Susan M. Toy is an author and publisher who splits her time between Bequia, a tiny island in the Caribbean, and an Ontario trailer park near the shore of Lake Huron. She has published a novel and novella and is preparing to release a second novel, One Woman's Island, in the Bequia Perspectives series. This is Susan’s fourth visit to the Scribbler. Please drop by these links to check out her 4Q Interview. 4Q You may read more about Susan, her own writing and the other authors she's published at https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/about-susan-m-toy/ and https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/islandcateditions/.
Today Susan is sharing one of her favorite short stories.
Her fingernails were filthy; several were broken and chipped from dragging her body across the uneven, scrubby ground, strewn with jagged stones and rocks. That had made the going rough, more than it looked like it would be from a distance.
Rather than rush, exhausting herself, Andrea took more time, stopping to rest after each arm’s stretch, a limp, lower body following uselessly behind as she pulled herself forward. Getting to the edge had been difficult, and taken longer, than she’d calculated. Too much energy was expended covering just that last fifty feet. A short distance, but there was little strength in her upper body as it was—now even less after that exertion.
She looked back at the abandoned wheelchair, a now-empty prison cell from which she’d escaped. Draped over seat and armrest, the blue blanket’s corner flapped loose in a sudden refreshing current, waving her on.
Andrea gulped, the air’s strong scent of salty sea helping to brace her as she pushed to a sitting position, almost upright, or as best as she could, propped on arms with hands rooting her to the ground.
She gazed out at the sea, which was calm for that time of year. The family constantly discussed the weather—most people have nothing better to talk about—saying the storms this year were long overdue. Maybe, though, this would be the year of no storms at all. She’d heard it had happened before.
Continuing to stare at the western horizon helped her resist looking over the edge, afraid of losing her balance. Although she’d come this far, she wasn’t ready yet. The sixty or so feet of sheer cliff met the sea at an abrupt bottom. She remembered, from walking the area years before—when she could walk. There was no beach, no boulders washed by the surf, only waves crashing incessantly against the shore’s steep wall. The perfect place to disappear.
The wind was increasing, whipping Andrea’s face with brown, stringy hair, as though already covering it with seaweed. But she couldn’t chance removing one hand from the ground long enough to push it back. Instead, she shook her head and, leaning into the wind, managed to clear her face.
While inching from her chair, she must have looked like the woman in that famous painting—Christina’s World? That was it; she was sure, but she couldn’t remember the artist, never having been good with names. Andrea smiled. She liked the painting’s colours; they were soothing, very Prairie, offering memories of a pleasant childhood. But she had never been able to relate to the subject. At least, not until now—things were different. While Christina in the painting crawled within her limited life, Andrea was making every attempt to escape the trap hers had become since the accident.
Looking back again at the stretch of ground she’d covered—not far, but further than she’d travelled alone in some time—she whispered, “Andrea’s World,” almost silent, as if worried someone might hear. But the wind whipped the words out of her mouth before she’d finished. The sudden sound of her own voice made her laugh, happily surprised by a long-forgotten friend. As with the lower half of her body, the voice had been unused for too long; but unlike her limbs, she’d been silent by choice. For what? Almost two years now? She considered how long it had been better—no, easier—to let them think all her faculties were paralyzed, just like her legs. Now this sudden return of voice frightened her. She tightened her lips, keeping any further words to herself.
But time was passing; the sun would soon set. She’d have to decide, now that she was actually faced with the ultimate choice and no longer simply fantasizing, planning her final “leap of faith”—even though she’d held little to no faith throughout the living time of her life.
She shifted her hands, easing the weight. The right one, propped to the side and slightly behind, bore the greatest load. And, unused to any kind of movement at all, let alone strenuous movement, what muscles remaining in her arms were already stiffening. She couldn’t put it off much longer.
The orange orb of sun began descending into the sea, the cloudless horizon promising a spectacular finish to the day. Without having planned ahead this far, she could now perfectly time it, slipping over the edge at the same moment the sun disappeared. That possibility hadn’t occurred to Andrea while she was thinking this through. But reaching her final perch—first by wheelchair and then, after getting stuck, by sheer force of will—had made her late, allowing her to vanish dramatically with the sun. A pity no one would witness such a finale.
