Wheelchair Man
Chapter One
I sucked the last remnants of milkshake from the cardboard cup as I sat there in the restaurant with Melissa. "What do you think of all this?", she asked. "Apart from the soap, I mean. Do you think this is going to work out?"
    "It gives me hope", I replied. Everything was perfect. Melissa's friend Claudia was writing down everything we were saying. She had an impressive list of ideas – the artwork sales, the line drawings, the computer generated floor plans, the supermarket packing – it really did give me hope.
    Melissa smiled at my remark. "We'll start this tomorrow", she said. "I'm eager to begin. We might be able to make you rich and famous. Aren't you looking forward to that?"
    Claudia threw me a towel.
    "I – I – tomorrow?"
    "Yes. Aren't you looking forward to it?"
    "I – no! I'm not ready yet! Let's wait a bit."
    Claudia didn't see me run my fingers through my greasy hair. She was too busy scrubbing the bath.
    "Do you feel like it's all happening too fast, then? Or what?", asked Melissa.
    "Well it's just that – oh for crying out loud, I'm not ready yet! I'm not dressed! Close the door!"
    But Claudia did not receive my telepathic messages. She was standing half in and half out of the bathroom, rinsing the other towel in the bathroom with her nurse-like efficiency. I covered my nakedness with the towel. How could she expect me to dry myself with it when she was holding the door half open like that? Anyone could have walked past and seen me.
    "Y'know Stephen", she said, "You're not supposed to put a towel under your feet in the shower. The towel gets soaking wet."
    So that was it? She was punishing me for getting the towel wet? That just didn't seem fair. The nurses usually give me two towels – two towels is standard issue at shower time. Who did she think she was, going against conventions and disregarding the rules of the ward? I pointed my freezing hand up at the back of her head. All the flesh seemed to be crawling towards my fingertips, and once again I experienced the feeling that something was nestling inside my hand, something which was longing to –
    Suddenly all thought was obliterated as Claudia stepped back and her hip collided with my left foot at speed. I drew in a quick gasp – the pain – she had set it off again. All those weeks of healing and waiting – wasted. Now it was truly broken.
    "Oh I'm sorry – I'm so sorry –"
    What's broken?
    Them. My feet are broken.
    What else is broken?
    This narrative is broken.
    What else is broken?
    This wheelchair is broken.
    What else is broken?
    My life is broken.
    But isn't Melissa going to fix it?
    No. Melissa hasn't been invented yet. You're on your own. Melissa doesn't care anymore. I mean she doesn't care yet. But it's O.K., because you're safe here in your concrete enclosure, far below the real world. Your disembodied head looks up at the T.V. through a glass of water – it ripples but you can still through it and enjoy the pretty coloured lights on the screen. It doesn't cost you anything to look at them. You don't even need feet in this heaven – they have been detached from you. This is the present. Everything is clear here. There is no truth – no lies – no thick-shake – no Melissa saying "Just imagine, you could walk into a music shop and pick out anything you like. You could have your own little place, all your own, where you could have the music in one corner, the computer in another corner, the drawing board in another corner, the painting easel in another corner, the video camera in another corner, the writing desk in another corner – "
    How many corners did this place have? I was smiling; not because Melissa's speech gave me hope, but because I was grimly amused at her exaggeration. I wouldn't be able to afford any of that stuff, the music equipment, the computer; artists don't sell paintings for that much unless they're really, really famous. But the sales pitch had been excellent up to that point, and the thick-shake tasted great. Melissa had paid for it.
    "You can make your life into anything you want", she was saying. "You can be whatever you want to be. No one is going to make you do anything you don't want to do. No one is holding a gun to your head."
    Claudia wrote down, " – gun to your head."
    "O.K.", she said. "What do you want? What do you hope to achieve by holding a gun to my head?"
    It was my favourite gun; black, shiny and smooth like a computer graphic. I had never killed anyone with it, but the gun usually got me what I wanted in any case.
    "I want the chair back", I said softly. "Give it to me."
    "I don't have the chair! Now will you just put the gun down, and –"
    "Stop it! Stop it!", I interrupted, shaking the gun in a rare outburst of frustration. "And listen to me. All you have to do is call the authorities and tell them to give my wheelchair back. Tell them I'm holding a gun on you, and they'll be sure to take it seriously."
