska, and even in
Tahiti. He said he’d have a lot of friends there if her ever wanted to go visit
those places. From time to time, he’d turn his blind face toward me, put his
hand under his beard, ask me something. How long had I been in my present
position? (Three years.) Did I like my work? (I didn’t.) Was I going to stay
with it? (What were the options?) Finally, when I thought he was beginning
to run down, I got up and turned on the TV.
My wife looked at me with irritation. She was heading toward a boil.
Then she looked at the blind man and said, “Robert, do you have a TV?”
The blind man said, “My dear, I have two TVs. I have a color set and
a black-and-white thing, an old relic. It’s funny, but if I turn the TV on, and
I’m always turning it on, I turn on the color set. It’s funny, don’t you think?”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I had absolutely nothing to say to
that. No opinion. So I watched the news program and tried to listen to what
the announcer was saying.
“This is a color TV,” the blind man said. “Don’t ask me how, but I
“We traded up a while ago,” I said.
The blind man had another taste of his drink. He lifted his beard,
sniffed it, and let it fall. He leaned forward on the sofa. He positioned his
ashtray on the coffee table, then put the lighter to his cigarette. He leaned
back on the sofa and crossed his legs at the ankles.
My wife covered her mouth, and then she yawned. She stretched. She
said, “I think I’ll go upstairs and put on my robe. I think I’ll change into
something else. Robert, you make yourself comfortable,” she said.
“I’m comfortable,” the blind man said.
“I want you to feel comfortable in this house,” she said.
“I am comfortable,” the blind man said.
After she’d left the room, he and I listened to the weather report and
then to the sports roundup. By that time, she’d been gone so long I didn’t
know if she was going to come back. I thought she might have gone to bed. I
wished she’d come back downstairs. I didn’t want to be left alone with a
blind man. I asked him if he wanted another drink, and he said sure. Then I
asked if he wanted to smoke some dope with me. I said I’d just rolled a
number. I hadn’t, but I planned to do so in about two shakes.
“I’ll try some with you,” he said.
“Damn right,” I said. “That’s the stuff.”
I got our drinks and sat down on the sofa with him. Then I rolled us
two fat numbers. I lit one and passed it. I brought it to his fingers. He took it
“Hold it as long as you can,” I said. I could tell he didn’t know the
My wife came back downstairs wearing her pink robe and her pink
“What do I smell?” she said.
“We thought we’d have us some cannabis,” I said.
My wife gave me a savage look. Then she looked at the blind man and
said, “Robert, I didn’t know you smoked.”
He said, “I do now, my dear. There’s a first time for everything. But I
don’t feel anything yet.”
“This stuff is pretty mellow,” I said. “This stuff is mild. It’s dope you
can reason with,” I said. “It doesn’t mess you up.”
“Not much it doesn’t, bub,” he said, and laughed.
My wife sat on the sofa between the blind man and me. I passed her
the number. She took it and toked and then passed it back to me. “Which
way is this going?” she said. Then she said, “I shouldn’t be smoking this. I
can hardly keep my eyes open as it is. That dinner did me in. I shouldn’t
have eaten so much.”
“It was the strawberry pie,” the blind man said. “That’s what did it,”
he said, and he laughed his big laugh. Then he shook his head.
“There’s more strawberry pie,” I said.
“Do you want some more, Robert?” my wife said.
“Maybe in a little while,” he said.
We gave our attention to the TV. My wife yawned again. She said,
“Your bed is made up when you feel like going to bed, Robert. I know you
must have had a long day. When you’re ready to go to bed, say so.”
She pulled his arm. “Robert?”
He came to and said, “I’ve had a real nice time. This beats tapes,
I said, “Coming at you,” and I put the number between his fingers. He
inhaled, held the smoke, and then let it go. It was like he’d been doing this
since he was nine years old.
“Thanks, bub,” he said. “But I think this is all for me. I think I’m
beginning to feel it,” he said. He held the burning roach out for my wife.
“Same here,” she said. “Ditto. Me, too.” She took the roach and
passed it to me. “I may just sit here for a while between you two guys with
my eyes closed. But don’t let me bother you, okay? Either one of you. If it
bothers you, say so. Otherwise, I may just sit here with my eyes closed until
you’re ready to go to bed,” she said. “Your bed’s made up, Robert, when
you’re ready. It’s right next to our room at the top of the stairs. We’ll show
you up when you’re ready. You wake me up now, you guys, if I fall asleep.”
She said that and then she closed her eyes and went to sleep.
The news program ended. I got up and changed the channel. I sat back
down on the sofa. I wished my wife hadn’t pooped out. Her head lay across
the back of the sofa, her mouth open. She’d turned so that he robe had
slipped away from her legs, exposing a juicy thigh. I reached to draw her
robe back over her, and it was then that I glanced at the blind man. What the
hell! I flipped the robe open again.
