From the author: In which trouble is waiting in the drivers seat for Alice. This is chapter seven of a larger work, which deals with a disabled young woman in a rural community and the people she comes to know once she leaves home. This will update fortnightly.
They fell into a pattern, the gym twice a week and Raymond walking Alice back to her house before shuffling off himself.
“I don’t need an escort you know,” she said after the second time, shaking her head at him.
“I know, but you’re going through the park at night and there can be dafties about, what if someone pushed you into the boating pond?”
“Oh aye, likely.”
“Or what if they tried to rob you? Folks get funny ideas, they can think you’ll have money on you. Some lad got stabbed because a druggie thought he had cash at home, he was dead before the idiot was through the door and realised there wasn’t anything there.”
“It’s being so cheerful that keeps you going, huh?” Alice asked as they wheeled over the bridge, the water high and muddy from the recent rainfall.
“Is just what you have to think about. You get a sense of it on boats, seeing what folk’ll do and won’t do.”
“Really?” Alice looked over at him, slowing down so he could go up the steps while she took the ramp.
“Course ya do, you’re cheek to jowl with folk on a boat for weeks at a time. Got to be able to get the run of someone and know if you’re safe, or if you’re not what you should look for. Is he one that runs off powder and isn’t safe by machinery, or is he one that gets maudlin and you have to peck him up and keep him away from the drink when you’re back on shore.”
“Does that make it worse? I’ve heard of the vodka blues but I thought that was bullshit.”
“Depends on the soul, but doesn’t do you good. If you’re already down in a ditch it won’t get you any further back out.”
“I’ve never tried it,” she said, tucking into one side of the path to avoid a dog walker and the enthusiastic spaniel at the end of their lead.
“Wouldn’t want to be drunk at the wheel?”
“Something like that,” she said with a laugh watching him leer away from the dog as well.
“Can’t blame you, I’m feeling better for being off the stuff.”
“How’s that going?” she asked, careful not to look at him.
“Not had any since I came out of hospital. They want me to go to that AA thing, sit in a hall and tell everyone how miserable I am. That’d be enough to make me go back onto the bottle, Christ.”
“Some folk like it, but it seems a bit useless up here. It’s not really anonymous if you’re all second or third cousins is it?”
“’Zactly, not much point. They talked about me going to counselling but what’s that going to be like? I probably new them coming up.”
“I went to counselling, when I was small,” she said, coasting with her hands on the wheels as they went downhill. “After the horse threw me off and I was told I couldn’t walk, mum and dad sent me to it.”
“Age were you then?”
“Thirteen, nearly fourteen. The woman was really good, she let me be angry and vicious and throw shit. I don’t think I was actually meant to do that last bit but she never stopped me.”
“Doubt she could, the arms on you.”
“Shut up, peg leg.”
“My leg’s healing up very well thank you, as is my back. The graft site’s scarred to fuck but Hatice has been keeping me working it and it feels much better.”
“Told you she was good.”
“And you were right. Though she’s much more interested in you.”
“Hush with that, she’s no,” Alice laughed, shaking her head and flushing bright red.
“Aye right, as you were,” he said with a laugh too, “I’m going to leave you here, I have to go to the library.”
“Katie sent me some stuff by email and I want to print them off.”
“Katie’s your daughter?”
“Aye, the one down South. Her bairns were in the school play and she’s sent me photos of them. My one’s out of action and I can’t figure out how to fix it so one of the nurses said use there.”
“That’s a good plan, let me know if you have any trouble and I’ll help you out next session. I don’t love the building for access but inside it’s pretty good.”
“Thanks,” Raymond said with a nod.
“Hold up,” she called as he stepped away. “Fist bump.”
“Dear God woman, will you ever give that up?”
“Not a hope in hell, peg leg,” she said, smirking to herself as he sighed and knocked his knuckles into hers. She’d not managed to get him to do the waggling fingers at the end but she’d take the simple version. He shook his head at her and went off towards the library, the whump of his stick echoing around him.
She took off for home, wheeling along the street with a happy sigh at the burn in her arms. Hatice was increasing her weights now, giving her a new challenge so her back and shoulders were being worked as thoroughly as the muscles she’d sculpted in her arms.
Coming round to her house she saw a car outside her house, with Barry in the driving seat. That couldn’t be a good sign. A shot of worry went to her stomach and she pulled her phone out, checking for any missed calls. Nothing showed on screen but the low nag of worry kept on as she got closer to the door and he stepped out to meet her.
“Hello Alice,” he said as she got level with him, smiling at her.
“Barry,” she said with a short nod. “Is everything ok?”
“Why’re you here then?” she asked, pulling her keys out.
“I wanted to have a short chat with you about something, it’s better to speak inside though.”
“Alright, come in. I’m just back from the gym so I might smell a bit, sorry,” she said as she opened the door, wheeling in. He followed after her, following as she went to the kitchen, putting the kettle on. “Coffee?”
“Yes please, that would be nice,” he said, taking a seat at her table.
She made a cup for each of them, taking them over on a tray and setting them down with milk. She didn’t offer him biscuits, didn’t want him their in her space longer than necessary.
“So, what’s up?” she asked as he stirred sugar into her good coffee.
“There’s been a concern raised about you.”
“I can’t say, but it was sufficiently severe that I was asked to come and speak to you.”
“Well I’ve hardly been swinging from the chandeliers, what’s the problem? If it’s about noise when my dad leaves his dog with me I know it can be a bit yappy but it’s not enough to disturb the neighbours, and I take her a walk when I can. Plus Sylvia next door has been very friendly, she’s never said anything about a problem.”
“Very friendly is more along the right lines. There have been some concerns about your activities.”
“I go to college and I go to the beach and I go to the gym, I see some friends and I see my dad. Very occasionally I go to the cinema, on a day I can be bothered to deal with the hassle that is their non-regulation lift.”
“Nothing else you can think of?” Barry asked, looking at her over the coffee cup.
“What’s the problem here? You’re not telling me what you’re worried about.”
“I’m just trying to see if what’s been reported is accurate.”
“What’s been reported then?”
“I can’t say, exactly.”
“But if I don’t know what’s been said then how can I help you with that?” Alice said, rolling her eyes at his sigh. “Look I know you have an issue with me but I literally can’t help you if you won’t tell me what you want to talk about.”
“I think this chat has been enough, I have everything I need,” he said, knocking back his coffee and making to stand.
“Glad that you do, I have no idea what the fuck just happened.”
“I’ll be in touch shortly, try not to worry about it.”
He was out the room like a rabbit and Alice listened to him go, grateful for the snick of the door closing. She felt ruffled down to her bones, listening hard to hear his car start and him roll away. She finished her coffee and called her dad to make sure he was ok, the worry from before still raw in her nerves.
This story originally appeared in Ravenskald.