Ultra HD – by Penny Barratt

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I’m in the coffee shop on my third latte. It’s 9 in the morning and I’ve been sitting here for an hour.

But I can’t leave. Nell, the eternal bridesmaid, made me a dare at my hen night last week so I have to wait around for her.  “All you have to do is show up for an appointment, ” she had said. “How hard can that be?”

She finally arrives, smiling, but still won’t explain what’s involved. Telling me to relax, she hooks her arm through mine and steers me out of the door and through streets tight with rush-hour pedestrians. “When you admitted you’d signed that pre-nup Paul asked for,” she says, “I cancelled the saucepans and booked this instead.”

She leads me to a small shop between the tattoo parlour and my nail bar. The door plaque says simply: “Optician” and, underneath in smaller lettering: “Do you need clarity, focus, perspective?” I’ve never noticed it before. Nell says I don’t look at anything properly.

The receptionist greets her like an old friend and asks us to wait. There is a poster above her desk with the message “70% of the body’s receptors are in the eyes – use them!” We sit on plastic chairs and my receptors are noticing the cracked floor lino and the dusty display cabinets and I’m thinking, there is no way I’m wearing glasses from this place, dare or no dare, when a bell rings and Nell pushes me towards the consulting room. All she says is: “Pre-warned is better than pre-nup.”

Inside it is dark and the air stale.  A backlit eye chart provides a low glow of light and a wooden tray of metal-rimmed lenses bounces bronze reflections onto the walls. The optician is in the corner. In the gloom I can’t tell whether he’s tall or short, fat or thin, what colour his hair is.

He asks me to sit and I find myself obeying, automatically perching my face on the chin rest, neck thrust forwards like a condemned prisoner waiting for the sword to fall. His breath is warm on my cheeks as he wheels his chair to face me, his irises are blue and clear.

I’m being blinded by his torch as he asks: “Do you see halo effects when you look at a bright light? Is the world restricted at the periphery? Do you close your eyes when you kiss? If the answer to one and two is yes then I can’t help you but I can refer you to an eye surgeon.”

I blink but answer. “No, no and yes. And yes just means you’re in love.”

He sighs. “Your eyes are not wise windows on the world. They gather light. They play tricks. They seek novelty and gloss over things they see everyday, even things you would normally shun. Everyone needs my glasses.”

He flicks a switch and a beam hits the opposite wall. There against the white background is projected an oversized portrait photo of Paul. My beautiful Paul. I know the picture, taken on a beach in Greece where he proposed.  Another switch and the eye chart reappears, overlaid on the photo. A large black capital E squats on Paul’s broad forehead, O and A  are masking his eyes, RUCB hide the curve of his lips. The optician leans forward and wraps his frames around my head. “It’s a matter of concentration. Really looking. Lovers are overwhelmed by senses; smells, the sound of voices, the taste of mouths, touch. You make instant judgements and see only what you want to.”

The optician slots the trial lenses into the frame as I stare at the chart. Paul disappears, letters merge with noses, ears, eyebrows and dance together.  One lens is taken out and replaced with another.  Paul’s face starts to reassemble, becomes clearer, the letters fade a little. Another lens and then another and the features are sharply lined now, etched clear with more highlights, lowlights and contrasts than ever before. I see things I’ve never seen in his face until this moment.

Clear, defined, unambiguous.

The optician tries one last lens. “So are you better with, or better without?”

And for the first time I think I may have the answer.


Penny Barratt spent 20 years as a business journalist and publisher.  Earlier this year she vowed to attend fewer writing classes, write more, get a lot of rejections and finish at a least one of her three novels. Three out of four achieved so far with particular success at number three. Her work has appeared online at Visual Verse and Writing Magazine

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