Mike Lawlor pulled his jeans on, one sweaty leg at a time. He didn’t like the feel of the material against his clammy skin, but he was in a hurry and had to postpone his shower until later that day. Janine was already dressed and sitting at the foot of the bed. She was trying to style her reluctant hair into some kind of shape using only her fingers. It was slow work but she was getting there.
It was their tenth time screwing. What they did could definitely not be called making love, and that was fine with Mike. He had the type of wife that didn’t realize other things apart from the missionary position existed. The sex was bad and happened less often lately. It had taken just two years before regular disappointing sex with her became not so regular. He now had to make do with a little attention on his birthday or other such special occasions. That was actually the word his wife used, as in “maybe you deserve a little attention tonight, Mike.” When Mike had almost given up all hope of ever having good sex again in his life, he discovered a website that answered all his sexual problems. That answer came in the form of Janine, another married prisoner struggling with a life sentence of crappy sex.
“You were amazing again, babe,’ Mike said, and then leaned over and kissed Janine’s shoulder. She looked at him in the mirror and smile that kind of satisfied smile that only seemed to come when orgasm has been achieved.
“You weren’t too bad either,” she breathed, and blew a kiss at Mike’s reflection in the mirror.
The website that Mike had used to find Janine was one of those modern sex personals sites. It was the kind of thing that he believed only perverts or weirdo's use and he never expected to actually find himself creating a profile and making contact with strangers. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and after a short period of learning what kind of social etiquette is required on such a site, Mike found Janine.
The first time they met was one of the most uncomfortable and awkward experiences of Mike’s life. They went for a lunchtime drink, both knowing that the other was married and both knowing that they were only meeting with a view to having sex. Despite the awkwardness of it all, they finished their drink quickly and went to a hotel room that Mike had reserved. It was called Kentview Lodge and lacked any kind of charm, but it was a short drive away and the kind of small place where you don’t expect to bump into anyone you know. The sex was embarrassing and quick but good enough for them to arrange to meet again. Their rules were simple, no talk about their personal lives and no last names.
Mike stood up and picked his shirt up from the floor. He pulled it over his head and felt it stick to the wetness of his back. He didn’t have time for a shower but he regretted at least not wiping himself with a towel before getting dressed.
“You in a hurry?” Janine asked.
“Yeah, I’ve got an appointment back in town and I’m gonna’ have to haul ass if I wanna make it.”
He walked over to the bedside table, picked up his glasses and put them on. They started to steam up immediately with the heat from his body, so Mike took them off, wiped them with his shirt, and placed them back on again.
“This appointment anything important?” Janine asked. She had turned to face Mike while she picked up her high heels and placed them on her feet one at a time.
In respone, Mike tapped his glasses twice with the index finger of his right hand and smiled. “Today might be the last time you see me wearing these bad boys.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m having that laser eye surgery.”
All color left Janine’s face and she collapsed rather than sat back down on the edge of the bed.
“Something wrong?” Mike asked, slightly bemused.
Janine didn’t answer right away. She stared straight ahead at the bedroom wall just four feet in front of her as if she was in another world.
“Janine?” Mike asked, and this time she snapped out of it and jerked her head around to face her lover.
“Sorry, I’m just a bit squeamish when it comes to anything touching eyeballs.”
“Oh right,” Mike said and laughed. “Then I guess I won’t talk you through the whole procedure next time we meet.”
A small scratch of a grin appeared on Janine’s grey face. “No, I guess not.”
“Right, I really gotta go,” Mike said, looking at his watch before leaning over to Janine. He gave her a kiss on the corner of her mouth and stood up. “Same time on Friday?”
“Sure,” Janine said.
“You sure you’re okay?” Mike asked. “You’re still pretty pale.”
“I’m fine. Like I said, Just a bit squeamish.”
“Okay,” Mike said, slowly easing his way towards the door. “I really need to get going.”
“Just go,” Janine said, forcing a smile and waving her hands at him in a shooing gesture. “I’ll see you on Friday.”
