I met Seneca’s shadow before I met Seneca. It seems a strange thing to say but that’s how I remember it. We were both going to the local 24-hour grocery store at 3:38 A.M. on a Tuesday morning. Tuesdays, by their very nature, are unromantic, but that’s where the romance began. A girl with no legs captured my cupid-immune heart.
“Yo! Buddy! Move aside for the mobile people!”
Anson had seen a shadow creep up behind him as he waited for the “WALK” sign to activate at the street corner. It was a short, squat shadow that didn’t seem to belong where it was. It reminded him of playground shadows cast in early afternoon. Bulky and substantial. Ugly. Slightly depressing.
He turned around and looked at the figure behind him. A girl with a cigarette in her mouth glared at him, but she had to look up to do so; she was in a wheelchair.
“I’m waiting for the light to change,” Anson said. Sparkling conversation, he thought.
“Yeah, well, I can go now,” the girl blew smoke upwards. Anson watched it drift away on the cool October breeze.
“Damn the light. It gives me two choices: WALK and DON’T WALK. Well, I don’t do either. I roll,” the girl tossed the cigarette in the street and rolled on through the intersection.
Anson decided that he wouldn’t wait for the light to change either. It was 3:30 in the morning, and the streets were deserted. Still, it bothered him to do so. He liked to follow the rules.
“You don’t have any legs,” Anson said and immediately wished he had said something else. Something that didn’t point out the girl’s glaring disability.
The wheelchair came to a sudden stop, and the girl pivoted it around to face Anson. She smiled at him, and Anson suddenly and irrationally thought that 3:30 A.M. on a Tuesday morning was a spectacular time to be alive.
“I’ve been in this damn thing for seven years and no one, I mean absolutely no one, has said anything like that to me.”
Anson understood this, all too well. Paraplegics are not fully acknowledged because they make the whole-limbed feel guilty about being unsuited to deal with the disability. The problem is too big to handle, so they ignore them.
“Yeah, you get it. You have one arm, so you get it.”
Anson nodded. He still wished he hadn’t been so blunt about it, but the intimidating girl in the wheelchair accepted it well. Anson looked down at where his left arm should be, wondering why he felt it throb. He hadn’t experienced that sensation for almost a decade.
“My name’s Seneca, by the way. Like the philosopher.”
Seneca stuck out the hand devoid of a cigarette. Anson took it gingerly, but Seneca grasped his hand firmly, forcing him to give her a firm handshake.
“Anson,” Anson mumbled. He was still a little cowed by the girl.
“Anson, you need to learn to shake hands so that you aren’t mistaken for a dead fish. Pleased to meet you.”
Anson stood by Seneca while she finished her cigarette. A night manager watched her toss the finished cigarette by the pumpkin displays just outside the automatic doors. Sighing, he picked it up and threw it in the trash can next to the door. He wanted to say something to the girl in the wheelchair, but he had learned not to do so. She could be vicious.
Seneca bought a dozen frozen dinners and a carton of cigarettes. Anson bought chicken breasts, mushrooms, and olive oil. Seneca paid in cash, pulling out a wad of dirty, crumpled twenty-dollar bills from her capacious bag. Anson watched all of this with interest. It had been a while since he had seen anyone carry that much cash.
“It’s because I’m a drug dealer. The cash,” Seneca wheeled through the parking lot towards her apartment. Anson paused and decided to follow her. He was suddenly interested in her career as a street pharmacist.
“Really? I mean…” Anson was intrigued but he was also still a little tongue-tied around Seneca. She was the most terrifying thing he had faced lately, and it pleased him.
“My disability check is shit. I live in the Fairmont Apartments, which are shit. I eat T.V. dinners because it’s impossible for me to cook in my shit apartment. I drink tequila during the times when I’m honest with myself and realize I have a shitty life. In fact, I realize it right now,” Seneca said, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk.
She pulled out a silver flask and drank from it. Three healthy swallows. She then offered the flask to Anson. He hesitated for a moment before accepting it. He gingerly put the flask to his lips and took a very small, very unhealthy swallow. Seneca hooted at him.
“C’mon, dude. You have a shitty life too, right? Drink up!”
Anson did as he was told. The tequila burned his throat and he almost coughed, but he held it in for fear of being hooted at again by a diminutive girl in a wheelchair. Warmth spread quickly through his belly and he felt the buzz of the alcohol a few seconds later.
“My life is not shitty. Well, ok, maybe a little. But I get by,” Anson said defensively. He was not quite willing to admit how dull and gray his life had become.
“You live at Sienna Canyon, right? I’ve seen you coming out of that swanky place and walking to that Mexican food dive. All you ever order are frozen margaritas.” Seneca sipped from her flask this time because the tequila was running dangerously low.
“How do you know that?” Anson had never seen Seneca in there. He certainly would have remembered that.
“I wheel by the place from time to time, peek in, see what the normal people of the world are doing. Also, I have a spot where I deal from and I have to pass by there.”
“I’ve never seen you,” Anson admitted.
Seneca looked at him and smiled a sad smile. Although the smile had no sparkle, Anson was still smitten by it. He shook himself mentally and tried to rid his mind of her smile.
“You can come in and help me put away my food. Don’t get too comfortable, though. You ain’t staying long.”
Seneca wheeled herself to parts unknown. Anson heard a string of curse words followed by the flushing of a toilet. The unknown was resolved.
