“What the hell do you mean, ‘It’s not available yet?’ It’s a compulsory course! You can’t force people to take courses and then not have textbooks for them!”
“Foggy!” Matt said, reaching out to touch his shoulder. “Foggy, it’s okay. Not her fault.” He turned toward the woman behind the counter. Her tone had been a bit defensive, but she sounded young, and her pulse was more anxious than anything, and this wasn’t helping. “Sorry. Thanks for looking.”
He steered Foggy away from the unfortunate work-study student, to let him rant more safely. The crush of students at the bookstore this early in the semester was almost overwhelming, but the white cane helped somewhat at cutting them a path to the door. “How can they just not have it?” Foggy groused, when they’d got past the worst of the traffic.
“It’s a new textbook,” Matt answered, shrugging. “It happens.” It had happened to him twice before, in fact. Blind college students were not exactly a top-of-mind demographic in the rush to get a new edition printed, and accessible materials could get held back.
“Well, that’s bullshit! What are you going to do?”
“Sometimes, they’re just a few months behind, so, try again next semester, I guess.” He tried to sound nonchalant about it, but in truth that was going to fuck his schedule sideways.
Foggy literally put his foot down. “No. I’m not letting you take this alone. We are sticking together for Introduction to Tort Law.” Foggy poked him in the chest for emphasis. “I leave no man behind, dude. There’s gotta be another way.”
Matt couldn’t help smiling. “Well, sometimes there are bootleg copies online that you can throw in the screen reader.”
“Wai-wai-wait. I could have been getting these for free all this time?” Foggy made a pained noise. “No! No. For I have now dedicated myself to the law.”
“Says the guy who rips 90% of his music collection off of Limewire.”
“In my defence, Your Honour, have you SEEN my bank statements lately?” Foggy immediately inhaled to correct himself.
“No,” Matt cut him off, “but I have heard them waved in my face.” He'd felt the hot breeze of righteous anger that wafted off of them. “Honestly, Fog, the bootlegs are usually shit. Last resort.” But it was better than nothing. “So, would you mind helping me search tonight?”
They spent an hour googling every conceivable combination of the title, author, and publisher, even whole sentences from Foggy’s copy. Nothing turned up.
“Ah,” Foggy yawned, leaning back in his desk chair until it creaked, “you hate the screen reader, anyway. I’ve heard you swearing at her.”
“She’s," Matt massaged his temples, "just so fake-nice sounding.” More specifically, she reminded him of Sister Agatha, his History teacher, who could rot the teeth out of a tiger shark.
Foggy got up and crossed the room, and picked up the book, now lying beside Matt’s foot. He flipped through it, slowly, sitting down on the end of Matt’s bed and making soft, thoughtful noises. “Know what?” He snapped the book shut suddenly; Matt’s ears rang a little. “I’m gonna read it to you.” Matt opened his mouth to respond - he wasn’t even sure with what - but Foggy stopped him. “Don’t even think about saying no, this is a huge pain in the ass for you and it is the least I can do.”
He ignored the ‘least I can do’ part. Foggy could sometimes go overboard trying to make amends on behalf of the entire sighted population. He zeroed in on the part where Foggy was offering to read him a law textbook. “The whole thing? Out loud?”
“No, in my head.” He nudged Matt’s knee with the book. “Come on! It’ll be fun. Roommate bonding, dude!”
Matt laughed again. As if they needed to bond any more. Never mind that apart from labels at the grocery store and subway schedules now and then, nobody had read a word to him since his Dad, and even he stopped once Matt left the hospital. It felt… not wrong, but strange. Still, he was quickly running out of options to salvage a full course load and get all his pre-reqs for the fall. And Foggy had offered freely.
Matt sighed. “Yeah, okay, why not? And when you’re done, you can do the phone book!”
The torts prof had sent out an email asking them to read the introduction by the first day. So the night before classes started, they made plans to be in the room by 8:30. Matt was in his sweats, cane down, glasses off, settled on his bed. Foggy shuffled into the room, stopping at the fridge for a can of something (Coke, it turned out when he opened it) and sat on his own bed. He took off the beanie, scratched and shook out his hair, and flipped it into a pony tail. Then he stretched noisily and popped his spine, and then retrieved the textbook from his nightstand. “Hold on to your butt, Matty, it is about to get rocked.” He cleared his throat dramatically. “Ah-ha-hem: The Roles and Structures of Tort Law, please note that this is the non-delicious T-O-R-T spelling, by Peter S. Albert.” And already he stopped. “What do you think the S stands for? Staggering? Spectacular?”
“Snore?” Matt suggested.
Foggy chuckled. “Nah, come on. Here we go: ‘Courses in torts often begin with the question, quote, What is a tort? unquote.’ Good question. ‘Students give puzzled responses until the correct answer, quote, A civil wrong…”
Matt had to stop him there. “Foggy, don’t,” he cut in sharply. He softened before continuing: “Don’t read out the punctuation. That’s one of the things I swear at the screen reader lady for. Just, try to pronounce it.”