“You say you when you want some strawberry pie,” I said.
“I will,” he said.
I said, “Are you tired? Do you want me to take you up to your bed?
Are you ready to hit the hay?”
“Not yet,” he said. “No, I’ll stay up with you, bub. If that’s all right.
I’ll stay up until you’re ready to turn in. We haven’t had a chance to talk.
Know what I mean? I feel like me and her monopolized the evening. “ He
lifted his beard and he let it fall. He picked up his cigarettes and his lighter.
“That’s all right,” I said. Then I said, “I’m glad for the company.”
And I guess I was. Every night I smoked dope and stayed up as long
as I could before I fell asleep. My wife and I hardly ever went to bed at the
same time. When I did go to sleep, I had these dreams. Sometimes I’d wake
up from one of them, my heart going crazy.
Something about the church and the Middle Ages was on the TV. Not
your run-of-the-mill TV fare. I wanted to watch something else. I turned to
the other channels. But there was nothing on them, either. So I turned back
to the first channel and apologized.
“Bub, it’s all right,” the blind man said. “It’s fine with me. Whatever
you want to watch is okay. I’m always learning something. Learning never
ends. It won’t hurt me to learn something tonight. I got ears,” he said.
We didn’t say anything for a time. He was leaning forward with his
head turned at me, his right ear aimed in the direction of the set. Very
disconcerting. Now and then his eyelids drooped and then they snapped
open again. Now and then he put his fingers into his beard and tugged, like
he was thinking about something he was hearing on the television.
On the screen, a group of men wearing cowls was being set upon and
tormented by men dressed in skeleton costumes and men dressed as devils.
The men dressed as devils wore devil masks, horns, and long tails. This
pageant was part of a procession. The Englishman who was narrating the
thing said it took place in Spain once a year. I tried to explain to the blind
man what was happening.
“Skeletons,” he said. “I know about skeletons,” he said, and he
The TV showed this one cathedral. Then there was a long, slow look
at another one. Finally, the picture switched to the famous one in Paris, with
its flying buttresses and its spires reaching up to the clouds. The camera
pulled away to show the whole of the cathedral rising above the skyline.
There were times when the Englishman who was telling the thing
would shut up, would simply let the camera move around over the
cathedrals. Or else the camera would tour the countryside, men in fields
walking behind oxen. I waited as long as I could. Then I felt I had to say
something. I said, “They’re showing the outside of this cathedral now.
Gargoyles. Little statues carved to look like monsters. Now I guess they’re
in Italy. Yeah, they’re in Italy. There’s paintings on the walls of this one
“Are those fresco painting, bub?” he asked, and he sipped from his
I reached for my glass. But it was empty. I tried to remember what I
could remember. “You’re asking me are those frescoes?” I said. “That’s a
good question. I don’t know.”
The camera moved to a cathedral outside Lisbon. The difference in
the Portugese cathedral compared with the French and Italian were not that
great. But they were there. Mostly the interior stuff. Then something
occurred to me, and I said, “Something has occurred to me. Do you have any
idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If
somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re
talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church,
He let the smoke dribble from his mouth. “I know they took hundreds
of workers fifty or a hundred years to build,” he said. “I just heard the man
say that, of course. I know generations of the same families worked on a
cathedral. I heard him say that, too. The men who began their life’s work on
them, they never lived to see the completion of their work. In that wise, bub,
they’re no different from the rest of us, right?” He laughed. Then his eyelids
drooped again. His head nodded. He seemed to be snoozing. Maybe he was
imagining himself in Portugal. The TV was showing another cathedral now.
This one was in Germany. The Englishman’s voice droned on. “Cathedrals,”
the blind man said. He sat up and rolled his head back and forth. “If you
want the truth, bub, that’s about all I know. What I just said. What I heard
him say. But maybe you could describe one to me? I wish you’d do it. I’d
like that. If you want to know, I really don’t have a good idea.”
I stared hard at the shot of the cathedral on the TV. How could I even
begin to describe it? But say my life depended on it. Say my life was being
threatened by an insane guy who said I had to do it or else.
I stared some more at the cathedral before the picture flipped off into
the countryside. There was no use. I turned to the blind man and said, “To
begin with, they’re very tall.” I was looking around the room for clues.
“They reach way up. Up and up. Toward the sky. They’re so big, some of
them, they have to have these supports. To help hold them up, so to speak.
These supports are called buttresses. They remind of viaducts, for some
reason. But maybe you don’t know viaducts, either? Sometimes the
cathedrals have devils and such carved into the front. Sometimes lords and
ladies. Don’t ask me why this is,” I said.
He was nodding. The whole upper part of his body seemed to be
moving back and forth.
