A collaborative story by The Parking Lot Confessional
For the third time that day Char got the wheel of her chair stuck in a divot. The third time, and telling from the wrenching crunch, a bent rim. She could look past it though. Look past the ill luck, excessive stares and nervous jitters. She could look past all of it because tomorrow she got her legs.
The closer she got to the day, the more she couldn’t focus on anything else. It was the same every year.
Char looked around the courtyard. Not for help, but to check for witnesses. Not much is more embarrassing. Sure, the kids of the town get stuck and break wheels all the time. The adults, not so much. This will be her eighteenth Leg Day. She shouldn’t be breaking any more wheels.
Rocking side to side, she was able to roll herself out of the divot and continued home. Every few feet her chair lurched to the right. The wheel was definitely bent, but she’d be able to make it home and swap the wheel before her dad would even notice.
Really she knew better than to cross the courtyard, but she was in a hurry to get home. The sooner to sleep, the quicker tomorrow would be here. Char quickly forgot her lurching chair and went on creating her mental list of things she’d do once she got her legs.
When she was younger, and Leg Day came, she ran. She ran until her breath struggled to catch up. She ran until she saw stars. She ran until she puked. She ran up and down the wheel ramps, but mostly she ran through the grass, up the hills, and every place her wheels couldn’t take her.
She thought about Cleo and Eddie. They had the same Leg Day and every year they danced. Char didn’t know if it was good, but they smiled, laughed and loved as they spun, hopped and held each other close. So it must have been good. If Char shared her Leg Day. She would chase and be chased, though she never wanted to be caught.
Eventually the running would stop. It was far too easy to tell the homes of Day Afters. They were always too quiet. Quiet unless they had children. It took years for them to get use to the Day After. One year Char thought that if she kept running, run right through the night, she could have her legs for another day. It took her father three hours to get to her amongst the trees where her legs became lifeless and dead to the touch. Char didn’t like to think about that day. There would be plenty of time during her own Day After.
She rolled through the front door, and hurried to the mom’s old room where they kept spare chair parts.
“Charlotte? Is that you?”
She didn’t expect her dad to be home. Her hopes for covering up her bent wheel sank, almost bringing down her mood. Almost.
“What’re you doing home?” She turned to find her dad wheeling in from the kitchen. A waft of bacon followed him.
“Breakfast for dinner? I know it’s your favorite.”
“Yes!” Char did a little victory wiggle in her chair. “I wasn’t expecting anything until tomorrow.”
The smile on his face faltered. He tried to master it back, but it only looked forced and perhaps painful.
“Char. We need to talk about your Leg Day.”
Her father gave up trying to smile and his mouth turned to a straight line across his face. “There’s been a glitch. In the system.” He wheeled his chair forward. Char inched hers back. “Something about the release records.”
“But nothing’s changed.”
“We haven’t moved. Our information should be the same as last—”
“I know.” He leaned forward, tried to touch her arm. “I told them—”
She flinched away. The smell of bacon sat like rust on her tongue. “So, what does this mean?”
“It means your number got skipped. Your legs. Your legs went to another kid.”
Char gasped and her father spoke quickly to help cover her hurt. ”I put in a formal grievance. And I’ve petitioned for two leg days next year.”
“What?!” Char lurched her broken chair toward the door and covered her mouth with her hand. Wait another year? This couldn’t be happening. She was going to run tomorrow. Climb. Dance.
“Your wheel,” her father said. “It’s broken.”
“So what.” Char’s jaw ached, her teeth grinding. What would she say when the others asked? What would they say when they saw her without legs on Leg Day, stuck in her damned chair?
Char banged her fist against the wall, hard. Twice. She wondered who the stupid, jerk-face kid was that would get her legs. Undeserving. Having legs when it wasn’t their day.
“It’s times like these we have to remember to be grateful,” her father said. Char closed her eyes and tried to not listen. “At least you have Leg Day. Think of the Faceless. You could be hooked up to tubes your whole life. Blind. Deaf.”
