Author: An Inside Joke PM
Wesley has lived all his life in a wheelchair. When, by some mysterious power he is granted a week of ordinary life, he must learn what it truly means to be independent of his wheelchair.Rated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 9 - Words: 31,317 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 4 - Updated: 08-12-06 - Published: 07-22-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2216493
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Sunday, 7:15 a.m.
When his alarm went off, Wesley reached upward. Still only half awake, he moved with the surety of habit. His arms found the metal bars at either side of his bed, and Wesley pulled himself up to a sitting position.
Blinking in the sunlight, he tapped the alarm clock, shutting it off. After several days of turning it off without ever even waking up, Wesley had moved the clock onto a higher table so that he could not reach it without sitting in bed. The exertion of pulling himself up usually served to wake him up.
Next, Wesley leaned toward the foot of his bed to seize the wheelchair that stood there. He pulled it toward him, then pulled himself toward it on yet another set of metal bars that were attached to his wall. Wesley's entire house was designed to be wheelchair accessible; it had to be if he was going to live in it.
For approximately five minutes, Wesley precariously negotiated the difficult travel from his bed to the chair. His legs were only dead weight that had to be lifted and slid from the warmth of his sheets to the coolness of his leather seat. He couldn't feel that it was cool of course, he only imagined it to be so as all of his room felt cool on his initial exit from his bed.
Wesley's next task was to travel from his bedroom to the bathroom- an easy trip as he had only to traverse the hallway in his motor wheelchair. In the bathroom, he undressed, pushing his boxers off his legs and throwing them into the laundry basket. Popping the shower door open, Wesley then pulled himself off his chair and onto the specially designed seat in the shower, equipped once more with metal bars. He pushed his chair away from the door, then closed it.
After the shower, a towel-clad Wesley rolled back across the hallway to get dressed. His shirt was easy; he simply needed to slip it on and button it up. The pants were also easy, but a slight pain as he had to lift each of his legs and push them down their respective holes, then pull the pants up his legs and over his buttocks while sitting. Luckily, Wesley had thirty-four years of practice.
Once dressed, Wesley combed his hair before a mirror that had been lowered to what would be waist-level on any other person. When Wesley had been looking to buy a house, he'd been unable to find any with sinks or counters or cupboards he could reach from a sitting position. He'd finally needed to have one designed and built from scratch. If not for his comfortable salary and the disability checks he received every month, Wesley probably couldn't afford to live in such a house.
In a half hour he was ready. Wesley pushed his chair outdoors and down the ramp that connected his front porch to the ground. He rolled down the sidewalk and toward Ava, his fancy little sports car that Wesley loved more than any other thing on earth. Giving her a gentle pat, Wesley then climbed into the driver's-side seat. After folding and pulling his chair up after him and stowing it in the back seat, Wesley was ready to go.
As he drove, Wesley reflected on the nature of his good luck and good life. He knew many of the statistics about disability, and knew that he lived a good life for a person of his sort. He'd been born paralyzed from the hips down, due to an infection his mother had received early in his pregnancy. His mother, who had contracted the infection while working as a nurse in that very hospital, had settled out of court, and had ensured that Wesley would be provided for until he retired.
In many ways, his mother was an incredible woman. Part of the reason Wesley was able to live on his own was because she had pushed him so much when he'd been young. While other young boys in his situation might have relied on others' pity because of their disability, Wesley had been driven to succeed and to exceed the work of all the other boys his age.
Once, when Wesley had been in fourth grade, a sympathetic school nurse had signed a note saying that because of his disability, Wesley didn't need to participate in gym. The boy had been grateful not to have to embarrass himself before his athletic classmates, but a livid Wynona Berglund had marched down to the school to inform the faculty that Wesley was just as entitled to an education as any other boy. After threatening to sue the school for discrimination, Wesley's mother had proven that she didn't want her son to receive any special treatment.