“Gotcha,” said Foggy. He cleared his throat more naturally this time. “Okay. ‘… ‘A civil wrong not arising out of contract,’ eventually emerges. This answer is a good enough starting point, but it is both overinclusive and…’”
Matt concentrated on Foggy’s voice, letting everything else go — the argument over the remote in the common room down the hall, the weeping man breaking up with someone named Alex on the phone two floors up, the weed-fueled impromptu poetry slam across the courtyard, they all fell away. He relaxed into the pillow at his back. At first, Foggy was determined to make it interesting, with lots of dramatic rises and falls and witty asides, but after a few minutes, he settled into a steady rhythm of low talking and page turning that made the back of Matt’s throat start to tingle.
He might like learning torts after all.
Torts class was Tuesdays and Thursdays, so Monday and Wednesday became torts night. They’d get torte, or tortoni, or tortellini, and do their readings for the lecture. Once, Foggy found a beer called Tortuga and bought out the stock at that bodega. It was dark and rich and it lasted them less than a week.
Matt had encountered pretty much every literacy solution there was — braille, screen readers, audio books, but now he actually had a reader he could stop when he wasn’t quite grasping something, who he could ask questions, who would do all the voices in the mini case studies. Where once saying, “Wait, what?” to a textbook would either do nothing, or at best insert an unhelpful note, suddenly it meant hashing out, then and there, the source of his confusion. And he’d never had a textbook that could make him laugh until he cried before. Or who would pelt him with popcorn when he got smart assed.
“Hey,” Foggy said one chilly Wednesday in February, “you take Spanish.” His mouth was still wet from the tortilla soup he’d just swallowed. “What does tortilla mean?”
Matt had no idea what the root word was. It didn’t matter. “Hmm,” he said, swallowing his own mouthful of soup, “a small tort. Little one.”
“Like, ‘Ow, Mom, he’s hitting me!’?”
Matt frowned, trying to parse out everything he’d learned so far that year. “Or is that small assault?”
“Assault is a tort, though, isn’t it? Just criminal?” said Foggy, riffling pages. Then he gasped like he’d just made a breakthrough: “Oh, wait! ’Ow, Donny left his legos all over the floor and I stepped on one’! That’s definitely a little tort.”
“I don’t think the midterm is going to ask for examples of a tortilla, Foggy.”
Foggy waved his spoon emphatically. “But if it does, we will be prepared.”
Matt nodded. “Damn right, we will!”
About five weeks into the semester, the textbook publisher sent Matt an effusively apologetic email to let him know that the braille edition was now in print, and they could overnight him a copy if he still needed it. He replied that he’d already found a solution, thanks all the same.
The next day, he handed Foggy an envelope of cash. “Half the price of the book. They can’t get it for me this semester, so. Only fair.”
They never wrote exams together — Matt wrote all his exams by dictating them to a computer and a proctor in a private testing room. The day of the torts final, they parted ways at the door to the dorm, wishing one another luck.
Matt answered all the questions easily, and had them read back to him, stopping and editing where he needed to. He’d just barely managed to stop and edit the colourful additions he could hear in Foggy’s voice before they actually came out of his own mouth. But it was always a bit of a clumsy process, and by the time he’d finished the whole test and made his way back to the dorm, Foggy was already one celebratory beer ahead.
“Matt?” he said as Matt walked through the door he popped another cap, “I do believe I passed this one.” Foggy handed over the freshly opened beer.
The bottle felt ice cold and yet not chilled through. Foggy had obviously swung by a bodega on his way home and crammed the warm beer into their tiny freezer maybe twenty minutes ago. Matt snorted at Foggy’s self-doubt. “You’ve got a damn 4.0. Have you ever failed an exam in your life?”
“Not since freshman algebra,” he admitted, “but I never count my grades before they hatch, my friend.” He took a long swig and a deep breath. “No, but seriously, I’ve never felt that confident in an exam before. And it’s all thanks to you, buddy.”
Matt propped his cane against the wall and slumped on his bed. “Technically, you should be thanking the textbook publishers.”
“Yeah,” said Foggy, kicking the book on the floor. “Thank you, what is it, fuckin’, Fundamental Press, for fucking over the disabled and thus helping me study.”
Matt held up his bottle. “Cheers.”
Foggy reached over and clinked it with his own. He took another sip and sat back. “So. What are you taking in the fall?”
A few nights later, four exams down and one final paper to go, Matt couldn’t get to sleep. The end of term crunch had worn down all his usual defences and the city just wouldn’t shut the fuck up. He sighed and sat up. “Foggy?”
“What are you reading?”
Foggy lowered the book and hummed in that impressed way he had. “You can really hear that.”
Anyone could hear pages turning. “I can smell your brain overheating,” Matt snipped back.
“Well,” said Foggy, “it’s a challenging piece of classic literature.”
“The Hobbit, again?” Matt guessed.
Foggy’s voice got faux-defensive. “It’s the literary equivalent of a security blanket, okay? Mom’s mac and cheese, in book form.”
“Hmm,” Matt said. That actually sounded like exactly what he needed. “I’ve never actually read it.”
There was a long silence. Foggy was still, breathing softly, thoughtful. And then he closed the page he was on, and opened the front cover. “Chapter One,” he intoned. “An Unexpected Party.”