Mike left the room and took the stairs two steps at a time. Janine remained behind for a long time afterwards, fixed in the same spot at the edge of the bed. She had a lot to think about. After all, her husband had a clinic back in Kentview where he was a very successful eye surgeon. But Mike couldn’t be going to that clinic, could he? Her lover couldn’t be going to have his eyesight corrected by her husband? These kind of coincidences don’t happen in real life. At least that’s what she kept trying to tell herself. But her reassurances kept fading into the background as two questions barged their way into her mind and refused to leave. Does her husband know she’s having an affair? Does her husband know that Mike is her lover?
Mike was sitting on the edge of what appeared to be an examination table, the kind that doctors tell you to sit on while they looked in your throat or take your blood pressure. He was wearing what could only be described as an apron and a shower cap. He knew of course that those weren't the medical terms for the items he was wearing over his clothes and his hair, but that's what they looked like. He also had on two little white baggies that covered his shoes like puffed up slippers.
The nurse that had prepped him for the procedure was finally gone. She was a cute little thing with red hair and introduced herself as Cathy Shanahan, about as Irish as you can get without being a native. Mike was relieved that the nurse had left. She had an annoying tendency of raising her voice at the end of every sentence, making it sound as if she was asking a question.
I'll just put this gown on you. Just take a seat on the table.
Mike almost answered her a couple of times but thankfully she was able to speak seemingly without pausing for breath and Mike never had a window with which to utter a response and embarrass himself.
After making sure Mike had all the gear on, the nurse put eye drops into his eyes to numb them so he wouldn't feel anything during the procedure. She told him that the drops would take about twenty minutes to take effect before leaving the room to take care of some other business.
Now that Mike was alone, he started to think about the procedure he was about to go through. In truth, he found the idea of it disgusting. The doctor was going to cut a flap in his eyeball, flip it open, and zap him with a laser, and then move on to the second eye of course. It was the stuff of horror moves…except that people had this procedure done every day. It was routine. Mike even had a few friends that had their eyesight corrected and they raved about it. And Mike was sick of wearing glasses too. He was tired of putting them on when he woke up and leaving them there until he went to bed that night. He was tired of going swimming or playing basketball and having to take his glasses off, leaving him to squint at the blurred faces around him or struggle to read clocks or signs. He tried contact lenses but they weren't for him. His only chance of ridding himself of spectacles was surgery. Sure the surgery itself was pretty gross, and seeing the blood drain from Janine's face when he told her didn't help, but it was a short procedure and would be over before he knew it.
The door opened and the annoying nurse popped her head around the door.
"The doctor is ready for you now."
Mike mentally reminded himself that she wasn't asking a question and stood up from the table.
"Ready when you are," Mike said, and flashed a grin at the nurse.
She opened the door wider and made space for him to pass. As Mike walked into the next room where the procedure would be performed, he mentally reminded himself that everything was going to go smoothly and that he would have twenty twenty vision this time tomorrow. Everything was going to be just fine.
Mike was wrong.
Mike walked into the next room where a man was standing beside what looked like a slight variation of a dentists chair with a bulky machine beside it that operated the laser.
"Hello, Mr. Lawlor," the man said and offered his hand.
"Hello, Doctor," Mike said.
Mike knew that it was Dr. Larch addressing him, even though the nurse had taken his glasses and the face across the room from him was a blur. He had recognized the voice. Mike stepped forward and pumped the doctors hand thoroughly.
"All set?" Mike asked.
"I certainly am," Larch said. "Did the nurse give you the eye drops?"
"She sure did."
"And have you arranged for someone to pick you up after the procedure? You won't be able to drive of course."
Between thinking about the procedure and meeting up with Janine, Mike had completely forgotten to arrange aany kind of transport home. He didn't want to admit that he had so stupidly forgotten something like that, so he came up with what he hoped would be an acceptable alternative.
"I couldn't find anybody free so I'm just gonna' call a cab to take me home and a friend will collect my car tonight."
"I see," Larch said, and by the tone of his voice Mike thought for a split second that the doctor was going to object to that arrangement, but instead Larch continued talking. "Well then, I suppose we better get you settled in."
