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The Steel of the Real

 by Liz Carter

There once was a college student for whom the strangest occurrence took place.  It was but an ordinary day at the University and classes were taking place in the fashion which they always did.  Yet on this particular day a young woman found herself in the most extraordinary of situations imaginable.  It was a Tuesday; that dreaded day of the week that is not quite Monday, and not quite the beginning of it all, however not quite Wednesday—that glorious and shining midway peak that leads to a happy and leisurely downslide towards Thursday, which is but a few moments away from Friday, and well we all know that Friday is merely freedom spelled with an “iday”.  But this was a dull mundane Tuesday when the strangest of the strange occurrence of this dear girl’s life took place.

            While sitting in class finding herself bored beyond normal comprehension her weighted eyelids began waltzing over her eyes--one two three--open, one two three--open, as the monotonous words of the septuagenarian professor provided the triplet necessary for such a dance to transpire.  The young woman, still fighting off the urge to submerse herself in slumber, felt something slightly graze the small of her back, and in her stupor merely brushed her hand away at this uncalled for contact, working with the assumption it was simply the risqué touch of a lonely male collegian who had not yet learned the proper etiquette towards the female gender.  Much to the girls surprise her hand found something hard and cold that did not simply cease grasping her at her subtle brush off, but rather continued on to take hold of her as a look of fear and alarm appeared in her delicate features she began to struggle and push at the thick wire that had begun snaking its way around her lower back, winding itself around her body right to left until her entire torso was entwined by a metal bar.  Yet stop there it did not, and it continued on winding itself around her neck and only contented itself to desist with its entwining motion once it had placed a firm and irremovable grip upon its chosen pawn, the young girl. 

By this time the girls alarm had transmuted itself to fear soon after becoming outright panic as she attempted to jump up and scream out the bewilderment and confusion that now had a firm hold on her.  Nevertheless her attempt at standing failed, and she quickly fell back to her sitting position pelting her chin on the bar that was now firmly clamped on her neck, and sat with a slightly dumbfounded look upon her face—most likely from a combination of the pain and the shock at all that was taking place.  For you see what had attached itself so unceremoniously to the girl was a desk, a college desk-- one of the gray barred, maroon chaired, right handed, (and this girl happened to be left handed) flat topped variety.  The desk had up and taken hold of her, its usually immobile bars sliding out of their restraints springing to life, elongating and in turn sidling up her body with the silence and stealth of a serpent encircling its prey; then freezing back to their prior state of in-animation once a firm grip had been established on the girls spinal region.

This being a class room of only twenty persons, the majority of her classmates had awoken from their own disinterested malaises and now gave their full attention to the struggling girl who at this point was unconsciously whimpering as she struggled under the burden of the desk now fastened upon her.  The professor, in dire need of a hearing aid, and who probably should have more often enlisted the utility of the spectacles that rested on a rope around his neck had grown a bit dull in his later years, and barely noticed the commotion that was taking place amidst his nonchalant presence.  Rather the muffled noises assured the professor that his students were actually awake, and in light of this realization he simply went on lecturing with a more robust confidence discernable in his unwavering monotone, than before. 

Finding herself a dither with emotions—confusion and fright, to embarrassment, back to confusion and fright as she sat restrained and not entirely sure what plan of action would garner her the best outcome.  So she did the only thing she could think to; she began to pack up to leave.  However as she had a desk attached to her, the ease of her planned departure was somewhat impeded.  She slunk down and tilted her head up, so that her chin strained against the bar encircling her neck as she reached with her left hand desperately flailing about in hopes of ensnaring her back pack within her pleading fingers.  She did this for what felt like eons and for a quick moment lamented to herself as no help was offered from the stunned classmates around her whose mouths hung open as they imparted only gaping stares which stuck to the girl like the ever present beads of sweat that were now emerging on her forehead as she struggled and strained to find within her hand that which she needed before any escape was to be had.  Finally!  The bag was in her hands and she slid her notebook into the waiting satchel struggled awkwardly throwing her body forward in a gawky lurching motion to seal the zipper shut, then flung her body forward taking the full weight of the desk upon her back, and scuffled out of the class as best she could, dragging her pack along side her as it made a droning scratching sound on the hard tiled floor.   

Click! Went the door handle, and from her chest an unconscious sigh of relief released itself, that is just before her bewilderment over having a chair come to life and physically attach itself to her came back and stole her stomach from her leaving only a hollow nauseated feeling as she sat utterly alone in the hallway.  Inside the classroom she heard, as she sat panting outside the door, the professor bellow, what probably seemed to his nullified ears only a slight raise in voice, “Now what was all that commotion about!? It is one thing if a student needs to relieve themselves in the lavatory or even desires to leave my lecture for reasons of their own, but there is no excuse for making such a racket!  Other students are attempting to learn and I, as well as they, would appreciate it if you all would pay your respects to that desire and would refrain from such noisy exits, as I was saying…”.  Sitting in her newly fashioned cage the girl’s mind swiveled around her confusion until she resolved that the only option for her now was to return to her one bedroom apartment, which fortunately was a mere half mile from campus, and once therein to recollect herself over what course of resolve should be taken on such a peculiar matter.  So she undertook the wary trek, quietly giving thanks that the building she was in had an elevator as she bore her burden with a great deal of difficulty--often stopping along the sidewalk to rest and in turn incurring the oddest of looks from passerby’s.  Once home she made her way quietly to her ground floor room.  Therein she sat pondering what to do about her predicament and found it most prudent at the time to contact her mother; a woman who although lacking in good advice on most topics, and wisdom of any real variety, seemed the only logical choice when dealing with such a matter of self. 

