I once knew a girl that painted the most realistic eyes onto the backs of snail shells. Willow was her name and she was by far absolutely brilliant at it. The eyeballs she painted were so remarkable that at first glance they would often appear as something out of another realm.
Effortlessly, I can still recall her smokey grey, lime coloured sun dress and her beautiful golden blonde hair that would almost sparkle and shimmer in the summer sunshine, a true to life projection, casting a stark resemblance of a beautiful angel. She was perfect in every single way, even if she was encompassed in a strange, alien sea of eyeballs.
“Why is it you paint all those snails, so brilliantly into eyes?” I once asked.
Her response to this day, still paints a horrible portrait in my mind.
“Who would step on an eyeball?” she answered.
That summer Willow and I became great friends. For weeks on end she would paint eyes onto the backs of snails and I would merely read books of wonderment and lore. Tragically though, it was that very first summer that Willow would surely find out the answer to her question and just the kind of species that would do such a thing.
It all began on our way back home from the library. Willow had spotted two old friends, a fine pair of freshly painted snails she had just released back into the wild a week prior.
“You guys shouldn’t be on the sidewalk,” she said, as if speaking to the snails personally. “I bet you’re looking for the safety of the cool lush forest, aren’t you?” She asked kneeling down, carefully plucking them up from the concrete sidewalk. Calmly she walked them to the forests edge, letting the two slimy eyeballs slowly ooze down her hand and onto the forest floor.
“There you go little fellas,” I whispered, hovering just over her shoulder.
“You know, these two could live for up to 25 years in these first class conditions,” she explained, turning her head towards me with a bright radiant smile.
“We should let them live an eye-deal life then,” I replied, grabbing her around the waist and tickling her, then quickly dodging her grasp and running away.
We didn’t get too far, when we both heard a sound that froze us dead in our tracks. A sound that I could only describe as the popping and crunching of those two snails being crushed under a tremendous weight.
Instantly, we spun around to see Mr Lewis, my fathers boss, grinding his boot heel into the soil along the forests edge. Mr Lewis was a man I certainly knew all too well. For years I had heard my father griping to my mother, about Mr Lewis and how he was a greedy, arrogant and self centred man. Once he even cold heartedly fired a man, just because he was caring for a sick child at home. My father would often say, “Mr Lewis, lived a life with one iron rule, logic as his enemy and truth as his menace”.
Must be nice to always enjoy most of your summer mornings leisurely on safari, I remember chuckling to myself.
The sandy tan outfit in which Mr Lewis wore had immediately cast a picture in my mind, like some goofy looking Indiana Jones. Granted, it was his actions and not his clown like looks that deeply astounded me.
Willow did what you’d expect… She royally lost her shit. I narrowly missed grabbing a hold of her, before she sprinted off towards him.
“Why did you have to kill them?” She cried franticly, pushing him off the mashed snails. “Why? Why would you do that?”
“You better watch yourself young lady,” he growled. “These slugs were nothing more than worthless, filthy, little parasites. Not to mention they’re constantly devouring my beautiful blue grass,” he proclaimed, pointing a finger towards his house.
Out of the ten or so bungalows that were directly across the street, you could certainly tell which house was his. It was the immaculate one and the one with not a single blade of grass out of sorts. To be honest, it looked like a house straight out of the twilight zone, every plant looked undeniably fake and the gleaming white Mercedes, parked in the soaking wet driveway definitely gave it away.
“These snails are not worthless…these snails are my friends. Did you not even notice the eyes painted on them?“ Willow cried, clawing at the dirt in search for their remains.
Mr Lewis, bent down slowly to meet her eye. “I did find that rather weird,” he snarled, with a devilish grin. “They made a joyous popping sound, just like an eyeball would too.”
Willow seemed like she was ready to snap back at him, maybe punch him square in the face, but instead she silently walked away.
Myself, I was left wide eyed and in dismay. All I could think to do was simply stare at him and flip him the bird. Men of this dishonourable calibre are far too ignorant to waste any breath on, and so I carried on after Willow, ignoring his delusional grumbles.
I caught up to her sitting in her usual spot on the curb in front of her mom’s house. She was desperately trying to paint another snail through uncontrollable sobs.
“Don’t cry Willow,” I said. “That man is nothing but a snake, he feeds off that kinda stuff.”
