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|Rating:; Genre=Fiction; Pages=9; Characters=18,110;|
I have been working at the office for about two weeks now and every morning I see Isabelle at her desk. I still can't believe that I dreamt about our meeting before it actually happened. Dreams are a funny thing. In that dream things had been so easy, so simple. Yet for the last two weeks now I tried to gather enough courage to actually invite her to lunch, or to dinner, or even to the movies...
I am too shy. I cannot bring myself to talk to her for other than work-related matters. But that I do at every possible opportunity. I asked her where were the photocopiers, the fax machine, where I would find pens and papers. I went for counsel on whether I should come in earlier and leave earlier or the opposite.
I haven't been hired for such a high enough position that I hold a real office. I am in a vast hall and we are all in small cubicles, separated by 6 foot tall movable panels. I am unable to work as efficiently as I should, thinking mostly of Isabelle and the braces she wears and of her legs. I let my imagination drift. I see us in a bedroom, fooling around. I see myself removing her braces, unbuckling one strap after the other, taking time to touch and caress her legs as I go. And I am jarred out of my day dreams by my cubicle neighbor asking me about some thing or other.
One more day ends. One more day where I haven't been able to talk to Isabelle. However, from those small contacts, from the few words we exchange at coffee break, or while I wait for a copy to be done I learn a little about her character. She is witty, quick to answer with humor. She seems open minded and intelligent. She likes Mozart, Stan Getz, Astor Piazzolla and Jerry Lee Lewis. Odd mixture, but one similar to my own musical taste...
I arrive home and immediately go to my wheelchair. A sleek looking machine it is. I bought it second hand from an athlete that was looking for a better chair. The frame is bright yellow with all the parts black. It is an ultra-light chair, meant for quick and easy handling. A rigid frame offers much more stability than one of those folding affairs one can find in hospitals. I never really liked those wheelchairs, they remind me of bathtubs more than anything else...
I rarely walk when I am in my apartment. I much prefer to live as much as possible as a paraplegic. I know I will never be able to know the feeling. I know there is so much I am missing out of the experience a paraplegic goes through, but still I wish I could live it, if only for a short period of time. A week, a month, or a year like someone I met on a local BBS suggested.
First I head for the kitchen and turn on the oven to warm up a beef stew I have left over. I put some of the stew in an earthenware dish and balance it on my knees as I open the ovendoor. I have to reach out with one hand and hold on to the back of my chair so I don't fall over in order to place the dish on the middle oven rack. I shut the door and get closer to the oven and set the temperature at 375 F. I know I have about half an hour before my dinner will be ready.
I placed a personal ad a few weeks ago and I hope someone will answer that fit the criteria I gave in it, or rather one of them: must be paraplegic and/or use legbraces. With the time I have on my hands until dinner is ready, I go to check on my email and read the latest news. Perhaps today will bring me a good response to my ad. So far, I only had a few people flaming me for being a crazy lunatic and a freak. I had one person claiming to be a paraplegic telling me that because she knew I was interested in her handicap, she just didn't want to meet me. Of course, she used an anonymous remailer and when I wrote back, I never got an answer from her again.
Nothing in the mail, nor in the latest news. I am always on the lookout for someone selling legbraces, or ideas on how to get the real feel of a paraplegic. I kind of gave up though, because short of an anesthesia given by a specialist, I can't see how to get there. Of course, there would always be an accident, but then, it would be for real... and I am unsure that I would want it for real... The human nature is such that we desire something until we get it, and then don't want it anymore...
I arrive to the office bright and early, for once. I blush as Isabelle remarks on it. "My, my Mr. Simms is early today. To what do we owe the pleasure Carl?" My heartbeat accelerates as I say "Well... Hum... It's... huh... I was wondering if... Well, see I really would like to take you out to dinner or to lunch one of these days." I feel light headed as I finish blurting out the last words.
She just said yes. No more, but no less. As I ask her when would be a good time for her to do it, I notice she is not using herbraces today. I casually ask her why she didn't come walking today and she says that she simply felt lazy this morning. I pay attention to her wheelchair, looking without staring, I hope. Finally after a few minutes of chit-chat, we have agreed to go out to lunch Monday. Iwas hoping that she would say today, but she brought her lunch and doesn't want to loose it...
My ego is hurt. I come second after her homemade lunch... I suppose that she won't have an occasion to eat it over the weekend. I just know that my week-end will be pure agony as it is going to drag forever. Time has the uncanny ability to stretch when you are waiting for something to happen and compress when you least desire it.
At the afternoon break, I notice how easily she maneuvers her chair. She has practiced, obviously. I remember my first few times using the chair and realize that to attain the level of apparent ease she is displaying, she must have spend an awful lot of time with her chair. I guess one has to, when one is paralyzed. I still don't know how long ago Isabelle was injured. Her legs don't look overly atrophied, however she could be using electric stimulation. On those thoughts, I finish up my caffe latte, and go back to my cubicle to putter on the computer for the last hours of the week. Never much work accomplished at the end of the week...