He led Mike towards the reclining chair and helped him sit back into it. Larch then disappeared for a moment but before Mike could wonder where he had gone, the chair started to emit a loud whirring noise and began to recline into a flat position. Mike presumed that the doctor had disappeared from view to operate the controls.
What Mike didn't know was that while Larch was out of sight, he wasn't only operating the controls to recline the chair. He also quietly walked over to the entrance that Mike had entered through and locked the door. It seemed that Larch didn't want to be disturbed from what he was about to do.
The bed became fully horizontal and Mike found himself staring up at the ceiling, genuinely wondering what was going to happen next. Before he had the chance to ask, Doctor Larch's face appeared just above his own. Because Larch was sitting at Mike's head and leaning over the table, his face appeared upside down.
"Almost ready to get started," the doctor said, and then smiled, which appeared anything but reassuring when seen upside down. "I'm just going to apply some restraints to keep your head in place. We don't want you looking away at the last moment now, do we?"
Mike felt a strap passing across his forehead and something hard resting against both sides of his head. The strap dug into his skin as it was tightened and he felt his head being pressed back onto the table.
"Jeez, doc. Take it easy there," he said
"Very sorry Mr. Lawlor but it's essential that you be unable to move your head even a millimeter."
Mike didn't remember being told anything about having his head restrained and being unable to budge it, but he told himself to relax. It was proper procedure and he was just panicking a little because he was nervous about having his eyes zapped. Who could blame him?
"If you say so, doc," he said, trying make his voice sound casual and unaffected but it still came out shaky and slightly high pitched.
Mike was so concerned about his head being restrained and the looming eye surgery that he failed to register the second strap that had been passed across his chest, pinning his body and his arms against the table. He only became aware of this additional restraint when Doctor Larch began to tighten it, but by then it was too late to do anything.
"Hey, doc," Mike exclaimed. "That's tight enough don't you…think?"
The end of the sentence trailed off a little as Mike's chest was squeezed tight and the air rushed out of his lungs. He managed to utter the last word as a breathless croak. He tried to speak again but he was unable to utter a sound. Instead his mouth opened and closed like a suffocating fish as he gasped for air.
"A little too tight?" larch asked.
Mike wanted to say yes that it was way too fucking tight. But he was unable to speak and he couldn't even nod his head to show agreement.
"Tell you what," Larch said. His voice was coming from just above Mike's head again and then the upside down face reappeared just inches from Mike's nose. "You can communicate using your eyes if you are unable to talk. Let's say…two blinks for yes, and one blink for no. Got it?"
Mike's whole body trembled on the table and he tried to figure out just what the hell was going on. Mike didn't know what to do, but he realized that whatever doctor this is was mad, and his only chance was to play along. He blinked twice, indicating that he understood Larch's directions.
"Good," larch spat. "First question, do you like fucking my wife, Janine?"
The question came out of nowhere and caught Mike completely off guard. His eyes stared up in Larch's face but they remained wide open as Mike tried to come to terms with the question he was asked before debating what answer to give. He thought it was the kind of question that warranted more than a yes or no response, but he could barely suck enough air into his constricted chest to breath, let alone talk.
Larch brought his hand over Mike's face, just a couple of inches from his eyes, and clicked his fingers twice. The noise seemed to echo in the silence of the room.
"I thought you understood my directions, Mr. Lawlor, or should I explain them again?" Larch growled.
Mike blinked once for no.
"Good," Larch said, his voice calmer. "Maybe that question was too difficult to start off with. Let's try this. Did you know that the woman you have been meeting in the Kentview Lodge was married?" He then added in an almost pleading tone. "And please don't lie to me Mr. Lawlor.
Mike's eyes remained still for a moment as he debated whether to lie or tell the truth. He decided to tell the truth and blinked twice for yes.
"Are you married, Mr. Lawlor?"
Mike blinked twice.
"So you consciously committed adultery with another married woman?"
Mike admitted that he had.
"And didn't you think about what effect this would have on Janine's husband…on me? And indeed on your own wife?"
