A short story by Tina Konstant
The room is dark. Mostly. Light comes in from somewhere, she just doesn’t know where. A bathroom bulb or sun through the curtains? Hotel… right. She’s in an hotel. An hotel? A hotel? Sod that too. She isn’t at home. Last night… Crap.
Sam sits up. Just her. No one else in the bed. There’s that at least. Christ, how did this happen? She hadn’t had that much to drink. Had she? When you’re traveling alone in deepest, darkest Africa, you don’t drink alone. That’s the rule. It’s not even a rule; it’s common sense. But she wasn’t really in deepest, darkest Africa. She was in Cape Town. As civilised as you can get on a continent that boasts a greater degrees of mass poverty than anywhere on the planet but carries it off with such exquisite class that a foreigner can be forgiven for thinking that living in a shanty town was a choice.
Or maybe her white skin only got her so far down the tourist trail. The poverty she saw included satellite dishes on most houses, mobile phones in most pockets, bright and beautiful beads around thick, fat necks, all lit up by singing, smiling faces.
Samantha presses her hands into her eyes to clear the fog that shrouds her face like a dense, black, burka. What is she saying? People here depend on tips from tourists traveling with foreign currency to buy their children food. They have to smile and laugh because people pay more when they feel good. They have to hide their fear and pain because no one wants to face reality. Too bitter. Too harsh. Too damn real.
So what the hell does she have to complain about?
Oh, right… there’s that.
Sam lies back down. Today’s the day. New legs. Two new, bright and shiny legs. Bouncy, blade legs. Upright, on her feet, standing tall, pick-a-colour legs.
Seriously, when she found the company in Cape Town promising her more freedom and movement than she had before the accident, they ended the conversation with, “What colour do you want them in? We can do any colour and really any design. We have a client who has palm trees on his.”
She’d chosen plain. Stainless steel. Is what it says on the tin. Sam isn’t the kind of girl to pretend something is what it isn’t. She looks reality in the eye, right? She isn’t going to say she has palm trees for legs. She has no legs. Full stop. Nothing fancy or exotic about that. She’s replacing her legs, from the knees down, with something inspired by a cheetah. A damn cheetah. Seems the inventors looked at the shape of the cat’s legs and designed a prosthesis to give a human being the same kind of power. Or maybe that’s just the marketing story and cheetahs had nothing to do with it. Maybe it was inspired by a cricket. Or a grasshopper. Sam rubs her hands over her face, breathes in, holds the air until her lungs complain, then lets it out. The company logo is a cheetah in full stride. Sam lets her arms drop to her sides. The trouble is that a cheetah needs that kind of power for short bursts only. Sam needs it for life.
She sits up again. It doesn’t matter. She isn’t going to paint anything on her fake legs, least of all palm trees.
“You have to let go,” Mike had said.
Sam gazes around the dim room. Right. Mike. Where the hell is Mike and how exactly did he get her upstairs?
She’d met him in the bar. Correction, she’d met him in the lobby. Had he followed her to the bar? Or was that just a coincidence?
He’d lined up shots. Six of them. “I’ve just met you.” He’d smiled a beach blonde smile. “And even I can see that you’ve got something holding you back.”
Sam had pointed to her stumps and the wheelchair. He’d ignored her and kept talking.
“I have no clue what it is,” he’d said, “but if you just let go…” He ran his fingers over the glasses, almost making them sing, “you’d fly. Fastest animal on earth.” He’d struck a pose of a cat about to pounce. “Fierce.”
For some reason, necking the six Tequilas and a pint of someone else’s beer seemed to be making a point.
“Let go?” Sam had downed the first two shots. “You want to see…” Two more. “…What letting go…” Someone’s pint. “…looks like?” Another two Tequilas. Then she’d…
Oh, God. Sam covers her face and lets the dark wrap around her. Then she’d thrown up on the floor.
What point was she trying to make? That she was a cripple who could do anything anyone else could do, just better?
Was that the point? When she had two legs she didn’t care whether she could out-drink, our-run, out-anything anyone. She just did her thing. But from the day she woke up from a six week coma, she had set out to prove… prove what? That she was whole?
A whole lot of what?
Here she is in a random hotel a thousand miles from home getting fitted with legs that had been shaped out of steel to resemble a goddamn cat. She’s here alone. Why? Because she said she could do it alone. She said she could manage. She said she didn’t need anyone’s help. She told them all to sod off and stop fussing.
