Come in, closer, and I’ll tell you a story. Pretend we’re sitting around a campfire and the only sound you hear is my voice and the rustle in the bushes. It’s a story of the way it is, at least for me. It may take a lot out of me, so forgive me if I only tell it once.
The city parklands stretch as far as my eyes can see. I tilt my head back, close my eyes and relax my jaw to let the scent of freshly-cut grass fill my nostrils. These gardens are so beautiful, I think to myself; so beautiful that they built a city around them. As I return my gaze of gratitude to the gently undulating fields, I see families dotted in the distance, sprawled across picnic rugs. I can feel the spongy lawns under my feet as I break into an easy run. Groups of people and blurs of green creep into my peripheral vision as I begin to sprint. The wind feels cool against my face as I cut a path around the flowerbeds. My chest is heaving, but I work through the urge to stop. Today, I am running for my life.
Charging forward I gulp in more air. The memory of the accident flashes through my mind. I let it linger to distract me from the ache in the arches of my feet. I remember the incident as clearly as ever. The line of parked cars. Me walking beside them. The roar of the passing traffic. Shaking my head to break loose the memory, I continue running across a gravel walking trail to the connecting parklands. I swing my arms further out to find my rhythm, but the memory returns: the silver SUV; the look on the face of the passenger who swung his door open; the sound of it striking my body. I remember losing my balance, but I know nothing of the pain from the passing car that pulverised my pelvis. My memory has always stopped with the silver door.
Returning my attention to the run, I wipe the sweat from my forehead as I crunch across the gravel path. My eyes suddenly flick open. My heart is still. The run is over. I grip the joystick mounted on my armrest to lean forward. It feels as comfortable as a gun in my hand. I look down at my feet resting on the footplates, as if to remind myself that I’m wheelchair bound. I manage a weak smile for a group of passing joggers, but today, everyone in the park can go f**k themselves.
People with disabilities can live as full a life as an able-bodied person. We win races, climb mountains, run companies, and raise children. I know I’m supposed to rise above my lot in life, to display gratitude for what I have, even seek to inspire others like those dignified, high-achieving people with disabilities. But my legs don’t work. They feel heavy and useless. And I didn’t ask for this. I have to crane my neck to speak to people. They slow their speech as if I’m retarded. They talk down to me both figuratively and literally. Hotel staff ask if I want a ‘normal’ room. For f**k’s sake, I’ve had children pat my head. You see, my disability isn’t a physical condition, it’s social. People see my chair first. Then that’s all they see.
‘The incomparable, Mr Aldred,’ blurts out a passing jogger, slowing down.
‘Hi, Michael,’ I yell out.
He approaches and continues jogging on the spot. His eyebrows raise in anticipation like an excited child and I already know what he’s going to ask.
‘I heard you have the –’
‘Sure do… and it’s something quite exquisite,’ I interject, to put him out of his misery.
A pained expression sweeps across his face, like he is carrying something large that he can’t find a place for.
‘I know the Ruben’s a better investment, but I can’t keep my eyes off the Mayo.’
‘Come to the auction,’ I say with a smile. ‘Try your luck with both.’
‘Oh, you’re such a good salesman, Peter,’ he replies with a chuckle. ‘But you know I’m looking for a good return.’
‘Sotherby’s got an auction record with their Ruben last year. It was knocked down at 71 million.’
The greedy glint in his eyes sickens me. He has money and he has legs. The lucky bastard doesn’t know how good he’s got it. But I try to be the gracious auctioneer.
‘I’d choose the one that affects you most. The real dividend is you living with it.’
‘Then that’s the Mayo, definitely the Mayo. I’d say he’s one of the greatest living artists.’
The swirls of jealously begin to bite inside me. People forget that I used to be a promising artist. My hand was too shaky after the accident and my technique suffered. It was all too frustrating and I moved behind the scenes as an art auctioneer.
‘An artist in his prime,’ I manage to say with a smile.
Michael stops jogging. He wipes his brow and reveals the patches of sweat in the armpits of his t-shirt. ‘Let’s pop a cork soon, okay?’
‘I look forward to it,’ I reply, as he turns to sprint away.
You lose more than the control of your legs when you become disabled; you relinquish command over your life. You outsource your dignity to another who washes and feeds you. You lose control over your career, your ambitions, your freedom of movement, your sex life, your choice of vacation and leisure activities, where you go and whom you see. But the instant I grip a gun in my hand and hover my finger over the cold steel trigger, I regain some sense of authority, some of the lost ground taken from me. The tighter I grip the handle, the firmer the hold, the more control I claw back from the bastard who took it away. And when I aim it at someone, ready to kill, the sense of control is overwhelming. Today, I point the barrel towards me and feel the gush of vitality.