Excerpt from What Harry Saw by Thomas Moran, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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What Harry Saw

by Thomas Moran

What Harry Saw
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2002, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2003, 320 pages

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Chapter 1

Here's a fair one: Born blind.

Give that beauty half a moment, see where it takes you. If it isn't near to tears, if you reckon it's just a tragic turn that sometimes happens to somebody else's kid, if you don't damn it as a scabby betrayal of life's promise, then I've grave doubts you deserve the air you're breathing.

Give it another moment. Imagine, if you're able, that you've been struck blind this very instant. Shocking, yeah? You're feeling really sorry for yourself. But you've had your go, haven't you? You are not facing a total blank. You possess images of everyone and everything you ever cared for. You can put together a nice mental video, play it forward or backward just as you please, even freeze-frame the best bits. That should help you keep your grip on the world and where you once stood in it, where you might still stand.

Blind from birth? Could you ever be truly sure you were anywhere real at all? Or would you feel you were wandering in Dreamtime--as the Aboriginals who haven't gone urban still conceive-yet with none of the ancient abo prehension to compass you through it? Not that any of us fully understand this Dreamtime. It's only a word. Some people here like to drop it casually into cocktail chatter, as if that proves they've some spiritual depth within their Prada-sheathed, tennis-toned bodies. Quite a rant I suppose, from a perfect stranger. It's shame, actually. Of the bitterest sort. A long time back in a place I never should have gone I saw a blind baby naked and crawling loose and aimless on the beaten earth floor of a hut. And

I laughed.

I thought of a grub. Couldn't help it. A soft, squirmy grub, that's what the pitiful little creature first brought to mind. I laughed, right in front of the poor kid's mother. I cringe over the reflex still. I expect I'll always regret that cruelty I can never undo or make good.

So I tell myself there are more terrible fates. Born with half a brain, born with heart valves that won't close properly, born with cystic fibrosis or spina bifida, born with that almost inconceivable disease that makes a child look sixty at four and die of old age by nine or ten. Dozens of horrible afflictions.

For kids whose brains and bodies are perfect except for those sightless eyes, I've convinced myself life would be difficult but far from hopeless. It really couldn't be as if you weren't in the world, could it? As you grew, everything would eventually make itself known. You'd feel the ferocious summer sun on your face, the cool relieving winds and fat rain of the westerlies. You'd gradually learn to navigate your immediate geography, and the shapes and textures of objects there, by touch. You'd come to relish flavors: grilled king prawns, maybe, or a perfectly ripe banana, or a nice cold beer. Every day you'd be awash in aromas, from sweet-blooming jacarandas to reeking traffic exhaust, and know the messages they carry. You'd come to recognize tones of affection, or irritation, or joy, or sarcasm, or sincerity, or pity (which you would almost certainly resent) in people's voices. You'd get the news of the day from radio, some ease and enjoyment from Mozart or G—recki, from Midnight Oil or Hunters & Collectors. You'd discover books and the beauty of stories through your fingertips, or the audio versions. No reason you couldn't master any number of trades or professions, up to and including the law or quantum physics, if you were clever enough and inclined that way.

You would never, ever have to dread the coming of night.

And if you struck it really lucky, you might even get to know the lovely intimate smoothness of someone's skin, someone whose body is rich with amazing possibilities, someone whose presence envelopes you with love. Someone with whom you might very well have babies of your own one day.

from What Harry Saw: A Novel by Thomas Moran, Copyright © September 2002, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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