Galileo’s Vision

By Gwendolyn Edward

The first time it happened he didn’t think too much of it. Ever since he was young and had been struck with repeated ophthalmic infections, his eyes had played tricks on him. Now it was 1610 and he had just finished lunch in his apartment in Padua with a friend, fried fish accompanied by a melon tart, and he caught the man’s reflection in a Venetian mirror hanging near his door. Where his friend’s head should have been, there was merely a black spot.

Galileo had been for years studying the black circles on the sun. He’d yet to say anything to anyone outside of his circle; the heavenly bodies were supposed to be perfect. But he’d witnessed the moving centers of darkness across the fiery surface—their expansions and retractions, imperfection contained within imperfection.

Four days later, his friend died in the street; he simply fell down beside Galileo and never got back up.

The second time it happened, Galileo took notice. It was almost a month later when he was entertaining another group of friends, when in that same Venetian mirror, a very pregnant woman’s face also appeared as a black spot. As he watched, the circle began to expand, blotting out her curling hair, then increasing in size until encompassed her whole body and the chair she sat in.

Galileo only looked away from the reflection when he heard a high-pitched screaming. He turned to see that the pregnant woman was slumping, her fingers twitching against the gold leafed arm of the chair. Her dress was pooling red with blood, expanding at the very rate that the spot of her body had moments before.

A terrible thing, to know when one is beginning to go blind. Compounded horror to realize that the loss of vision is the birth of another. Galileo removed the mirror from the wall, wanted to think he’d tainted it with his own imagination, the mind’s way of trying make sense of its own loss by supplementing failing vision with something that attempted to fill the holes. To give meaning to decay.

He knew his problem was not logical, that it was not possible to foretell death. It did not help him though, when he learned that his friend died on the street because of a stomach tumor, or because the pregnant woman had in her womb a grotesquely formed child that never would have lived. Galileo told himself it all an unnerving coincidence, until the spots started appearing even when there was no mirror.

It happened a total of seventeen more times over the course of that year alone. A child outside of a bakery, and older woman in the middle of a church service, a young man who’d previously lost three fingers on his right hand in a drunken duel gone wrong. Galileo was there to witness every black sphere, every death, and he inquired after all of them. Imperfect bodies the lot of them, just like the first two.

Because of the disturbing nature of this vision, he began to spend less time away from people, devoting more of his life to staring at the sky. He continued to unravel what in his childhood had held a certain mystery. He could deal better with the imperfections of an outside world than with the deterioration of the bodies in the world he occupied.

His eyesight continued to trouble him and when he did leave the house he found himself squinting more. This way he couldn’t spy the black spots that appropriated bodies. Years went by like this, and he tried as much as he could to stand fast against the Church, not only because he knew his theories were right, but because his own prophecy had taught him that taken altogether, the universe was not as people thought it. There is always the hidden explanation, waiting for someone to discover it.

In Galileo’s later years, his daughter became increasing nervous about his ravings of the unseen. Years of exile at his home in Arcitre had made him quite vocal—he’d speak to anyone about anything, just to reassure himself that his increasing blindness was not the world foretelling its own death—the imperfections of religion producing a disastrous imperfection of our existence—a blot the size of the earth.

In 1638, when his world went wholly dark, he began to dictate to his daughter a final book, The Third Science. At first she truly did write. Galileo’s recounting of Anaximander’s discovery, his mechanical universe a giant circle, interested her. But when Galileo began to explain the science of spheres and light—how the evolution of man’s understanding of all things round was actually our own history completing its own circle of life, she scratched the dry pointed end of a feather against parchment, and it never occurred to him that there was no sound of moving papers, no tapping of a quill in an ink pot.

He told his whole tale and when he was done, he made her promise to have it published. Any way it could be done, he said, without putting herself in jeopardy. She kissed him on his forehead, his eyes milky spheres, and regretted not writing it all down. If the darkness of a circle meant destruction, what did the whiteness of his eyes mean?


Gwendolyn Edward is a master’s candidate in creative writing at the University of North Texas where she is the non-fiction editor of North Texas Review and works with the American Literary Review as blog manager. Her historical fiction has been accepted by Lissette’s Tales of the Imagination, Jersey Devil Press, The Copperfield Review and the anthology Horrific History. Other speculative work has been published by Niteblade, Haunted Waters Press, Scareship, Blood and Roses (an anthology) and others. She also edits the literary genre publication Deimos eZine.