He grips the sheet tight between his teeth, pulling at it like a mountaineer scaling a steep cliff. His neck muscles, tightly wound as a jack-in-the-box, pulse as he shuffles his shoulders a fraction at a time. After each second, he lies back, panting, before starting again. He's glad that there are no railings on the side of the bed because it makes his imminent literal downfall a lot easier. Finally, he breaks free of the blanket. With one last shove of his head, he careens towards the floor.
Part I: Arthur
It's another day. Arthur knows this because of the daily routine he suffers through each morning, a depressing chore that heralds a new dawn. Hours have passed. Arthur spent them staring at the ceiling, counting the specks. He usually makes it to at least a thousand before something interrupts him. One day he'll get to them all. It's another day, but it's an unusual day, because a nurse is trying to force him out of his miserable room. Her name is Grace, a woman of such age that she could nearly belong here as a resident herself, with wire-frammed glasses, sharp perfume and a sagging frame. But who's he to judge, with his own body long ravaged by the years he's spent in this awful place.
Grace is the only nurse that tries, and she's been here the most of them all: at least four years, by his estimates. Still, she, like all the others, rarely succeeds in getting him to do anything at all. Which is why he's surprised to see himself agreeing to go to this stupid thing. She bustles him into his clothes, a loose-fitting long-sleeved shirt, sweatpants that balloon like a clown's, and maroon socks. Arthur watches detachedly as she pulls the second sock into place. Then he's heaved into his chair, hands arranged artfully on their pedestals: left one on the joystick controller, the other in his lap. As always, he feels a slight relief at regaining some control on the world - no longer the world acting upon him, but him acting upon the world. He feels himself nodding at her Ready? and she leaves him to his own devices. His device. His wheelchair.
Arthur reluctantly heads to the hall, slumping forward at the sudden kick forward. He briefly considers skipping the event, but he has no idea what he could do in his stead. So he whirrs along the corridor, residents and nurses dodging his path as he slowly approaches. Inside the room, he can hear a microphone screech. As he turns through the doorway, he hears this:
"Ahem. Hi, I'm, uh- I'm Emmaline, and I'm going to be playing a few songs for you tonight." Scattered applause. Arthur, of course, does nothing.
He situates himself at the back of the room. He stays in the shadows so no one can stare at him. It's for their benefit as well as his. He looked in the mirror once; it was a big mistake. From top to bottom, he had a laundry-list of faults, with worsening prognosis as he got closer to the floor:
A bowed head with:
Stringy hair the colour and texture of bark, starting to grey.
A forehead crumpled like a piece of paper.
Thick eyebrows hanging over slush-coloured eyes.
An awkward nose.
An annoying chin.
A neck as taut a stretched rubber band.
Shoulders like a broken see-saw.
A muffled blur of useless surfaces and limbs, awkwardly shoved into a bulky black chair, including but not limited to:
Arms as thin as straws.
Clawed hands frozen into place.
A hunched back.
A stomach that bulges and strains between thick straps.
Socked feet that hang limply over a footrest like vultures on a branch.
He looked in the mirror once, and didn't look again. He knew how badly disabled he appeared. He didn't need a reminder.
Another scream of the microphone deposits him in the present. "Great atmosphere tonight, woo!" The crowd of mostly-wrinkled faces stays silent. "All right, here we go." A strum of a guitar relaxes Arthur, and he closes his eyes as he lets himself enjoy the sound…
(To be continued)
(To be continued)