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Baby Steps

The first time they help him up out of bed, his head spins and he is sure he will fall. How long has it been? Weeks, maybe months horizontal.

His knees buckle and he feels two arms grab him, hears the rustle of a starched uniform and the soft fall of non-marking soles.

“Take it slowly, mate. It’s been a while.”

How long? he wants to ask, but it will take breath, and his feels thin and in short supply.

The androgynously named occupational therapist (Alex? Jordan? His memory is as shaky as his legs) helps him into a wheelchair. They cruise through the corridors and service lifts to a room that looks a bit like a dance studio. One wall is mirrored and a waist-high handrail runs the length of it. The other walls are dotted with motivational posters. He crinkles his nose at a nauseating quote and she smiles.

“Maybe don’t reach for the stars just yet,” she says as she helps him stand. Again he wobbles, and she grabs him under the arms with expert timing. He’s taller than her, or would be if he could stand up straight. His limbs are spindly now, stomach hollow, collarbones sharp. He avoids his reflection in the mirror, wonders whether his girlfriend was telling the truth in that text message. Was she really not allowed to see him on the ward?

The therapist wants him to visualise, focus, breathe, and other things he can’t do. They don’t even get to the walking bit before he is slumped back in the wheelchair, fists balled in frustration.

“What do you want to do? Maybe try again tomorrow?”

He doesn’t want to try again tomorrow. He wants to try again all those weeks or months ago. He wants to stop that flash of light, the crunch of metal on metal and bone on bone. He wants to hand the keys to a friend and sit in the passenger seat. He wants to have six less drinks. He wants to listen to someone who told him it probably wasn’t a good idea to go out that night.

“Tomorrow . . . yeah, maybe.”

Flash Fiction by Alicia Bakewell
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Published in Summer 2017


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