Upon having contacted her mother she relayed her dilemma with as much chronological clarity a she could muster in such a moment of distress as this was.  After her tale was told her mother immediately queried as to how her daughter would find employment in her post collegiate career now that she had such a strange handicap borne physically upon her.  At these words the girl who had formerly been standing with the desk bearing down upon her back fell backwards from its crushing weight, which she noticed only in that moment, and felt herself sharply gagged from its clenching pull on her frail neck as she landed on the hard linoleum of the kitchen floor.  The loud crack emitted from the crash echoed throughout the kitchen and reverberated through the old apartment numerous times before allowing the still quiet it had formerly permeated return.  At her Mother’s callous statement the girl merely sighed as the unnoticing matriarch rambled on, never stopping for a moment with the torrent of babbling that stumbled seemingly without end from her faraway lips.  Highlighting the positives of the situation her mother remarked that it would be a wonderful type of exercise and that that the pounds would probably just peel off now.  Into the girls mind appeared an onion that once sliced into unleashed its stench and stung eyes as it withered away to nothing--chopped up flavoring for dishes in which it was never the main attraction, but simply a subtle additive making its distinction only to be forgotten or maybe cursed for the lingering olfactory insult left in its wake.  At this thought the girl found herself stunned by the complete casualty with which her mother addressed this absurd situation.  Whence her daughter quickly voiced her polite outrage, the young girl’s mother ascertained that there was no use crying over spilled milk, or she enlisted some other trite idiomatic expression of that sort, as she urged her daughter to try to see the possibly positive nature of the predicament.  Remarking that she would never be caught without a seat in lecture from now on, and how she now carried a great place to engage in her studies on her back, so that there was truly no excuse not to study!  Smiling quietly to herself on the other end of the phone she then elucidated, with the utmost motherly concern, the fact that her daughters newfound immobility would require her to stay within the area post college and that she had felt it a good idea for her daughter to remain in one place rather than engaging in all this ridiculous traveling about he country as she’d previously expressed she’d desired to do.  For after all, her mother asserted, “It’s a dangerous world out there, you never know what could happen”.  The girl, uncertain as to whether her neck was swelling due to her body performing an outward expression of the fury she felt compiling within, or if the chair/desk that was attached firmly around her neck was actually tightening its already firm grip upon her, choked back a strangling pain, and somehow, without allowing a hint of the sarcastic malice she felt escape, thanked her mother for such unfettered optimism, bid her a curt, yet kind farewell, and hung up the telephone. 

And so it went for the girl whom a desk attached itself.  While the level of difficulty for ordinary living had significantly increased she somehow found a way to manage in spite of her hefty burden.  Instead of dragging her pack to class each day she purchased, through an online catalogue—as she was no longer physically enabled to drive, a luggage like pack, one of those that came with the little wheels on the bottom and a retractable handle on top making for easy transport, and while the sound of the little wheels grinding the asphalt was enough to drive her plumb insane it alleviated her burden just enough to make the annoyance endurable.  As the girls only means of transportation was on foot, and as she was far too proud—though funds would permit, to invest in a motor scooter of any brand she simply walked everywhere and always allowed herself time enough for the many rest stops needed between her location and whatever destination she was traveling to.  And many rests were taken as the girl’s physique was of the petite variety thus making the weight of the desk upon her a very taxing thing indeed.  For trips of distance arrangements had to be made for a van or an SUV with sufficient capacity to carry the girl and her desk, and while a certain degree of guilt fluttered within her over the inconvenience she caused those around her, little could be done to avoid such adjustments, and so she imbibed her guilt until numbness to the topic had been achieved, and on she went through her days. 

Yet what was the most difficult for the girl, post-desk attachment, was the matter of personal hygiene.  Washing could only be done in a very large shower, however this was no simple matter and assistance was needed on the part of the young girl, and as she lived alone she simply opted to daily sponge herself as clean as she could from within the impediments of her chair.  The matter of dressing herself also arose with some particular difficultly, in spite of the hardships encountered, with time the girl grew increasingly better at the hop-jump routine required for applying clothing and narrowed the time needed for dressing from twenty minutes to ten in no time.  However the matter of sleeping was what most plagued the young lady in the beginning.  Being bound to a chair did not make for easy sleeping arrangements, no longer able to enjoy the comforts of her queen sized four poster bed it took her a near month of adjusting pillows and towels around herself in preparation for her nightly slumber routine until she found she could comfortably drift off and remain in such a state till morning.  As time passed the girl grew gradually used to the nuisance that had attached itself quite literally to her.  The stares around campus had begun to wane as interest in her malady faded and found itself filed in the old news category as the months trudged onward.  Yet in spite of the dimmed attention on campus she had chosen to drift away from the usual social scenes she had before so often frequented, for she had discovered early on that she had little stomach for the inquiry and often ridicule that intoxicated courage brought with it. 

