I had arrived at Warm Springs in the late summer of 1950, on the same day that Joey Buckley arrived in his leather and aluminum chair, both legs crippled, in long leg braces, a motherless boy from a small town in Alabama. I was alert to his presence, greeting every new face as a possibility, and I liked the way he looked with his square face and wide-set brown eyes. In the waiting room as we checked into the hospital, his father sat next to my mother and I remember the image of him exactly: olive skin, broad face, and long shiny hair, his head held in his big hands as if it had cut loose from his body.
Joey would have been an athlete. He would have been a great athlete, this boy, his father told my parents. He wouldve played football at Alabama, and now what?
Now Im going to be fixed, Papa, Joey said. You too? he asked me.
It was still early morning, breakfast trays collected in the wards, meds distributed, plans in place for the rest of the day. Joey and I were parked at the top of the steep hill, looking down.
Its a long way to the bottom, he said.
I was checking Joeys casts, sticking out in front of him propped on pillows, blood seeping through the plaster at the top of both of the casts.
The bloods from my stabilization incision, he said, conscious that I was looking at it. You bled too, right?
Right, I said, a shadow of doubt, a cloud floating across my sun. But I had only one stabilization and you had two, so thats a lot of blood.
Itll dry up, he said. So why are we doing this?
For fun, I said. Just for fun, dont you think?
Yes, for fun, he said. He was smiling and his eyes lit up and I knew we were ready to push off.
Hand in hand? I called to him.
I cant push if were holding hands, he said.
And lined up side by side, we gave a huge push on the metal ring on the wheels of our chairs and we were off down the hill, faster and faster, and I think I was squealing with excitement and so was Joey and maybe he called out How do we stop? but maybe he didnt. We were going so fast, so much faster than I even imagined in my dreams of this adventure, I felt that I was losing control, the bottom of the hill rising to meet us as we sailed down side by side, and I grabbed the right wheel to stop the momentum, grabbed it with all my might so the chair would turn 180 degrees and stop there at the bottom. And as I did, sensing that the chair would stop, that I had taken control in the nick of time, I saw Joey fly into the air just ahead, out of his wheelchair, the chair tipped on its side and Joey gliding above me, his arms flailing, his heavy white casts pulling him down, down, down to the cement walk and then the heavy thud of the casts hitting the ground or the thud of his head and silence.
Copyright © 2007 by Susan Richards Shreve. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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