“Wanna drink?” Seneca placed a half-full bottle of tequila on the kitchen table, along with two shot glasses. They were dirty, grimy, and suspiciously clouded with an unknown substance. Anson immediately accepted.
“Ok, my life is kinda shitty too. My apartment is nice, I can afford to eat expensive food, and I have a T.V. large enough to cause a minor earthquake should it ever fall off of the wall, but, yeah, still shitty.” Anson gulped down another shot of tequila and got up to leave. Seneca followed him to the door.
“Maybe I’ll see you around, lefty. But I ain’t putting out for you, no matter how pretty you are,” Seneca said, laughing.
Anson turned to her, a faint smile on his face.
“Me neither, shorty. You’ll have to sweet-talk me a whole lot more before you get in to my pants.”
Seneca hooted at him and slammed the door. Three months later, they were sleeping together.
I despised her at times. She made me see how pitiful I had become since my injury, all without even trying. She would make bold pronouncements and I would feel the truth of them digging away inside me and making me see myself in a sincere but unflattering light. Like the day she said that she wouldn’t allow herself to have the capacity to love anyone.
“It’s for my own protection, really. No one else will be looking out for me, I assure you. A girl with no legs and a pittance for a disability check is susceptible to all of the shit that life can throw at you. Yeah, you may be my prince charming (lowercase, buddy) now, but what will you be a year from now? Ten years from now?”
“I will be as I am now. I don’t change much, Seneca.”
But it made me think, made me look at what I was in a clear way, unfiltered by optimism or any belief about self-sufficiency I delude myself with. We both had mechanical hearts. They pumped blood in and out as they should, but that was it.
Seneca wheeled up next to me and kissed me, sighing into my neck afterwards.
“But I’ll move in with you because I’m a weak little bitch. Just make sure there’s plenty of grape soda for me.”
The house was marvelous. As it should be, thought Anson. He was an engineer – used to be an engineer – and he designed a place that would allow Seneca to live her life without many constraints. Well, at least, while she was inside. The world, of course, could still dick with her once she went out the door. And it could dick with him as well, but Seneca did that job better than the universe ever could.
The June weather was ambitiously hot and sultry, mimicking July and August in those respects. Seneca sat on the back porch sipping a strange but delightful concoction made of two parts grape soda and three parts tequila. Anson sipped beer. The bees sipped nectar and buzzed lazily around the expansive back yard. The sunset was promising a spectacular show, warming up her colors and darkening the eastern sky just enough to let you know what was coming.
“Are we in love?”
Seneca turned to Anson, laughing lightly. She took another sip of purple liquid before she deigned to speak.
“What is that you’re drinking, beer? More like whiny-little-bitch juice, buddy.”
“You fart in your sleep, Sen. And they stink.”
“You snore and drool on your pillow. After three years of putting up with that shit, I reckon I earned the right to let a few rip in the dead of night.”
“Dead is a good way to describe the smell,” Anson retorted, but he did it with a smile.
Seneca poured another drink from the pitcher on the table. The sunset delivered all that it had promised, throwing around impossibly beautiful colors like beads at Mardi Gras. The bees were finding their own beds for the night, being replaced by fireflies and a few night-owl June bugs.
“This is not the way to get me to have sex with you tonight, Ans. Well, ok, maybe it is. I’m a sucker for unadorned truths.”
“I remember that we met on an October morning. I wanted to buy you a pumpkin and you told me that was a stupid idea. I bought you one anyway and put it on your windowsill the next day. Well, later that day.”
“Yep. You never were good at taking direction from me. I was kind of smitten.”
Anson glanced at her sharply.
Seneca turned to Anson and kissed his cheek before speaking. This was one of her things, Anson knew. When she had something intimate to say, she would whisper it in his ear for fear of the world hearing her.
“Maybe. Maybe not. Give me a few more years to decide.”
Anson nodded. It was the best he was going to get tonight.
Forty-three years later, Seneca died in her sleep. Her heart finally stopped doing what it had done so well for the past seventy-four years, and it caused Anson’s heart to feel like his missing arm felt when he fell in love with the girl in the wheelchair.
Seneca never admitted to loving Anson. Well, not out loud. She did leave him a short letter that he found in her expensive but still-spacious bag when he finally got around to sorting out her belongings.
I told you I’d die before you, you old coot. I win.
A legless girl with no education, no friends, and no family can’t just let her heart go, Ans. That’s why I never told you that I love you. It’s the heart. I had to guard that son of a bitch. All the way to the end.
I farted a lot because you always cooked healthy stuff. Fish and mushrooms and that weird rice that starts with a q. Anyway, I just thought you should know why I farted a lot.
Ok. Here goes.
I love you, Anson Dekker Coltrane. I have always loved you. If there is an afterlife, I will continue to love you. That’s the truth. The only truth I ever cared about. You are what kept me going all these years, Ans. I fell in love with you when we first met, when you casually (ha!) mentioned that I had no legs. You were worth loving, even if it was the most dangerous thing I had ever done. Even when I couldn’t ever say it out loud.
Have some grape soda and tequila, sweetie. It’ll do you good. Remember, two parts grape soda, three parts tequila. It doesn’t work any other way.
Maybe a cigarette or two also. That particular combination never let me down, Ans. Just like you.