That FACE. She’ll always have that money-maker silky face, blue eyes hard little sapphires, such richness set into her head. Who cares if she can’t move her arms and legs anymore, if the crash rendered her quadriplegic? Wealth begets wealth and so of course the money comes in. As a church friend of the family naturally I volunteered to chair a campaign to raise funds for her:
- Future (general fund)
- Special wheelchairs
- Nursing care (general and ongoing)
- Physical therapy (weekly).
And then there’s the additional income required so that dear Mama could quit office working for bedside working. That little pink smile, those gemstone eyes on the cover of every flyer and email distribution list deny her no donor. And I am so cherished by the family, invited to Sunday dinner after the pastor has sung my glories during his sermon. What is it people call us, people who are simply jealous that we willingly, BRASHLY walk into the river to hold hands with those treading the waters of tragedy: Grief whores? But no, if you were one of us you would understand that it’s less gentle than that, it’s more vampirish, more delicious.
I am her confessor now and she told me once about a Hate Club that she’d been in before the accident. She’d passed papers in school behind a friend’s back, carried a membership card in her purse that stated the purpose of the club. Laminated.
I was forced! She insisted, cheeks wet.
Baaaa, little sheep.
Oh honey, I said, that stupid Chevy took away so much, didn’t it?
She’ll never have the chance to exercise betrayal in any meaningful way. Permanently fourteen, she’ll never kiss another girl’s boy in the dark corner of a dance club, meet him later for sex in the park, and then refuse to return texts—she’ll never destroy a relationship just because she can. All on her own. Without being forced. No one’s perfect. Fact: I did find some racy SEXTS on her phone early on in the confusion when her mother and brother were helping her get dressed or use the bathroom and I was alone in her room.
Hey babe. Check it: [Photo of her naked torso in dim light, scintillating]
That sweet thing understood her body is a commodity and its value. The pic is neck down only. No face.
Oh, she’s just a baby bird now, eyes wide, innocent, and her face is what counts. In the fundraising materials I use words like:
So far: $102,859.
I’ve left the electronic donations alone. Taking the rest is easy. A cashed check is a received check, no questions, especially when a thank-you-note is sent, a little cream colored card with those SAPPHIRE EYES starting out at you, special printing from a local business that provides them to the family gratis.
On the nights when I tuck a fresh stack of bills into the box on a shelf in the garage labeled “Painter’s Tape & Brushes” a feverish rush overcomes me and I approach my husband with the energy of a bear: tumbling and protective and devouring, dark hair and teeth everywhere.
What’s gotten in to you? he says. I like it.
It’s like when you cut off all of your hair and your man is surprised and angry because he prefers long hair like they wear in all the porn he’s ever seen. But then his eyes click and register the newness of it and he’s excited. You look like a different person.
When I sext my husband I pose my body in complicated positions, draw naughty words with lipstick on my stomach just because I can.
We reach a fundraising goal and the local news girl shows up with lacquered hair, starving for a story that might go national and that morning our darling quadriplegic confesses she had started the Hate Club herself. Little pumpkin hadn’t liked the way that particular friend held her bum so tight in the wooden chairs at math class. She hadn’t liked the way Mr. Sommers smiled and called that girl his Little Genius when he passed back algebra exams.
I wonder: Would a man ever flirt with a paralyzed girl? Would she ever be a genius at anything but being helpless?
As I fluff her hair in preparation of the cameras she says, I think God punished me with the crash.
It doesn’t work that way, I want to tell her. Action, guilt, regret, confession—they seem linear but it’s simpler really. The weak suffer because the strong can’t help themselves. There’s your cause and effect.
You survived your accident, I whisper, as I guide her wheelchair down the wooden ramp her father and uncle had constructed over the concrete steps, down onto soggy grass.
Your life has purpose. That you are still here gives people hope because they want to help and it feels so good to help.
I guess, she mumbled, lifting her pearly face to the sky, smiling tiny for the men holding black cameras on their shoulders like pet VULTURES emitting celebrity death rays from beady eyes.
The world wants you comforted, sweetheart. You take what you can.
Her family surrounds her, and I stand just off to the side, a spokesperson. We thank you all for your GREAT generosity but we are not done yet, I tell the news lady in her teal dress. This family needs a wheelchair-friendly home and that is not what we have here. I gesture to the makeshift ramp and then I make the sign of the cross.
I pray for the family of the young man who did not survive the accident.
The news lady bobs her head, Yes, of course, the community mourns with the Weavers, she says with lips too puffy and pink for real life.
I continue my plea, smiling through the interruption: And although police forensics showed he was at fault—DRINKING—we know THIS wonderful family refuses to seek revenge in the form of restitution. My smile is wide because the family is a collection of saints before the people, glowing white beneath the sun, and I am their representative. I earn my place among them.
Katherine Gehan’s work has appeared online in places like McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Muddy River Poetry Review, Literary Mama,WhiskeyPaper, Luna Luna Magazine, Sundog Lit, Pithead Chapel, and Mojave River Review. For more, find her at www.kategehan.wordpress.com or @StateofKate.