It’s for your own good
You take another step forward, savouring the feel of the grass beneath your feet. Your mother reaches out for your hand to steady you, but you look at her, triumphant.
“You’re doing well today,” she says. “You want to see if you can make it to the bench?”
You look at the ground, concentrating with all your will to move each leg forward, commanding your wasted muscles to follow your instructions. Your balance wavers; the ground beneath you feeling like quicksand, but your mother holds you steady when it looks like you might fall.
You pause for a minute to catch your breath, and you see Mr Arbuckle and his wife sitting in their car. Mrs Arbuckle’s head is tilted sideways as always; the angle so unnatural it looks as if her neck is broken. Mr Arbuckle patiently spoons mouthfuls of ice cream into her mouth, her dull eyes showing no pleasure at her daily treat. You look away and start walking again.
When you finally reach the bench, a thousand firefly lights dance around inside you for joy. Your mother’s face shines like she’s finally won the lottery.
“Do you think Dr Malcomson will let us go back to Wellington when he sees how good my walking is now?” you ask your mother hopefully.
“He thinks the climate here is better for your recovery,” she says.
“I’ve been gone so long none of my friends even write to me anymore.”
“You’ll see them again,” she says, “the doctor is just being careful you don’t have another relapse.”
You sit on the bench, looking out over the marshes. The water and the sky are all silver and steel grey, devoid of any vibrancy. No children run laughing along the footpath. No cars drive on the road nearby. There is just you, your mother, the Arbuckle’s, and the stillness of the wetlands seeping on in to dampen your spirits.
A flock of spoonbills fly in perfect formation over the water, heading towards the sea.
“You know they can fly all the way to Australia,” says your mother, like you don’t already know.
All the way to Australia, where the sun is so hot it has burned the desert sands bright red. Where fish every colour of the rainbow swim through cathedrals of coral. Where bleached blonde surfers play chicken with great white sharks.
“We should go back now,” says your mother. “You look tired. I’ll get the wheelchair from the car.”
The last of the spoonbills cries a mournful farewell as it disappears into the distance, making its escape to Australia.
“No,” you say. “I’m going to walk.”
Sarah Anderson was born in Australia, but now lives in New Zealand. She has been published in a variety of literary journals including Landfall, Takahe, Bravado and Viola Beadleton’s Compendium of Seriously Silly and Astoundingly Amazing Stories. She is currently working on a novel that is almost a thriller.
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