    "And what if I don't?", she asked.
    "Then I'll shoot you."
    "You wouldn't really shoot me? Not your own mother? You wouldn't kill your own mother?"
    "Yes I would kill you. Because right now, you're not my mother. You're just another authority figure who's trying to take away my wheelchair, and I have to get it back by whatever means I can."
    "Why are you doing this to me", she cried, with tears in her eyes. "I can understand you threatening the authorities like this, but your own mother – ! What's happened to you? You never used to be like this."
    I leaned back a little, drawing my spindly legs up onto the table. This was not at all how I'd planned it. If only I'd taken more precautions about keeping the wheelchair with me, this whole scene could have been avoided. But right now I was here, pointing a gun at my mother on her own kitchen table, and there was no turning back.
    "You took my wheelchair", I said firmly. "You brought it on yourself".
    "Stephen, it doesn't have to be like this. Look, I promise to phone the hospital and do my best to get your wheelchair back, but will you please put the gun down and let's talk this over rationally, like adults."
    I hesitated for a second. She wasn't one to break a promise. I should have made her promise not to take the wheelchair in the first place, but it was too late for that now. "O.K.", I said, lowering the gun down to my hip. "I'll keep the gun down here. But I'm not putting it away until after you make the phone call."
    "Stephen, you –" She stopped and let out a frustrated sigh. "You're doing this to yourself. The one you're hurting most is yourself. You're hurting me too – I'm going through hell right now – but it's mostly because I'm so concerned about your future, not because you're – threatening my life. Maybe I shouldn't have taken your wheelchair, maybe that was a mistake, but don't you see the reasons why I did it? It wasn't out of revenge or anything like that."
    "I don't care what your reasons were", I said. "I just want it back."
    "Stephen, your attachment to that wheelchair is sick, don't you see that? You don't need a wheelchair! Your feet aren't broken anymore! Do you want to be stuck in that thing for the rest of your life? Is that your plan?"
    "No."
    She was going to ask that question. The question that I couldn't answer. That's what it was leading to. "So when's it going to be, hmm? When are you going to stand up"
    "I – I need a bit more time."
    "How much time?"
    The cardboard cup folded under my grip. I didn't want to answer.
    "Do you feel like it's all happening too fast, then? Or what?"
    "No, it's just that… well… do you promise not to tell Mum and Dad?"
    Melissa laughed. "Of course", she said.
    "O.K.", I murmured. "August the eighth."
    "August the eighth?"
    "Yes. That's the date at which I'll be willing to stand up."
    "O.K. Well that's just in a couple of months. We'll start then. You're going to have more money and you'll be making the most of your talents. Are you looking forward to it?"
    "Yes."
    "Why August the eighth? Did you decide on that date just then?"
    "No, I decided on the date a long time ago. You see I have been planning this for a long time – it's not a rash decision made in a temporary bad mood, it's a well thought out plan that takes everything into consideration. I know this explanation will be of no comfort to my family and other people, but I am a callous apathetic person who is not capable of feeling love for anyone or caring about them. So I am indifferent to your pain. Nevertheless I urge you to forget about me and get on with your lives after I am gone. And don't blame yourselves because no one is to blame for this but me and there's nothing you could have done to prevent it. Signed, Stephen Clark, August the eighth."
    Doctor Watties looked at me and lowered the sheet of paper. He was observing my reaction at hearing my own suicide note. I continued fiddling with my brake handle and tried to keep my face expressionless.
    "So that's the suicide note", he said. There was a long silence. This was not the first time I'd had a one-to-one session with Doctor Watties, but it was the first time I'd met him in an upright position. Just a few days ago the medical doctors had said I was well enough to sit up; and now I was in a wheelchair. My wheelchair.
    The doctor continued: "I couldn't help but notice that you dated the note "August the eighth" even though your suicide attempt wasn't until… until…", he glanced at his clipboard, "January 24th. What's the reasoning behind that?"