His mother's efforts had most probably driven Wesley to become the man he'd grown up to be. He didn't intend to be arrogant about his near-independence, but Wesley hoped he could stand as an example of all that a disabled man could become. When he heard stories of other people in wheelchairs who needed personal nurses or special treatment in public places because they couldn't take care of themselves, he couldn't help but feel a little bit of contempt. If he was able to live a normal life, anyone else should have been able to, as well.
On forty-seventh street, Wesley hit a bit of unexpected traffic, and was slightly delayed on reaching church. By the time that even his practiced yet hurried hand had pulled out his wheelchair and reassembled it, church had already started. Wesley knew he was sitting crooked when the handlebar on the back that helped him carry a backpack bore into his shoulder, but he didn't take the time to adjust his position. Instead, he rolled full speed into church.
When he entered, the congregation was already on their feet and singing the opening hymn. Wesley didn't recognize the tune, so he silently came to a stop behind the last pew. A helpful usher approached to give him a bulletin and a hymn-book, and Wesley gave him a grateful nod.
Wesley's mother had always ensured that he'd understood the importance of church. All through his childhood, he'd almost never missed a service, and if he had, he was probably exceptionally sick. He'd even attended the service the Sunday after prom, after arriving home from the after-party at five in the morning.
When Wesley had moved away to college, he'd picked a new church, but it was still very similar to the traditional one he'd attended while living at home. He still ensured that he went to church every Sunday, and if he'd been able to have children, he would have taught them the importance of never missing a service as well.
When the first hymn was finished, everybody turned to the front of their book, where the order of service was printed. Wesley tried to balance the hymnbook on his lap, but because he was still sitting somewhat crooked, the task was more difficult than it usually was. The book slid off his legs and onto the floor.
Seconds later, one of the church ushers- a different one than the one who'd originally given Wesley his hymn book- had picked it up and was handing it back to him. Wesley graciously accepted it, then turned his attention to the service.
Sunday, 11:32 a.m.
Wesley tapped his fingers impatiently on the countertop, then glanced at his watch another time. His best friend, Carl, had been supposed to meet him for lunch seventeen minutes before. Carl was usually very timely, and Wesley couldn't imagine why his friend was late. He hoped nothing bad had happened to him.
At that moment, the door of the restaurant swung open and Carl entered. "Hey, Wes!" he called across the room before hurrying to his friend's table. "Sorry I'm late, they're doing some sort of construction down on Willow, and I got stuck in this ridiculous traffic on my way."
"Oh, yeah, I know," Wesley agreed. "I got stuck down where Willow intersects forty-seventh. It made me late for church."
Carl chuckled. "That must have been some traffic jam to make you late to church," he observed. Carl had roomed with Wesley when they'd both been in college, and knew his friend inside and out. They'd managed to keep in contact during the decade or so since graduation, and continued to deepen their friendship by meeting once a week for lunch on Sunday afternoons. Carl didn't usually go to church, and often took the opportunity to gently tease his friend for what he clearly viewed as childish behavior.
"It was nasty," Wesley said, referring to the traffic jam. "Anyway, though, I'm starving. Let's order before I waste away to nothing."
Carl agreed, and the two men turned their attention to their menus. After eating at the same restaurant once a week for years, Wesley was certain that he had the menu memorized. Still, looking at it and discussing what to order was a ritual of sorts for the two men, and one they followed faithfully.
"I think I might try the chicken parmesan," Carl declared, beginning the usual debates.
"Oh, I had that a few weeks ago, and it was kind of soggy," Wesley responded. Carl had probably tried the chicken parmesan himself a few times, but part of their pattern involved trading tidbits of information about the meals, and that was Wesley's most recent opinion.
"All right," Carl said. "Well then, in that case, maybe I'll just have a taco salad."
"That looks good," Wesley observed, looking at the same photograph in the menu he'd looked at a hundred times before. "As for me, I think I might have the shrimp and chicken alfredo."
"Whoa, there, richie!" Carl replied. "I know you've got a great big professor's salary, but after you eat like that a few days, you're going to have to work a second job to support that appetite."
