“One foot in and then the other.” Jim thought. He hated this part. He proceeded anyway, slipping the shorts onto one leg and then onto the other. He rocked back and forth and inched his the shorts over his calves and eventually let the waistband snap onto his hips.
He looked over at his chair. He growled in his head. He didn’t enjoy this part.
Once transferred to the chair he unlocked the brakes and rolled out to the garage. “How many people are going to ask me questions today?” He pondered. It never ceased to stop. He has lived in this neighborhood for going on three years now. He thought he could have told at least every person by now.
Down the ramp he slid, steering and sliding up next to the trike. Jim locked his breaks. “One more transfer.” He slid out of the chair and got onto his knees and crawled over. He got situated on the trike and backed it up. On the back seat of the trike’s chair was the garage door opener and with one click the world opened up to him.
He started cranking. With each crank he felt the muscles in his arm scream out in complaint. He always felt like a Texas oil rig as he brought the pedals around pushing the crank down. As Jim took the corner he felt the right back wheel pop up. “Need to slow down.” He thought. He hurried down the block. “Oh Crap!” he mumbled. The light turned red at the block’s end. Waiting at the corner was a family out for a morning walk. Let the interrogation begin.
“Whoa Kids, check out that cool bike!” The father starts. The children all turn and look. “That’s right – start the freak show,” Jim thinks.
“How fast do you get on that buddy?”
Jim assumes he’s talking to someone else. This guy ain’t no buddy of his.
“Maybe he can’t hear honey. Maybe he lost that when he lost his leg.” His wife says quietly into the husband’s ear – but still loud enough for Jim to hear. It’s not bad enough he’s the crippled on the cycle – now he’s the deaf. “I hope I don’t become a mute as well.” Jim thinks.
“I say there Buddy, how fast do ya get on that thing?” The husband says louder. If you talk louder to a deaf person that doesn’t make them any more hearing – not any more than buying a pair of socks for him brings his leg back. But to play along “I can get up to about 60 miles per hour on a good day,” Jim yelled back at him, as if he was riding a hog and not a tricycle.
“Do you hear that kids? He can get as fast as your momma on a freeway.”
“And they call me disabled.” Jim thought. He was going to respond, but gosh darn it, the lights green. Jim drops the pedals down and puts the trike back in motion. The next two intersections are green and he whizzes through. The bike path is on the right halfway down the last block. As he took the corner and this time the left wheel picked up. “Need to slow down.” He reminded himself one last time.
About a quarter of a mile in he noticed a woman running from the parking lot right for him. “Not that woman! She always tries to talk to me. Pedal faster Jim,” he told himself.
All of a sudden she is standing right in front of him and he is slamming on the breaks to avoid taking out her legs. He would find the irony in that if he wasn’t so angry at her jumping in front of him.
“What are you doing lady? I could have killed you!” He shouts a her.
“I …needed…to ask… you a … question.” He tells him as she tries to catch her breath and talk at the same time. Between her pants she’s trying to get her words out.
“What do you want to ask? Do you want to know how I lost my leg? Do you want to see the scars where they sawed the rest of my leg off? Do you want to know how I do it? How I get up each morning, slide on these damn shorts and eat? Do you want to see if I need help? Or do you want to try to carry on small talk while you try to catch glimpses of my legs, my fake leg and the one the damn Iraqi’s didn’t get to? Or maybe you thought it was a drunk driver and you want me to join MADD. Well? Well? What is it woman? What did you want to ask?”
He fires questions at her as he releases it all on her. He tried not to but he just couldn’t hold back this time. Every morning she watches him. Every morning her accusing eyes follow him as he attempts the trail. And surely she’s just like everyone else. They all want to know how it happened. Then they want to tell him how grateful they are that he served. He didn’t go for them. He didn’t pick up arms and try to kill insurgents because he wanted them to pat him on his head and say thanks. And he sure as hell didn’t want this – the crippled in the special tricycle getting a million questions when all he wanted to do was ride.
“Actually none of that,” she started, “I wanted to know if my daughter could ride with you.” She points over to the parking lot where he sees a beautiful brunette sitting on a similar trike putting on her gloves and helmet. “She doesn’t like to ride next to me because I’m on a bicycle. She says she feels like I talk down to her. Anyway – she’s tried to stop you a few times but usually by the time I see you to try to stop you you’re going so fast I just watch you go by.”
Jim hadn’t taken his eyes off of the brunette. She was the most stunning girl he had seen since he got home.
In the background he could vaguely hear her mother carrying on about Afghanistan and both - right above the knee, - but he wasn’t listening. He was just watching the beauty oilrigging her bike closer to his, as each stroke was taken in slow motion and he could just capture each snapshot image in a carousel of slides to be recalled later. In not enough time she slid up next to his trike and came to a stop.
“Hello Captain. I’m First Lieutenant Susan Watson. He began to question her but then he realized his shirt said “Army Captain.” "Do you mind if I ride with you this morning?” She continued.
Jim didn’t know what to say and simply nodded. She took the lead and started pedaling away. He followed, as a voice in his head screamed at him “Marry her.” That’s not a bad idea” He said as he followed her, the sun rising higher and brighter over that once dark park. As the sun shone so did a smile that most thought was cut off in Iraq with Jim’s leg. And it was a good day.
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