    I stared out the window as I replied. "The note was written on August the eighth. That was the day I decided that life was not worth living anymore. I waited until January 24th before killing myself because I wanted to make sure suicide was the right choice… I wanted to see if anything would come along to change my life."
    That was a lie, at least partly. I'd postponed the suicide a number of times out of fear and doubt, telling myself that my life was not yet bad enough and that I would commit suicide as soon as I reached a real low point. But I didn't want the doctor to think I'd been in a state of indecision.
    "But nothing came along?", he said at last.
    "No", I mumbled.
    "Did you have doubts about the suicide during that time? Did you go back and forth on it?"
    "No", I said, assuring myself that the only doubts had been about when the inevitable suicide would occur.
    "Hmmm. What about now? Do you still feel like you want to kill yourself or hurt yourself in any way?
    It was a question that had hardly occurred to me as I lay in my hospital bed day after day after day after day I'VE DIED AND GONE TO HEAVEN! after day after day, and the reason it hardly occurred to me was because there was no reminder of my past life, the dark past full of terror that I had escaped from. The slate had been wiped clean.
    "No", I said.
    "Why not?"
    "Because there is no stress on me now. And because the future looks brighter."
    "Mmmm. Good."
    It's looking brighter all the time.
    Mmmm. Good.
    Because it's only just begun.
    Mmmm. Good.
    And I don't have to make my own plans.
    Mmmm. Good.
    Because someone else is making them for me.
    Mmmm. Good.
    And her name is Melissa. But as she sits on the other side of the table, smiling at me, I realize that time has come to a halt. And in that frozen moment I see that the cool grey eyes of Doctor Watties are staring right through Melissa's eye sockets. The second hand on the wall clock is still, but Melissa's face is moving. New pimples are rising to the surface; the existing pimples enlarge and become filled with pus. All along her chin they come, fueled from below. They fight for room on her smiling lips, they cluster around her nose, even inside her nostrils where the nose-hairs sprout. Her forehead, her cheeks – every part of her face is covered with zits and they get bigger and bigger until she acquires a red, lumpy texture. I should never have allowed myself to look at her face. Now my eyes are locked in position and I'm forced to stare at the hideous, deformed monster that my sister has become. And all the while I can hear a voice in my head that says "Isn't Melissa in the skin-care products selling business? Doesn't she sell pimple cream?" This moment will never come to an end. Who do I have to kill to make it stop?
    But no, there will be no more killing today – that's all in my past. Or is it in my future? It's hard to tell, when I don't have a watch. I don't even have a wrist to put a watch on, and I don't care because everything is so peaceful here in bed. Everything is provided for me, no one is going to hurt me, no one is going to tell me to get out of bed –
    "Stephen", said a voice, "Get out of bed."
    Who's there? Who's telling me to get up? I don't even understand the concept of getting out of bed anymore. You may as well ask a normal person to move in the fourth dimension.
    "Stephen, it's time to get up."
    Time? There is no time here. The sun will never rise, and I will never get out of bed and go to work, or school, or – or –
    "Stephen, we're locking the dorm in five minutes. You have to get up. Come on."
    It was Bob, the big nurse. I opened my eyes and saw his middle aged moustached face looking down its nose at me. Jill was hovering in the background, I noticed – evidently she had asked Bob for help in getting me up, after her unsuccessful efforts. Perhaps Bob would have been a help to her if her task had been to rough me up or take my money or something, but he would be no help in persuading me to get up, because I wasn't afraid of him.
    "Are you going to get up?", he asked.
    "No."
    "You are going to get up. Staying in bed is not an option."
    Internally I sneered at his words. Who was he to tell me what to do? I could do whatever I wanted. No one had authority over me. "I'll just stay here", I said quietly.
    "No you won't! You get out of that bed right now!"
    Bob was just the type to be barking out orders while he had no real way of enforcing them. I felt safe from him, lying under the bedclothes in a totally relaxed position. There was nothing he could do.
    "Stephen, if you don't get up, we'll not only drag you out of bed, we'll lock your room and lock the wheelchair in here; you'll have no access to it."
    "I'm staying here."
    "I'll take you down to HDU."
