This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.
On their way to the Refuge of Ammon, Merry and her companions stop to help out some villagers.
“Why are there wheels on your chair?”
I jerked in surprise. It was the bold little girl from before, standing beside me and frowning at my chair. “Excuse me?”
“Your chair has wheels on it. It looks funny.”
My spine stiffened and my face went blank. What an impertinent child. My first reaction was to say something sharp that would tell the girl I wasn’t interested in answering rude questions. Then I saw Whyn watching me, waiting for my response.
I took a couple deep breaths and tried to look at it from her perspective. My chair really was strange. And most invalids were confined to their homes, so she wouldn’t be able to guess what was wrong with me. Her question wasn’t rude; it was the result of someone who wanted to know the answer and wasn’t afraid to ask. Huh, kind of like me.
“It’s because my legs don’t work like yours do,” I said. “This helps me get around.”
“Oh,” she said. “Is it fun?”
“What?” Was it fun to be bound forever to a chair? My tone of surprised incredulity would have scared off a lesser child. But not her.
“Is it fun?” She pointed at my wheels. “I bet they go fast. Like the rich people’s carriages. We had a goat cart once and we got it to go really fast down hills.”
“I-I don’t know. I’ve never really thought of it as fun before.”
Whyn had a really strange look on his face. If he laughed, I was going to punch him.
“Well, come on, you should try it.” She dragged at one of my arms until I followed her. At the end of the village, the road sloped down a gentle hill, and the girl stopped at the top.
“We sled down this one in the winter. It’s not as good as Deadman’s Hill, but that’s half a day’s walk.”
I was thinking this was plenty steep enough, and we didn’t have to try anything called “Deadman”.
I cleared my throat. “What if it’s too fast?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
“You steer with the wheels, right?” she said, grasping the mechanics of my chair. “You can just grab them to slow down.” She climbed up on my lap, apparently coming along for the ride.
“But once I’m down there how will I get back up the hill?”
“Easy, I’ll push you.”
I rolled my eyes at her. “Are you always this good at solving problems?”
She grinned over her shoulder. “Da says I’m either a blessing or a menace. He hasn’t decided which.”
I stared down the hill, slightly daunted by my precocious passenger. I could just imagine Whyn standing behind me with raised eyebrows. I couldn’t back down now, not with him watching. I had the fleeting hope if something went wrong, he knew a spell that would keep me from plummeting to my death. An image flashed across my mind: this stretch of road, except now it was called “Deadgirl’s Lane”.
I took what was surely my last breath and pushed myself over the crest of the hill. We picked up speed, and the wind of our passing blew my hair out behind me like a war banner. My wheels clattered, and the chair shuddered as it shot down the packed dirt of the road. My passenger flung her arms out to the sides and shrieked with laughter. I closed my eyes and hung on for dear life, longing to grab the wheels to slow down but not daring to. My gloves protected my hands, but even they wouldn’t be able to withstand this kind of friction.
We hit the bottom of the slope and rolled to a stop.
“You can open your eyes now.”
I did and was a little surprised to find myself still among the living.
“See, wasn’t that fun?”
I had to wait until I no longer felt like I was going to have a heart attack before I could answer. But then a grin plucked at my lips, and I found myself saying, “Actually, yes.” And, in a sort of death-defying way, it was. She hopped off and started pushing me back up the hill.
We were greeted by a chorus of voices. “Was it fast, Sara?”
“Faster than sledding, but bumpier,” she answered.
“All life and limbs still attached?” Whyn asked.
“Why do you sound so wary?”
“Because I think I want to go again.”
I like to find the joy and the fun in life’s little setbacks. Every now and then there are some advantages to disability and wheelchairs are one of them. It is a risky kind of fun – I’ve learned through personal experience there’s a reason for the seatbelts on wheelchairs – but what’s the point in having wheels if you can’t fly down a few hills?
This is a big step for Merry in her emotional journey. Just being able to stand back from her pain and see how she might look to others is a huge difference. And being able to see something other than anger and bitterness in her situation shows how far she’s come.
As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?