Bartholomew Lampion was blinded at the age of three, when surgeons reluctantly removed his eyes to save him from a fast-spreading cancer; but although eyeless, Barty regained his sight when he was thirteen.
This sudden ascent from a decade of darkness into the glory of light was not brought about by the hands of a holy healer. No celestial trumpets announced the restoration of his vision, just as none had announced his birth.
A roller coaster had something to do with his recovery, as did a seagull. And you can't discount the importance of Barty's profound desire to make his mother proud of him before her second death.
The first time she died was the day Barty was born.
January 6, 1965.
In Bright Beach, California, most residents spoke of Barty's mother, Agnes Lampion -- also known as the Pie Lady -- with affection. She lived for others, her heart tuned to their anguish and their needs. In this materialistic world, her selflessness was cause for suspicion among those whose blood was as rich with cynicism as with iron. Even such hard souls, however, admitted that the Pie Lady had countless admirers and no enemies.
The man who tore the Lampion family's world apart, on the night of Barty's birth, had not been her enemy. He was a stranger, but the chain of his destiny shared a link with theirs.
January 6, 1965, shortly after eight o'clock in the morning, Agnes had entered first-stage labor while baking six blueberry pies. This wasn't false labor again, because the pains extended around her entire back and across her abdomen, rather than being limited to the lower abdomen and groin. The spasms were worse when she walked than when she stood still or sat down: another sign of the real thing.
Her discomfort wasn't severe. The contractions were regular but widely separated. She refused to be admitted to the hospital until she completed the day's scheduled tasks.
For a woman in her first pregnancy, this stage of labor lasts twelve hours on average. Agnes believed herself to be average in every regard, as comfortably ordinary as the gray jogging suit with drawstring waist that she wore to accommodate her baby-stretched physique; therefore, she was confident that she wouldn't proceed to second-stage labor much sooner than ten o'clock in the evening.
Joe, her husband, wanted to rush her to the hospital long before noon. After packing his wife's suitcase and stowing it in the car, he canceled his appointments and loitered in her vicinity, although he was careful to stay always one room away from her, lest she become annoyed by his smothering concern and chase him out of the house.
Each time that he heard Agnes groan softly or inhale with a hiss of pain, he tried to time her contractions. He spent so much of the day studying his wristwatch that when he lanced at his face in the foyer mirror, he expected to see the faint reflection of a sweeping second hand clocking around and around in his eyes.
Joe was a worrier, although he didn't look like one. Tall, strong, he could have subbed for Samson, pulling down pillars and collapsing roofs upon the Philistines. He was gentle by nature, however, and lacked the arrogance and the reckless confidence of many men his size. Although happy, even jolly, he believed that he had been too richly blessed with fortune, friends, and family. Surely one day fate would make adjustments to his brimming accounts.
He wasn't wealthy, merely comfortable, but he never worried about losing his money, because he could always earn more through hard work and diligence. Instead, on restless nights, he was kept sleepless by the quiet dread of losing those he loved. Life was like the ice on an early-winter pond: more fragile than it appeared to be, riddled by hidden fractures, with a cold darkness below.
Besides, to Joe Lampion, Agnes was not in any way average, regardless of what she might think. She was glorious, unique. He didn't put her on a pedestal, because a mere pedestal didn't raise her as high as she deserved to be raised.
If ever he lost her, he would be lost, too.
Throughout the morning, Joe Lampion brooded about every known medical complication associated with childbirth. He had learned more than he needed to know on this subject, months earlier, from a thick medical-reference work that had raised the hair on the back of his neck more effectively and more often than any thriller he had ever read.
At 12:50, unable to purge his mind of textbook descriptions of antepartum hemorrhage, postpartum hemorrhage, and violent eclamptic convulsions, he burst through the swinging door, into the kitchen, and announced, "All right, Aggie, enough. We've waited long enough."
At the breakfast table, she was writing notes in the gift cards that would accompany the six blueberry pies that she had baked that morning. "I feel fine, Joey."
Other than Aggie, no one called him Joey. He was six feet three, 230 pounds, with a stone-quarry face that was all slabs and crags, fearsome until he spoke in his low musical voice or until you noticed the kindness in his eyes.
"We're going to the hospital now," he insisted, looming over her at the table.
"No, dear, not yet."
Even though Aggie was just five feet three and, minus the pounds of her unborn child, less than half Joey's weight, she could not have been lifted out of the chair, against her will, even if he'd brought with him a power winch and the will to use it. In any confrontation with Aggie, Joey was always Samson shorn, never Samson pre-haircut.
With a glower that would have convinced a rattlesnake to uncoil and lie as supine as an earthworm, Joey said, "Please?"
"I have pie notes to write, so Edom can make deliveries for me in the morning."
"There's only one delivery I'm worried about."
"Well, I'm worried about seven. Six pies and one baby."
"You and your pies," he said with frustration.
"You and your worrying," she countered, favoring him with a smile that affected his heart as sun did butter.
He sighed. "The notes, and then we go."
"The notes. Then Maria comes for her English lesson. And then we go."
"You're in no condition to give an English lesson."
"Teaching English doesn't require heavy lifting, dear."
She did not pause in her note writing when she spoke to him, and he watched the elegantly formed script stream from the tip of her ballpoint pen as though she were but a conduit that carried the words from a higher source.
Finally, Joey leaned across the table, and Aggie looked up at him through the great silent fall of his shadow, her green eyes shining in the shade that he cast. He lowered his raw-granite face to her porcelain features, and as if yearning to be shattered, she raised up slightly to meet his kiss.
"I love you, is all, "he said, and the helplessness in his voice exasperated him.
"Is all?" She kissed him again. "Is everything."
"So what do I do to keep from going crazy?"
The doorbell rang.
"Answer that," she suggested.