    The HDU was the High Dependency Unit, where all the really sick patients stayed temporarily. It was kind of the equivalent of an Intensive Care Unit. I had never been in there – it might have been fun in some way to stay there just for the experience. As for shutting me off from the wheelchair, that sounded like an empty threat, just like a million empty threats of the past.
    "I don't care", I murmured.
    "O.K., let's go", said Bob. He pulled the bedclothes right off the bed, exposing my T-shirt and boxer shorts. Jill strolled forward; she was prepared to lend a hand. "You grab his feet, I'll grab his arms."
    I frowned at my enemies as they gathered around me. Waves of hatred emanated from my brain. You don't tell me what to do. I tell you what to do, because I have the power. The two nurses withstood the onslaught of hatred and grabbed me at each end. Jill was holding my skinny, stick-like legs with their useless feet attached. Her eyes followed Bob, wondering if he was going to stand by his threat of shutting me off from the wheelchair.
    You don't do this to me! I have the power!
    The wheelchair. My eyes turned towards it. Something was about to break.
    You don't do this to me! I can wave death in your face!
    The wheelchair. We walked right past it. Something was about to break.
    You DON'T DO THIS TO ME!!
    The wheelchair. I watched it recede. Something broke.
    "Well that's it. It's broken."
    Bang!
    "Someone call the repair man. We won't be able to get any chips out of this thing until it's fixed."
    Bang! Domenica thumped the snack machine with her fist, but it failed to respond.
    "What did you do to it?", asked another patient.
    "Nothing! I just put my coin into it and pressed the button. It's robbed me!"
    There was silence for a few seconds in the dining room as the mental patients sat around and dined on their biscuits and coffee. I was sitting at a table by myself, writing my diary. There was not much to write about on a day like this. "What are you writing about, Stephen?" asked someone.
    "Nothing much. Records of events, feelings." I glanced about nervously.
    "Yeah? It looks as though you've filled a whole page there. I'm surprised you can find anything to write about in this place."
    "Oh I don't know", said a second mental patient. "He could probably write a whole essay about the leg of this table." He tapped the table-leg with his spoon.
    Someone else joined the conversation, saying "Give him a single word, and he could write…"
    But the comment was interrupted by Domenica. "I'm sick of this stupid machine!", she cried. "Maybe if I give it a good rocking, it will let go of some of those snacks. They're just hanging there…"
    Everyone turned to watch as she pushed the top of the machine up against the wall and let it fall down again with a resounding crash. The packets of snack food swung wildly on their fastenings, but none of them fell. Somebody laughed. "I think that one's coming loose, Domenica", they said. "Do it again."
    I was laughing internally as I set my pen on the paper. "Domenica knows how to have a good time", I wrote. "So wild, they have to keep her locked up for long stretches. But not tonight. I can't imagine having enough guts to abuse the snack machine; she's running the risk of being caught by the nurses and locked up again. I don't know why I should be concerned about stuff like that, but ever since that incident with Bob and Jill…"
    Crash! The machine came down for a fourth time. Finally one of the packets broke free on the downswing.
    "A packet of Frenchips came down that time", said someone. "Grab it!"
    Domenica pushed her hand into the dispensing slot at the bottom and pulled out the chips. She held them up triumphantly and everybody cheered.
    "Free chips!", she cried as she ripped the packet open and sat down with the group.
    "Do it again, Domenica!", said one of the patients. "Get some more chips! Maybe you can get enough for all of us!"
    "Mmm! Mmm!"
    There was an air of excitement in the dining room, a break from the usual boredom. As another patient stood up and walked over to the machine, I wrote "…I've become afraid of conflict. I find myself just wanting to play by the rules and avoid causing any argument. Even sitting here watching Domenica's mischief, I feel like I'm somehow a part of it and risking punishment. Ever since last Saturday I've been feeling so parano…'
    I stopped in the middle of a word, as I often did when other people were in the room. "Sean!", said someone, "I think there's a nurse coming down."
    "Who cares", murmured Domenica, tilting her head back.
    "Well is it a nurse, or not?"
    The other patient glanced down the corridor again. "No, it's just a couple of people. Not nurses."
