Job Hazards
  FIVE STORIES by Teresa Milbrodt
  1  Job Hazards
2  Charitable Causes
3  Fat Lady to Marry Skeleton
    Man: Tickets 25 Cents
4  Bodies in Motion
5  On Camera
  About the Author  |  echapbook.com  |  November 2014 Fiction Issue
 
 

Bodies in Motion

I see a different client every day, giving mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons a break, eight hours to themselves so they can breathe. I take my clients on outings, love the expanse of sidewalk by the park where they see joggers and dogs and bikers. Like anyone else, my clients deserve to experience the world. I have a minivan and strong arms for a woman my age, so I can lift most of them inside, nestle them in the seat behind mine, and fold up the wheelchair in the trunk.

I wish my clients had TV monitors on the sides of their heads, unobtrusive glass squares covered by a veil of hair so I could see what's going on inside, what they think, what they dream, who they see when I walk toward them. Most of them are very old, or just kids. It takes a while to get used to people who don't always smile back, but sometimes they can’t. The biggest puzzle of my life is what makes them happy. I find small things—flowers, kites, cartoons, a park with lots of small dogs yipping around. Other times we go to the shore

My favorite drive is one that takes us forty minutes away, to the Pacific coast where we roll along the boardwalk. When few people are around, I grip their chairs tightly and sprint as fast as I am able, only quit when breathless. It isn't close to flying but they can feel the ocean air and hear the gulls and find another way to be alive for a few minutes. If it's a really good day and I'm feeling strong, I remove my shoes and socks and take them in my arms—I can only do this with the kids—and wade out a few feet into the sea and spray. We stand there breathing it all in, and it’s marvelous.

Jamie is eight, in a wheelchair, and fed by a tube. I treat him like a boy made of eggshells and have not told his mother about our treks into the surf. She would kill me if she knew, but I swear he smiled to feel salt spray on his toes. If she knew how her boy grinned twice, it would only give her another reason to kill me. Jamie is blond, doesn't move his arms, and blinks like an all-knowing angel. He makes me want to believe in reincarnation. I hope he comes back as a superhero, or at least a kid who can run down the beach and get a chocolate ice cream cone.

 

When I turn sixty I don't get worried, just thoughtful. Ages with zeroes after them make people nervous, like we need to assess our lives and make sure we've done enough. We always come up wanting. That blaze of candles makes me think about my knees and elbows, all the lifting I do, how much longer my joints will consider me a friend. They are already creaking and popping with dislike. That's why I decide to go cliff jumping. At first I want to buy a small camera and film the long way down to show my clients later, but I do a little research and figure any lens will be destroyed on impact. Hopefully the same won’t happen to the bones in my feet.

The week before I jump off the cliff, one of my clients dies. Frances. She was old, very old, and small. Her kids were determined to keep her at home, not in some nursing facility, but the care wore her daughter down to chopstick bones and paper thin skin. The most substantial part of her body seems to be the dark moons under her eyes. I worry over the way she made herself a ghost, but Frances’ daughter didn't want me there more than one day a week. Her mother, her duty. I miss Frances. Her death leads me to ponder time—celebrating it, marking it, making the most of it—but I am always thinking about time.

You have to wear a wet suit when cliff diving to limit the sting on your skin when you smash into brick-hard water. For beginners like me it’s best to do a pencil dive, keep your body straight and vertical since that puts less stress on your fragile everything when you enter the ocean. Cliff divers leap from forty to seventy feet or more and hit the waves at forty-five miles per hour, so a dive in the wrong position means bruises, dislocated shoulders, and broken necks. When sliding on the wet suit I can’t help but think of wheelchairs.

The instructor raises her eyebrows at me—it’s the damned gray hairs I’m sure—but I am ready. I am strong from lifting my clients in and out of wheelchairs. Recently I heard of another sixty-year-old woman who was training to swim from Florida to Cuba. If she’s crazy enough to tame that stretch of Atlantic, I can be crazy enough to hurl myself into the air, greeting the Pacific in the pencil position. I’m glad I have no husband or kids to give me disapproving glances, just this instructor who I don’t know, so she doesn’t really count.

The flash, the plunge, the crash course with water, YES, the hot cold bone shock to the bottoms of my feet. The camera would have blasted off my body, but the sensation is something that can’t be shared—tipping over to fly, to fall, relishing the moment when the two are indistinguishable. I come up sputtering, smiling, ready to fall, to fly, to fall again. Tomorrow I will return to the coast with Jamie in his chair and we will run down the boardwalk and I will explain how it feels to jump off a cliff and slide into the water neat as a dolphin. I will take him into the surf. He might smile. In the next life he will be a superhero. I have never been more sure.

     
  © Teresa Milbrodt, 2014

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