Unfortunately, the wheelchair marked the spot for anyone searching. Nothing could be done about that. Likely they’d find her body sooner, but it would still be too late.
She squinted at the blinding brightness of the sun as it dipped below the uninterrupted sea-line. A tear coursed down her cheek, splashing on one hand.
“An-dre-aaaa! There she is, Jim!”
Andrea glanced around, fearful. She panicked, her only window of opportunity now lost.
Before being able to move stiffened arms, or even having time to think, two silhouettes crossed the open ground. The man, reaching Andrea first, fell to his knees; the woman lumbered up a few seconds later.
Jim grabbed Andrea by the shoulders, wrenching her to safety—away from the cliff’s edge, and the only decision she’d made for herself in years.
Martha shouted, “Thank God we found her!” Then looking down into Andrea’s vacant eyes, she screamed, “How the hell did you manage to do this?”
Perpetually loud, Martha had no trouble making her voice heard over the wind.
Jim shushed, “Quiet, Martha. She’s frightened.” He held Andrea so tight she felt the strong, steady beat of her husband’s heart.
“She’s nothing,” Martha grumbled, “like usual. The elevator doesn’t go to the top floor.” Turning, she walked away towards the wheelchair.
Jim didn’t loosen his grip, hanging on to his wife as though he were afraid she would attempt to jump. Andrea, slumping into Jim’s chest, glared over his shoulder, watching her sister-in-law fuss with the chair.
After making a brief inspection, Martha yelled, “This is how she managed. Some idiot didn’t set the brake. She must have got her hand stuck on the controls, motored all the way from the house. Heaven only knows how she got from the chair to there. The battery’s run down, too. You’re going to have to push her back.”
Continuing to mutter, she folded the blanket, crushing it against her chest, tightly creasing it into a compact square, then draped it over the chair’s arm, patting it back into place.
Jim’s grip began easing. Holding Andrea away from his body, but still not letting go, he asked, “Is that what happened? Was this an accident?”
Andrea gazed blankly off to the side. After much practice, she knew that particular look was convincing.
Martha came up, wheeling the chair. “Of course it was an accident. And you know talking is no use. You won’t get anything out of her. She can’t hear.” Impatiently, she tucked loose strands of greasy, bottle-blonde hair behind an ear.
Without looking at his sister, Jim set his jaw. “Why weren’t you looking after her?”
“Oh, you can’t blame this on me. No way! I’m just helping out. I’m not her nursemaid.”
Gripping Andrea closer, Jim shouted, “You’re supposed to be a companion. That’s why I’m paying you. Now hold the chair.” He let go of Andrea, stood up, and leaned over again to scoop her from the ground, whispering into her ear, “Let’s go home.”
After placing his wife in the wheelchair, Jim pulled back and searched her face. For a split second, Andrea’s eyes locked onto his. He blinked in surprise, but, in a moment, the changed expression passed just as quickly, her eyes drifting back to the side. He shook his head once and tried meeting her look, saying, “Andrea, are you in there?”
But she had already glazed over, not allowing him to tempt her again. Jim stood up and, moving to the back of the chair, gripped its handles.
Martha began walking away across the meadow, calling back, “We’ll have to restrain her. I can’t be expected to watch her every minute.” She stopped and yelled, “You know what I think?”
Andrea heard Jim exhale sharply. “No,” he said, “I don’t know what you think, and I don’t care.”
Still facing the sea, Andrea caught one last glimpse of the fiery streaks of cloud criss-crossing the sky, leftover from the sunset.
Martha shouted, “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.”
Andrea shivered with anger, seriously considering breaking her silence.
Jim reached down and picked up the blanket. “You’re cold,” he whispered. Shaking it out, he covered Andrea’s knees, gently tucking her in, making her look like a total invalid.
The colour in the sky quickly faded as Jim turned the chair around and began wheeling her back towards home.
Thank you Susan for sharing Andrea's Journey.
Here’s an advance review of Susan’s new novel due out in August. https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/2016/06/26/better-than-winning-a-contest/
Please drop by the Scribbler next week and meet Paul Hollis of St Louis, Missouri who also has been featured on the Scribbler before.