    A few seconds later, the two visitors entered the room. They were young women aged around twenty-three. The first one had soft, light brown hair, turning blonde in parts from irregular dyeing. She might have been considered very pretty, but I didn't think of her in that way because she was my sister, Melissa. The other one had dark hair tied back; her face was vaguely familiar. But even as they walked towards me I was not sure if they were together or not.
    "Stephen! Hello! This is my friend Claudia, the nurse that I told you about."
    I nodded at Claudia. The name reminded me of the nurse at Marramlake Hospital, memorable only because she failed to give me a second towel in the shower. Could it have been the same nurse? The face was similar, maybe; she didn't recognize me, and she wasn't saying anything. Perhaps it wasn't important.
    "Whatcha been doing?", asked Melissa.
    "Nothing much. Just writing."
    "Would you like to go out to McDonalds or something, where we can talk things over?"
    "O.K." I packed up my things and pulled on the wheels of my wheelchair. "You'll have to ask the nurses."
    "I have", she replied. I felt like I was escaping from the cage of threats and restraints that my hospital had become. In my sister's company I would be safe from the persecutors. Melissa was inviting me into her universe in the clouds where everyone was rich and happy, and there was no conflict. I looked at all the patients we were passing in the corridor; they would all be left behind in the underworld for a few hours.
    "Does this wheelchair fold up?", asked Claudia as we headed for the exit.
    "Yes."
    "We can put it in your boot, then", she said to Melissa. The wheelchair would prove to be no problem. I could take it into the restaurant with me. We went out to Melissa's car; the night was cold with traces of moisture in the air. Melissa gave me a push over the damp uneven ground. Soon I was being transferred from the wheelchair to the car-seat and the chair was being folded up.
    "How long will it be before you get out of here?", asked Melissa. "Have you heard?" She climbed into the driver's seat.
    "June the sixteenth. They told me a couple of days ago."
    "Oh. So you're going home then." Melissa was turning the key in the ignition but her car wouldn't start. "Are you looking forward to it?"
    "No not really. I don't care one way or the other."
    I watched Melissa's foot play around on the accelerator and thought that my legs probably weren't strong enough to drive a car, even if I'd had a driver's license which I didn't.
    "This thing just doesn't want to start", she said.
    Melissa's car had a reputation for being temperamental.
    "Strange, it was O.K. on the way over here."
    The car whined the same mangled note over and over again. The three of us were waiting for that moment of ignition. The moment when something would explode inside – it was bound to happen sooner or later. The fuel was just sitting there in the tank, waiting to be ignited. She was pushing the fire closer and closer to the petrol – and so was he, but neither of them knew – exactly what was going to happen. My wheelchair –
    Finally it sprang into life.
    "My wheelchair!"
    There were no more words, just grunts and roars as I struggled to break free of Bob's grasp. My arms were grown strong from wheel-pushing, but Bob's were stronger. He tightened his grasp. "Now now Stephen, let's not cause a scene", he said.
    I was unfazed. So far the inner demon was only partly unleashed. "You can do it", I thought. "If you only let it all out once in a lifetime, let this be the moment." As the thrashing rose to a climax I completely lost my sanity. A scream emerged from my throat – it was the scream of a being so angry, it was ecstatic. Nothing could have contained the power and violence that was emanating from me. Bob finally lost his grip and he called out to Jill, "Lower him! Press the button! Quick!"
    But Jill had already pressed it. It was the button mounted on her waist which set the alarm off and brought nurses running from all over the ward. As the shrill notes of the alarm rang out, I crawled across the floor on my elbows. The alarm was loud, but almost drowned out by the sound of my own strained breathing. When I reached the wheelchair I gripped the metal bars at the front and wrapped my arms around them. More than anything I was relieved that my precious wheelchair was once again in my possession, and nothing would separate it from me now. The other muscles in my body relaxed and I closed my eyes. It would have been nice if I could have shut my mind off from reality right then. But all I could do was decide I didn't care about anything the nurses did from that point on.
    "What's happening?", said a voice. It was another male nurse.
    "This idiot – this jackass – tried to bait me. He refused to get up, then when we dragged him out he tried to go back for his wheelchair. Deliberately trying to provoke us."
    Already I could feel the other nurse handling me by the shoulders. "What are we gonna do? Take him to the seclusion room?"
