Kate Hood was one of six emerging writers who showcased their work at the Writeability Salon at EWF on Sunday 1 June, 2014.
Following a series of advocacy and life-writing workshops for writers with disability, the Writeability Salon unearthed the sort of unique and powerful stories that usually go untold.
The Write-abilty Salon is supported by the City of Melbourne 2014 Arts Grant Program and is presented in collaboration with Arts Access Victoria, and the Emerging Writers’ Festival.
Following is an excerpt from Kate’s story.
It had actually rained. There were puddles in the streets and leaves and twigs scattered randomly. The feeling was one of general wintry dampness. People stood in the street looking up at the sky, talking excitedly. “I’ve never seen the gutters so full!” said an old guy in a battered hat. “And I’ve lived here for thirty years”.
Helen looked through the wooden slats of the walkway she had fallen on, at the water slewing through the deep bluestone gutter beneath. Nobody had yet registered that there was a woman on all fours on the wooden walkway up near the bakery. She could hear the general buzz of people moving around the town even though they were down the hill, out of sight.
For the hundredth time, she scolded herself; if only she’d taken more time when leaving the house, she would have remembered her second stick and she would not be in this ridiculous situation! She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to focus on the present moment, ‘the now’ as her therapist called it. Right. What she needed was some help to stand up. Two or three people who could take her weight, get her into the coffee shop and retrieve her stick from between the slats of the wooden bridge. She would have a strong coffee and some lunch, and life would continue uninterrupted. Dignity would be preserved.
Although she was frozen in her position because of the pain she felt in her knees and back, she could crane her neck around to see at least something of what was around her, and now she took advantage of this, hoping to attract the attention of someone who might be passing. She looked around to the left and then the right but could see no-one. The cold was beginning to seep into her bones and she could feel the muscles in her back clamping tight. She was shivering.
‘How absurd!’ she thought. ‘I could stay here all day at this rate.’ A minute or two passed. ‘Hello!’ she said. And again. ‘HELLO!’
Poof! They appeared as if from nowhere. Middle aged women with yoga mats and scented cushions and mohair rugs. Helen had an overwhelming feeling of relief. At last some people had arrived! Her kind of people! This would be an end to the embarrassment and discomfort, not to mention the shame. They would listen to her and do what she wanted; they would know that the most important life journey was the one that happened on the inside. And she was certainly living on the inside now.
“Oh my God! Are you OK? Don’t worry, we’re here to help”, said the leader of the pack, a tallish woman with wrap around trousers and wavy hair. “Molly,” she yelled. “Can you bring some cushions and a rug over here? She’ll be in shock.” Her phone flicked open.
“Could you just stand me up?” smiled Helen. “My stupid stick went straight down between the slats and over I went. But it’ll take a few of you,” she said apologetically. “I’ve got MS, so my legs don’t work too well – you’ll need to take my full weight to get me up easily…”
“Certainly not,” Said Yoga Woman. “I’ll call the Community Emergency Response Team.” She began dialling the number.
A wave of panic swept over Helen. She knew that meant a wait for the CERT team, then another longer wait for the ambulance proper. “No! No, really, I’m fine, I just need some help to stand and everything will be good. I’m desperate for a cup of coffee,” she said conspiratorially, doing a comical face. She was certain that this would connect. After all, doing coffee must be something they had in common. The woman ignored her. “Yes hello?… yes, some help is needed, but not for me. An elderly woman has fallen in the street and is unable to get herself up….”
Elderly? It was like a slap in the face. Helen wasn’t yet 50!
“She says she’s got MS …. no, that’s OK, we’ll stay with her till you get here… right, bye then.”
Suddenly Helen realised that this woman was never even going to see her, let alone connect with her. But Helen also knew that she had become putty in her hands, and it was pretty clear that Yoga Woman was into sculpture.
She decided to make another attempt to get heard. “Excuse me, I…” But before she could utter another sound, she felt a rug land softly over her back and shoulders and a pair of hands tug it into place. A face appeared in front of hers. Molly. She had a voice like a ten year old. “Are you OK? What happened?” She felt warm hands on her own icy ones. Molly was on all fours in front of her, reflecting her own position, so close that Helen could feel the warmth of her breath.
At last, a person she could see. Through Helen’s panic, a single grain of excitement smouldered. Molly’s eyes were wide and full, the lashes beautifully formed and dark; there was a glint of knowing in them. If it were true that the eyes were the pathway into the soul, then maybe with her there was a chance of communion. Helen decided to give it a shot.
She gave a guffaw. “I feel a bit foolish,” she said with a grin. “My stick went between the slats and down I went! But I landed well and didn’t hurt myself – thank God for wooden walkways, eh! I think I might have bruised my knees a bit, but apart from that, no worries!”
Molly sat back on her haunches with a quizzical look, considering. “Why don’t you just roll over on your side? That should be a bit more comfortable.”
“It’s just getting there that’s the problem. My knees have been injured in the past and it hurts if I move. I’ve been here for a while and it’s cold and I’m a bit stiff. But look, once I’m on my feet I’ll be fine…”
“I’ll get some cushions.” She was off.
Great, Helen thought. I’ll just stay here, cold, uncomfortable, hungry, desperate for coffee and utterly helpless while you all do what you think is best. How about asking me what I want and going from there? Too hard? Her anger was like a diamond, hard and glinting and always just below the surface.
“Let’s try these.” Molly was back with arms full of scented cushions. Well, maybe the camomile will calm me down, thought Helen. After all, becoming an angry cripple wasn’t going to do much to help the situation. “Can you lift up your knees so I can slide a cushion under them?”
“No.” said Helen shortly. “That’s not possible. You can put one under each hand though.”
Molly was now looking at her like she was an insect in a bottle. “You can’t just…. lift them up a little…?”
If she turned her head at an uncomfortable angle and really concentrated, she could hear people moving around the town, chatting and laughing, sharing a joke or telling a story. She wondered whether they even knew she was there. She would soon become an event, past history, something to fill a space in conversation and give people a sense of their own empathy and goodness and community. Well, at least she had provided some form of connection. And that was all life was about, after all.
With that thought, she looked back at Molly and saw a woman who was doing her best. “I’m sorry, that must have sounded a bit tetchy, but I’m not having a great time here. My knees hurt and my back hurts and I’m freezing. I really need to stand up. Trust me. I know my own body.”
There was a pause, then a moment of comprehension in Molly’s eyes. She nodded a little. “I’ll see what I can…let me get some help.” She looked around, probably for Yoga Woman, and was off again.