Acknowledging the price, Wesley nodded to indicate that he would accept Carl's comment, even though they'd both had the shrimp and chicken alfredo in the past. Instead, Wesley asked, "How about the Rueben sandwich?"
"Oh, that's really good here," Carl declared.
Each of the waitresses at the restaurant knew of the habits of the two men who always sat at the side table by the giant windows. They knew the secret gestures and body language of the pair, and as if on cue, a redheaded waitress appeared at their table to take their order seconds after they'd decided upon which dish to eat, which sides to order, and which drink to request.
While they waited on the orders, Carl and Wesley discussed the past week. "Things are a little bit tight for me," Carl confessed. "My last regular client threw out his back on Tuesday, and his doctor told him to avoid all physical activity. Of course, the idiot listens to Mr. Medical instead of me."
Carl worked as a personal trainer for college-age athletes and affluent adults concerned with health. Because it was July, most college students had gone home, except for those who were willing to invest in summer classes. Apparently, summer students weren't athletes.
"That's too bad," Wesley said. "So, does that mean you're going to be short on cash until he gets better?"
"The doctors aren't entirely sure that he's even going to get better," Carl replied. "I think I'll be all right, though. In a few more weeks, football and volleyball players will be coming back to school for preseason training, and then I'll be on my feet again. Then, before you know it, the soccer students and the baseball and softball players will all be back on campus, and things'll be the same way they were before."
"Good," Wesley responded with a slight chuckle. After a moment, though, he grew serious to say, "If you need any cash in the meantime, though, you always know where to find me."
Carl shook his head. "I don't need to take your money," he assured him. "I'll be set for a little while. The biggest problem isn't that I need the green, it's that if I don't get a new client soon, I'm going to go insane with boredom!"
Wesley chuckled good-naturedly. The waitress arrived then to give each man his food. Wesley thanked the waitress while Carl dug in. With a mouth full of ground beef and cheese, he asked, "So, how about you, Wes? How have you been doing?"
"Oh, it's the usual summer complaints," Wesley replied. "I have students who take my class because they think the summer version will be easier than the year-long one. Then, they complain that we go too fast and they can't get all the readings done. I have to hand out a few failing grades on the first test before they get their act together, and about half of them quit by the end of the first three or four weeks."
"Do some students really hang on for four whole weeks?" Carl asked. "I thought you taught a six-week course!"
"Yeah, well, I've never tried to claim that summer students are the smart ones," Wesley retorted. "Well, that's not really fair, though. Most of the ones who drop that late into the course are the ones who don't realize their failing until mid-terms, and then take another week to figure out that no amount of brown-nosing will help, except for that most horrible suck-up of all, cracking a textbook once in a while."
Carl chuckled. While he'd worked at the same job for years, only occasionally switching clients or sponsoring companies, Wesley had taken a job as an editor of a small literary magazine before being hired as one of the university's English professors. He taught several classes during the school year, and usually accepted one summer course job for the extra paycheck he could get during the summer's slow months.
Finishing the last of his cornbread that Wesley had ordered as a side, he asked, "So, Carl, what's going on with this Bianca girl you told me so much about? Are you two still a couple?"
Carl's smile faded slightly as he shook his head and said, "No, she really wasn't the girl for me. I mean, I had a load of fun going out with her, but she was too into her new-age crystals and horoscopes and all that, and she didn't care about athletics at all. I kept trying to convince her to go jogging with me or something- just for fun, but she wouldn't. Our differences were just bigger than our similarities."
Setting aside his iced tea, which Wesley had sipped while listening to Carl's complaint, Wesley said, "I'm really sorry to hear that, Carl. I mean it; I know how much you liked her."
To Carl's credit, he was able to shrug and say, "Hey, well, there's always lots of fish in the sea, right?"
"I guess," Wesley responded, although his own personal opinion of romance was that it was exceptionally difficult to find a girl he was interested in, and even more difficult to find such a girl who returned the feelings. All in all, the whole process of dating was too difficult and too wrought with failings for Wesley's taste, so he avoided romance as much as possible.
"How about you, though?" Carl prodded. "Are their any young ladies that you might have news about?"
