Peripheral vision, as everybody knows, is mostly a construct. Your brain makes up most of what you see. What isn’t so well known is that the point of focus, the congregation of the most sensitive light cells in your eye, the fovea centralis, is just a tiny percentage of the retina but is responsible for almost half of all the information the eye sends to the brain. It is a dip the size of a freckle, but it has the capacity to capture stars, skies, hills, trees, faces.
It is this minute cluster of cones that enables you to see at all. We share this anatomy with only the apes. Other mammals rely on the light sensitive rods to determine movement of predator or prey. But the clustered cones of the fovea can transmit a still image. Without it we could not read. There would be no words.
Nor could we look into the eyes of our loved one.
Your eyes meet her eyes, the reflection of sunlight on a black disc of a pupil, the slate blue depths of her iris. You take in her eyebrows, and the flickers of emotion that travel through them, like divining rods. You are divining her divining you.
Your eyes scatter across her, these saccades, the swish of the focus from one point to the next, from her eyebrows to her hairline, to her lips, to her eyes again and now you want to swim in the ocean pools of her love. She takes you to the blue ice of the north. She is a Nordic princess. She points to a star. Polaris. And then Arcturus.
The saccades are the swift movements your eyes. No part of you can move faster. They flash from one observed detail to the next, sudden as a predatory bird, as a subatomic particle, disappearing in one place, reappearing in the next. They pounce on the line of a strand of hair, swipe to the line of her jaw, then flip to her eyes again. Over and over again, her eyes. The bridge of her nose, the softness of her lower lip. And hers, where do they go? To the broken capillaries around your nose? To the folds of your chin? You love her too much. You can’t understand why she loves you.
Fovea is Latin for pit, a ditch, a hole. You are travelling alone at night and the radio is on. Life is somehow on hold yet passing you by. The music on the radio is something English, Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. The car is comfortable and smooth. You feel in control. Then the rabbit appears. It scuttles out of hedge, runs alongside it for a few seconds then makes a sudden and stupid diagonal dart into your path. And you’re in the ditch.
You have fallen in. You are in. There is no escape. The car is at an angle. The road has stopped travelling beneath you. The engine is running, headlights are still on, and the rabbit has turned and is staring straight at you. You can’t believe you swerved to avoid it. It watches you, but it cannot see. It stares into the lights. The rods of its retina need to detect change.
You lean against the car door, and shove it. The rabbit flees.
Your eyes are on the pulse in her neck. On the curve of her shoulder.
You fall in love and you think of all the ways that you are in love. You love the way she talks, you love the way she looks serious and says something silly. The spotlight of your mind crosses over her. A torchlight on the seabed. You watch to see for any change in how she feels, but there is no change. She is as constant as the Sun.
The sunlight without which you could not see her. You cannot be without her.
The fovea is a ditch. You fall in. You fall in love. I have fallen in love.