    "Yeah come on let's get him up." Hands were pulling at me from all angles now. The wheelchair tilted upwards. All the hands on my skin might have been a revolting invasion of my personal space, but I don't care what happens to my body now. My body is not me. It's a useless add-on – I don't really need it – only my arms were still connected, gripping the wheelchair, but even they were falling away.
    "Let go of the wheelchair, Stephen! Let go and stand up! Get up off the floor! Stand up!"
    Why were they shouting orders at me? Did they think I was confused? In need of guidance? Only my arms were still working – the rest of me is dead weight. I could feel the nurses pulling at my arms and disentangling them from the wheelchair, and I knew they would eventually succeed. It didn't really matter. Nothing matters now. I kept holding on, with my hands and then my fingertips, if only because my brain could not bring itself to voluntarily let go of the wheelchair under any circumstances. Finally there was nothing but air under my fingertips, and my body is completely lifeless.
    There is no point in exerting any muscles. All effort is wasted. Now.
    "Stand up, Stephen! Stand up and walk! Push your legs up! Stand up!" Even now I can hear the echoes of those strange voices, repeating their orders over and over again as if I were deaf. I am alive but my body is dead. I can hear, but only the internal voices, and they never say anything worth listening to.
    My safe haven is coming back to me, the concrete enclosure where time does not pass. I guess I can relax now. I hate to think about Bob and Jill dragging me away from the wheelchair, but it haunts my mind and I can't get rid of it. What really bugs me is, I don't even know if it happened in the past, the present, or the future. Perhaps these events never happened; perhaps they were just a story in a book or a movie. But I can't recall the title of the story. I once wanted to become a writer – I used to write about my own experiences every day. Once I wrote a science-fiction novel; well I don't know if you'd call it a novel, but it was a long story and I tried to get it published but no publisher would touch it. Actually I only sent it to two publishers, and the first one said they don't do science fiction. After I received the rejection letter from the second one I couldn't be bothered sending it to anyone else. It's still just lying there, unseen, in a brown envelope, in the – in – now where the hell is it? I'm not sure where it is, but I think it's at home.
    "What's it about?", asked Melissa.
    This is not right.
    "Er – well it's in two parts. The first part is about the lives of five art students while their city is invaded by a giant lizard."
    My mind was clearing for a second there, but now it's clouding up again.
    "The second part is about these two giant aliens who come to earth and kill everyone except these two art students. So the students try to escape into a different dimension."
    "Could I have a read of it, when you find it?", asked Melissa.
    Maybe it's for the best.
    "Yes", I replied. It was a sunny day in June, and Melissa was wheeling me slowly along the paths of the psychiatric hospital. She had never visited me here before – it was the first time she'd seen me in a few months. I appreciated the chance to have someone to talk to, as the psychiatric staff had been avoiding conversations with me as of late.
    "So is writing what you want to do with your life? Do you think you'd like to make a living off that?"
    "No."
    It was strange to hear Melissa asking question after question – she had never really seemed interested in me before. Even when she was living at home, she had always been a very detached sister, staying out of my world.
    "Then what sort of area do you want to get into? Is there one thing that you've really got your heart set on?"
    A memory stirred. "I'd like to get into electronic music", I said. "I mean when I get some more money I'm planning to buy some more music equipment like a sequencer and a drum machine and I'd connect everything up with MIDI. I – I have music in my head which I'd like to express."
    "Really?" Melissa's voice took on the excited happy tone that I would become accustomed to in the next few days. "That sounds interesting! I have a friend who has a set up like that – his name is Todd. He has a whole lot of keyboards connected up together and he uses his computer to control them. He makes his own electronic music. Is that the sort of thing you mean?"
    "Yes, that sounds right."
    "Whenever I go to his house I have a listen to his latest piece of music and he can play it on the computer. We can see it coming up on the screen and everything. It's very good. Sometimes I ask him to record a copy of the music onto my tape for me. I think you should meet Todd – you should come over to his house and have a look at what he's got."
    "Mm. Mm."
    "You could have a play around with his keyboards, and create a piece of music – I'm sure you'd get along really well with him."