She ignored how his words tugged at her gut. Looked instead at the foot rails of her chair. Imagined bones wrapped in sinew and muscle, strong enough to take her away. Stronger than mechanics and synthetic skin. She’d run farther, faster. Faster than the decay of time. She’d out run every disappointment of life.
But the foot rails sat empty.
“What about Cleo and Eddie?”
“Oh.” Her father coughed. “There were no glitches with their records. As far as I know.”
There was no stopping her tears then. “It’s not fair.”
“No. It isn’t.” He wheeled himself back toward the kitchen. ”Come eat dinner, honey. I made it special. You’ll feel better. Then we’ll fix that wheel.”
Her eyes watched him move out of sight, but her mind saw only Cleo and Eddie dancing. Their feet touching the grass. The sun on their shining faces. And her, in the house, suffering After Day on Leg Day. The thought alone caved a whole through her chest empty enough to swallow the world. There was no way she’d be able to bear it.
After dinner, Char wheeled into her room, flopped on her bed, and messaged Eddie:
Hey, what’s up?
no legs tomorrow
dunno. Dad filed a grievance.
I did that once too. When we found out Cleo was pregnant.
Oh my god. Oh my god Eddie what am i going to do????
I can’t believe he did that he should have known better argh wtf do you want me to come over
no. You know my dad’s always had his head in the clouds. Just tell me where it is. You know what.
7th Street and Collins. We can come with you.
Not until you’re ready
are you ready?
Char held down the delete button, watched it eat everything. She spent the rest of the evening patiently repairing her wheel. At ten o clock, her dad paused in the doorway.
“Lights out, honey.”
“I know. Five minutes.”
He pressed his palms against the rims of his chair, wheedled back and forth. “Listen. I was thinking. I’ve got tomorrow off, why don’t we make a day of it?”
“A Leg Day, Dad?” She hated herself for saying it, but out it came.
Dad flinched, but soldiered on. “We can go to the zoo, I know you’ve been wanting to see the thylacines. And then maybe one of those monster movie immersives? I hearRiders is pretty good.”
“Dad, you hate those things.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, I just thought it would be good to get out of the house. I understand if you don’t want to hang with your old man.”
Char bit her lip. “No, it sounds cool. Just do me one favor, okay? Let me sleep in.”
“Done and done, kiddo. Goodnight.”
She leaned over and turned out the light. Sat in the dark. Listened to the tap run as Dad brushed his teeth. The creak of the floorboards in his bedroom as he rolled over them. The ebb and flow of his snore. When Mom was alive, she used to spend half her nights on the couch, complaining with bitter love that she’d married a chainsaw. But for Char, Dad’s snore was like crickets, or the wind in the beech trees, his somnolent growl softened into a lullaby by all the walls between them.
Mom. Mom, and Cleo’s baby. She cried then, stuffing her fingers into her mouth so she wouldn’t make a sound. Then, her rim replaced and wheels greased, she rolled out into the street, and downtown, to 7th and Collins.
Toughs hovered on every corner, accompanied by ladies wearing amounts of makeup inversely proportional to amounts of clothing. They watched her roll by like vultures tracking a baby gazelle. LIVE SHOW XXX The neon lights gleamed as she rolled in.
“Give me the Mullins,” she said to the waifish girl behind the counter, whose cobalt-blue eyeliner winged all the way to her hairline.
“You sure, doll? Once you’re off the grid, you’re one of us.”
“I know.” She took the paperwork the waif pushed at her. “What’s this.”
“Affidavit. In case you’re caught.”
Char signed. The bell over the door jangled behind her.
“What,” said the waif, “Did you bring your whole family?”
“Eddie,” Char turned. “Dad? Dad, I’m sorry, it’s too late.“
“Sweetie, it was always too late.” Dad nodded up at the waif. “Give me the Mullins.”
“You guys want tourists, kittens, oakhearts, or bladerunners?”
“Baby, we were born to run,” said Dad.
“Is he always so cheesy?” the waif asked, passing Char two pairs of black, titanium legs, curved like halos, like scythes waiting to reap.
“Yeah,” Char said, feeling tears spark behind her eyes. “Totally.”