Saturday, I go to the Homecare store on the other side of the city, where I know I won't bump into any one I know. Or rather anyone that knows me as I really am, not needing the chair to go around. I've been going to this store for months now, always buying the same things: Catheter, legbags and soap/disinfectant.
I've pushed my desire to be paralyzed as far as using a catheter as if I had lost bladder control... I figure that if someone looks closely enough when i am out in public, pretending to be something I am not, they will be able to see the tube and the bag, bulging slightly under my pants. It gives me a bit more credibility I guess. Plus it makes things a lot more practical than to have to wheel around trying to find a bathroom... It just wouldn't do to go to a regular stall, get up, and sit back in the chair when I am finished...
Once my purchases are done, I head to the movie theater. I line myself to open the swing door to the mall. I face the right hand door, as it swings inward. Had it swung outwards, I would have had to line myself on the other side. I grab the left door with my left hand and do similarly with my right hand. I have to push hard on the right, bracing myself on the left so I don't go backwards instead of opening the door. The door opens and I propel myself forward, just too hard. My right hand can't seem to let go of the door handle and I feel my chair is starting to flip backwards. Not much I can do at this point, but let it happen and carefully think of NOT using my legs in anyway whatsoever. just let them loose.
I finish my lame somersault face down, legs sort of pointing towards the door, and seeing my chair rolling away from me carelessly. I turn myself so I can sit on my butt and look around. There are a few witnesses to my accident. No one seems willing to come and help. People won't look me in the eyes. They are afraid to come touch the "cripple". All those well meaning, probably church goers people won't gather the kindness needed to come and help. A thought crosses my mind: "I would be the first one there to give a hand, but when it comes to me, nobody dares."
I start pulling myself towards my chair, thinking of how I will have to pull myself back IN the chair... I never have really practiced for such an event. I have sort of an idea, but will have to improviseas I get to my vehicle. I finally reach the runaway wheelchair and pause to recuperate from the crawl. I never realized how much work was involved in pulling oneself across even as short a distance as the few feet I had to travel.
A voice says behind me: "Let me hold your chair while you get back in" The voice is oddly familiar. I do not want to turnaround and corroborate my suspicion. The voice continues on: "I think you might need directions on how to do this. Once you are back in, you can then explain a few thing to me". I grimace as myfear is confirmed It is Isabelle. Of all people I had to met, I came across Isabelle.
My mind races. How am I going to explain all this to her? I could tell her I had been curious of what she has to go through and that I rented the wheelchair and was spending the weekend using it. Or I could tell her the truth, as scary as that prospect is. I quickly let the first idea drop, because even though I am not as proficient in using the wheelchair as she is, I am obviously not using it for the first time.
Finally I looked up at her and she is so very beautiful I have to gasp. From my position, I first see her feet and legs in the footrest of her wheelchair. They are in her leather shoes. Metal bars are attached to her shoes and run up her legs and disappear under a loose pair of green corduroy pants. I keep looking up and she keeps waiting for an answer from me. I catch her eyes and I think I can read incomprehension, resentment, surprise but also kindness. her eyes smile at me at the same time her mouth does.
"Okay, first thing first, get your butt back in the chair. Get close to the footrest, reach as far behind you as you can and grab the frame of your chair as close to the seat as you can.. Good. Now pull yourself up, lean backwards so your back is on the cushion. Reach backwards once more and pull up again and be seated. Lots of work, isn't it?" While she gave me directions on how to do it, she held on my chair so it would not flip forward. She has explained all that to me very nicely, as if she didn't want me to be found out. I am a bit sore from the fall and the subsequent work to get back in.
I am still pretty much mute, not knowing what or how to say it. I mumble a shy "Thanks for the help." and she looks at me, shaking her head. "Well, we were supposed to have lunch Monday, but this sheds a new light on things." She says. "I think we should go have a coffee somewhere and you should tell me what you are doing in a wheelchair." I am very nervous now, but relieved that she didn't freak on me, that she didn't start to insult me and call me all names. My mouth is dry, my heart beating faster that of a Jazz drummer, my head feels lighter than a feather and I can only say yes to her demand of an explanation.
She turns around and heads towards the inside of the mall. I follow her and quickly join her side. She pushes her chair fast, but not so fast that I can't keep up. I am sure she could. Yet people have to almost jump out of the way as we approach them, side by side. She looks at me with a puzzled smile. "I really wish you have a good explanation for this." As she says that, I miss a push on the wheel and almost stick my thumb in the spokes of my fast turning wheel. "Don't do that, you would then really hurt yourself". Now I blush and fall back into the rhythm of the pushes.
