From the author: Time to hit the gym! This is chapter six 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.
“What on earth have you brought me, Alice?” Hatice asked, hiking one eyebrow up as she looked over Raymond. He was stood in the gym, frown deep as a furrow, wearing tracksuit bottoms that had seen better decades and a grey t-shirt. She’d never seen his hair before; it was close shaved, little patches of silver showing at the edges of the dark brown fuzz close to his skull.
“He used to be a fisherman, he’ll be great on the weights. And he has recovering back wounds and skin grafts, so he’ll need to be extra careful. It’s a challenge?” Alice said, eyeing over the empty room as they made their way towards him. She heard Hatice huff a laugh, bring her focus back to her trainer.
“So you brought him to me because you think I’m not challenged enough?” Hatice’s clay brown eyes bore into hers and Alice gave a little laugh in turn.
“He’ll be good at exercise once he gets into it, I bet. I mean, kick him in the legs if he gets mouthy? I kinda did that.”
“She means she threw my stick at me and made my legs bleed,” Raymond said, turning to look at them. Hatice was easily equal to Raymond’s six foot, probably more if she straightened up, and Alice winced as she saw him look her over.
“Why did you throw a stick at him?” Hatice asked, looking between the two of them.
“He was shoving my chair.”
“She was stuck in soft sand and the tide was coming in, I shifted her chair.”
“Shifted it into the damn surf,” Alice muttered.
“You’d float,” he bit back and Hatice snorted in laughter, clapping a hand on his shoulder.
“I like him, he’s just as bad as you are,” she said to Alice, grinning that broad smile that made Alice blush. “Alice tells me you’ve got skin grafts and healing on your back, yes?”
“S’right,” Raymond said, lifting his t-shirt to show the bandages there. “I was walking down on the beach to lose weight but this one said I should come here.” He nodded to Alice and Hatice beamed.
“Excellent, so we’ll get you a routine that builds up muscle without putting pressure on those areas. Once they’re healed then we can get you doing something more substantial. I will need to take you round the gym to see what your range of movement is and what machines suit you.” He blinked at her, nodding along.
“I know how to lift things, if that’s a help,” he said, and Alice snorted at him. “Shut it, wheels.”
“I know how to lift things too, I don’t brag about it,” she said and Hatice hip bumped her chair.
“Behave, and go do your routine,” she said. Alice nodded, wheeling over to her favourite spot.
“I think that’s the most obedient I’ve seen her be,” she heard Raymond say and rolled her eyes.
“So, what do you think?” Alice asked as they left the gym, slowing down to match Raymond’s plodding steps.
“I think your trainer’s a bloody demon,” he muttered, wiping at his face with a handkerchief. He was leaning on his stick and red in the face.
“She likes you, she only pushes people she thinks can do it,” Alice replied, chugging some water.
“That why she has you lifting yourself up on that bar with a bloody weight strapped round you?”
“Isn’t it a neat trick?” Alice asked and he shook his head at her.
“Looks like someone’s fit to throw you in the harbour.”
“Well if they did I could get myself out,” she said.
“Maybe aim for not being thrown in?”
“Rich coming from you. Did you like it?”
“I don’t think shifting fish was that much hassle, I should go back on a boat.”
“Oh yeah, best plan, let me know your starting date.”
“I like that black lass, Hettie?”
“Hatice,” Alice said.
“Yeah her, I like her. She’s a good sort. If I came back more would I be working with her?”
“She’d split her time between us both. My routine’s pretty stable but she likes to keep an eye on me, and she’ll want to tweak your sets while you’re healing up.”
Raymond hummed, walking with her through the park and past the boating pond.
“I could go for a bit, see how it’s like,” he said eventually.
“Cool, if you go the same times as me the place is pretty quiet.”
“You do that on purpose?” he asked, glancing over at her.
“Yeah, most of the muscle heads are just assholes about a girl lifting weights never mind a wheelchair. The regulars are fine but they clear out by the afternoon. Best times are now and late on in the evening but my carers get prissy if I’m out too late.”
“Seems like their problem,” Raymond said and Alice snorted.
“My problem if it’s me they’re being pricks to.”
“That’s not good enough though, you’re a young thing. What if you wanted to be out on a date or go to the movies?”
“You forget, I’m a disabled young thing, we’re meant to stay at home and look out of windows mournfully while life passes us by,” she said, biting down the anger scratching in her chest.
“Fuck that for an idea, do you believe that?” Raymond asked, stopping and frowning at her.
“Of course I bloody don’t but it’s what’s expected here. How many other disabled people do you see out and about? What outings are there here for people like me?” She started moving again, keen to head home.
“Not a lot, I’ve been having hassle with that on my stick.”
“And I’m a mouthy cow, imagine what it’s like for someone with verbal issues, or on the spectrum so they can’t say how they feel in a way some carer can understand. It’s crap.”
“Why stay here then? My kids went off,” Raymond said.