"You know the answer to that," Wesley replied with what he hoped was a good-natured smile. "No, and I'm not looking, either, so don't even think about trying to set me up with one of your friends."
Carl lifted his hands in a defensive gesture. "I wouldn't dream of it," he declared, clearly ignoring the fact that multiple times in the past he'd gone to great lengths to find girlfriends for Wesley.
After a few seconds of silence while the two men pushed their remaining food around on their plates, Carl asked, "Are you ready for the bill?"
"You betcha'," Wesley responded. "Whose turn is it to pay?"
"I'm pretty sure it's yours," Carl answered.
"Yeah, I'm sure you would say that," Wesley responded in a teasing tone, even as he pulled his wallet out of his back pants pocket. After trekking across the restaurant to pay his bill and waiting for Carl to drop the six-dollar tip on the table, the two men left.
Wesley didn't have any plans for the rest of the day, and he supposed that Carl didn't, either, when his friend suggested, "Let's go for a walk."
"Sure," Wesley agreed, ignoring the technical implications of going for a "walk."
Side-by-side, they made their way down the sidewalk and across the street. The men didn't walk with any purpose in mind, but habit told Wesley they would soon end up at the park. Ten minutes later, his suspicions were confirmed.
"It's just frustrating, is all," Carl said, discussing his girl problems as he walked. "You find a girl who you're really interested in, and who you feel you have a future with, and you spend some time with her, and then you realize you have nothing in common. It's like, what's the point of dating anyway? No matter what you do, you get burned."
Wesley nodded, but didn't think the time was appropriate to remind Carl that he'd given up dating for that very reason. Instead, he sought a piece of poetry or literary quote appropriate for the situation, and settled on a particularly telling line proverb he included in his college syllabus when a stranger's voice interrupted. "Any spare change to help out a fellow down on his luck?"
Carl and Wesley both stopped and turned to see a blind man sitting in the grass. His shabby clothes and the upside-down hat sitting before him betrayed that the man was a homeless beggar. Carl reached for his wallet, but Wesley wasn't so quick to donate. He knew that for every truly needy person on the street, there was another who would use the money he made to buy booze or drugs, and another who made thousands on the donations without ever lifting a finger.
"Thank you, sir," the blind man said when he heard Carl's coins hit the others in his hat. "Does your friend have any change to spare, too?"
"I'm afraid not," Wesley replied dryly, deciding that the man was lucid enough to hold a job, unlike many of the mentally ill who ended up on the street. "I just don't have much pity for men with the ability to hold a job who don't."
"Sir, I'm blind," the beggar insisted.
"Well, it's not the nineteenth century," Wesley replied. "There are plenty of jobs a blind man could work, if he'd just apply himself instead of sitting around waiting for donations."
"Mister, you don't have any idea how hard it is to find a job when you're disabled," the beggar responded.
Wesley bit back a sarcastic remark, and instead said, "You must not be faking your blindness, or else you'd see that I'm in a wheelchair. I've been a paraplegic since birth, and I've never resorted to sitting around and waiting for charity."
The blind man blinked, and Wesley hoped he'd made his point. Then, the other man said, "Well, there you go. You've been disabled since you were born, so you're used to it. Me, I lost my eyesight a year ago due to some rare infection. Being blind isn't something you just get used to."
"Well, you probably should get used to it, because you'll probably be blind for the rest of your life," Wesley declared.
The beggar nodded, then said, "You're right. But, if you had lost your ability to walk after living like an ordinary man all your life, you wouldn't be so quick to judge me, I guarantee it. I'd bet that if you spent just a week being normal like everyone else, then ended up in your wheelchair again, you wouldn't know what to do with yourself anymore!"
Wesley shook his head, then said, "Well, that's not anything we'll have to worry about, is it? Why am I even arguing about this, anyway? I came to the park to enjoy myself, not to start a fight. Come on, Carl. Let's go."
Carl looked troubled, but he followed the suggestion and continued on his walk, leaving the homeless blind man alone.