We arrive at a small cafe and I follow her to a dark corner. The waitress quickly offers to remove chairs so we can fit. She takes our order of an espresso and a big bowl of hot chocolate. The cafe is small and decorated in shades of forest green and chocolate brown, with posters and pictures all around. It is the first time I have come in here, but I like the intimate atmosphere. I know we won't be disturbed and that makes me feel a bit better. Being in public, yet knowing no one will be able to hear my confession will make it easier for me to talk. Because I have decided to tell her the truth, to narrate my life story concerning my obsession and how I came to be a part-time wheelchair user.
"Before you start, I want you to know that I didn't make a fuss out there because so far you have been a very nice fellow and seem caring and generally a good human being. I think you deserve a chance to explain this, as I am sure it will be a good explanation, but understand that I do not understand."
I take a deep breath and start talking. I tell her everything I can think of, as it comes. I am past caring what she'll think of me. After the few first stumbling words the need to tell someone about this overtakes me and I can't seem to be able to stop. I have longed to confide in someone for over fifteen years now, and I just can't stop. Once I am interrupted by the girl bringing our drinks. I have my back to the room and Isabelle has to silence me as the waitress arrives. I am grateful for her thoughtfulness.
I have talked about how it all started with casts and evolved to braces. I have told her of my desires to experience paraplegia. I related the times I go out in the wheelchair. I explained how I got my chair. I told of the loneliness of it all. "There you go Isabelle, you wanted to know. I told you more than anything has ever known about this. I have opened myself to you completely. I cannot much tell you why, simply because the why is unclear. But I would be glad to answer any and all questions you might have."
"You need a new chocolate because yours has grown cold while you were talking" I look down at my bowl as she says that. "First I have to compliment you on your self control. I noticed how you almost reached to scratch an itch a few times and stopped. You could probably fool many people, even among the paraplegic community, or doctors. You are rather good, I must say, except when comes time to get back in the chair... But I can't understandwhy you would want to go through the pain I endured. I can't accept easily that you would want to fool those people, to fool me, to fool yourself"
"Isabelle, I do not want to fool you, or anybody. I do not wish upon anyone to endure what you had to go through. I just have this urge to experience paraplegia. I know not where it comes from, it just is. At times, I would prefer to not feel this way, it would simplify things a lot. But it is there. I have given up understanding."
We keep talking for the better part of the afternoon. At one point I think I have missed the movie I wanted to go see. But then I quickly think that this is much better than to be alone at the movies. I am in the company of a pretty girl. Pretty doesn't even start to describe it. Not only is she beautiful, but she is intelligent, and to to pit all, she uses braces to walk around when she isn't in her wheelchair.
My thoughts drift towards her legs. I can't help thinking about the dreams I've had. I can feel myself starting to daydream about those fantasies. But I owe it to her to stop it. Yet, I know that I could probably just reach under the table and touch her legs, touch the metal of her brace and she probably could not even feel it. Of course she could see me reach under the table and would then put one and one together.
"Carl, I have to admit I am quite taken aback by all your revelations. I never thought anyone could feel like this. I need time to digest it. First I never thought anyone could desire me for my handicap. I tend to be turned off by it, I tend to think people are grossed out by my legs. Then to top it, you say you want to live what I am going through every day, you say you want to experience what I curse and resent. There are times when I just sit there and cry, Carl. I cry for the hardship endured, for all the things I used to do and can't do anymore. Little things. Stupid things. Like not being able to reach a book at the library because it is on a top shelf. Can you see the irony in this? I WANT TO WALK. And you want to be confined to a chair. I would gladly give you my braces and chair, if it was possible. But it isn't."
It is getting late. I can tell by the looks of the waitress that we should be leaving soon. I tell Isabelle that since we've spent the whole afternoon together, we should carry on with dinner. I mention a quaint little French restaurant I know not to far off. She asks me if it is accessible and as she asks me that, she smiles and say: "Of course it would be. You probably pay as much attention to accessibility as I do, don't you?"
So we leave the little cafe and exit the mall. Isabelle holds the door for me because she says that she doesn't want to have to scrape me off the floor again. I give her directions to get there and we each go our separate ways to our cars. I look at the way she gets in her van. It is a newer model. There is a lift at the back. The whole back door hinges at the roof and then the lift unfolds and comes down. The back seats were removed to allow her to wheel up to the driver seat. I can't look anymore as the door is shutting itself.
I go to my own car and get in and think of the coming eveningas I drive to the restaurant. Isabelle asked me to not use the wheelchair tonight, and I could hardly say no to her request... I would have liked to use it, but I understand she would feel better if I didn't. It is going to be a good time, no matter what.
Isabelle seems open minded, a lot more than I thought she would be. She doesn't understand, yet doesn't turn away. She still talks to me and even has accepted an invitation to dinner. Things are looking good. Very good.
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