Well, “handle it” included throwing up all over some guy she’d just met.
Mike had laughed it off, poured his own beer on his legs to wash off the puke and ordered another row of shots.
“I’m already on my ass,” Sam downed the next line. “I’m gonna drink you onto yours.”
Lord. She’d said that? She did. She remembers. She remembers everything. Mike wheeling her out the bar after midnight, guiding her into the lobby, into the lift, into her corridor on the 4th floor, into her room.
He’d washed her face, washed her hands, washed her legs. He hadn’t flinched. He hadn’t blushed or stared. He’s washed her stumps like he might have washed real feet. She’d thrown up again and sworn at him. He’d smiled and said it was about time she let go.
“Let it out!” he’d yelled. His voice bouncing around the bathroom tiles. “Ahhhhhhhgggghhhh!” He’d all but banged his chest. Sam had joined in. They screamed and threw tiny bars of soap at each other, then he wrestled her onto her bed, picked up a pillow and hit her on the head. Hit her. What the…?
She’d reached out for the other pillow and hit back. She hit and hit and hit until he fell off the edge of the bed, laughing.
Sam couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed. No, she did. She was in the car, with Jules, they’d been out, just the girls, a good night. Sam had had a single glass of wine, a small one, Jules hadn’t had anything – pregnancy induced driver status. The guy in the other car hadn’t been drinking either. Three sober people meet in the middle of the road… Sounds like the start of a joke. The punchline was Sam-The-Survivor. Jules and her baby, dead. The guy in the van, dead. None of them had been drinking. They were all wearing seat belts. No one was speeding.
Mechanical fault. That’s what the investigators said. The van had a mechanical fault that decided to fail at exactly the moment she and Jules were passing in front of him. His breaks failed. He couldn’t stop. Sam saw his face the instant he hit their car. There was an apology on it. Like he knew what was going to happen and he was doing the polite thing by saying sorry first. A real gent. A real gent with a wife and three children. A good guy. A random accident.
“Let it out!” Mike had yelled.
Let what out? When so many things add up to no explanation, how do you know what to let out?
There was no blame. It was an accident. Like everything in life. All a sodding accident. It was an accident that Sam and Jules had chosen that night to go out. It was an accident that they left the restaurant exactly when they did. It was an accident that the white van guy was on the road precisely when they were. It was an accident that Jules had been driving Sam’s car. It was an accident that Sam had pulled her body back just at the right time saving her life, but not her legs. It was an accident that Jules died because of complications with the baby. It was an accident that Sam saw the advert in the magazine promoting Wild Paw Prosthetics. It was an accident that she booked into the Bay Hotel. It was an accident that she’d run over Mike’s foot. It was an accident that he met her in the bar an hour later. It was an accident. Everything was an accident. Just random events leading to more random events.
Mike had got up from the floor and put the pillows back on the bed then leaned close to her, smoothed back her hair and kissed her. “If life is just a collection of random accidents that you have no control over, then why not just let go? You can’t control it anyway. So just be. Go with the flow. So you lost your legs. That sucks. Jules lost her life. That sucks too. The guy’s kids lost a dad. That also sucks. Everything sucks until you decide to choose how to respond to it. Until you look Random in the eye and tell it to sod off and start making choices of your own.”
He’d kissed her again. Warm and soft. Then he’d tucked her into bed and left. Just like that. He hadn’t even looked back.
Look Random in the eye.
Sam leans forward and massages muscle, flesh and skin where the rest of her legs should be. The shaft of light piercing the room is a beam of sunshine. Bright, white sun lighting up particles in the air making them dance. She throws the covers back and hoists herself into her chair. Wheeling it across the room, she pulls the curtains open. The sun, the sea, the big, bright beautiful sky. Dolphins spin above the waves stopping people on the beach, making them point and smile.
Today’s the day. New legs. Bright, shiny, bouncing new legs.
“We can put anything on them,” the consultant had said. “Anything.”
Samantha smiles. Time to choose. Time to look Random in the face.
That night, in the bar, Mike stands up and pulls out a chair for her.
“Hey, Beautiful,” he says. “Nice pins.”
Sam looks down on her new legs. Black spots on brown. Fur. Sleek for speed.
“Random.” Mike leans over and kisses her. “Inspired.”