A June Night
“You got any money?” At this I smiled and shook my head. Everyone in Berkeley wanted spare change. Something collided with my chin. It took a moment to accept that it was a fist. Something salty filled my mouth, along with a loose piece of something sharp. The night, my brisk stroll, everything had stopped. The young men stood waiting. One of them grinned proudly. He was showing me something. It was shiny, silvery like a cap pistol. Guns, real guns like the ones I’d seen on television, were dark, dull metal. I was not going to be fooled and stepped toward the safety of the streetlight. With the bang, which was not terribly loud, my step ceased. Things descended with the gravitational precision of a stage curtain. My puppet body slipped downward, strings cut. The head bounced, then settled in a field of black rocks, the view of an eye resting on pavement.
The head, my head, lifted slightly. Now it was flung, the back of it scraping over the hard roughness below. As the head jerked forward an action shot rolled into view, a foot kicking at my belly. Now I understood that this body, my body, was presumed to be dead, and it was being moved into the shadows, out of sight. The jerking continued, my unfeeling body advancing over the pavement. I recognized a kick to the stomach, not from the impact, but from the aftermath of diaphragm gaspings. Now there was air, welcome air, and with it the panicky knowledge that I had not been breathing. I moaned something, “help.” Footsteps disappeared into the night. A moment, then another “help.”
I raised my head. I had heard the shot and knew approximately what had happened, but there was no explaining why nothing moved but my head. Shock. Perhaps people felt like this in massive shock. People who were dying. “Help.” There was so little air. Compared to the distant sounds of traffic on Shattuck Avenue three blocks away, my moans were barely audible. Too little sound. Too late. “Help.” Worth another try, or was it?
In the Market
Would I like a pound of mushrooms? A man with a straw hat and scraggly beard displays a plastic bag full of the very shiitakes we discussed moments ago. That will cost you two dollars, he says. We both know the mushrooms cost four dollars. Which explains why I have extracted
four one-dollar bills from my wallet and now have them sitting on my lap, right next to the glowing wheelchair battery indicator. Thank you, I say, sheepishly. I hit the joystick and roll off. I’m embarrassed. The man is doing something very nice, or thinks he is doing something very nice, and with customers crowded around his stall, I don’t want to point out the fifty-percent discrepancy. He is giving me a break. A price break, one that I have not sought and do not need. I’m certain this has to do with my being in a wheelchair. I am Menlo Park’s Tiny Tim. I buy my lettuce, mutter God bless us every one, and make my neuromuscular way to the next stall. The lettuce lady has just given me an unannounced and unexpected free pound of French carrots. I thank her profusely. I do not know what is French about them, and I would not even know they were carrots if she hadn’t insisted that the elongated yellow, rather than orange, roots were something very special. I am very special, that is what she is telling me with her free pound of vegetables. God bless us every one.
Because everyone else in the market is old, or relatively old, I cannot attribute my special status to age. And, frankly, I wonder if a younger person in a wheelchair would roll home with five free grapefruit, along with his tangerines. I am old and crippled. Aging and rolling. Hell- bent and wheelchair-bound. And somehow it is this combination that has made me the town’s paralytic mascot. I don’t understand it, but I don’t wholly reject it. My status is as unwanted as it is inevitable. It has arrived like age itself. A very mixed bag. But thank God for the mixture.
Early Praise for Dance Without Steps:
“Paul Bendix observes his world with humor, insight, compassion and a constant sense of adventure.” — Earl Hamner, novelist & TV writer/producer of The Waltons
“Bendix translates his unique life on wheels into incidents anyone can wince at and laugh at. He’s courageous and unexpectedly witty, wry and pithy. He’s just great company. — Gerald Nachman, San Francisco author, most recently of Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! Ed Sullivan’s America