“I’m not doing so good, am I?” I said.
He stopped nodding and leaned forward on the edge of the sofa. As he
listened to me, he was running his fingers through his beard. I wasn’t getting
through to him, I could see that. But he waited for me to go on just the same.
He nodded, like he was trying to encourage me. I tried to think what else to
say. “They’re really big,” I said. They’re massive. They’re built of stone.
Marble, too, sometimes. In those olden days, when they built cathedrals,
men wanted to be close to God. In those olden days, God was an important
part of everyone’s life. You could tell this from their cathedral-building. I’m
sorry,” I said, “but it looks like that’s the best I can do for you. I’m just no
good at it.”
“That’s all right, bub,” the blind man said. “Hey, listen. I hope you
don’t mind my asking you. Can I ask you something? Let me ask you a
simple question, yes or no. I’m just curious and there’s no offense. You’re
my host. But let me ask if you are in any way religious? You don’t mind my
I shook my head. He couldn’t see that, though. A wink is the same as
a nod to a blind man. “I guess I don’t believe in it. In anything. Sometimes
it’s hard. You know what I’m saying?”
“Sure, I do,” he said.
“Right,” I said.
The Englishman was still holding forth. My wife sighed in her sleep.
She drew a long breath and went on with her sleeping.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” I said. “But I can’t tell you what a
cathedral looks like. It just isn’t in me to do it. I can’t do any more than I’ve
The blind man sat very still, his head down, as he listened to me.
I said, “The truth is, cathedrals don’t mean anything special to me.
Nothing. Cathedrals. They’re something to look at on late-night TV. That’s
all they are.”
It was then that the blind man cleared his throat. He brought
something up. He took a handkerchief from his back pocket. Then he said, “I
get it, bub. It’s okay. It happens. Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Hey, listen
to me. Will you do me a favor? I got an idea. Why don’t you find us some
heavy paper? And a pen. We’ll do something. We’ll draw one together. Get
us a pen and some heavy paper. Go on, bub, get the stuff,” he said.
So I went upstairs. My legs felt like they didn’t have any strength in
them. They felt like they did after I’d done some running. In my wife’s
room, I looked around. I found some ballpoints in a little basket on her table.
And then I tried to think where to look for the kind of paper he was talking
Downstairs, in the kitchen, I found a shopping bag with onion skins in
the bottom of the bag. I emptied the bag and shook it. I brought it into the
living room and sat down with it near his legs. I moved some things,
smoothed the wrinkles from the bag, spread it out on the coffee table.
The blind man got down from the sofa and sat next to me on the
He ran his fingers over the paper. He went up and down the sides of
the paper. The edges, even the edges. He fingered the corners.
“All right,” he said. “All right, let’s do her.”
He found my hand, the hand with the pen. He closed his hand over my
hand. “Go ahead, bub, draw,” he said. “Draw. You’ll see. I’ll follow along
with you. It’ll be okay. Just begin now like I’m telling you. You’ll see.
Draw,” the blind man said.
So I began. First I drew a box that looked like a hose. It could have
been the house I lived in. Then I put a roof on it. At either end of the roof, I
drew spires. Crazy.
“Swell,” he said. “Terrific. You’re doing fine,” he said. “Never
thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime, did you, bub? Well,
it’s a strange life, we all know that. Go on now. Keep it up.”
I put in windows with arches. I drew flying buttresses. I hung great
doors. I couldn’t stop. The TV station went off the air. I put down the pen
and closed and opened my fingers. The blind man felt around over the paper.
He moved the tips of the fingers over the paper, all over what I had drawn,
and he nodded.
“Doing fine,” the blind man said.
I took up the pen again, and he found my hand. I kept at it. I’m no
artist. But I kept drawing just the same.
My wife opened up her eyes and gazed at us. She sat up on the sofa,
her robe hanging open. She said, “What are you doing? Tell me, I want to
I didn’t answer her.
The blind man said, “We’re drawing a cathedral. Me and him are
working on it. Press hard,” he said to me. “That’s right. That’s good,” he
said. “Sure. You got it, bub. I can tell. You didn’t think you could. But you
can, can’t you? You’re cooking with gas now. You know what I’m saying?
We’re going to really have us something here in a minute. How’s the old
arm?” he said. “Put some people in there now. What’s a cathedral without
My wife said, “What’s going on? Robert, what are you doing? What’s
“It’s all right,” he said to her. “Close your eyes now,” the blind man
said to me.
I did it. I closed them just like he said.
“Are they closed?” he said. “Don’t fudge.”
“They’re closed,” I said.
“Keep them that way,” he said. He said, “Don’t stop now. Draw.”
So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went
over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now.
Then he said, “I think that’s it. I think you got it,” he said. “Take a