Re-calibrate, his memory pleads of him sometimes. Wind all the way back, pedalling to the frame which signals the beginning. He's not fussy with where he stops and starts from, the quality of the stuttering pictures; he doesn't care if he picks up five minutes in, or half way through something important or bullseye in the middle – he simply requests not to see the end.
He clenches his eyes shut, his drowsy reminiscences tethering him to a point in time far back, away from his current thread of present, lingering over his memorandum of a bright blue past, draped in daylight and cloud wisps. He catches his breath, and relives sensation with a hungry attentiveness – the lift of leaving tarmac, the rise as his stomach lodges in with his heart with the take-off. In his head, he expects to see the horizon spread out centre stage like a glimmering promise, the engines flagging and coughing but obedient under his grip. Expects the altimeter a little to his right, the lurid buttons and switches denoting a language he is fluent in, taking it all in like a man half starved.
It is still pitch black when he opens his eyes. But it's ok, he was expecting that too.
Irreparable nerve damage. His memory defaults more often than not on the heaped darkness gathering its armies to flank the corners of his waking thoughts. The tone of the doctor's voice when she told him, mournful as any temple bell, and he didn't need sight to hear pity as an undercurrent to her words. I'm sorry Mr Crieff. Maybe in five...ten years, there might be the return of some faculties, light distinction, blurred shapes. But I'm afraid we can't do anymore for you.
Douglas quietly insists that Martin come stay with him, and he nods, machinery grinding in his mind, an unfathomable numbness that grows like lichen at the middle of his thorax. He knew then he wouldn't be able to pay the rent. Couldn't drive the van. He doesn't feel anything when they tell him that. Just like he's listening through a head full of nothing, and when the words finally come through, their edges are all cool and blunted and don't have the impact they should.
They take his pilot's license off him. Carolyn gasps when it happens, and Arthur goes “Skip?”, like Martin knows all the answers, like he'll be able to explain this because he doesn't understand. Martin can't even see his despairing expression.
He says “Please” when they pull it from his fingers. A word like the shaping of air, the grounded circle at the centre of a compass as the spinning arms flail haywire.
Douglas is furious, snarling that there must be something, must be anything, because there is always, always a back-up plan, a failsafe, an escape clause. And Martin stands, unable to see the maelstrom orbiting around him, hand still outstretched, palm beseeching an empty sky.
And after, there is talk of Braille, a guide dog to help him get around, and Arthur tries to perk him up by saying that there must be hundreds of other jobs he could do, yet Martin can't even think of one. Gazing out, witnessing nothing but black, like being snow-blind but only seeing the darkness, like he has looked too long and hard into depths and crevices, the stirring unforgotten places of the world and now cannot comprehend the sight of anything beautiful. He sometimes wishes that the console exploding, the rising sparks, the shriveling flashpoint of pain, had just gone the whole way: swallowed him in a fireball, charred bone and blistered flesh and the failed stop-clock of his heart. Sometimes he thinks about finishing the job himself.
He does not tell his therapist this.
At night, in his hiding place under the duvet, he can hear the grumbled bass-tone of Douglas snoring in the other room. The rhythm of the rain on the roof tiles, the flat cut-out sound when they hit the guttering. He peeks out from under the top of the duvet, stares up with wide eyes at the dark, knowing that it is always going to be like this, that he can open his eyes as many times as he likes and the light still won't come back.
In the distance, he hears the familiar siren song of a low-flying aeroplane taking off from the airfield. Notes the ache of the turbine engines and the whisper of give as the sleek metal body of the plane =offers itself up to the rapture of the skies.
He wonders where it's headed to. He wishes he could tell.