THE MAN IN THE CHAIR
The man was a former home renovating contractor forcibly retired due to a workplace disaster almost five years ago. It was the stupidest of accidents, something he had done countless times before without incident. On the day in question he was climbing a ladder to the second story roof to inspect a leaky chimney. It was a small job hardly worth his while but as he used to say, “A small job today could be a big job tomorrow.” He seldom turned a job down. This was one he should have.
He had no memory of the accident itself. Later on it was determined his fall was due to rotted boards around the roof edge that caused the ladder to slip, sending him plummeting more than twenty-five feet to the ground below. On that day, his life and that of his wife changed forever. In the blink of an eye, he went from being an able-bodied independent man of fifty-nine years to a wheelchair-bound paraplegic. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it certainly put a crimp in his ability to remain independent.
Eighteen months after the accident, he regained a certain amount of freedom once again when he acquired a license to drive, albeit a special license for four wheeled vehicles using hand controls. In that same time frame he also built a cradle for his first granddaughter and a kitchen pantry for his wife, but, as was his nature, he needed another project to keep busy. What he found was a secondhand ride-on lawnmower for sale at the end of his street. His wife knew what he was thinking the day he stopped to read the sign in front of the mower. “You’re not,” she said with a shake of her head. “You can’t,” she began again. “How could you get on it?”
That afternoon with the mower sitting safely in the garage he began thinking how he would modify it to suit his needs. It didn’t take long. By the end of the week he had all the items he needed to do the work, and a week after, the mower was purring like a kitten. Even Chico the dog was excited. As soon as the mower began its first run in the yard, Chico got up from sunning himself by the garage and ran over next to the machine. For several minutes he ran back and forth alongside the mower before flopping down on the grass completely exhausted. Corgis, with their short legs and heavy bodies, were not built for running about. Chico’s excitement was short lived and not very exuberant.
On the mower, the man was filled with a sense of pride. He never doubted that he could adapt the machine to his needs, but it was still a great feeling. Once a week, he transferred himself from his wheelchair onto the mower and cut the grass. Almost every time, his wife would shake her head and warn him, “you be careful out there. If something happens don’t come running to me.” As if he could! She would be the one to come running. He was sure of that. Just like she did when she first heard about his accident. That’s what thirty-five years of committed married life does to a couple. No matter what is said, they are always there for each other.
It was towards the end of that first summer when his wife’s concerns about the mower finally came home to roost. Shortly after lunch his wife had left to spend the afternoon shopping with some friends. He, on the other hand, decided to cut the grass one day early, purposely not bothering to tell his wife. He was well used to the constant warnings, “don’t you dare get on that thing unless someone is here,” the rolling of her eyes, the throwing up of her hands in exasperation. This time, he stayed in the house looking at a magazine until she left. The car was no sooner out the driveway when he put down the magazine and headed for the door. “C’mon Chico,” he called. “You and me are going outside.”
That was good enough for Chico. He loved the outdoors, especially when it was sunny. Once out the door, he made a beeline towards the garage, did one full sprint around it and then dropped to the ground panting. By now, he was used to the noise of the machine so he didn’t move when it started up and began rolling past him. “Got to get this done before she gets home,” he said looking at the dog as the mower passed in front of him. He could have picked a better day for mowing but the following day was calling for rain and he didn’t want to take a chance. The sun was high in the sky as he began his first trek down the yard. It seemed to be doing its best to make the last days of summer enjoyable. “Ninety minutes,” he thought wiping the already forming sweat from his brow. “Then I’m going to’ set down with a cold beer and enjoy the rest of the day.” Little did he know!
He was just over an hour into it when the mower began sputtering and coughing as though something it swallowed had gone down the wrong way. Then, without warning, it died out completely. “What the…” He didn’t have to finish the thought. Right away he knew what it was. Checking the gas tank confirmed his suspicion, not a drop of gas. From the very beginning his wife was against getting the mower in case something like this happened; now it had. God, he could hear her already. “I told you something like this would happen but no, you wouldn’t listen to me. What do I know about mowers?”
The first thing that struck him was how did it happen? He always topped the gas tank as soon as he got it back in the garage. He even remembered filling it the last time he had it out—at least he thought he did. The gas can had just been filled and it was a little awkward lifting it up to pour gas into the tank. He was sure it wasn’t a leak or he would have smelled the gas. “What the hell,” he thought. It didn’t matter why there was no gas in the tank. What mattered now was how he was going to get off the mower and onto his chair, preferably before the missus got home.
To make matters worse, the machine had picked the worst possible place to run out of gas. He was stuck in the back part of the yard where the sun always shone brightest. Glancing around, he could see there wasn’t a soul in site, not even the sound of a human voice somewhere. Shielding his eyes, he once again looked towards the sky and noticed the sun was just past its peak. It would be hot for another hour and probably a little longer then that before his wife got home. Stretching to find a more comfortable position he could feel sweat running down his back. There was no place to hide from the sun. It seemed to be calling to him. “Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the warmth I bring you.” Already he was feeling tired, his energy spent. The heat was like a wave washing over him in slow motion, but he was determined not to give in.
It took a mighty concerted effort to shake off the drowsiness that was threatening to overtake him. Unlike him, Chico was soaking up the sun as though it was a sponge filled with his favorite drink. Lying on his back, legs pointed skyward, tongue lolling to one side, he was in seventh heaven and apparently didn’t see the need to stir. Every once in awhile his paws would move quickly as though simulating his own version of the running man. Then they would stop. It was during one of these episodes that his owner suddenly realized the possibility of Chico coming to his rescue. “Nothing to lose,” he thought.
In a friendly voice he tried cajoling the dog. “Chico. C’mon Chico.” A slap on his leg and then, “C’mon Chico. See what I got for you.” The dog didn’t move. For several minutes he tried the friendly route but nothing happened. Finally, he thought maybe a more stern voice was needed. It wasn’t in his nature to be mean or even strict with the dog, but he was at his wits end. “Chico,” he yelled. “Chico, get your lazy ass over here.” Several times he did this, until finally the dog began to move.
Opening his eyes to the stern-sounding voice Chico lifted his head and looked in the direction of the mower as if to say, “Yeah, what d’ya want?” Then just as quickly he dropped his head again and closed his eyes. Maybe, if he had been doing anything other than sunning himself he would have been more inclined to help.
Sweat was now dripping from his forehead onto his shirt and pants. Taking a deep breath, he could feel the heat from the sun still hadn’t let up. It continued to beat down, almost visible in its intensity, forcing him to close his eyes to hide from the glare. It was a battle now. He didn’t want to doze but he could feel himself drifting. It seemed so long ago when he was able to stand upright, go for a walk if he wanted, maybe even run.
Closing his eyes hadn’t stopped the sun from shining through. It had changed color from a bright yellow to an intense orange, not quite painful, but hard to look at. Subconsciously he had given up on Chico. What he needed now was a few minutes rest, that’s all. Just a few minutes. He wasn’t aware that his breathing had changed. It was slower now, deeper. Chico noticed the change. He raised his head just in time to see the man’s head slump forward until his head came to rest on his chest.
March 9, 2015
Charles Beeler attended the 2015 Short Story Writing Course at the City Centre Community School.