Beads of sweat were now running freely down Mike's face and neck. He could feel his clothes sticking to his body and the examination table becoming a little wet and slippery under the exposed slick skin of his arms. A few drops of sweat ran into his right eye causing him to blink several times involuntarily.
"Oh dear," Larch said. "I can't expect you to answer when sweat is running into your eye causing you to squint. Let me get that for you."
Larch's hand appeared again over Mike's face, this time holding a small white towel. The doctor forced the cloth into Mike's eye and started rubbing vigorously. Mike couldn't feel any pain because of the eye drops the nurse had given him earlier, but he felt the pressure that Larch was putting on his eye and knew that it couldn't be good. His only defense was to try and close his eye lids, but Larch forced them open and twisted his hand back and forth as if he was screwing in a bulb. When he eventually took the towel away, Mike's vision in that eye was turned to a watery blur. But his left eye was still fine, and when Larch's hand moved slowly away from his face, Mike could make out the towel with that remaining untouched eye. He saw that the previously pristine white material now had a large wine colored stain on it. Mike tried to scream but he had no air in his lungs to do so.
"Didn't that help, Mr. Lawlor?" The doctor asked in a mockingly sympathetic tone of voice.
Mike forgot all about blinking and tried yet again to speak. The constriction of his chest stopped the words coming out, but he could still mime what he wanted to say. He tried mouthing the words I'm sorry several times, but larch only looked down on his face impassively.
"I'm afraid sorry won't cut it, Mr. Lawlor," Larch said, and slowly shook his head. "Let me tell you two things, Mr. Lawlor. Two things about my wife. She doesn't have the intellect to realize that she should delete the history on our computer after she used this website you met each other on. The other thing is that she uses the same password for everything, and I mean everything. It's Paris05, and do you know why? Because we had our honeymoon in Paris in the year two thousand and five. Imagine using that as a password for a website that she intended to use to commit adultery?"
Larch leaned forward and folded his arms on top of the examination table, just above Mike's head.
"Of course I suspected something. That's why I checked the history on the computer. I then hacked into her profile and saw everything she had been doing. I saw your profile too, of course. I think the photos you posted are a little flattering, perhaps taken when you were five years younger and twenty pounds lighter, but she was obviously attracted to you anyway, considering she slept with you so many times."
Larch fell silent for a moment as if contemplating. Mike tried to mouth the words I'm sorry again but stopped when he realized that Larch either wasn't looking at him or was ignoring him. The strapping was beginning to hurt badly now. He felt a steady dull pain in his head where the strap was digging into his skin, or perhaps it was caused by his eye being pushed back into his skull.
"I watched you, you know," larch continued. "At that little shithole of a hotel you go to. I drove there and waited in the parking lot to watch you two arrive. Just for confirmation, I suppose. I was a little afraid that Janine might recognize my car, but she didn't. I suppose she had other things on her mind."
Larch then stood up and walked around to Mike's left where he sat down on the edge of the table. He had a small crooked smile on his face, as if he found this all amusing.
"I had no idea what to do, I have to confess. I thought about murdering her, or you, but then of course I would most likely go to jail, and I'm honest enough to admit that I'm not cut out for jail. In the end you could say it was destiny that sealed our fate. You just walked right on into my office to schedule laser eye surgery. You couldn't believe how shocked I was when we first came face to face. Of course you didn’t know me, but I knew exactly who you were, and what you had been doing with my wife. I decided then and there that you would be the one to punish. As for my wife, she can live with the fact that she caused all of this to happen."
Larch reached into his pocket and pulled out a revolver. Mike squirmed as larch waved the gun slowly back and forth in front of his face, but the strapping held him onto the table.
"I thought about using this, Mr. Lawlor, but then I had a better idea. I am going to continue with the scheduled eye surgery for you. You won't exactly have twenty twenty vision afterwards, but you will have your procedure as promised. As for myself, I have other plans in mind to avoid going to jail."
Mike tried begging Larch to stop, but of course he couldn't utter a sound, and Larch seemingly grew tired of Mike's efforts, as he picked up the bloody towel and stuffed it into Mike's mouth. Mike now found it infinitely more difficult to breath. Between the constriction on his chest and the towel in his mouth, he could barely inhale enough oxygen through his nose to keep from passing out.
