• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 05
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The Ocean Beyond

They don’t leave me alone very often. They worry that I’ll fall and get stuck somewhere, or get bored watching TV and do something stupid. I can tell that’s what they’re thinking, although they never say as much. They have a way of looking at me now, like they never had before.

Sometimes when they’re out, I phone for a taxi to take me into town. Might as well use my money for something. I get the driver to drop me by the entrance to the indoor shopping centre so I can look around the shops by myself for a bit, like a normal teenager. People assume it’s all on one level in there, but actually the floors are sloping, only it’s so gradual that most people don’t even notice. But I notice it when my arms get so tired I can’t push my chair anymore. I stop and wait, pretend to check my phone, until I can get my strength back. Sometimes someone notices me struggling and pushes me up the last bit and I don’t know whether to feel grateful or angry or both. I don’t know how those other people in wheelchairs seem to whizz about, doing marathons and playing basketball. Getting in and out of bed is enough of an achievement right now.

I go to the bookshop a lot. Nobody seems to bother me in there. I like the travel section the best. Hours can pass by as I leaf through the coffee table tomes; glossy pictures of deserts and mountains, oceans and rain forests, the earth viewed from space. There is an image I return to again and again of an astronaut drifting, weightless and alone, in crystal clear skies. I wonder if maybe one day a person like me might become an astronaut, because maybe you don’t need your legs so much in space.

When I get home I lie in the bath with my headphones on, close my eyes and let my limbs float. I turn the music up loud, block out the sounds of my parents popping in and out to check I haven’t drowned. I think about being that astronaut, imagine how it would feel to turn off the radio, cut myself loose and let myself be carried far away like a leaf on a stream, heading for the great ocean beyond.