AntipodeanSF Issue 307

By Ben F. Blitzer

I should’ve known Queenie decided to throw a party for me earlier that morning, but the medication they had me on after the operation left my thoughts fuzzy.

Her eldest son, Verne, helped me out of bed into my wheelchair, not once asking me (maybe at Queenie’s request — to spare my feelings, I suppose) about my missing left leg. She appeared in my bedroom doorway, wearing a short-cropped bob, bleached white with pink and purple highlights.

“Come on, Verne,” she said, giving him the hurry up again. She glanced at her wristwatch. “It’s almost lunchtime.”

“Ben’s being difficult with me again, Mum. He pinched my arm.”

I closed my eyes, shook my head. “Sourpuss.”

“You believe me, Mum, don’t you?”

“I’ve already warned you about that, Ben.”

“You always side with him. I have feelings, too.”

Verne avoided eye contact with me as he lowered the footrest, placed my right foot onto it. He stood up, brushing his long hair away from his face, revealing a studded earring. “I don’t care what you or anyone else thinks of me anymore.”

“You’re still a little green at this job,” I said to him. “What’s with the ballet shoes, anyhow?”

“Green like your leg was, huh?”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” Queenie said, arms folded across her chest.

“Sorry, Mum.” He went around behind me. “I’ve come to realise that the world is however I wish it to be,” Verne said. “Dance helps. You should try it yourself sometime, Ben.”

I buttoned up the front of my shirt, peered up at Queenie through my grey, bushy eyebrows. “Someone ought to show him the ropes around here.” Then to Verne: “You’ve got your certificate in disability, don’t you?”

“What?”

“I said —”

“The wheelchair won’t budge,” Verne cut in, huffing. “Mum?”

Queenie rolled her eyes. “Stop fooling around, Ben. I mean it this time. Please?”

“No one said it was going to be easy for him.” I released the wheel locks, which made things that much easier for Verne. Queenie, now grinning, stepped aside as he wheeled me out into the bright corridor of the nursing home, the dicky castors giving Verne more of the same grief again. She walked ahead of us for the communal dining room. “Don’t pretend I don’t know what’s going on here,” I said to her. “I’m not senile… yet.”

“For your age,” she said without turning around, “you’ve still got most of your marbles.”

“Well, Sheila doesn’t think so.”

“Just act surprised, okay, for me?”

“Will Beth be there?”

“Don’t be silly. Of course, she’ll be there.”

“Now you’re on Beth’s side?”

“After all, she is your wife, Ben.”

“But that seems like such a long time ago,” I said, hovering the palms of my hands out over the push rings, threatening to slow the pace of the wheelchair by grabbing them.

“Don’t you dare think about it,” Verne said to me, pleading. “We’re already running late.”

“I don’t expect to see many people I know there, anyhow.”

“Why’s that?”

“Most of them are already dead, or, if they aren’t, they’re closer to it than they think. Is it hot in here suddenly?”

“You’d be surprised by how many friends you still have here,” Queenie said to me. “They held a candlelight vigil in your honour. Beth even braved the cold for you. God bless her.”

Verne cleared his throat. “Believe it or not, Ben, but we all love you here.”

I twisted around in my wheelchair to look up at him. “Tutu’s still with the drycleaners, I suppose?”

“You’ve built up a wall around yourself.”

“What?”

“It’s called emotional avoidance, I think.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. It must be the Ultram. Mostly makes me irritable, really. That’s all.”

Queenie held open one of the double doors for Verne and me to pass through, into another identical corridor. “Like I told you before, those phantom limb pains will eventually subside. I’ll get someone to give you a local if the pain persists.” She raised her eyebrows. “You look tired, Ben. How’d you sleep?”

“I heard Sheila creep into my bedroom late last night, shook my bed. I think she was butt naked.”

Queenie gave me a sideways glance. “You might’ve been dreaming again.”

“Let’s bloody hope so.”

She led us into the communal dining room, which, despite my initial doubts, was full of residents, giving me a round of applause, cheering me on. Verne, ducking under the Welcome Back banner, wheeled me up at the table next to Beth.

Beth sat there wearing a party hat with gold and silver tassels, a pair of compression gloves over her rheumatoid arthritis hands. “What happened to your leg?” she asked me.

“I stepped on a landmine. I’m thinking about a prosthetic.”

“Do I know you?”

“Some party,” I said to her, readjusting my collar. “Maybe later you can introduce me to everyone?”

Queenie turned on the stereo, played a track called ‘Joy in the Morning,’ by Tauren Wells, which sent Verne into his own version of contemporary dance.

The fluidity of his choreography compelled me, for some reason, to rise from out of my wheelchair. With the aid of Beth’s four-wheel walker, bearing the full weight of my body, for the first time, on the one leg, I swayed with the rhythm of the music.

It seemed to me, for the briefest of moments, that I was able bodied again. A warm tingling feeling in the toes of both feet (that’s including the phantom limb) rose into my chest, swelling my heart.

I think Verne sensed this emotion of love, too, because he split leaped up beside me, poised on the tips of his toes. “There’s only one thing missing,” he said to me, as the song played over again.

“Besides my leg?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s that?”

“You know what.”

I wiped away the tears from my cheeks, and, looking down into Beth’s beautiful brown eyes, I smiled for the first time in a long time.

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About the Author

blitzer 32Ben F. Blitzer is a Western Australian writer.

His story, ‘Character Actor,’ was longlisted in the Sydney Hammond Memorial Short Story Competition, 2021.

It was included in the anthology, Jump, from Hawkeye Publishing.

Hope against Hope,’ a piece of flash fiction, featured in the August 2022 issue of Drunk Monkeys.

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Issue Contributors

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Meet the Narrators

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  • Geraldine Borella

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  • Laurie Bell

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