    "Yes – well –"
    I was doubtful about the getting along well with him, and she could sense it. "You and Todd have a common interest.", she said. "See, that's how you make friends – you find someone whom you have a common interest with."
    I looked at my lap, still full of doubt. No matter how much we had in common, I would still be too quiet to make friends with this guy. But still, going over to Todd's place seemed like a good idea.
    "So do you want me to drive you over to Todd's house sometime?", asked Melissa. "I'll have to ask him when he's free, of course."
    "Yes."
    We came to a crossroads, and Melissa kept talking. "Which way do we go now? I think we've been down all these paths before. Oh well, we can go down this one again I suppose. So – how have the nurses been treating you?"
    "Well."
    "Pardon?"
    "They been treating me well."
    "Are there any nurses that you really like? That you have a special connection with?"
    I thought for a moment. "No."
    "Are there any nurses that you really don't like?"
    "Um – there's one nurse named Connie that I really don't like."
    "Yeah? Why?"
    "Because she – she always – she tells me they're going to take away my wheelchair by force, and that I'm going to jail if I try to keep what doesn't belong to me. She says I'm being childish and lazy. She says it's a cop-out."
    "Hmmm." Melissa seemed deep in thought. "I have a friend who's a nurse", she said. "Her name is Claudia. If you spoke to her I'm sure you'd find her very understanding. You could talk to her about anything, and she wouldn't say it's a cop-out or anything. I ought to introduce you to her sometime. You'd like her."
    "Mmmm." It seemed that Melissa had a lot of contacts. She had friends in high places. That's what you need to be successful. Not that Melissa was successful, but she was on a higher plane than me, that was for sure. The path tilted downwards and I no longer needed her help in pushing me. She walked alongside the wheelchair.
    "What happened to your knees?", she asked, pointing to the scabby red marks just below my shorts. They were just grazes – barely any blood had been shed. The funny thing was, I couldn't remember exactly when it had happened. It could have been when the nurses dragged my limp carcass out into the corridor. It could have been when they dropped me hard on the floor and reached for their key to the seclusion room. Or it could have been inside the seclusion room, where they dropped me again, but that was on a tiny mattress so there was probably no damage done. They proceeded to take off my clothes.
    "Raise your arms, Stephen! Raise your arms so we can take off your shirt."
    "He's too bone-idle for that, aren't you?", commented Bob. He added in an undertone, "Try to bait me, would you?"
    I lay there and tried to detach my mind from my body as rough hands stripped me naked. There must have been a reason for removing a patient's clothes after a skirmish like this one, but it was lost on me. There was no fight left in my puny, lifeless body; if they had tried to kill me, or rape me, I'm sure I would not have resisted.
    "O.K." said Bob. "Put on the pyjamas. We'll be coming back later." There was the sound of a heavy door closing. Then a key in a lock. Then fading footsteps. Then – there was peace and quiet.
    After about a minute I opened my eyes.
    After another two minutes I was starting to get cold. I sat up slowly and looked around. My boxer shorts were around my shins; I stretched out and pulled them up. That was a start.
    A pair of pyjamas lay on the floor next to the mattress. I couldn't possibly put them on. They were not mine. I would have to be a lot colder than this to put on pyjamas that were not mine. The mattress was wrapped in a sheet and a blanket; I pulled them up and wrapped them around myself.

    "It's a hard knock life for us
    It's a hard knock life for us…"
    I was curled up in a ball.
    "No one cares for you a smidge
    When you're in an orphanage…"
    I was singing a song from the film "Annie". It was just a faint sound, sung very softly and out of tune.
    
    "It's a hard knock l…"
    The last word was choked by tears as I remembered that I was not in an orphanage and all my problems were self inflicted. I wanted to sing loudly and angrily but the tears would not let me. The tears were strangling my voice and clouding my thinking.
    There were no power points in the seclusion room. The light fitting was set into the concrete ceiling. A sturdy metal grille covered the window. There was a plastic bed-pan in the corner. The room was designed to take abuse, but I wasn't going to test its sturdiness; I'd had enough violence for one day. The conflict with the nurses had been a momentary spark of ecstatic anger which resulted in a long and drawn out period of depression – it wasn't worth it. I was feeling lower than I'd ever felt.