“I don’t understand how someone could care so little for life,” she replied, through streams of endless tears.
“I know Willow, I am truly sorry. Look, your tears are smudging up that eye.”
It was one of those tears that found its perfect place, splashing directly onto the centre pupil of her newly painted eye and giving it a smudged appearance, almost clouding it over like that of an old witches eye.
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” she said, bringing the snail to slowly meet her lips and gently kissing it. ”That man has all too much.”
Fifteen years have slipped by since Willow and I strayed onto different paths. I often think about her a lot. She had left our small town after her mom passed away to pursue a career in the arts, and moving all the way to New York City. As for myself, I fell into the typical monotonous routine of working to meagrely survive. As much as I tried not to follow in my dear old fathers footsteps, I too got sucked into the securities of routine. And so here I am, driving cab one city over.
“1082 this is dispatch,” a woman’s voice barked over the radio. “Pick up at Melinda Airport,”
“10, 4 Dispatch, on route.”
The air was cool and the roads felt slick from the recent thundershowers. It had been a rather slow and overly boring night and I was looking forward to this being my last pick up of the evening. I pulled up to the small airport expecting some piggish business type in a thousand dollar suit, but instead, I saw a familiar face from the few people waiting on the curb.
“Holy shit,” I say, jerking the cab into park and leaping out. “Willow?”
“Wow, you look absolutely stunning.”
“Hey, how are you?”
“Never mind me sweetheart,” I tell her, holding her at arms length just to look into those beautiful green eyes again.”I want to hear all about you, are you still painting snails?”
“Not so much any more, I gravitated more towards photography and a lot of canvass over the years.”
“You know, I tell everyone that story about Mr Lewis. ”
“I do too,” she says, ducking into the front seat of the cab.
“So what brings you back into town after all these years?” I ask.
“I just had this incredible yearning to visit my mothers house again. I really can’t explain why, but since I’m here maybe I’ll paint it.”
We drove almost all the way to her mom’s old house without skipping a beat and catching up on life. The cool air of my open window and the sweet smell of her peach perfume, combined with the deafening sounds of crickets, on this now clear moonlit night, certainly felt like a pure moment in absolute time, one that I could endure forever.
The country roads bobbed and weaved. And as we crest a small hill before her street, it appeared a business man stood stomping his feet on the centre line of the road. There was no time to react. In that split second of panic all I could see was his car’s headlights beaming out at him. I violently swerve left and then veer right, narrowly missing ramming into the car. Willow let out a small shriek, I matted the brake pedal into the floor closing my eyes and waiting for the impact, as I ran into the man head on. The sounds of tires skidding along the wet pavement and a large crack echoes through the cars interior. I opened my eyes for just an instant to see a lifeless body wearing a pale blue dress shirt, ricochet off the windshield and quickly flail up over the roof.
“Holy shit,” I announce, cranking the steering wheel and stopping the car, now facing the injured man laying on the road.
“Are you okay Willow?” I ask, with beaming wide eyes and a white knuckling grip onto the steering wheel.
“Yes, I think so, but that man needs help Evan.”
“Call an ambulance,” I shout, clawing at the door handle. “You stay here, I’ll tend to him.”
I jettison from the car and approach the man fearing the worst. No one could’ve survived such an impact, I thought. Once a pale blue shirt now hopelessly stained a crimson blood red, and fitted to a grossly contorted body, strewn twisted on the damp pavement. Around the man lay a strange sea of crushed snails. As I moved closer I noticed his head swiftly kink to face away from me. It was as if he was straining to see something.
“Sir, don’t move,” I yell.“Everything will be okay.”
I gingerly move in to assess the man’s condition and immediately freeze, raising my hand to cover my mouth with a gasp.
“Mr Lewis…? Mr Lewis, why were you in the middle of the road?” I inquire, not really expecting much of an answer from the man.
The sounds of distressful wheezes and harrowing gurgles of air is all he could physically respond with. Each laboured breath drowning out the sounds of surrounding crickets and then promptly a sudden peace as he slipped away. I knelt down close beside him, in search of a pulse and quickly realized what Mr Lewis’s cold stone gaze was locked onto.
Gracefully, gliding across the dampened pavement and towards the grassy ditch, was that of the smudged eye snail.
more by ROACH ADAMS
read Roach Adams’ blog Animals Of Progress
photograph by Thomas Mühl