If It Comes Back
Charles saw them both at the same time: the small white bird floating from among the park trees and the girl wheeling down the walk.1 The bird glided downward and rested in the grass; the girl directed the chair smoothly along the sunlit, shadowy walk.2 Her collapsible3 metal chair might have been motorized4: it carried her along so smoothly. She stopped to watch the ducks on the pond and when she shoved the wheels again, Charles sprang to his feet. "May I push you?" he called, running across the grass to her. The white bird flew to the top of a tree.
It was mostly he who talked and he seemed afraid to stop for fear she'd ask him to leave her by herself. Nothing in her face had supported the idea of helplessness conveyed by the wheelchair, and he knew that his assistance was not viewed as a favor.5 He asked the cause of her handicap; not because it was so important for him to know, but because it was something to keep the conversation going.
"It was an automobile accident when I was twelve," Amy explained. "I was readingto my younger brother in the back seat and suddenly my mother screamed and tried frantically6 to miss the truck that had pulled out in front of us. When I woke up in the hospital, my mother was screaming again outside the door. This time she was trying to escape the fact that I would never walk again."
"Pretty rough on both of you.7 What about your brother?"
"He came out of it a little better than I did; at least he was dismissed from the hospital before I was. It took us all a long time to accept and adjust."
They went for lunch, and he would have felt awkward except that she knew completely how to take care of herself. It was he who seemed clumsy and bumped into a table; she who moved competently through the aisle.8
"Do you live with someone?" he asked the next day for he'd made a point of9 asking to meet her again.
"Just myself," she answered. He felt a qualm10 in his stomach, and it was more in memory of his own loneliness than anticipation of hers.11
He came to like to feel the white handles in his grasp, to walk between the two white-rimmed metal wheels. And he grew almost more familiar with the slight wave at the back of her hair than with her eyes or her mouth. The chair was a moveable wonder; he loved the feeling of power and strength it gave him for so little exertion.12 Once, he said to the wave at the back of her hair, "I hope I'm the only chair-pusher in your life," but she had only smiled a little and her eyes had admitted nothing. When he looked up, he noticed a white bird flying from one tree toanother, tracing their route with them.
She cooked dinner for him once in June. He expected her to be proud of her ability to do everything from her seat in the wheelchair ?nbsp;and was faintly disappointed to see that she would not feel pride at what was, for her, simply a matter of course.13 He watched his own hand pick up the salt shaker14 and place it on one of the higher, unused cabinet shelves, then awaited her plea for assistance. He didn't know why he'd done it, but the look in her eyes a moment later gave him a shock in his easy joy. He felt as though he were playing poker and he had just accidentally revealed his hand to the opponent.15 To make her forget what he'd done, he told her about the little white bird in the park.
"I've seen it, too," she said. "I read a poem once about a little white bird that came to rest on a window sill and the lady who lived in the house began to put out food for it. Soon the lady fell in love, but it was a mismatched love. Everyday the little bird came to the window and the lady put out food. When the love af
fair was over, the little white bird never returned, but the woman went on puttin out the crumbs16 every day for years and the wind just blew them away."
In July he took her boating frequently. She prepared a picnic lunch each time, and he manned17 the sails. The most awkward event of this, she felt, was the loading and unloading18 of herself. For Charles, however, these "freight handlings", as she came to call it, seemed to be the highlight of the outings. He appeared to take great delight in wheeling her to the end of the pier19, picking her up out of the chair, balancing himself to set her into the boat, then collapsing the chair and setting it on its side on board. On the first few outings, she had felt distinctly ill at ease at having been placed helplessly in a spot from which she could not move herself. It occurred to her, too, that she was unable to swim, should the boat turn over.20 Charles, who adapted himself marvelously to the captain'srole, was completely oblivious21 to her discomfort; she noted with a returning sense of helplessness how much he enjoyed being in control. When he called for her one day in early August with a brand new captain's hat cocked atop22 his soft brown hair, all her emotions revolted at the idea of another day trapped on the wooden seat over the water ?nbsp;and she refused to go.