So she worked hard on her studies, and did quite well for herself academically in spite of the relative lack of interest she had towards her chosen field of study.  For just before the chair joined her being she had decided to dip into the fountain of wisdom that flowed forth in the form of so many faceless undergraduate advisors which the campus provided, and what expounded from the mouth of her randomly chosen appointee had in sum pooh poohed her artist dreams—explaining—in kinder words of course, that such fancies could be chased on the side for they did not guarantee to provide the food, shelter and luxury he deemed so necessary for today’s living.  Then he so kindly introduced her to the area of study she was currently wading in, explaining the many possibilities of employment that would bombard her upon graduation; talks of salaries with oodles of zeros, health benefits and stock options pelted the young girl and upon consultation with her mother the girl found these facts verified.  So the girl had then, just as she had on the day she spoke with her mother about her classroom furnishing encasement dilemma, bit her tongue until it bled, swirled the blood around in her mouth tasting in full its metallic bite, then allowed herself to swallow it, as she decided to take heed of the occupational advice offered up so charitably.  After all, these were people with her best interests at heart, and ingratitude of any kind was unacceptable.     

Time passed with little notice from the girl, and as her mother had foretold the pounds did peel off her already miniature frame so that she became withered to the point of existing as little more than a rake of a human being.  Then one fine morning towards the conclusion of her academic campaign, the girl awoke from her confined slumber to find she had slid out of her chair-desk, and lo-and-behold she was free!  By this time she could little remember how long it had been since the desk merged itself with her but when she attempted to stand upright she found she could not.  Her body lurched forward and she fell to the ground, for it seemed the continuous curvature that had been imposed upon her frame had seized her back with a rigor mortis like paralysis as she grappled on the floor bent into a right angular position.  Her face pressed upon the ground and her bottom was up high in the air while she wrestled with the rug flailing her arms about it as a slicing pain ricocheted up and down her spine while it unsuccessfully endeavored to flatten itself out.  Finally she flopped herself onto her back and with a sheepish look on her face shimmied again into the comfort of her chair, oddly it seemed she could now slide in and out of it with an uncommon ease, however as her body could not seem to function properly without it she decided it a wise action to carry the chair/desk with her to her final that afternoon; the last final of her college career.

Now that the option of departure from her chair had presented itself the girl saw fit to make appointments with a local physical therapist and thrice weekly walked, with her load upon her back, to the office for treatment until she could fully shirk her encumbrance and stand straight and proud having once again regained the full range of motion.  Now that her stature regained normalcy it was decided that a job should be acquired.   So one was quickly found, interviewed for, and obtained; the stipulations of her indenture being 9-5 Monday through Friday, $45,000 a year, and the benefits and stock options that had been promised and guaranteed her so long ago by the any-man advisor. 

And so it went for the girl.  She found herself a nice two bedroom apartment and rented it out, then settled into her new abode.  Although she had gradually trained her body to exist without the pressing weight the chair, for some reason she still kept the chair-desk in her apartment leaving it in the extra bedroom.  Time passed for the girl in her apartment and she began thinking about throwing the chair away, after all what use did she have for it now that she had finally gained her emancipation?  Yet the chair remained, for the girl—now nearly a woman, seemingly couldn’t bear to part with this former burden that had stood by her, or rather remained perched upon her, for what seemed so long.  It would have felt to her almost as if she were discarding an old and weather worn friend.  The effects of the chair hadn’t been entirely detrimental—after all her academic record flourished wildly post-desk attachment and in some ways she regarded it as a springboard to her current success.

 For while she had been meaning to rent out the second bedroom of her apartment for some extra cash or maybe just some company, the girl fervently avoided ever sending out the nicely printed, politely worded, clearly stated ad she had typed up and sealed in an envelope—with return address and stamp already adorning its outer layers.  Day after day she walked by it, as it stared her down from the kitchen counter—George Washington’s immobile 2D head resting upon the stamp imploring her to pick him up and make a man out of him.  Yet always she declined.  As time passed her counter grew cluttered and the letter became lost amidst a sea of outdated periodicals, while the chair sat quiet and alone within its four small walls waiting till the day came when it was again remembered. 

And so it went for the girl, she sojourned day in and day out to her job working hard and earning her way quietly through the world, with little distinction but a check wide enough to quell any internal disquiet she experienced at the lack of notice from those around her.  And sometimes at night, on those long, lonely, languishing nights the girl, who was now nearly a woman, would creep into the empty bedroom that sat forever in wait of a visit; in she would slink slipping her still lithe body back into the chair/desk, back into its bars, to curl up and fall asleep within the cold comfort of its confines, within the cold comfort of her former chair, her former cage.