Larch had disappeared from view and Mike rolled his eyes upwards, trying to use his remaining good eye to catch what the eye surgeon might be doing . He looked up just in time to see Larch's hand reappear, this time holding something metal which sparkled under the light shining from above the examination table.
"This is the clamp, Mr. Lawlor," Larch said, speaking as if he was routinely talking a patient through the procedure. "I will use this to keep your eye from closing."
The doctor then roughly placed the instrument onto the surface of Mike's eyeball and the lids were lifted apart. No matter how hard he tried, Mike was unable to blink, and he could feel the air in the room quickly drying out the surface of his eye.
"Next Mr. Lawlor, I will make a cut on the surface of you eye which I will lift like a flap, allowing the beam of the laser to do its work."
Another instrument appeared in Larch's hand, but it moved too fast for Mike to clearly see what it was. The doctor applied it to the surface of the eye, and Mike felt pressure but no pain, much like the experience with the towel of a few minutes earlier.
"As the flap is made, you will go blind in this eye for a moment, but the sight will then come back."
It happened just as Larch said. Everything turned dark in Mike's remaining good eye, and then the darkness slowly lifted, and Mike could stare up at the ceiling again.
"Now it is time for the laser, Mr. Lawlor, with one small difference to normal procedure, Larch said. "When I turn it on this time, I won't be turning it off."
Mike almost choked on the towel rammed into his throat and he felt his trousers suddenly do damp around the crotch. He thrashed his legs on the table hoping to make some kind of noise that the nurse might hear. But even if she heard his struggles, the door was locked.
The machine that generated the beam was placed just above Mike's face, and he found himself staring at an image of small black circle with crosshairs, just like a target, and a red dot. It took a few seconds, and then the target focused perfectly over that small red dot. Mike tried again to thrash around on the table, to break the strap or even free himself enough to avoid the beam, but his body was held firmly in place.
Larch initiated the laser.
"It should only fire for several seconds at the most, but of course for you it will be much longer. You might get a smell that something is burning shortly. That will be the flesh of your eye ball frying."
Mike couldn't feel any pain, but as the seconds went by, he recognized the smell that Larch had described. He tried thrashing around again, but only his legs had the freedom to move, the rest of him remained rigid. Mike realized that his only hope was for Larch to stop the beam. A small hope but all that he had left.
"I'll leave you now, Mr. Lawlor, as much as I am enjoying this. As I told you, I'm not the type that would make it in jail."
The report of the revolver was deafening in the room, and the subsequent noise of the body slumping to the ground was almost undetectable. Mike's last and only hope was gone and all he could do was lie there as his eye was destroyed.
The smell of burning flesh continued to grow stronger.
When Mike Walker was eventually freed by the nurse and a patient who was large enough to shoulder the door open, his left eye was destroyed. The damage was so extensive that the eyeball had to be removed. The other eye, which had been so thoroughly wiped with a towel, would never heel. At best, Mike could make out shapes amongst the blurs that now made up his world. He would never have normal vision again.
Janine visited him at the hospital once, but she remained across the room and didn't speak to him. She simply couldn't. After all, she hadn't warned Mike that it could have been her husband he had the appointment with, and then this…..she tried not to think about it. She watched Mike for five minutes and left. He never even knew she was there.
The police blamed Larch's behavior on a total mental breakdown. After examining his finances, they discovered that his business wasn't as well run as it should have been. They also uncovered a lot of debts and Larch was falling behind on the repayments. His wife's affair had just piled on that little bit of extra pressure that pushed him over the edge.
It seemed that Mike had paid the price not only for committing adultery, but committing it with the wrong man's wife. He ended up alone and blind, the affair ultimately costing him his marriage as well as his eyesight. He could use his other senses much more than he ever had before. His sense of smell in particular was vastly improved, except for those times when an old familiar smell seemed to come back and refuse to leave his nostrils. It sometimes kept him awake at night, and constantly reminded him of that day he went to Dr. Larch's clinic.
It was the smell of burning flesh.