    Why had I let it happen? I knew I had more power than the nurses, yet somehow they had taken away my wheelchair, the one thing I was fighting for. What was wrong with me? Did I think it would be fun to have a scuffle with the nurses? If only I had used my power in the right way, I would have been sitting in my wheelchair instead of on the mattress, half naked and wrapped in blankets.
    The angry scene played itself over and over in my mind. I heard their words and felt their touches, each as painful as eachother. Nurse Bob had been taking his aggression out on me, releasing his inner violent nature – and I had been doing the same, I suppose, but then I was allowed to. I was a mental patient.
    It was horrible – I couldn't bear the thought of it –
    "You've got to do something!", said my inner voice.
    My face crumpled up again.
    "You've got to do something! You can't let them treat you like this. If you let them get away with it this time, then they'll know you're weak minded and they'll take advantage of it. You know what the problem is? They're not taking you seriously. You gotta teach them a lesson. You gotta teach them a lesson they'll never forget. 'Cause once you hammer it into their heads, they'll not only give you back your wheelchair, they'll give you anything you want!"
    I thumped my fist on the concrete floor and left it there. It was time to get psyched up. I had made a resolve to keep the wheelchair no matter what, and part of that resolve was to kill anybody who tried to take it away from me. Bob had not only tried – he had succeeded in wrenching it from my grasp, and that meant I had to go to my emergency backup plan of killing him in revenge. He was good as dead.
    Are we really going to kill him?
    
Yes!
    Are we going to chicken out?
    No!
    Are we going to show mercy?
    No!
    Are we going to care about his wife and children?
    No!
    Are we going to be punished for the crime?
    No!
    Can anybody stop us?
    No!
    I had a picture burning in my mind. It was a picture of Bob falling to the floor in the doorway of the seclusion room, while blood from his chest slammed backward with such force that it hit the wall behind. Bob falling at an awkward angle, his body beyond repair. A nurse peering in cautiously to see what had happened. Me saying in a barely human growl, "The wheelchair! It's mine!" The nurse screaming and running to get help. Me scrambling forward to the doorway on my stomach, my elbow sliding in Bob's warm blood. The authorities cowering before me. Giving me back my wheelchair. Me mobile again. No one daring to arrest me. No one knowing what to do about me. Me ruling over the hospital. Me in charge. Today the hospital, tomorrow…
    When the key hit the lock I was prepared. I was lying on my side with my knees up to my chin – my hand was hidden under the blanket. My madness was complete. Upon hearing the sound I looked up at the door. My moment was soon to arrive.
    The door opened.
    It was Bob.
    "Hello Stephen", said Bob in a normal voice.
    With a swift, graceful motion I pulled out my arm from under the blanket and lunged it towards him. At the same time he turned his head to look at something down the corridor. He didn't realise how much danger he was in.
    He didn't see what was at the end of my arm.
    Time has come to a halt.
 
*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    

 
"And just before Melissa dropped me off, she said that she'd arrange to take me to Todd's house in a few days to check out his music equipment."
    
The dining room was nearly empty now – the only patients left were Sean (struggling with the snack machine), and me (writing my diary). Sean wasn't speaking to me; he rarely said a word to anyone. I continued writing:
    "So where would I be without my sister Melissa and her friends in high places? If not for them I'd be searching through the employment section and applying for the first job I find that doesn't say "experience necessary". They're going to take care of my life and make sure it works out right."
    
I looked at my watch. Nearly time for bed. I had to finish off this diary entry before the nurses came.
    "I'm back in the ward now, hurrying to finish this diary – it's kinda strange to be dumped back in Losersville after spending time on Melissa's higher plane of reality. Sean is here – he is trying to stick his arms up through the dispensing slot of the snack machine and get some free snacks. What a pathetic sight."
    I watched Sean's hands grasping and fumbling.
    "He did actually succeed in grabbing a chocolate bar, though."
    I laid down a fullstop.
    "Stephen! Sean! Time for bed!", called a nurse.
    Sean slid the chocolate bar into his pocket.
    I laid down two more fullstops and closed the diary.
 
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