“It’s not just here. It’s not geographical, it’s just how I’m seen. People look right over my head, past me like I’m not even there. One guy tried to wheel my chair off of the train because it was taking up too much room.”
“I hope you bloody decked him,” Raymond said, frown back.
“Oh my mum kicked up hell, shamed him up and down the carriage and got the guard. He listened to her, all five foot eight stone that she was.”
“She was a peedie thing,” Raymond agreed, grinning, “Had to be feisty to keep up with your dad, he was a right terror back then.”
“My dad?” Alice repeated, tilting her head to look at him.
“Oh yes, he was quite the lad when he was younger, plenty of wild times. Your mum had to give just as good as she got, had a mouth on her to match him easily. Was enough to make the best of us blush. They’d get in a team with another couple for quizzes down at the Legion and they’d be the loudest table in the place, laughing and joking.”
“I cannot imagine my mum in the Legion,” Alice said, trying to picture her mum younger and drinking. She’d never been one to try drinking, couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of trying to navigate the world like that.
“She had plenty a night of fun,” Raymond said with a nod, “Was always at your dad’s side though, stuck like glue those two.”
“He has a dog now,” Alice said, voice flat in her throat.
“They try and get you to do that, if you’re a chap left behind,” Raymond said, not looking at her. “Reckon getting something living around you ‘ll stop you getting in a bad state.”
“Does it work?”
“No idea, I didn’t get a dog. Didn’t want something dependant on me.”
“I’m still a bit dependant on him but the dog’s doing him good.”
“Grief treats people different. A dog’s a good thing,” Raymond said. “You worry about him?”
“It’s got to be strange, not having her there. At least he got to say goodbye properly.”
“You weren’t at the funeral?”
“I was, but I was off at the side. No proper access at the grave, my chair was too heavy. Couldn’t risk the side of the grave sinking and not being able to get her down.”
“I saw someone tip into a grave once,” he said, and she looked at him with a raised brow. “Honest, I saw someone fall into an open grave on top of the coffin.”
“You’re having me on.”
“I’m not. It was a fat little solicitor, wicked wee cow who isn’t up here anymore, and she’d had a cord. Well they lowered him down but her hand got caught and in she went. She was too little to climb out as well so two chills had to get down on their knees and take an arm each, hoist her up.”
“Christ,” Alice said, grimacing. “That’s pretty wild. I felt awful that I couldn’t do it for mum but that’s got to be worse.”
“Fah, your mum wouldn’t care lass.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“You think she’d be upset you weren’t lowering her down? She’d be a damn sight more upset if you went in there with her. Did you speak to her about it?”
“No. We spoke about what she’d want read, and what music she wanted. We didn’t talk about that bit.”
“Then she’d no care – if she knew it was coming she’d have told you if it mattered. Funerals are a’ pish anyway, they’re about the ones left behind. The person’s gone off awa’ before we’re putting them in the dirt. And the minister’s are usually full of shit.” He gave a hard sniff, a bark of a cough, then wiped at his eyes.
“That’s…. not what I expected you to say,” Alice said, blinking at her own tears. She hadn’t realised she was crying and her face flushed.
“Have you no spoken to your dad about it?” he asked, gentler than he had been.
Alice shook her head, “He’s got to deal with is own grief, he doesn’t need me piling in on top of it.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, you’re his daughter. Family means everything to you when someone’s gone, it’s precious. You should speak to him.”
“He’s got to have a life, he can’t just be trailing after me.”
“You’re his daughter, that’s the point. He’ll be doing that till you’re dead or he is, it’s what parents do.”
Alice stopped short, unsure why those words hurt so much. “Well I don’t want to be thinking about that.”
“No, course not. You’ve got other things to be doing. Like hefting weights and abusing innocent old men.”
“Innocent is it?”
“As the lambs in the field,” he said with a laugh, looking about to see where they had reached. “I’m in the wrong end of town, I need to be heading off.”
“I’m just up there so I’m going to go back home. I’ll text you when the next session’ll be, once Hatice lets me know her timetable?”
“Aye, sure,” he said with a nod. He gave her shoulder a squeeze, then took his hand off quickly and fumbled with his bag. “What’s the right thing to do, give you a handshake or what?”
“Just say bye you big weirdo.” She laughed, shaking her head at him. “Or a fist bump, that’s what some folk do.”
“Isn’t that just an incomplete punch?”
“We’re definitely doing it now – hand up.” She held a loose fist up, knuckles forward, and he did the same with a dubious look. She knocked hers into his and pulled it back, waggling her fingers as she did. He looked at her, fist still up.
“That’s it.” The fist went down.
“You want me to do that every time?”
“I absolutely do,” she said, smirking at him.
“Cracked as a basket of hammers you are,” Raymond said, smiling despite himself.
“Well you’ll just have to get used to it. Unless you want to go back to dodging dogs.”
“We’ll see, I’m off.” He gave her a wave and turned away, leaning on his stick as he went back down towards the park. Alice watched him for a second before wheeling towards her house, thinking over her plans.